25 of the best movies set in the Middle Ages

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

25 of the best movies set in the Middle Ages

Movies have always allowed us to travel through time. From thousands of years in the future to thousands of years in the past, films allow us to experience worlds much different than the one in which we currently live. And some of the best period pieces out there are those that take place in the Middle Ages. The medieval times are fertile ground for historical dramas, Shakespearean adaptations, biopics, and fantasy films. They are fruitful for such classic films as Disney’s animated “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and gripping epics like “Braveheart” to farcical parodies like “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

There are many films set in the Middle Ages to dig into. However, there are no significant Middle Ages-set films made by women, but one of the most retold Middle Ages stories is that of Joan of Arc. Likewise, very few, if any, Middle Ages-set films have been made by people of color. But if you’re interested in finding a place to start, we have you covered.

Stacker researched cinema set in the Middle Ages and spotlighted 25 features with at least a 7.0 on IMDb or a 75 on Metacritic. So, before spending too much money at your local Renaissance fair to get your medieval fix, sit back, relax, and check out these great period films.

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Animated still showing the Hunchback of Notre Dame from the animated feature

Walt Disney Animation Studios

‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1996)

– Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 91 minutes

This classic Disney animated film follows the tragic story of hunchback Quasimodo, the isolated bell-ringer for Notre Dame in Paris, as he yearns to explore the outside world and be free from the oppression of his father figure, Claude Frollo. Loosely based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” received nominations for its musical score at the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards.

Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert in a scene from ‘Highlander’

Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment

‘Highlander’ (1986)

– Director: Russell Mulcahy
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 24
– Runtime: 116 minutes

From 16th-century Scottish Highlands to 20th-century America, two immortal warriors reach the climax of their age-old feud, settling the score once and for all in the streets of New York City. Even though it takes place a century after the Middle Ages, “Highlander” still plays like a medieval film due to its design and proximity to the official Middle Ages (within 100 years). Though production doesn’t appear to have started just yet, a reboot of “Highlander” is in the works with Henry Cavill confirmed to star and “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski to helm.

Illustrated still of a boy with his hand on the sword in a stone

Walt Disney Animation Studios

‘The Sword in the Stone’ (1963)

– Directors: Wolfgang Reitherman, Clyde Geronimi, David Hand
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 61
– Runtime: 79 minutes

Disney’s animated adaptation of the Arthurian fable follows King Arthur from his childhood as an orphan known as “Wart” to cementing his place in legend and proving himself to be the rightful king of England. A live-action remake from Disney was announced in 2018, with “28 Weeks Later” director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo pegged to direct and “Game of Thrones” scribe Bryan Cogman penning the script. However, there have been no updates on the project since 2018.

Valentina Cortese, Graham Faulkner, Lee Montague and others in a scene from ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’

Euro International Films

‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ (1972)

– Director: Franco Zeffirelli
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 121 minutes

This film concerns the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, who returns from war and disavows his opulent upbringing in favor of working with the poor and planning to rebuild an old church. While released in Italian, the songs in the English-language version of the film were written and performed by famous Scottish artist Donovan.

Denzel Washington in a scene from 'The Tragedy of Macbeth’


‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ (2021)

– Director: Joel Coen
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 105 minutes

Joel Coen’s highly stylized reimagining of the classic Shakespearean play stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as the doomed Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who become convinced by witches of the Scottish lord’s ascent to power, stopping at nothing to attain it. The film received three Academy Award nominations in 2022—Best Cinematography, Production Design, and Best Actor for Washington—though it did not win any.

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Vincenzo Amato and cast in a scene ‘The Decameron’

Produzioni Europee Associate (PEA)

‘The Decameron’ (1971)

– Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 111 minutes

Directed by iconic Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, this film follows a series of stories based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century allegory of the same name. Pasolini’s “The Decameron” is one part of a three-part trilogy of films based on other classic works of medieval literature. Dubbed the “Trilogy of Life,” the trilogy also includes an adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” and “The Thousand and One Nights,” adapted from the collection of Middle Eastern folktales “One Thousand and One Nights.”

Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston in a scene from ‘El Cid’

Samuel Bronston Productions

‘El Cid’ (1961)

– Director: Anthony Mann
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 79
– Runtime: 183 minutes

This epic film chronicles the story of 11th-century Castilian hero Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (also known as El Cid), who successfully drove the Moors out of Spain. The film stars Charlton Heston in the titular role and co-stars Sophia Loren. It received three Oscar nominations in 1962: Best Art Direction – Color, Best Song, and Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Jeremy Irons and Orlando Bloom in ‘Kingdom of Heaven’

Twentieth Century Fox

‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (2005)

– Director: Ridley Scott
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 63
– Runtime: 144 minutes

Set during the Crusades, “Kingdom of Heaven” follows a grieving blacksmith who joins his estranged father on the road to Jerusalem, where he is thrown into war and political intrigue. Ridley Scott’s epic historical fiction film received mixed reviews upon release, but his 194-minute director’s cut, released seven months after the theatrical version, has received more acclaim.

Nigel Terry and Cherie Lunghi as King Arthur and Queen Guenevere in 'Excalibur'

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

‘Excalibur’ (1981)

– Director: John Boorman
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 56
– Runtime: 140 minutes

This epic medieval fantasy chronicles the legendary Arthur Pendragon’s life from birth to death, including his search for the Holy Grail alongside his Knights of the Round Table. Starring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, and Nicholas Clay, John Boorman’s film is loosely based on Thomas Malory’s Arthurian romance from the 15th century, “Le Morte d’Arthur.”

Nazario Gerardi and Arabella Lemaitre in a scene from ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’


‘The Flowers of St. Francis’ (1950)

– Director: Roberto Rossellini
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 85 minutes

Co-written by director Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini’s film loosely details the life of Saint Francis of Assisi through a series of vignettes and is based on two books: “Fioretti Di San Francesco” and “La Vita di Frate Ginepro.” Rossellini employed real Franciscan monks to portray the friars and Saint Francis in the film. Saint Francis’ actor, Nazario Gerardi, actually went uncredited.

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Matt Damon in a scene from ‘The Last Duel’

20th Century Studios

‘The Last Duel’ (2021)

– Director: Ridley Scott
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 67
– Runtime: 152 minutes

When the wife of respected knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) accuses the squire of King Charles VI, Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver), of forcing himself on her, former friends Carrouges and le Gris must settle the issue once and for all in France’s last duel to the death in history. Based on Eric Jager’s book “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France,” the screenplay was adapted by Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener into three chapters.

Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson in a scene from ‘Richard III’

London Film Productions

‘Richard III’ (1955)

– Director: Laurence Olivier
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 88
– Runtime: 161 minutes

Adapted from the classic Shakespeare play of the same name, the 15th-century tale is transposed to an alternate timeline in 1930s England, in which Richard is a mad fascist plotting a coup to overtake the British throne. “Richard III” received nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design at the 68th Academy Awards. A tank used in the film remains permanently on display in London.

Ian Abercrombie and Bruce Campbell in a scene from ‘Army of Darkness’

Dino De Laurentiis Company

‘Army of Darkness’ (1992)

– Director: Sam Raimi
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 59
– Runtime: 81 minutes

Sent hurtling back in time by the evil Necronomicon following the events of “Evil Dead II,” Ash Williams and his chainsaw arm find themselves in the medieval age, where the threat from the Deadites is direr than before. Originally the final film in Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, a fourth installment, “Evil Dead Rise,” is set to release in April 2023.

Animated bear and fox characters in a still from the movie ‘Robin Hood’

Walt Disney Animation Studios

‘Robin Hood’ (1973)

– Directors: Wolfgang Reitherman, David Hand
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 57
– Runtime: 83 minutes

Disney’s animated take on the legend of Robin Hood sees the selfless hero as an anthropomorphic fox and his sidekick, Little John, as a cuddly bear. The unlikely duo band together with other woodland animals to wage battle against the greedy Prince John. The film is notable for its amount of recycled animation from previous Disney films.

Kenneth Branagh and members of the cast of ‘Henry V’ in a scene from the film

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

‘Henry V’ (1989)

– Director: Kenneth Branagh
– IMDb user rating: 7.5
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 137 minutes

From Kenneth Branagh, this adaptation of the classic Shakespeare play chronicles the life of King Henry V of England, specifically the events immediately preceding and following the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Branagh’s directorial debut received three nominations at the 62nd Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Actor (for Branagh), and Best Costume Design, the latter of which it won.

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Sean Connery and Christian Slater in a scene from ‘The Name of the Rose’

Constantin Film

‘The Name of the Rose’ (1986)

– Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 54
– Runtime: 130 minutes

Based on Umberto Eco’s novel of the same name, “The Name of the Rose” follows Sean Connery’s Franciscan monk William of Baskerville, who travels alongside his apprentice to an abbey where a death has occurred under suspicious circumstances. Connery received a BAFTA award for Best Actor for his performance as William of Baskerville.

Orson Welles and Keith Baxter in a scene from ‘Chimes at Midnight’

Internacional Films

‘Chimes at Midnight’ (1965)

– Director: Orson Welles
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 94
– Runtime: 115 minutes

Based on William Shakespeare’s recurring character of John Falstaff, Orson Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight” follows the father-son relationship between Falstaff and Prince Hal, the latter of whom finds his loyalty tested between his father figure and that of King Henry IV. The film combines several Shakespeare plays, including “Richard II,” “Henry V,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and both “Henry IV” plays.

Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in ‘Becket’

Paramount Pictures

‘Becket’ (1964)

– Director: Peter Glenville
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 148 minutes

Starring Peter O’Toole as King Henry II of England, this historical drama details the relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket, who was appointed to Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry under the false assumption that he would be compliant. The film received a whopping 11 nominations at the 37th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (for O’Toole and Richard Burton), and Best Director (for Peter Glenville). It won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Magda Vasaryova and others in a scene from 'Marketa Lazarová'

Filmove studio Barrandov

‘Marketa Lazarová’ (1967)

– Director: Frantisek Vlácil
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 162 minutes

Set in the mid-13th century, “Marketa Lazarová” follows the kidnapping of the daughter of a feudal lord by pillagers, her role as her captor’s mistress, and the climactic battle that leads to her freedom. The film was adapted from Vladislav Vančura’s 1931 novel of the same name.

Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in ‘The Lion in Winter’

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

‘The Lion in Winter’ (1968)

– Director: Anthony Harvey
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 134 minutes

During Christmas of 1183, King Henry II of England is planning to announce the successor to his throne. But interpersonal tension and political turmoil threaten to make the decision more complicated as Henry’s family members each have their own ideas about who should be the next King of England. For his second portrayal of King Henry II (his first being “Becket”), Peter O’Toole received yet another Academy Award nomination, though he did not win this time either.

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Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot in ‘The Seventh Seal’

Svensk Filmindustri (SF)

‘The Seventh Seal’ (1957)

– Director: Ingmar Bergman
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 88
– Runtime: 96 minutes

Returning from battle in the Crusades to find his home plagued by the Black Death, Swedish knight Antonius Block decides to challenge Death to a game of chess to prolong his life. Simultaneously, he embarks on a journey to commit one last act of redemption and save his soul. Ingmar Bergman’s pallid personification of Death has become an iconic figure of cinema and was famously paid homage to in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

Anatoly Solonitsyn in a scene from ‘Andrei Rublev’

Columbia Pictures

‘Andrei Rublev’ (1966)

– Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 205 minutes

Andrei Tarkovsky’s arthouse bio-drama loosely follows the life of 15th-century Russian religious painter Andrei Rublev as he drifts from location to location and eventually acquires notoriety for his art. “Andrei Rublev” was banned by Soviet authorities upon completion in 1966, only to be released suddenly and quietly five years later in 1971. The Criterion Collection release of the film includes both Tarkovsky’s preferred director’s cut and the version of the film that was initially suppressed.

The cast of Monty Python in a scene from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’

Python (Monty) Pictures

‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (1975)

– Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Metascore: 91
– Runtime: 91 minutes

British comedy troupe Monty Python’s classic farce of Arthurian legend follows Sir Arthur Pendragon as he forms his iconic Knights of the Round table. Together, they set off searching for the Holy Grail, getting themselves into plenty of hijinks and mishaps along the way. Thirty years after “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was released, Python member Eric Idle adapted the film into the Broadway musical “Spamalot,” which has won three Tony awards, including Best Musical.

Maria Falconetti in a scene from ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’

Society generale des films

‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928)

– Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 114 minutes

A silent classic, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film chronicles the events before and during the trial of Joan of Arc, a 15th-century French warrior who was executed (and later martyred) for claiming she had spoken to God. The initial film was censored and destroyed in a fire while in storage in Berlin. Then, in 1981, the original version was discovered miraculously in a mental health institution in Norway.

Mel Gibson, Brendan Gleeson and David O’Hara in ‘Braveheart’

Paramount Pictures

‘Braveheart’ (1995)

– Director: Mel Gibson
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 178 minutes

When the love of his life is killed, medieval Scottish patriot William Wallace seeks revenge against the English forces who slaughtered her, spurring the entire country of Scotland to revolt against English rule. Though it was nominated for an impressive 10 Academy Awards in 1996 (winning five, including Best Picture), “Braveheart” has become somewhat infamous for its numerous historical inaccuracies.

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