All Conan Movies Have The Exact Same Problem (But There’s A Fix)

Conan the Barbarian has faced many a mighty foe, but one consistent problem has plagued every movie: book-to-cinema adaptation. From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jason Momoa, big tough guys have attempted to bring Conan the Barbarian to life. However, despite the fun and action of every Conan the Barbarian film, when it comes to capturing the sword and sorcery essence of Robert E. Howard’s original stories, they fail. Momoa’s canceled Conan the Barbarian sequel exemplifies the opportunities film adaptations have missed.

Howard did more than create the character of Conan. He is the father of the whole sword and sorcery genre in many respects. Although he’d used the name “Conan” for a Gaelic reaver in a story composed in 1931, the character wasn’t the same. Howard dreamt up Conan the Barbarian and the bleak landscape of Cimmeria in 1932. He's even quoted as saying that over nine months Conan “simply grew up in my mind.” This wasn’t the limit of his creativity. As crucial as Conan is to the stories, Howard’s Hyborian Age, the mythic setting that forms the backdrop to his adventures, is a massive aspect of their appeal.


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Every Conan the Barbarian film fails to capture the spirit of Howard’s stories because they only make a token effort to bring the Hyborian Age to life. Just as Tolkien had real-world influences for Middle-Earth, so too did Howard. He created a fully fleshed-out realm with pseudo-historic countries, exotic people, monsters inspired by mythology, and a dark take on magic. As a history buff, Howard wove aspects of real-world cultures into his make-believe lands, lending his pre-cataclysmic world a sense of genuine authenticity. Rather than rely on this source material, film adaptations tend to cherry-pick motifs, incidents, and characters to invent new film-friendly plots. While movie scenes are frequently reminiscent of the stories and world Howard created, they diverge from it in terms of geography and lore.

Conan Already Has The Perfect Story For A Successful Adaptation

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian

Adapting the written word to the screen is challenging. Filmmakers, to tell a story well, often need to make changes. Peter Jackson necessarily had to subtract from and add to The Lord of the Rings to create a cohesive, well-paced trilogy. However, in the case of the Conan the Barbarian films, the adaptations have strayed unnecessarily far from Howard’s creation. Surprisingly, despite the wealth of plots and characters in Howard’s tales, no film has attempted to stay faithful to them. Yet, among the source material available is Howard’s very own adaptation of his numerous short stories—and it's not a film adaptation but a novel-length tale that takes many of the most memorable situations and characters from the short stories and recasts them in a longer narrative form. The Hour of the Dragon, also known as Conan the Conqueror, is ideal for a mini-series or movie.

Set when a 42-year-old Conan is the king of Aquilonia (sadly, too young for Arnold Schwarzenegger to reprise the role), the book follows his adventures as he faces a dastardly plot. Invasion, necromancy, and the return of a long-dead wizard test even the Cimmerian’s iron resolve. Conan’s quest takes him through many of the Hyborian Age’s kingdoms, allowing a clever screenwriter to showcase this fascinating imaginary world.

Conan the Barbarian shouldn’t be doomed to fail on the silver screen. The stories deserve a film or TV adaptation that follows Howard’s source material. Fantasy movies enjoy massive popularity, and other genre classics have received treatments that strive to capture the original creator’s vision. Netflix is planning a Conan TV series. If they treat the Hyborian Age with the same respect Peter Jackson gave to Middle Earth, Conan will reign in triumph once more.