The most historically accurate movie sword fight?


In discussion with a group of friends, the question came up:  “What is the best, most realistic, historically accurate sword fight in the movies?”  We weren’t interested in made-for-the-camera montages that have little or nothing to do with accurate depictions of real fighting (although we all laughed at the comic duel in Zorro, The Gay Blade, where George Hamilton was at his over-the-top best).

There were a number of suggestions, but most of us agreed that the duel between Colonel WoĹ‚odyjowski and the young nobleman Andrzej Kmicic was one of the best of its kind, if not the best.  It’s described in Henryk Sienkiewicz‘s novel “The Deluge“, the second book in his “Trilogy“.  Jerzy Hoffman adapted the novel for the film of the same name in 1974.

Here’s the famous duel scene, fought according to the Sarmatian dueling code (i.e. immediately, not needing seconds or a separation in time from the incident that sparked it) using period-correct Polish cavalry sabers known as Szablas.  It’s gritty and realistic.

(Kmicic survives his injury, and goes on to become a hero in his own right, while the Colonel dies in a later battle.).  I’ve seldom seen a sword fight more realistic than that.  It’s also very faithful to the tone and mood of the original work – something few movies can claim.

So, readers, what’s your nomination?  What sword fight or duel scene, in your opinion, is the most realistic and historically accurate portrayal of the genre?  Please let us know in Comments, and provide a link (if possible) to the scene on a video channel.



  1. @JL: I agree, "The Duellists" was and is superb: but the specific question is the scene that offers the best and most realistic duel, not the movie as a whole. Which of the duels in "The Duellists" would you nominate as the best?

  2. If you haven't seen it, I recommend Ridley Scott's freshman pic, The Duellists, with Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel as the protagonists in Napoleonic France.

    Every frame is a painting, it's a great flick, and the fights are first-rate, being yards better than most anything else on film.

  3. As an aside, I would encourage everyone here to read Sienkiewicz's trilogy. Action, adventure, romance, all taking place in a fascinating time period (and decidedly un-woke).

  4. I can't remember the name of the film, but two men end up brawling outdoors in bad weather and mud, hauling off and belting each other with broadswords. Neither dies; but it's a Pyrrhic victory.

    The winner returns years later and finds the loser, who lives in a small tower and owns land, to be crippled up such that he can't walk. He can't sit, either, but has use of his arms. He gets around with a sort of stretcher on wheels that moves by a pawl and ratchet mechanism – a real Rube Goldberg device. At the end of the film he falls over chasing his adversary through the main hall of his tower.

    What we have is wrestling, boxing, and MMA. Watch any MMA match, and that's as close to a real duel as you'll ever see. Add weapons and we've got fencing, which is as close to a real duel as any bar fight in an old West film. Fencers know they aren't going to get stabbed or cut, so they take chances. They also aren't allowed to employ such tactics as a knee to the groin or a second weapon.

    In reality, most duels were fought until first blood. Firearms changed all that, and people started getting killed. Death wasn't always immediate, either. Getting shot in the guts guaranteed you plenty of time to make out your last will and testament while your friends tried to find you a good supply of opium.

    The only real sword fight that I know of wasn't filmed, but one participant explained that he carried a sword umbrella when he traveled. He was in Mexico when a group of youths tried to rob him. He declined to deliver and drew his blade, and one youth impaled himself on it. He pulled it out, and the others ran. And that was that.

  5. That was an impressive duel scene. I fenced sabre (Fencing sabre is of course quite different from actual combat with a sabre) and there is one maneuver that looks like windmilling with the blade called a moulinet (which is actually French for windmill) that you learn but never use in sport sabre as it is essentially ineffectual in that environment. It was really neat to see it used in that fight for an actual purpose.

    I do like Old NFO's choice. That very much depicts the style of Samurai duels and is actually cribbing from one of Musashi's famous duals.

    I have two I like. First is the battle between Westley and Inigo in the Princess Bride. Before it goes totally off the deep end silly about half way through the style really is quite proper for the rapiers they're using. And all the names they quote are actual "period" (16th and 17th century) fencing masters. Apparently the two actors involved had a ball learning the fight. They do sneak in some doubles at several point but short the really insane stuff both actors did their most of their own fighting.

    The other I love is the 1935 duel in Captain Blood. It is two iconic actors Errol Flynn in his first outing and Basil Rathbone. Again it is fairly true to the style for rapiers. One issue is watching it, it is clear Rathbone is far more skilled at (stage) fencing, Flynn is a bit sloppy in his guards and would probably have been skewered in reality, but the hero has to win to save Olivia De Haviland dont you know 🙂 . For fun look up Jill Bearup and her sword fight reviews on Youtube

  6. I've always enjoyed the fight between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in "Zorro". Both were advanced fencers and it shows.

  7. Wow… no one mentioned "The Princess Bride" between Mandy Pantinkin and Cary Elwes? 4 Months of practice and so good when thy filmed it, the crew gave them a standing ovation.

    BOTH had to learn to fight with BOTH hands as well as memorize the other guy's moves so they could switch it up. To me, one of the greatest bits of swordplay out there.

    Leastways for a fairy-tale

  8. I second (third?) Old NFO's choice. Seven Samurai shows the patience, the skill and the sheer exhaustion of battle, and is, in my opinion, one of the finest films ever made. I know of at least three adaptations: The Magnificent Seven (an excellent western homage to the original), Battle Beyond the Stars (cheesy space opera, but fun), and an episode of Deep Space Nine (a fun surprise).

  9. I can't speak to the movie question, but friends who researched sword stuff tell me that expert swordsmen would generally recognize and avoid each other on the battlefield. And that members of the public rabble would belt up a length of sharpish metal without much idea of its best employment.

  10. @BCE: PB was definitely the best, but not accurate, which was the criteria.

    And FWIW: Errol Flynn was no such "advanced" fencer. he could perform well on cue.

    Captain Basil Rathbone, OTOH, per that bastion of accuracy, Wikipedia, was the two-time Fencing Champion of the entire British Army.

    Meaning, quite simply, he could have slaughtered his co-stars at whim.
    Sherlock Holmes was quite the old school sword-fighting badass.

    The modern badass title goes to the late William Hobbs, the fencing instructor for countless movies, including 1973s The Three Musketeers (his cameo is fighting Porthos at the end of that flick), The Four Musketeers, The Duellists, and about 40 other movies as either fight arranger/sword master, or swordfighting stuntman.,the%20path%20of%20the%20sword.

    He passed away in 2018 at 79, but if you like cinematic sword duels in the last 50 years, thank him; he's the guy who made many of them the epics they are.

  11. The sword fight in the James Bond movie Die Another Day blew me away the first time I saw it. Takes place in a weapons Museum with multiple bladed weapons and it looks like they're really trying to kill each other. Historically accurate? I couldn't say.

  12. Any swordfight in any Kurasawa movie, but, first, the closing fight in Sanjuro, showing both the mental and the physical fights.

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