Updated: Nov 15
Actor Ray Stevenson as Volstagg in Thor: The Dark World
When it comes to fantasy gaming TTRPGs, whether you're playing Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or something else entirely - sometimes (especially as a dungeon master/game master) you reach a level of being comfortable with how you run or play your games that makes you wonder why you bothered to play yet another lone-wolf Fighter character or why you are running yet another homebrew game that feels just like the last two you ran. Books can give you some inspiration, but if you're not as much of a reader then look no further because I've got some excellent film selections that will leave you inspired for your next gaming session or at the very least entertain you. Here are my TOP TEN films that I think TTRPG players will love.
The Beastmaster movie poster (1982)
The plot of The Beastmaster follows the life of main character Dar (Marc Singer) as he seeks revenge against the dark forces that destroyed his village. Along the way, he realizes his latent magical abilities and enlists the help of animal and human friends in his quest.
Why This Movie? The Beastmaster is a labor of love on the part of the writers and director, and you can tell. Pretty much every trope in fantasy exists in this movie, and because of that - The Beastmaster is a perfect example of what could be a D&D or TTRPG adventure come to life. It's a bit dorky at times, and of course dated, but the heart of it still holds up and if you're a GM/DM looking for inspiration for a world or even a player looking for inspiration for a character or two, this movie has it. When I think of old school D&D, this movie is basically what's in my head. Dar is basically a Ranger/Fighter build but has some Druid traits as well.
Caveats: The Beastmaster is a product of the 1980's for sure, so that means lots of cheesy effects, gratuitous nudity (even though the film is rated PG - but the 1980's were a different time), and horrible acting. So, it's not for everyone, but I consider it a guilty pleasure of my own.
The Eragon movie poster (2006)
The plot of Eragon, which is based on the far superior book (but we're talking about movies in this post so just think of it as a separate entity) revolves around the main character Eragon (Edward Speleers) when he goes hunting and finds a mysterious blue stone that turns out to be a dragon egg containing a dragon named Saphira (Rachel Weisz), which has chosen him to be her rider. With help from Saphira and his new mentor Brom (Jeremy Irons), Eragon must rescue the kingdom of Alagaesia from the paranoid King Galbatorix (John Malkovich).
Why This Movie? I think GMs or DMs and even players can find a lot of things to mine for their game sessions in this film, which is why I picked it obviously. Plus, it's pretty fun in its own right so even if the land of Alagaesia doesn't inspire you, it's good for an afternoon watch or a family movie night. However, I believe you can mine Eragon for content relating to your own homebrew world. Maybe create a world where each dragon chooses a person in the world to be its rider. Or maybe you can use the traits from King Galbatorix for a very interesting NPC. Or maybe you want to create a Dragon Rider class for your campaign. There are lots of useful ideas in Eragon, especially if you were to run a campaign for teen players or adults who like to read YA Fiction.
Caveats: Well, let's be honest - it's not the best movie in a lot of ways, and the book is definitely better but was still written by a teen. But if you can think of it on its own terms (which is fairly easy since the movie barely follows the source material), it's got a few redeeming qualities. I placed it higher than The Beastmaster simply because The Beastmaster is more of a guilty pleasure than it is an actual good movie. Eragon seems to be made with Star Wars in mind, following the path of the Hero's Journey, (which is useful to GMs in its own right), but the plot is very similar to Star Wars yet is more traditional fantasy than space opera like Star Wars is.
Legend movie poster (1985)
Legend is about a demon known only as Darkness (Tim Curry) who seeks to create eternal night by destroying the last of the unicorns and marrying a fairy princess known as Lili (Mia Sara). Opposing him is a forest boy known as Jack (Tom Cruise) and his magical elven allies.
Why This Movie? I feel like most people are conflicted about Legend, but at its heart is a pretty solid adventure fantasy movie. In terms of TTRPG inspiration, there's a lot to mine. Darkness would make an amazing BBEG template for a campaign or one shot, and some of the elven creatures would make good NPCs or even maybe an alternate elven race. The idea of the Unicorns in this film being sort of gatekeepers against evil might work well with a homebrew setting mechanic, and there are even a few ideas for magic items with Lili's ring, and the unicorn horn.
Caveats: Most people are divided on how great or terrible Legend really is. Plus, Tom Cruise is in it, which makes some folks immediately disinterested. The movie's pace meanders sometimes, and Jack doesn't have a whole lot of depth. But Tom Cruise maintains the Director's Cut is the best version so maybe watch that version if you're going to go with this movie.
Stardust movie poster (2007)
Stardust centers around a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) who attempts to retrieve a fallen star, in order to win the heart of his beloved, Victoria (Sienna Miller). When Tristan makes it to the land of the fairies, he discovers a strange woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes) in place of the fallen star. Tristan must then protect Yvaine from an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a greedy king who both want to use Yvaine's power for their own ends.
Why This Movie? Stardust is actually based on a great book by Neil Gaiman, and even though the movie is different it does a good job of capturing the heart of the story which is one that is very translatable to TTRPG adventures. There is a lot of swordplay, magic, and even airships so there is inspiration aplenty to be found. The airships were cool and reminded me of the Sword of Shannara series of books and their later installments. The witch Lamia played by Michelle Pfeiffer would make a great NPC template, and some of the swords in the movie could make great templates for magical weapons. Not to mention aspects of the world could be used for homebrew locations, like the wall to the outside fairy realm used to isolate Tristan's town.
Caveats: Look, it's not as good as the book - trust me, I know. The movies are rarely as good as their written forebears, but I believe it's still a decent little film. Plus, it's got Robert De Niro as an airship captain. Oh, and can we appreciate that Daredevil and Catwoman are in the same movie together?
Ladyhawke movie poster (1985)
Ladyhawke is about a thief named Gaston (Matthew Broderick) who is rescued by a warrior known as Navarre (Rutger Hauer). Navarre enlists Gaston's help in planning to kill the Bishop of Aquila in order to remove the curse placed on him which turns Navarre into a wolf at night, and the lovely Lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) into a hawk during the day so that they may never be truly together.
Why This Movie? Ladyhawke is a certified fantasy classic. Love it or hate it, it's got a great cast and an interesting premise and the kind of over-the-top story you'd expect from a TTRPG adventure. Navarre could be mined for a new playable class or subclass of fighter since he utilizes a falcon in battle, or vice versa with Lady Isabeau. The story could be potentially mined for an adventure since it's more of a classic D&D type of setting. And even Gaston could be a decent template for a PC or an NPC that the players have to rescue. For me, it's pure entertainment but it also spurs a lot of solid TTRPG ideas any time I watch it. Plus, who doesn't appreciate Michelle Pfeiffer or Rutger Hauer? The curse would be a neat thing to try for a player who wants to play as two different characters.
Caveats: Yes, the soundtrack is a little wild, but I think it grows on you. And yes, as Ready Player One points out - it is a love story wrapped up in an adventure yarn, but honestly, I think it gives the story some depth as a result.
Van Helsing movie poster (2004)
Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is a monster hunter who is sent to Transylvania to stop Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Dracula is using Dr. Frankenstein (Samuel West) and his research along with a werewolf for his own nefarious agenda. Van Helsing encounters the mysterious Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who eventually joins him in his quest.
Why This Movie? Gothic Horror is an underutilized setting in TTRPGs. Ravenloft and the new 5E module The Curse of Strahd have used it, and a handful of others, but mostly TTRPGs are centered around medieval fantasy. I feel like Van Helsing does a lot of fantasy tropes really well within the context of the film, and if you're ever going to run a gothic horror TTRPG setting or one shot, this movie has lots of things you can use. From killer weapons like Van Helsing's crossbow, to creepy monsters, or even badass characters like Anna Valerious to use as NPC or PC templates - there's a great amount of stuff to mine.
Caveats: Van Helsing isn't traditional fantasy, and is more of a gothic horror action movie, but it does some fantasy elements really well. And yeah, some of the CGI doesn't hold up very well, either. But I think even if the time frame or aesthetic doesn't fit typical TTRPG worlds, it does a good job with TTRPG tropes within the context of its own film even if it wasn't intentional on the part of the filmmakers.
Willow movie poster (1988)
Willow (Warwick Davis) is a young farmer who is chosen to undertake a perilous journey in order to protect a very special baby from an evil queen.
Why This Movie? The 1980's had some real stinkers when it came to fantasy, but also had quite a few gems in case you couldn't tell by this list. Willow was unique among them in that it featured a protagonist who wasn't a capable warrior, but who was smart and cunning and actually ended up being a magic user instead. The characters are all great to mine ideas from in Willow - especially Willow himself, or Madmartigan, or even Sorsha. Plus, there are a few spells, character classes or sub-classes, or even homebrew world ideas all to be found here. Not surprising, since it came from George Lucas.
Caveats: Some of the special effects don't hold up super well but that's to be expected from a movie that was released before the 1990's. However, some of the effects hold up surprisingly well in contrast to what they could have been in the early days of 1990's CGI. Thankfully they used some practical effects as well. I saw that there is a show based around this movie coming to Disney + soon, so that may be worth looking into once you've given this a go.
Conan The Barbarian movie poster (1982)
When the monstrous Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) destroys Conan's (Arnold Schwarzenegger) village and kills his family, Conan is taken prisoner and made a slave. When he gets older and stronger, Conan escapes his bonds and becomes a fearless, invincible fighter and seeks his revenge.
Why This Movie? Conan is pretty much the quintessential fantasy story. It's got revenge, it's got the physical and martial improvement of the main character, and it's got the power of friendship. Conan is a mighty warrior, but even he needs help sometimes. The Atlantean Sword Conan wields is very iconic and would make a great template for a magic weapon, and the world Conan inhabits would be great fodder for homebrew worlds. Conan is pretty standard as far as warrior character archetypes go, but Thulsa Doom would be a great BBEG for your players to go up against and some of Conan's friends like Valeria or Mako would make great NPC allies or adversaries as templates.
Caveats: Being a movie from the early 1980's, of course Conan the Barbarian has some pretty dated special effects, just like other movies on this list, but still - the story is great and if you can get past that, it's worth the watch. Also, some of the content in Conan's world, like slavery, may rub some folks the wrong way and is pretty dated as well. Watch at your own risk! It's also very gory with some nudity on top of all that.
The 13th Warrior movie poster (1999)
The 13th Warrior follows Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (Antonio Banderas) - an ambassador from Baghdad who is exiled to distant lands for falling in love with the wrong woman. In his travels, he stops at a Viking village to restock and rest and finds himself unwillingly recruited on a quest to help the Vikings destroy a supernatural threat to their homeland.
Why This Movie? This is one of my all-time favorite films, and the entire movie plays out essentially like a TTRPG adventure module. There's a quest or two given to the larger group and to individual characters, there's a band of warriors who interact with each other and with the NPCs in the film, there's a couple big battles, there's cave exploration, there's an interesting enemy force with a BBEG, and there are two or three different cultures and old traditions butting up against each other ripe for cultivating things for your own homebrew world. There's so much material to use in this movie from weapon styles to characters to enemy ideas that you'll just have to watch it to see what I mean.
Caveats: This isn't traditional fantasy and is actually adventure horror. There's little to find in this movie in terms of actual fantasy aside from myths like the "Fire Worm" (which isn't actually a worm at all) but because of the superstitions of most of the characters, it feels like fantasy. And even then, the stuff in the movie you can mine for still works for fantasy or for actually most other TTRPG settings with some slight adjustments. Also - the trailer is terrible (and it uses the same music as one of the movie-within-a-movie trailers found in Tropic Thunder called Satan's Alley) - but trust me, the movie is great.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie poster (2001)
Young Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) sets off on an adventure away from his home in the Shire to destroy the One Ring and save Middle-Earth from the evil Sauron. (If you don't know this story, you've been living under a rock).
Why This Movie? Initially, I didn't want to be cliche and list any of the Lord of the Rings movies, but really - out of all of the sword-and-sorcery medieval fantasy movies released in the past few decades, not many come close to the scope and craftsmanship of the Lord of the Rings films directed by Peter Jackson. The Fellowship has direct correlations with most TTRPG settings and in my opinion is the strongest out of the entire trilogy. It's a relatively slow start but there is lots of character building and lots of exposition, so it works if you want to borrow anything for your homebrew worlds or if you just want to be engrossed in a nice fantasy story.
Caveats: Yes, this is sort of the "cliche" choice, but I really think it's pretty much the pinnacle of sword-and-sorcery filmmaking in the past few decades. And while most of what TTRPGs are based on is based on Lord of the Rings in general already, the films can offer a sort of different immersion than books can, at least for me personally, so I usually come away from this movie inspired and wanting to play a game of D&D or Pathfinder or something similar. Just because it's the obvious choice doesn't make it a bad choice. If you don't want to slay a few orcs and goblins after watching Boromir die, I don't know what to tell you.
Anyway, those are my suggestions for ten films that will hopefully inspire you as a GM/DM or even as a player and even if it doesn't inspire you to add things to your own game nights, I'm sure at the very least if you enjoy sword-and-sorcery movies and fantasy films, you'll find one or two of them entertaining.