The Greatest Archery Movies: Ever

The definitive list of the best archery films ever made. By Bow‘s resident film correspondent Rick Flick.

It’s harder to classify an ‘archery movie’, than it is to classify, say, a ‘submarine movie’. It’s something woven very differently into different movies, on levels ranging from the fundamental to the extremely trivial. Usually, it’s employed to illustrate a character’s rugged individualism, self-reliance, rarefied skill or all three. Being ‘the chosen one’ never gets old in cinema.

Ji-hye Yun in Kundo: Age Of The Rampant (2015)

Archery is also frequently thrown in as a dumb shorthand for the same reasons. Hey, we need something cool and tough… how about we make this guy an archer? So to make our definitive list, there has to be something a little more than just yeah, give that sidekick a bow.

So how were these movies chosen? Well, we used a carefully calibrated and weighted algorithm incorporating:

a) how inspiring they are (perhaps: how much they might want to make you pick up a bow)
b) how much the filmmakers bothered to understand archery (aka how lazy the director was)
c) how integral archery was to the plot
d) the intrinsic quality of the movie
e) straight-up entertainment value

That’s right. This list is based on science, making it literally impossible to argue with.

The most famous outlaw of all, Robin Hood, has been a popular subject for filmmakers forever; his first cinematic outing was in 1908, and there have been over eighty film and TV productions since then in English that feature the character. Many of them aren’t that noteworthy, and we have only mentioned the few we thought were worth a look. If your favourite ain’t there, that’s just life, isn’t it? I hope I’ve dug out a few you might not have heard of, too.

Note: films as part of a series or with sequels only get one entry in this list. So grab some popcorn and strap in.

34. The Brave Archer (1977)

Director: Chang Cheh
original title: She diao ying xiong zhuan

They say: “A young man must complete a series of martial art tests and overcome assassins along the way.”

Technicolor kung-fu melodrama from the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong which looks like something out of a different age altogether, despite being shot at the tail end of the 70s. Fans of kung-fu shot on backlots against matte backgrounds will enjoy it. The archery is reasonably entertaining, although there’s not a ton of it compared to the kung-fu and sword fights, enlivened by a gazillion minor characters and subplots, and even some romance.

There is a more-of-the-same sequel which is also worth an idle look, if it’s Sunday afternoon and you really can’t be bothered to clean up the kitchen.

Realism rating: nope

33. The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)

Director: Ken Annakin

They say: “With King Richard away at the crusades, Prince John rules England with an iron fist and tasks the Sheriff of Nottingham with the collection of high taxes and the capture of outlaw Robin Hood.”

A Disney / RKO co-production, shot in England with a British Robin Hood complete with gleaming teeth and Technicolor Lincoln green. Richard Todd would be best known a few years later for his leading role in The Dam Busters, and Walt Disney himself insisted on Joan Rice getting the role of Maid Marian. Some scenes were apparently actually shot in Sherwood Forest. If you want the patriotic hero and the happy ending from your Robin, this is the one to go for. Yeah, there’s some archery. Does it matter?

Realism rating: take a wild guess

32. The Archer (2017)

Director: Valerie Weiss

They say: “Archery champion goes to reform school, busts out.”

“You rely on sights, you rely on something outside of yourself.” There is much barebow-promoting sage zen pseudo-wisdom flowing through this curious Jane-Eyre-on-steroids film of unjust imprisonment and occasional ass-kicking. Archery is presented well, if a bit unlikely, but ultimately an awful lot of this feels contrived and nothing quite gels. It doesn’t fully satisfy as an archery movie, or a prison break movie, or a teen movie, or an anything movie. But hey, if you’ve got 90 mins spare, get stuck in.

Realism rating: they tried

31. Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)

Director: Kevin Reynolds

They say: “When Robin and his Moorish companion come to England and the tyranny of the Sheriff of Nottingham, he decides to fight back as an outlaw.”

A film notable for many things: Kevin Costner’s disastrous accent and worse hair, the scene-stealing performances of Alan Rickman and Morgan Freeman, some extraordinary anachronisms, and massive commercial success. Flaming arrows! Oh dear.

Supposedly Alan Rickman turned down the role of the Sheriff twice before he was told he could more or less do what he wanted with the character, upgrading the terrible script wherever possible. But still: worth a watch, especially compared to most of its TV peers of the era.

Realism rating: hilarious

30. Woman at War (2018)

Director: Benedikt Erlingsson
original title: Kona fer í stríð

They say: “Halla becomes a determined environmental activist, but this threatens a long-held hope of hers.”

Curious, well-executed Icelandic movie about an activist who takes down power lines with cables by shooting arrows at them, only to face a difficult choice about whether to adopt a child. Probably the only movie ever where you’ll see a character pack away a recurve bow. Fanciful, if unpredictable, it keeps you moving through its world, with an excellent turn from Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir in the lead role as Halla. A mix of action, humour, and dark commentary that will hang around for a while.

Realism rating: not bad, really

29. Le Corps Sauvage (2019)

Le Corps Sauvage (2019)

Director: Cheyenne Carron

They say: “In search of a new way of life, Diane, 25, settles in her grandfather’s home in a village bordering a forest where she practices archery.”

Slow and meditative take on archery and hunting, and the invasion of strangers, where an idealised situation is threatened by outsiders. Not well known outside France, this is worth the time.

Realism rating: effort made

28. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Director: Joss Whedon

They say: “When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plan.”

Immensely expensive, grandiose feature. Light on story, heavy almost beyond imagining on special effects, this is one of the tentpoles of the Marvel franchise. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye works and infuriates in equal measure. You may have an opinion on this already. It’s right.

Realism rating: all done with computers

27. Transformation (2008)

Director: Abu Sayeed
Original title: Rupantor

They say: “While making a film based on a Mahabharata episode of Eklavya’s offering of honorarium to his Guru Dronacharya, the film director finds a new truth and that drives him to change and add something new in the screenplay.”

Bangladeshi cinema is generally underrated, and this 90 minute independent drama, based on a tale from the archery-riddled Mahabharata, is worth the time invested – if you can find a version with English subtitles, that is.

Realism rating: passable

26. Make a Bow and Kiss (2017)

Director: Takeshi Furusawa
Original title: 礼して、キス, Ichirei Shite Kiss

They say: “Kishimoto An is a high school student who loves Japanese archery….”

Teen high school romance drama based around a kyudo range, as our heroine flings the sticks with one Mikami Yota, who can’t summon up as much enthusiasm for kyudo as he can for An. Pretty good as these things go, and a few proper nods towards realism. I mean, someone actually bruises their arm. Gotta be a first. Boss poster, too.

Realism rating: yeah, alright really

25. The Archer (1982)

Director: Taavi Kassila
Original title: Jousiampuja

They say: “On-the-run Aki learns about life and the art of archery from peaceful Eino, and falls in love with Eino’s daughter Lena who works at the ambulance switchboard. But no hiding place is good enough to last forever.”

Solid Finnish drama with archery used as a tool for self-renewal for the unlikeable lead character, macho competition, and more. Works better than expected. Can be watched on YouTube, although without subtitles. How’s your Finnish coming along?

Realism rating: they give it a go

Mulan (2020)

24. Mulan (2020)

Director: Niki Caro

They say: “A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.”

One of the major releases of 2020, this film went straight to premium streaming rather than being released in cinemas. Essentially, it’s a Disneyfied wuxia film, based partly on the 1990s animated classic, itself in turn based on a Chinese folk tale.

Trying to make a live action movie based on something that people loved as children is always dangerous, and the lead actress Yifei Liu has come under fire for various reasons. As a piece of glossy, exotic entertainment it works well, although it is a little uneven in tone. Archery is presented as a tool in a warrior’s armoury, and gets a little more respect than usual.

Realism rating: moderate, becoming good

23. Robin Hood (2010)

Director: Ridley Scott

They say: “In twelfth-century England, Robin Longstride and his band of marauders confront corruption in a local village and lead an uprising against the crown that will forever alter the balance of world power.”

At 45 years old, Russell Crowe remains the oldest actor to play the lead in a regular-issue Robin Hood – with the arguable exception of Sean Connery. Fraught by production problems and an English accent almost – but not quite – worse than Kevin Costner’s, this remains a diverting take, partly due to the talent involved and Scott’s insistence on extensive rewrites to the script to push the legend into new territories and reduce the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

But it’s a little too straightforward, really. Crowe essentially reruns his Gladiator lead role with a bow in his hand. Shooting-wise, it’s not bad at all, with tackle that actually looks like it comes from the forest rather than the props department.

Realism rating: slightly above average

22. Conquest (1983)

Director: Lucio Fulci

They say: “A young man, armed with a magical bow and arrows, embarks on a mystical journey through a mystical land to rid it of all evil and joins forces with an outlaw to take down an evil witch bent on claiming the magic bow for evil.”

If you like lurid, barely comprehensible, psychedelic sword-and-sorcery movies shot in murky soft-focus, you’re in for a treat. It would be great to have a bow where arrows just magically appear, right? Our hero also has real arrows in his boot and an interesting pinch technique – even if, in some scenes, his bow might just be strung the wrong way round.

If a drunk Dario Argento remade Conan the Barbarian for no money, it might look a bit like this. Apparently, all the costume budget went on the ones for the furry troll creatures, and they literally didn’t have any left for the women. A cult piece of avant-garde impressionistic fantasy trash, which also features a burbling electronic soundtrack courtesy of Claudio Simonetti of Goblin, giallo composer of note. Warning: not for the faint-hearted – includes many people getting shot and clubbed, some ruderies with snakes and some particularly gruesome low-budget special effects.

Realism rating: oh boy

Deliverance (1972)

21. Deliverance (1972)

Director: John Bormann

They say: “Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it’s dammed and turned into a lake, outdoor fanatic Lewis Medlock takes his friends on a canoeing trip they’ll never forget into the dangerous American back-country.”

Dark and disturbing landmark thriller about city folk heading deep into the wilderness, amid a backdrop of flooding and destruction, which still holds the cinematic imagination today. This is mainly thanks to two standout iconic scenes – one involving a banjo, and another, unflinching one that is rather more difficult to watch. Bows and bowhunting also play vital roles, with the shot of Burt Reynolds at full draw, waiting to shoot – if he can shoot – remains perhaps the tensest archery scene in cinema. All the actors performed their own stunts, which adds a visceral layer of realism to proceedings.

The archery legend Fred Bear spent a week instructing Reynolds and the other actors before filming began, and Reynolds shoots a Bear Victor Kodiak takedown bow – apparently the firm was deluged with orders as soon as the movie came out. The author of the book and screenplay, James Dickey, was also an experienced archer – and a lively screenwriter who ended up punching the director during production. Increasingly brooding and ominous, few films have ever tapped into primal fears like this one, and it’s one of the very few films on this list nominated for the best picture Oscar.

Realism rating: you’ll remember it

20. A Tale Of Archery At The Sanjusangendo (1945)

Director: Mikio Naruse
orig. title: Sanjûsangen dô, tôshiya monogatari

They say: “Tale of martial skill set in the Edo era, and completed with difficulty during the last months of WWII: the son of an archer ,who killed himself after losing a contest, takes up his father’s former profession.”

The long hall at the eponymous temple in Kyoto, Japan is a real place and is still used for archery competitions today. This curio was filmed at the real location and released just before the end of 1945, when bombing raids on Tokyo had forced the film studios to move out of the city. It has been described as a propaganda film encouraging the Japanese public to do their utmost to defend the nation – although it’s ultimately a lot odder than that.

The plot, about the son of a famous archer obsessed with breaking Dad’s house record of 8000 hits in a day (yes), amid a swirling cloud of subplots and bushido codes, never quite gets off the runway. The direction is a bit flat and underpowered, perhaps because of wartime restrictions. Yet there is something in this tale which drags you along to the end, and the final sequence showing the competition itself is a thrill. Plenty of archers will recognise themselves in the scene where the hero Daihachiro’s shooting takes a terrible downturn.

Realism rating: everyone dresses very nicely

Mirza’s Lady (2016)

19. Mirza’s Lady (2016)

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
original title: Mirzya

They say: “A horse groom reconnects with his childhood love, but she is engaged to marry the local prince.”

Based on a well-known Punjab folk tale, this big-budget romantic adventure is richly cinematic, even if it polarised audiences with a murky, complex screenplay and some overlong scenes. While it’s not far off a Romeo and Juliet retelling, the action sequences are the highlights, featuring some real live horseback archery: no unnecessary CGI here. The top drawer cast helps, and even Art Malik gets a run out in a Shakespearean role. It tanked at the Indian box office, but if you know you enjoy this sort of broad brush stuff, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Realism rating: Bollywood

18. The Weather Man (2005)

Director: Gore Verbinski

They say: “A Chicago weather man, separated from his wife and children, debates whether professional and personal success are mutually exclusive.”

Brisk and modern satire on celebrity culture and male anxiety, starring Nicolas Cage as a TV weather man whose career is going well just as his family life is going down the pan. Ridden with neuroses, Cage takes up archery as something to do with his family, and then carries on when he finds he likes it. Contains scenes of actual have-a-go’s, eye dominance tests, and buying your first bow in a shop. I mean, really.

Archery slots neatly into its familiar dual role of character building and character illustrating, but the film generally uses it well – although why Cage is wandering around downtown cities with a suit on and a back quiver full of arrows on is anybody’s guess. I suppose it just looked good. But there’s some strength in the script, and Michael Caine is great, too. As Cage’s character puts it: “It’s hard, but that one good shot leaves you thinking you might be catching on.”

Realism rating: some serious effort made

17. The Host (2006)

Director: Bong Joon Ho
original title: 괴물Gwoemul

They say: “A monster emerges from Seoul’s Han River and begins attacking people. One victim’s loving family does what it can to rescue her from its clutches.”

This film was the first international breakthrough picture from director Bong Joon Ho, who recently won the best picture Oscar for Parasite (2019) – the first ever foreign language film to do so. A monster movie that breaks all the rules of both horror and creature films, this is on our list because it is the only movie ever, as far as I am aware, to feature a modern international archery competition. Against type, archery is shown as a difficulty in someone’s life, illuminating the flaw in someone’s character, rather than fleshing out the heroic. The archer cannot win at archery, so she has to rescue her sister from some… thing to find redemption. That’s not giving too much away, promise. An exceptional way of spending two hours.

Realism rating: Korean recurve

16 .The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)

Director: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley

They say: “When Prince John and the Norman Lords begin oppressing the Saxon masses in King Richard’s absence, a Saxon lord fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla army.”

One of the first big-budget movies in colour ever produced, this is a document of the golden age of Hollywood, with the tagline: “The Best Loved Bandit Of All Time!” Dashing, bright, and ever so merry, this is perhaps the movie that cemented the Robin Hood legend as the swashbuckling romantic hero – a legend which is mostly a creation of the 20th century rather than the 14th and after. Errol Flynn’s finest movie, perhaps, and Olivia de Havilland still defines the Maid Marian role 80 years on, along with plenty more top-line supporting work. USA archery legend Howard Hill appears in two scenes.

Realism rating: don’t be ridiculous

15. The Green Archer (1961)

Director: Jürgen Roland
original title: Der grüne Bogenschütze

They say: “An English businessman comes home to London, only to find visitors to his home being killed by arrows from the Green Archer.”

This 1961 West German black-and-white thriller, set in London (but shot entirely in Hamburg) is divertingly good. Not to be confused with an earlier American serial from 1940, it’s an efficient yarn about a rogue archer offing people at a fancy country house that maintains suspense (dubbed versions can be found online). It stars the striking Karin Dor, who went on to be a memorable Bond girl in You Only Live Twice in 1967.

Realism rating: I’ve seen much worse

14. Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985)

Director George P. Cosmatos

They say: “Rambo returns to the jungles of Vietnam on a mission to infiltrate an enemy base-camp and rescue the American POWs still held captive there.”

Do not underestimate the influence of the Rambo movies on the development of archery over the past forty years. You could argue that they have been at least as influential as The Hunger Games (qv), albeit to a different generation. Stallone’s impressively pumped, perennially shirtless, monosyllabic take on the American hero gained more nuance with further sequels, but the immense success and influence of this clunkily-directed second outing defined the 80s icon (who never misses) for the whole world.

A version of the custom Hoyt Spectra bow Stallone used was eventually released in a special package with other accessories. As to why they dubbed pistol sounds over arrow shots… you tell me.

Realism rating: exploding arrows, man

13. Kundo: Age Of The Rampant (2015)

Director: Yoon Jong-bin
orig. title: 군도: 민란의 시대Gundo: Min-ran-eui Si-dae

They say: “Set in mid-19th century Joseon, it is about a power struggle between the unjust wealthy noblemen who run society and a group of righteous outlaws who steal from corrupt officials to give to the downtrodden and starving.”

Period Korean epic in thrall to Sergio Leone westerns, this action-stuffed, morally ambiguous tale will satisfy the hungriest wuxia action junkie. Darkly comic and romantic in turn, the tale of oppressed villagers fighting evil tax collectors even shamelessly uses Morricone-like music. The highlights of this movie are the exceptionally well-choreographed and shot swordfight scenes, but the strong characters and directorial choices lift it to another level.

There’s not a ton of archery here, but what there is; with a bow wielded by the matriarchal Ma-Hyang, played by Ji-hye Yun, will stay with you. Never has so much ass been so soundly kicked by one woman with a bow – not even by Jennifer Lawrence. Exceptionally good.

Realism rating: I didn’t notice

Schoolgirl Apocalypse (2011)

12. Schoolgirl Apocalypse (2011)

Director: John Cairns
Original title: セーラー服黙示録, Sērā-fuku mokushiroku

They say: “Sakura is your typical Japanese school girl that lives in a small town in the mountains. One day at school, during archery practice, her teacher and classmate start acting strange.”

Ignore the slightly lurid translation of the title, this is an arthouse zombie action flick with a slightly improbable production story, that somehow comes together into a highly watchable piece with some nice woozy impressionistic touches. It’s a coming-of-age movie of sorts, and if you like a lot of zombies getting impaled by arrows, you’re in for a treat.

Realism rating: way above average

The Sacred Arrow (2014)

11. The Sacred Arrow (2014)

Director: Pema Tseden

Original title: 五彩神箭, wu cai shen jian

They say: “Two Tibetan villages keep friendship from generation to generation. Now two young man will compete in an upcoming archery contest.”

A Chinese production with a Tibetan director based in China, this will please fans of widescreen fantasy and epic Asian landscapes. A historical feature but apparently set in the present day, it explores a rivalry against the backdrop of a Tibetan archery competition. (There’s some interesting archery cheating going on too.) It’s not the most novel plot ever devised, and breaks zero new ground for women, but it doesn’t half look nice and it even looks like they bothered to make the archery realistic. (You can find the whole thing on YouTube, too.)

Realism rating: kinda

Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)

10. Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)

Director: S.S. Rajamouli

They say: “In ancient India, an adventurous and daring man becomes involved in a decades old feud between two warring people.”

OTT epic Bollywood spectacular, this was the most expensive Indian film ever made at the time of its release – a record broken only by its sequel. Influenced by the epic Mahabharata, it contains some of the most entertaining ‘archery’ you will ever witness, against a Game Of Thrones-esque, VFX heavy world, choreographed to within an inch of its life. There is a notorious ‘arrow scene’ during a palace storming which is worth the wait. If you think you’ll get on with it, believe me, you will.

Realism rating: absolutely ridiculous

9. The Arrows of Robin Hood (1975)

Director: Sergey Tarasov
original title: Стрелы Робин Гуда (Strely Robin Guda)

They say: “With a traditional archery contest, the winner wins a silver arrow with gold lace and gold feathers. As more and more participants are losing and Robin Hood eventually wins the award, his masquerade reveals.”

This romantic Russian production of the legend, from 1975, is perhaps the best take in a language other than English (write and let me know if you’ve seen a better one). Boris Khmelnitsky as our hero grabs hold of the screen and doesn’t let it go; there’s something about the displacement of language and place, and the general minimising of comic relief, that adds some weight to the enterprise. It’s a darker, slightly mischevious Robin take, but doesn’t get stodgy. There’s some songs, as well. You can stream the whole thing, although without English subtitles. Feel free to give it a try without.

Realism rating: well, it’s still a Robin Hood movie

8. Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993)

Director: Mel Brooks

They say: “The Legend Had It Coming…”

Robin Hood’s usual run out is as a simple hero who doesn’t get involved with complex narrative arcs, and many of the endless twentieth century retellings can get a little saccharine. Mel Brooks saw an opportunity for mockery and went for it, sending up the successful Kevin Costner Prince Of Thieves version in particular.
While it lacks the comedic gut punches of some of Brooks’s best work like Blazing Saddles, enough of the jokes land to keep it moving, and some of them – like the ‘Patriot Arrow’ – will have archers properly rolling in the aisles. Cary Elwes never lets up in the title role, and the supporting cast look like are they enjoying every moment. It’s not for everyone, but not for nothing is it a lot of people’s favourite Robin Hood movie.

Realism rating: Yes

7. The Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Director: Peter Jackson

They say: “A meek Hobbit from the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the powerful One Ring and save Middle-earth from the Dark Lord Sauron.”

The first of Peter Jackson’s all-conquering fantasy series, all of which feature the mighty elf Legolas. This is arguably the best of the three that took the most urtext fantasy work of all into a new century. Fellowship and its sequels had an immense impact on all kinds of things all around the world, including archery. In terms of realism it isn’t much to write home about; the archery sequences – and indeed, everything else – are played for sheer widescreen orc-smashing entertainment.
It may have made a generation of kids think they could shoot a bow held essentially sideways, but it’s been a vital cog in our wheel. And as a movie, it hasn’t fallen off a cliff nearly twenty years on, either.

Realism rating: not really

6. Hawk The Slayer (1980)

Director: Terry Marcel

They say: “With the aid of his companions, a man seeks to defeat his evil
brother who has taken a nun hostage.”

Pre-Conan sword and sorcery flick, shot in the forests of England with an American lead and a cast that includes Roy Kinnear and Carry-On regular Bernard Bresslaw. Influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, the title character assembles a ‘Merry Men’ brigade of roughneck characters to help him fight Jack Pallance’s dark lord Voltran, including elfen archer Crow, who can rattle off arrows faster than Lars Andersen. It never quite delivers all the thrills; the direction and dialogue is nothing to write home about, but it has a few great scenery-chewing sequences and has developed a cult following among schlocky film fans. If you like this kind of rampant leather-trousered hero nonsense, you’ll love it.

Realism rating: [blank stare]

5. Blade: Trinity (2004)

Director: David S. Goyer

They say: “Blade, now a wanted man by the FBI, must join forces with the Nightstalkers to face his most challenging enemy yet: Dracula.”

Spoiler alert: this is not the best film of the Blade series, starring Wesley Snipes as the Daywalker vampire-reboot character. Indeed, it was critically mauled for a lacklustre script, shoddy too-fast editing and many other cinematic offences. However, its action scenes are strong and Jessica Biel’s striking compound bow-assisted character – while remaining underwritten and underused – steals most of them. There’s a pleasingly slow and stylish take on her with a bow; it’s not all machine-gun territory.
Ultimately, there’s not a lot to it, but the best of it is quite something. Also, the only use of a chronograph in cinema? Maybe.

Realism rating: some thumbs up.

Throne of Blood (1957)

4. Throne of Blood (1957)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Original title: Kumonosu-jô

They say: “A war-hardened general, egged on by his ambitious wife, works to fulfil a prophecy that he would become lord of Spider’s Web Castle.”

It’s fair to say that a lot of this list wouldn’t trouble those who like what you might call ‘serious cinema’. Archery is most often the vessel of the action epic and the comic book hero. The major exception is Throne Of Blood, the 1957 work by Akira Kurosawa, possibly the greatest Japanese film director of all (and without question the best known). Some film critics pick Throne as Kurosawa’s masterpiece even above Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, his best-known works.

Essentially Throne is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth via Japanese warrior traditions, drawing on the stylised techniques of the Noh theatre. It’s low on dialogue and slow on plot, but contains some of the most elegant and majestic sequences in cinema. And it contains the single greatest archery scene in any movie, as Kurosawa’s favourite lead, Toshiro Mifune, is crucified by a hail of (real) arrows over and over in the spectacular finale on the castle balcony. Sorry. Did that need a spoiler alert?

Realism rating: not now, please

3. War Of The Arrows (2011)

Director: Han-min Kim
original title: Choi-jong-byeong-gi hwal

They say: “A skilled Korean archer goes up against the mighty force of Manchus with the sole purpose of rescuing his kidnapped sister.”

Also known as ‘Arrow: The Ultimate Weapon’, this was perhaps the apex of a Korean fashion for historical epic dramas in the 2000s and on. It won a raft of awards in Asia and should generally be better known, in its genre at least. Like Kundo: Age Of The Rampant, and several others on this list, it borrows liberally from Westerns, but it’s a slice above the usual swashbucklers. For the first time, the primary characters are archers, not swordsmen; and you see them practicing, pulling arrows from the boss – and failing. It’s executed with some lovely artistic touches, too, even among the pretty non-stop action. Kind of the ultimate ‘archery movie’ – if you mean a movie that pretty much just about archery.

Realism rating: strong

2. The Hunger Games (2012)

Director: Gary Ross

They say: “Katniss Everdeen voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games: a televised competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to fight to the death.”

Possibly no work of art has inspired more people to try a sport than this. While Jennifer Lawrence trained with multiple Olympian Khatuna Lorig for the archery scenes, the real work is what Lawrence and director Ross pulled out of the character; developing a heroine driven by survival, rather than love.

The bow, and Katniss’s skill with it, becomes an essential component of the resilient, hard-as-nails character that hooked so many across the YA novels, this film and its two sequels. Archery is not just an add-on from a director looking for a visually-cool skill to give to a sidekick. It illustrates and develops one of the better modern characters in film in the last decade, adrift in an appalling, dystopian world run by some delightfully grotesque characters.

Realism rating: we could be here all day with this one

1. Brave (2012)


Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman

They say: “Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.”

The Pixar studio’s first foray into fantasy – nevertheless grounded in a strangely earthy reality – is set in a fantastical, Braveheart-y Scotland populated with royalty and magic. Our heroine, Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly McDonald) prefers shooting her bow and riding her horse to the glitzy travails of being a princess. Inevitably, her parents want to marry her off, and she storms out into the woods to begin the adventure.

The film contains a famous shot showing exactly how an arrow leaves the bow; archer’s paradox and all, an oddly real detail for an animated fantasy, and one of several interesting asides added by the directors. Like all the best Pixar movies, Brave upends the usual syrupy moralism of fairytales and upholds a kind of ‘heartfelt nonconformity’, even if it doesn’t quite have the zingy script of Toy Story.

You could throw the charge of a bland story at it, but Brave has enough to carry it off. The character of Merida; impulsive and stubborn but courageous and kind, and – yes – brave, is the canvas on which we project ourselves, as archers and as people. For that reason, I’m picking Brave as the best archery movie ever made. And I’m right.

Realism rating: the most realistic film ever in the history of the world

Quotes from iMDb. Thanks to the many people who assisted with this list. All photos are copyright their respective owners and should not be reproduced without permission.

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One comment on “The Greatest Archery Movies: Ever
  1. Kyle says:

    One of the best lists on the internet, period.

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