Ultimate Coolness

At last we have indisputable, quantitative proof that the 80's were cooler than any subsequent decade. Not even that. There is pretty strong evidence that the early 80's ('81 and '82 in particular) were the coolest part of the 80's. I always suspected it, but at last we have the data to end the debate.

It's all in the swords-and-sorcery movie releases. The number of swords-and-sorcery movie releases is the primary indicator of annual coolness. So I did a little IMDB digging and came up with the following:

  • 1980: Hawk the Slayer

  • 1981: The Archer, Dragonslayer, Excalibur

  • 1982: The Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, Sorceress, The Sword and the Sorcerer

  • 1983: Deathstalker, Fire and Ice

  • 1984: Conan the Destroyer

  • 1985: Ladyhawke, Red Sonja

  • 1986: Highlander

  • 1987: Deathstalker II, Masters of the Universe, The Princess Bride

  • 1988: Willow

So we can see that the early 80's provided a relatively large number of coolness-indicating swords-and-sorcery movies. In 1982 you even had a movie CALLED "The Sword and the Sorcerer". How much cooler can you possibly get?

Dragonslayer was a pivotal film in my theatrical experience. I was thirteen, deeply engrossed in the mysteries of D&D (original box set, 9th printing -- the one with the chits rather than dice), and let's be honest, the chick playing Valerian was kind of hot (possibly the beginning of a lifelong fascination with scratchy-deep-voiced brunettes -- no, actually that got started by the incomparable Kate Jackson, didn't it?) (and now I've completely forgotten where this sentence was going) (Kate Jackson has that effect on me) and so it's not super surprising that seeing it once wasn't nearly enough.

My second viewing was with Dan, and provided a lesson in a) trusting one's friends and b) getting too engrossed in a movie.

There's a bit where the girl (scratchy-deep-voiced-kind-of-hot girl) (she died two years ago of ovarian cancer, apparently, which I'm sad about it, and makes me think I should stop calling her a hot girl -- Caitlin Clarke, RIP) goes looking for dragon scales and she's poking around in a cave, grabbing scales and she reaches into a dark crevice (does anyone else remember the tune "Crevice Tool"?) and


A little baby dragon lunges out at her.

Now, I'm a little, er, reactive in movies. In general, I guess. I lean when I play driving games. I wince at boxing matches. And I laughed so hard at those little Italian pillbugs in A Bug's Life that I fell off the couch and rolled around on the floor.

So a baby dragon lunging out of a crevice at a deceased actress is obviously a situation in which I'm likely respond with some, er, energy.

And of course Dan (having seen the film with me only a few nights before) is waiting for this moment and with a guttural roar, clamps onto my arm at just that very second.

Even today, I have to salute the impeccable timing of it. I'm not sure the people sitting around us were quite so impressed at the blood-curdling scream I let loose with as I leaped half-way to the exit. Dan laughed his evil chuckle as I collapsed in a twitching, shivering heap.

The early 80's were so good to us that by the time Willow came along we were actually a little jaded, I think. I was able to sneer. At a swords-and-sorcery film. Nowadays, well, I even wished Dungeons and Dragons II: Wrath of the Dragon God got a theatrical release.

The 90's, by contrast, provide a depressingly limited array of selections:

  • 1991: Beastmaster II

  • 1996: Dragonheart

  • 1997: Kull the Conquerer

  • 1999: The 13th Warrior

That's a whole bunch of crappiness. No wonder the 90's sucked so bad. No wonder I spent a good portion of the decade in Japan -- MUCH easier to get through days when there's an unlimited supply of Japanese wackiness on all sides of you. And let's be honest, classifying Dragonheart as swords-and-sorcery is being pretty generous. Not to mention classifying The 13th Warrior as ANYTHING BUT TOTAL CRAP.

That said, the 90's did give us Xena: Warrior Princess, and any decade that features Lucy Lawless kicking butt can't be considered a total loss. And the 90's were the breakout decade for Hong Kong cinema over here, and so we had Brigitte Lin and Tsui Hark to get us through the rough patches.

But things aren't looking very up this decade, so far.

  • 2000: Dungeons and Dragons

  • 2002: The Scorpion King

On the other hand, you could perhaps argue that those films suck even more than Dragonheart. You'd be wrong, but you could try it. It is not possible for a film that features Kelly Hsu and The Rock to rank lower than a Sean Connery-voiced badly-animated digital dragon. True, The Scorpion King falls apart at the half-way point, and has the Blade Steven Dorff problem (who keeps thinking that scrawny dweeby guys provide sufficiently intimidating opponents for impressively buff, demonstratably bad-ass heroes?), but the first half IS pretty fun. And both the principals are sure trying hard.

Careful film-goers may notice some apparent holes in the selection here. "Where is Lord of the Rings, for crying out loud?" Well, I didn't include it. I tried to stick to theatrically-released swords-and-sorcery that achieved some measure of popularity (based on the theory that a film that's released but nobody watches is as silent as that lonely tree in the forest). And The Lord of the Rings ain't swords-and-sorcery, sorry.


And anyway, even if you add it in, the 80's STILL kick ass.

Now, of course, sword-and-sorcery has prospered in the world of video games, but still, there's no excuse for not having hordes of pics featuring dragons, screaming women and doughty warriors. But alas, we suffer.

So who's going to step up? Who's going to deliver us from this appalling lack of coolness we seem irretrievably mired in? Not Uwe Boll, obviously, no matter how much he thinks himself appointed to the task. Not the folks currently grinding the Dungeons and Dragons brand into movie hell.

Well, all I can say is that Steph and I are working on a solution. Obviously many factors are beyond our control, but we're doing what we can. Those who wish to help out may volunteer their efforts.