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12 Pretty Accurate Movies Set In Medieval Times

Updated September 4, 2020 8.1k votes 2.0k voters 317.2k views12 items

List RulesVote up the movies that do the best job of sending viewers back to the Middle Ages.

Medieval movies have been popular since Hollywood's early days, and they're still going strong. Everyone has films in this genre that resonate with them, but most stretch the truth in how they portray the period, dispensing with real medieval facts for the sake of cinematic spectacle. For those who are sticklers for accuracy, that may be frustrating; for others, such flaws can't get in the way of a good story.

Movies set in the Middle Ages tend to include knights jousting and sword-fighting, ladies in waiting, armies marching into conflict, elaborate costumes of chain mail and leather, and royals locked in power struggles, but there are some films that stand out among the rest for their dedication to telling the tale - or at least certain aspects of the tale - as it really happened. Check out this list of the most accurate medieval movies to learn what they get right and what they don't.

  • Photo: Cinema 5

    The Python troupe's classic comedy film follows King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as they search for the Holy Grail.

    What It Gets Right: Although the legend of King Arthur is played for laughs in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there's a lot the troupe gets right about the time period. The Middle Ages were a time of rampant disease, filth, and staggering fatalities. Holy Grail reflects this in scenes with plague victims being wheeled through the streets on carts and peasants wallowing in filth. The cow catapulted over a fort wall is also based in reality; in some ancient entanglements, fecal matter, plague-infected bodies, and animal cadavers were used as biological weapons.

    The Pythons also accurately show how primitive science was, and how greatly superstition influenced the masses, especially during the sequence when villagers, who have accused a woman of being a witch, decide that the only way to know if she's truly a witch is to see if she weighs the same as a duck.

    Where It Falls Short: Needless to say, the plot points are regularly exaggerated for comedic effect - or due to budget constraints. In one example, the production couldn't afford real horses, so coconuts were used to mimic the sound of their galloping.

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  • The 1928 silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc tells the story of the trial of Saint Joan of Arc.

    What It Gets Right: The movie takes its story from the actual transcripts of her trial. In her one and only major film role, Maria Falconetti plays the martyred saint with great conviction. According to legend, director Carl Theodor Dreyer required her to kneel for long periods on stone and remain expressionless in the process so that her inner agony would be more apparent.

    Silent film actors usually wore an abundance of makeup. However, Dreyer wanted his actors makeup-free, as they would have been in real life. The set was no less authentic. The entire movie was filmed on a stage built from concrete and modeled after the architecture of the day.

    Where It Falls Short: Dreyer once said historical accuracy was not a concern of his while making the movie, but he created a fairly accurate portrayal of Saint Joan nonetheless.

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  • Photo: Netflix

    While Outlaw King isn't the pinnacle of historical realism, it does succeed where Braveheart doesn't in terms of telling the story of the Wars of Scottish Independence.

    What It Gets Right: The character of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) was written with factual events of the real man's life in mind, including the many setbacks he experienced before becoming an esteemed warrior on the battlefield. There is some crossover with the time period covered in Braveheart, as William Wallace (portrayed in that movie by Mel Gibson) existed in the same timeframe. Wallace is seen only briefly in Outlaw King, and only part of his chest and a limb are featured. In reality, Wallace was tortured and quartered, and his remains were sent to four different regions in Scotland.

    Outlaw King also outshines Braveheart in terms of costuming, as there are no kilts to be found (they didn't exist until the 1600s). The armor seen here is what would have been worn during the Middle Ages. Also, Outlaw King gets its weaponry right; the massive trebuchet featured in the film really did exist. It was called Warwolf both in real life and on screen.

    Where It Falls Short: Chris Pine looks nothing like the real Robert the Bruce, who was short, stocky, and may have suffered from a mild case of leprosy. Edward, Prince of Wales, is portrayed as being cruel and sadistic in the movie, but was said to be quite generous with his subjects in real life.

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  • When Kingdom of Heaven was released in 2005, it flopped. Critics and viewers felt it was incomplete, in part because of the studio's cuts. However, when the movie was made available in Ridley Scott's extended version, both its drama and its historical accuracy hit a stronger note.

    What It Gets Right: This Crusades epic dramatizes the conflict between Christians and Muslims during the battle of the First Kingdom of Jerusalem, in which Christian knights attempted to reclaim Holy Land sites (located in modern-day Israel) from the Arabs, for whom the region retains significance. The movie focuses on events prior to and during the Battle of Hattin, where the crusaders were mostly slaughtered. This battle led to the Third Crusade, in which the English and French also tried to recapture the Holy Land. 

    According to historians, Kingdom of Heaven is accurate in its depicton of crusaders becoming "orientalized" over the decades, its realistic combat sequences, and its portrayal of Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). The sequence in Saladin's tent following the battle and eventual surrender of Jerusalem is said to be largely accurate.

    Where It Falls Short: The main character, Balian (Orlando Bloom), is based on a real-life crusader, Balian of Ibelin. Unlike his film persona, the real man was not a humble blacksmith who was born illegitimately and whose wife took her own life, but a nobleman whose real father was a powerful lord. Despite the differences in his portrayal, both the real and fictional Balian were instrumental in negotiating a settlement to end the skirmish.

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