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.
- 110,212 VOTESPhoto: 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.
- 29,549 VOTESPhoto: 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.
- 3417 VOTESPhoto: Netflix
Reputation: Geralt of Rivia's reputation precedes him - namely because of his friend and bard Jaskier, who would travel with Geralt on many of his adventures, and then write epic tunes recounting his bravery and strength for all who would listen. Add into the mix that Geralt is faster, stronger, and more deadly than most other remaining witchers, and the legend that's been built around him is considerable (although might fail to actually capture the true level of his badassery and abilities).
Signature Victory: While Geralt has slain multi-legged swamp monsters, dragons, crypt demons, and every manner of creepy crawly, most of those battles are fought in secluded woods or crumbling chapels. However, there is no denying his skill with a blade when he hacks and slashes his way through Renfri's army of goons in Blaviken and battles Renfri to the death. Sure, the town attempts to stone him and he flees, but he only leaves because he would otherwise have to slaughter the entire town. He's saving them from himself, and they just don't realize it.
Biggest Weakness: Unlike other witchers, Geralt has a heart. He's involved in a very complicated relationship with a powerful sorceress named Yennefer, who is the love of his life. Additionally, he takes the orphaned princess Ciri under his protection. These connections to the world, which most other witchers are without, gives his enemies leverage over him. However, when it comes to one-on-one combat, Geralt's weaknesses are minimal. Then again, to tap into his most fearsome powers, Geralt has to consume a number of magical potions and concoctions, meaning he doesn't have access to his full potential at all times.
- 47,036 VOTESPhoto: 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.