EDITORIAL: The 10 best movies based on folklore
After my last editorial introducing and documenting the full scope of movies based on folklore, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty and name the best. Just to preface this list to start, even though they are tangents of folklore, I did not count the "also" list of sub-genres for this. That means pirate, vampire, werewolf, and zombie movies are not in play. If they were, Interview with a Vampire might have made the list. I also did not include American westerns either. If that was not the case, I guarantee Shane would have made the list. Those sub-group are so large, they pretty much deserve their own lists and discussion. Also, I'm hoping the two folklore-infused movies opening this weekend, Disney/Pixar's Brave and the zany Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can give the movies on this list a run for their money. Alright, here's my list of the ten best movies based of folklore and, of course, I sneak a few ties in to add more. Enjoy!
10. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)-- Robert Redford's mix of Depression-era golf and the Indian story of the Bhagavad Gita is an underrated and under-appreciated fable of filmmaking. While it may not be one of the better movies from that year (look at the rest of this very list), the movie fits the part of telling a story of folklore and legend. Give Matt Damon and Will Smith a break and give the movie another try. (trailer)
9. TIE-- Robin Hood (2010) and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)-- While neither movie is going to show up in acting clinics and classes, both modern takes on Robin Hood do the job of extending the legend in thrilling and entertaining ways. I love Kevin Costner's version as a didn't-know-any-better kid, but was really impressed with Ridley Scott's take from two years ago (my full review). They get a tie. (trailer and trailer)
8. 300 (2006)-- Zack Synder's film adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the Spartan defeat at Thermopylae took the stuff of legend and gave it cajones on top of balls. The story itself fits the definition of folklore as Greek's version of The Alamo, and the movie keeps its tone of oral history while still giving us the modern action to entertain. (trailer)
7. Beowulf (2007)-- When it comes to Norse mythology, I could have went with the fun of How to Train Your Dragon or Marvel's Thor, but I'll go the traditional route and make every high school English and Literature teacher happy with this selection. Though Robert Zemeckis takes quite a few liberties with the source material (creating much debate and split opinion), the movie is, without a doubt, a great example of folklore put to film. (trailer)
6. The Mask of Zorro (1997)-- I might be clouding the waters of legends and folktales to some with the selection of Zorro, but I don't think so. His adventures and derring-do puts its roots in the Californian history of pre-U.S. control by the Spaniards. That works to make it a folktale that gets told over and over in local history, whether its a comic book or a bedtime story. The 1997 blockbuster starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Anthony Hopkins is a clinic of great stuntwork and old-fashioned action style. (trailer)
5. TIE-- Spartacus (1960) and Gladiator (2000)-- I couldn't decide what Roman legend deserved this spot, so I put both. 1960's Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, directed by Stanley Kubrick, gives a grand film treatment to the legendary true-life former slave who became a leader during the Third Servile War. On an equally large scale, Ridley Scott bends history a little to tell a similar story of a general fallen from grace and seeking revenge in the Best Picture Oscar winner Gladiator. Both are high quality adventure films that I respect. (trailer and trailer)
4. TIE-- Field of Dreams (1989) and The Natural (1984)-- In another tie that I couldn't break, being an American living in the 20th and 21st century, I'm a sucker for the modern legends and fables that come from our new cultural addition of sports. Much like #10, The Legend of Bagger Vance, there's a great deal of mythology, magic, and folklore allegory to be found in both Field of Dreams and The Natural. The cornfields of Iowa could just as easily be a remote foreign land from The Brothers Grimm and The Natural could just as easily be a foil for Grecian heroics and tragedy. They fit the bill and are great movies. (trailer and trailer)
3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)-- Speaking of baseball, here's the biggest curveball of my list. I think the world of the folklore-like themes within Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the quality of the film itself. Not based on any particular historic figure but dramatically telling a story of love and sorrow of a particular time in China, I think the movie is an excellent version of a folk tale for a different section of the world. It more than fits the bill. (trailer)
2. Excalibur (1981)-- It may not be a better overall movie that Spartacus, Gladiator, Field of Dreams, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but John Boorman's Excalibur is arguably the best film at telling a full story of traditional folklore. The movie certainly has its dated, melodramatic, and weak qualities, but, make no mistake, it goes all out to create and tell the epic Arthurian legend from beginning to end. I dare any other movie on this list to cover more bases for their respective folk tale than Excalibur. (trailer)
1. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)-- As you saw on my last editorial, the two biggest piece of folklore that are most famous and most identifiable around the world were the stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Well, for me, Robin Hood beats King Arthur. First Knight, a sentimental 1990's favorite of mine, just missed the list, but you can see my favoritism from the inclusion of Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe earlier. All of the modern shiny objects, special effects, and digital filmmaking can't take away the pure joy and entertainment value of the best swashbuckling adventure in the history of cinema. Though it's coming up on 75 years old, Erroll Flynn's version of the dashing hero of bow-and-arrow legend still holds up to delight audiences young and old. For me, it's the best movie based on folklore. (trailer)
There you have it! Dig some of these movies for your enjoyment off of the Netflix queue of the Blockbuster rack sometime when your hankering for a good show. Give Brave and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a good look in theaters starting this weekend. Enjoy the start of summer!