Sword fights and epic blade duels have been a staple of fiction since the dawn of storytelling, and extreme skill with a sword has been used as a mark of fighting prowess across literature, films, comic books, and video games. Because of the lethal efficiency and theatrical showmanship associated with sword fights, fans have been presented with a wealth of iconic characters who live, thrive, and die by the edge of their blade and the strength of their steel.
From warrior ronin (like Samurai Jack or Beatrix Kiddo) wielding razor-sharp katanas, to knights and highlanders (such as Jaime Lannister or Connor MacLeod) swinging broadswords, to light-footed fencers (like Inigo Montoya or Zorro) slashing at foes with their rapiers, the most epic fictional sword fighters come from all backgrounds, cultures and fighting styles, each with their own strengths and weaknesses they would bring into a free-for-fall face-off. (Whether they're fighting fair - to their determinent, in some cases - is another matter.)
Here's a look at 20 of the greatest, most celebrated, and accomplished sword fighters of fiction, as well as an examination of their skills. Would Brienne of Tarth be able to hold off William Thatcher's flurry of blows in a tournament arena? Would Conan the Barbarian be able to use his strength to cut Jack Sparrow in half, or would the lucky pirate outwit and out-maneuver the hulking Cimmerian? Vote up the fictional swordsmen you think would win in a clash to the end using their respective blades of choice.
- Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King / New Line Cinema
Reputation: Aragorn is one of the greatest and more revered swordsmen, rangers, and military minds of the Third Age in the Lord of the Rings saga. Eventually crowned King of Gondor, Aragorn is the wielder of the famous longsword Andúril, also known as the Flame of the West. You definitely develop an aura of power and authority when you have a sword with its own name.
Signature Victory: Aragorn successfully leads the defense of the stronghold of Hornberg in Helm's Deep, alongside Legolas and Gimli, against the vast and menacing forces of Saruman's army.
Biggest Weakness: Fear and insecurity. Aragorn comes from the lineage of Isildur, a ruler who fails to wipe out the One Ring after cutting it off Sauron's hand. Aragorn fears that he, too, will fail to act when it comes time to eliminate the ring because of his frail humanity.Would they dominate the duel?
- Photo: Troy / Warner Bros.
Reputation: Achilles is believed to be the greatest ancient warrior in all of Greek mythology, and this status is well-earned. Achilles - through the virtue of both his natural talent, his fearsome rage, and his magical (near-total) immortality - slays thousands during the clash at Troy and personally defeats some of the most legendary challengers of the age.
Signature Victory: During the Trojan War, an enraged Achilles devastates the opposing army and forces them to retreat behind the walls of the city. Hector, the leader of the Trojan army, steps out from the city alone and duels Achilles, but fails to land a blow against the warrior and is ultimately slain.
Biggest Weakness: They don't call it an Achilles' heel for nothing! When Achilles was a baby, his mother dipped him in the waters of the River Styx, making him invulnerable to swords, spears, and other tools across his entire body - except where his mom held him by his heels during the dipping process. So a well-placed shot (say, with a contaminated arrow perhaps) could easily be his undoing.Would they dominate the duel?
- Photo: Gladiator / DreamWorks Pictures
Reputation: As the greatest Roman general under Emperor Marcus Aurelius, in the 2000 film Gladiator, Maximus leads the Roman legion in a clash against the hordes of Germania and establishes himself as a man worthy of taking on the role of Caesar. When he is eventually betrayed and escapes execution only to be conscripted into service as a gladiator, he rebuilds his reputation as the best of the best through his fierce skill with a sword, his keen strategic mind, and his mercy.
Signature Victory: The most defining conflict of Maximus's career as a gladiator comes when he is forced to face off against the undefeated gladiatorial champion, Tigris of Gaul, who is brought out of retirement just in the hopes of slaying Maximus. Despite Tigris being stronger and having two tools, as well as Maximus being mauled by live tigers in the arena, Maximus still manages to gain the upper hand. But, when it comes time to execute Tigris, the former general refuses and thus earns his moniker Maximus the Merciful.
Biggest Weakness: Maximus is a well-rounded and adept soldier in nearly every regard. He's level-headed and cooperative. His only real point of leverage is his drive for vengeance over the merciless offing of his wife and child. His anger can be manipulated, which also makes him reckless due to his willingness to perish and rejoin his family in the afterlife.Would they dominate the duel?
- Photo: Conan the Barbarian / Universal Pictures
Reputation: Conan's abilities, strengths, and skills have varied wildly across the multiple iterations of his lore, from the books to the film adaptations to the long-running comic book franchise. However, the one thing that persists among every depiction of the iconic Cimmerian swordsman is that he's entirely unmatched when it comes to his fighting prowess, and possesses nearly unparalleled strength among the peoples of the Hyborian Age.
Signature Victory: After losing his comrade and love interest, Valeria, at the hands of Thulsa Doom - in the 1982 cult classic Conan the Barbarian film - Conan leads an epic offensive strike against Doom's warriors, slaying them through the use of tools and booby traps. However, the fight eventually pits Doom's lieutenant, Rexor, against Conan in a mano-a-mano sword fight. It's one of the closest brushes with defeat the Barbarian hero faces, but with an assist from Valeria - reincarnated as a Valkyrie - Conan regains the upper hand and eviscerates the ferocious villain.
Biggest Weakness: Truly, Conan's weaknesses are few, especially as he's developed through different mediums over the decades. His speed and strength are almost superhuman; he can take impossible levels of pain, and, despite his brutish appearance, possesses a brilliant mind. However, his devotion to chivalry toward women borders on a true liability. He will often refuse to fight women, even when they are attempting to snuff him out, and he makes reckless decisions when it comes to saving, protecting, or defending the honor of any woman he meets.Would they dominate the duel?