After watching The Green Knight at the cinema recently it got me thinking about knights in movies… movie knights, if you will — and which are the best, the bravest, the most chivalrous, and the funniest. That sort of thing.
First, though, we need to define them. The dictionary describes a knight as ‘a mounted soldier in armour’. So for them to make the cut they’ll have had to be on a mount of some kind, at some point. And they must — in at least a scene or two — be wearing armour.
If they don’t meet those two criteria then I’ve got to rule them out. So, for example, Highlander wouldn’t make the list. Conor MacLeod just wore a trenchcoat and battered trainers, and I don’t think he ever had a mount. Well, maybe in some flashback scenes in Scotland he did briefly, but I think of him more as a warrior on foot.
The same goes for Luke Skywalker. A hooded cloak doesn’t count as armour. And yes, you could argue the Tauntaun he rides in The Empire Strikes Back is a mount, but he’s not known for riding one regularly. Speeder bikes don’t count as mounts either.
Now that that’s out the way, let’s see who does make the list.
Richard Gere as Lancelot in First Knight (1995)
He’s got a California tan and swishy hair. He’s carefree and the ladies love him, particularly Guinevere (Julia Ormond). There’s rain, lingering looks on horseback and tears aplenty – what’s not to love? Did I mention the rain? And the hair?
Heath Ledger as William Thatcher in A Knight’s Tale (2001)
Sporting hair that’s almost as good as Gere’s locks, in this comedy Heath Ledger’s rags to riches knight enters a jousting tournament to woo — for some inexplicable reason — Shannyn Sossoman (who’s completely miscast). That aside, Ledger was a delight, and gave us a performance that put him on the map for many of us.
Paul Rudd as Danny in Role Models (2008)
Ok, bear with me. This 2008 comedy starred Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and the ‘fighting’, in this case, is larping (live action role play). In the film’s climactic scene Rudd’s Danny finally embraces it — his armour? KISS cosplay and a foam sword. His steed? A truck with horns that shoots fire.
Martin Lawrence as Jamal Walker in Black Knight (2001)
This comedy got a kicking from critics but I quite liked it at the time. Lawrence’s Jamal works at a historical amusement park where things happen and he’s transported back to medieval England. He then has to step up and become a hero. Silly stuff, but you almost never see a Black man as the lead in this genre, so there’s that. He wears shiny shoulder armour and rides a horse (badly).
Val Kilmer as Madmartigan in Willow (1988)
This remains one of my favourite fantasy adventure movies. It’s aged well, too. Kilmer plays Madmartigan, a disgraced knight of sorts who teams up with our protagonist, Willow. He rides many a horse, including a horse and cart at speed, as well as a shield down a snowy mountain. At one point he wears glorious gold armour and fights a two-headed dragon.
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in Return Of The King (2003)
This final instalment in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy sees Aragorn leave Strider behind and become the king he was meant to be. And, as we know, kings lead armies and give rousing speeches. He does both superbly. Aragorn’s ‘it is not this day’ speech and his ‘for Frodo’ moment, charging alone at Sauron’s armies, remains one of my favourite heroic acts in cinema.
Kevin Costner as Robin of Locksley in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)
I watched this movie so much growing up. Robin had light armour, and wore a gambeson and leather bracers — you have to be able to move fast as an archer. He even had an armoured horse. In true knightly style he has a big sword fight near the end, with one of the best bad guys of the ’90s, Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham.
Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
I mention both these movies for a couple of reasons. First, Valkyrie rides a winged stallion in Endgame. Never mind where the hell this mythical creature came from, it looked cool. And in Ragnarok she leaps from spaceship to spaceship with a sword, slicing them up. That was our introduction to how bad ass she could be.
Louis George Serkis as Alex in The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
I’ve got a soft spot for this movie — it’s really sweet and fun. Angus Imrie and Patrick Stewart both play Merlin in different scenes, and both do a wonderful job. The lead, Louis Serkis (youngest son of actor-director Andy Serkis) does an impressive job as our plucky hero, recruiting his friends as knights, and then subsequently all the kids at school — to fight Rebecca Ferguson’s evil Morgana.
Miranda Otto as Eowyn in Return Of The King (2003)
Yes, it’s another Lord Of The Rings entry, but count yourself lucky I didn’t just make this entire list entries from those movies. Eowyn is, unquestionably, a knight. She has armour and rides a horse to battle. Plus she kills the Nazgul Witch-king in one of the most empowering moments for women across the trilogy, removing her helmet to say ‘I am no man’, before stabbing him in the face.