Robert Eggers’ Viking revenge drama The Northman is now playing everywhere. The fiercely bloody tale of vengeance, witches and duty stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe among others. Eggers applies his esoteric stylings onto probably his most conventional narrative, but don’t worry, for this is still a brilliantly weird movie that blends dream-like myth-making with grimy murders and psychosexual frenzy. Read What to Watch's The Northman review right here.
Once you’ve seen it, you’ll probably be raring for more bonkers historical dramas, so we've compiled seven movies to watch after The Northman.
John Boorman’s achingly beautiful adaptation of the King Arthur story is hypnotic in ways that make you kind of dizzy. Blending Medieval mythology with a decidedly 1980s movie-making focus, Excalibur’s ambitions are lofty. While some critics dinged it for its messy script, its lavish commitment to the source material and unashamedly over-the-top aesthetic means it’s tough to pull your eyes away from it.
With a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Helen Mirren, Excalibur's grandeur is still unmatched, although many have been influenced by Boorman's movie, including several directors on this list.
How to watch Excalibur: Digital on-demand in US and UK
The 13th Warrior (1999)
The 13th Warrior, an adaptation of Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (opens in new tab), was a notorious Hollywood disaster, plagued by reshoots and a ballooning budget that led to it being one of the biggest bombs in box office history. But don't let that put you off watching this confused yet hugely ambitious blockbuster.
Equal parts Beowulf, the true-life accounts of the Volga Vikings and Crichton-esque overload, The 13th Warrior is nothing but massive set-piece after set-piece, but with a curiously dedicated adherence to history in a way this genre usually ignores. Some of the film hasn’t aged well (like casting Antonio Banderas as the Arab protagonist) but for a film dismissed as a pointless flop, The 13th Warrior deserves far kinder.
How to watch The 13th Warrior: Digital on-demand in US; Disney Plus in UK
The advertising for The Northman has hammered home comparisons to Ridley Scott’s swords and sandals epic Gladiator. While it’s not an entirely accurate parallel (The Northman is far weirder), it’s a helpful reminder to revisit the movie that helped to revive the historical drama trend for the 21st century.
Scott is still the king of this kind of big-budget commercial spectacle and Gladiator sees him firing on all cylinders. It’s a classic revenge story elevated by great performances, including an all-time hateable villain role by Joaquin Phoenix. You could very easily make the case that films like The Northman simply wouldn’t exist had Gladiator not helped to change the game for a new generation. It was that big a deal.
While Robert Zemeckis’s experiments with motion-capture have yielded mixed results, his surprisingly nervy adaptation of Beowulf certainly deserves to be seen. The technology is wonky, sure, but there’s still something viscerally thrilling about this take on well-worn material.
It's kind of astounding that Zemeckis managed to make a $150 million action-packed adaptation of a poem that's too violent and gory for kids but still styled like a superhero epic. It's bombastic rather than ponderous and perhaps the best example of the motion-capture trend that never quite took root in Hollywood like Zemeckis hoped it would. The film is as much a parody of this genre as it is a loving rendition of such tales, with author Neil Gaiman on co-screenwriter duties providing some dark humor and much-needed heart to proceedings.
It's tough to imagine a movie like this getting made by a major Hollywood studio today, and we're all the poorer for it.
How to watch Beowulf: Digital on-demand in US and UK
Valhalla Rising (2009)
Nicolas Winding Refn has often been accused of making films that prize style over substance, and some even declared Valhalla Rising to be the pinnacle of this. That overlooks the startling commitment of the movie to portraying the true extent of Medieval-era brutality.
Dense with mood, if not so much plot, the movie stars perennial Danish favorite Mads Mikkelsen as a nameless mute slave in search of the holy land, who finds himself stuck in the Scottish Highlands and assailed by Christian zealots, warring tribes and dark visions.
Sometimes watching the Valhalla Rising feels like a quiet dream that is descending into an inescapable nightmare, but in a good way.
How to watch Valhalla Rising: Prime Video in US; IMDb TV in UK
The Lighthouse (2019)
Before The Northman, Robert Eggers made The Lighthouse, which remains his greatest movie. Merely describing its plot — two lighthouse keepers go mad — doesn’t do it justice. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe do some of their best work here, with a trippy story that veers between black comedy, German Expressionist-style horror, mermaid erotica and Greek mythology.
There’s truly nothing like The Lighthouse and Eggers’ strident commitment to period-accurate language makes for an even more disorienting viewing experience. Imagine if Herman Melville was more homoerotic and had evil seagulls and you’re halfway there.
How to watch The Lighthouse: Showtime Anytime (and Showtime Prime Video and Hulu premium channels) in US; digital on-demand in UK
The Green Knight (2021)
2021 offered us another riff on classic Medieval mythology thanks to David Lowry’s long-awaited adaptation of the Sir Gawain tale. Dev Patel, in a career-best performance, plays the naïve Gawain, who is challenged by the eponymous green knight and must fulfil his destiny in the face of certain death.
More languidly paced than The Northman, The Green Knight revels in the quiet details of Arthurian legend. But both films are fascinated by ideas of masculinity and what it means to truly be a hero. It’s also a beautiful tale of regret that uses the well-worn Arthur stories to their most unique potential. This is truly a world you’ll want to immerse yourself in.
How to watch The Green Knight: Showtime Anytime (and Showtime Prime Video and Hulu premium channels) in US; Prime Video in UK
Kayleigh is a pop culture writer and critic based in Dundee, Scotland. Her work can be found on Pajiba, IGN, Uproxx, RogerEbert.com, SlashFilm, and WhatToWatch, among other places. She's also the creator of the newsletter The Gossip Reading Club.
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