The Appearance Of Fascism In Conan The Barbarian

The Appearance Of Fascism In Conan The Barbarian

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
20th Century Fox Home Ent.

Release Date: July 11th, 2011
Certificate: 15
Running Time: 121 minutes

Year of production: 1982

Director: John Milius
Writers: John Milius, Oliver Stone

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow

Before he was the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger maintained an impressive career as an action movie star from the 80’s through to the 90’s with roles in blockbusters like The Terminator (1984), Commando (1985), The Running Man (1987), Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and True Lies (1994) to name but a few, but it was Conan The Barbarian that first brought him mainstream attention.

It wasn’t because of his acting or an extraordinary ability to make us believe he was the character he was portraying. It was because he was Arnie and for many of us that was enough. With his hulking figure, deadpan delivery and brute force he didn’t need to be in character which was why these roles suited him so perfectly.

Conan The Barbarian

Based on the novels by the 1930’s pulp fiction writer, Robert E. Howard, as well as the Marvel comics that followed in later years, Conan The Barbarian told the story of a young warrior living in savage and magical prehistoric times. As a young boy Conan’s parents were slain by snake cult leader, Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Growing up as a slave and then becoming a gladiator, Conan’s only wish is to avenge his parents’ deaths.

After being freed, Conan sets off to find Doom in the Temple of Set. He must also rescue a princess and retrieve the sword stolen from his father which was used to behead his mother.

With its action, gore and sex, Conan The Barbarian has evolved as a cult classic along with other sword and sorcery films like Excalibur (1981), Krull (1983) and Highlander (1986) but it has also received criticism for what has been as viewed as fascistic elements.

Conan The Barbarian

Cambridge lecturer and author David Huckvale noted that Conan is similar to the Aryan blonde beast in Richard Wagner’s opera, Siegfried (1876) (1) and while this is might be the case, associations with further Nazi Aryan elements by other critics seem rather misguided and sensationalist.

Other criticisms include that Conan The Barbarian follows in the footsteps of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda films, but there’s also Adam Roberts who wrote:

“Taken seriously, there is something rather alarming in the story of the hugely muscular Aryan (played by an actor of the same nationality as Hitler) single-handedly taking on and defeating the negro villain and his evil, serpentine hordes. It is more than a question of the ethical values of the genre.”(2)

The blond warrior does slice off a black man’s head and throw it down a flight of stairs, but the black man (Doom) had previously murdered Conan’s parents in cold blood, he also leads a cannibalistic cult and has the power to transform himself into a massive serpent. Taken in context, the fascistic claims are unfounded and to me it signifies why film theory, given free reign, can sometimes veer so frantically off course.


  • (1) David Huckvale, The Composing Machine: Wagner and Popular Culture (1994) John Libbey and Company
  • (2) Adam Roberts, Arthurian Cinema: Aesthetic Fascism and Its Critique (1997) Rodopi B.V. Editions

Conan The Barbarian should not be taken as seriously as these academics have taken it. It’s a action romp and any efforts to see further into it tells more about the critics, and their misinterpretations of Nietzsche and the Übermensch than it does about the film.

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