Conan the Barbarian is a 1982 American sword and sorcery/adventure film directed and co-written by John Milius. It is based on stories by Robert E. Howard, a pulp fiction writer of the 1930s, about the adventures of the eponymous character in a fictional pre-historic world of dark magic and savagery. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Earl Jones, and tells the story of a young barbarian (Schwarzenegger) who seeks vengeance for the death of his parents at the hands of Thulsa Doom (Jones), the leader of a snake cult. Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis produced the film for her father Dino De Laurentiis. Basil Poledouris composed the music.
Ideas for a Conan film were proposed as early as 1970. A concerted effort by executive producer Edward R. Pressman and associate producer Edward Summer to produce the film started in 1975. It took them two years to obtain the film rights, after which they recruited Schwarzenegger for the lead role and Oliver Stone to draft a script. Pressman lacked capital for the endeavor, and in 1979, after having his proposals for investments rejected by the major studios, he sold the project to Dino De Laurentiis. Milius was appointed as director and he rewrote Stone's script. The final screenplay integrated scenes from Howard's stories and from films such as Kwaidan and Seven Samurai.
Filming took place in Spain over five months, in the regions around Madrid and Almería. The sets, designed by Ron Cobb, were based on Dark Age cultures and Frank Frazetta's paintings of Conan. Milius eschewed optical effects, preferring to realize his ideas with mechanical constructs and optical illusions. Schwarzenegger performed most of his own stunts and two types of swords, costing $10,000 each, were forged for his character. The editing process took over a year and several violent scenes were cut.
Conan was a commercial success for its backers, grossing more than $100 million at box-offices around the world, although the revenue fell short of the level that would qualify the film as a blockbuster. Academics and critics interpreted the film as advancing the themes of fascism or individualism, and the fascist angle featured in most of the criticisms of the film. Critics also negatively reviewed Schwarzenegger's acting and the film's violent scenes. Despite the criticisms, Conan was popular with young males. The film earned Schwarzenegger worldwide recognition. Conan has been frequently released on home media, the sales of which had increased the film's gross to more than $300 million by 2007. The film's popularity led to the sequel Conan the Destroyer (1984).
Conan the Barbarian is a film about a young barbarian's quest to avenge his parents' deaths. The story is set in the fictional Hyborian Age, thousands of years before the rise of modern civilization. The film opens with the words, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger", a paraphrasing of Friedrich Nietzsche,[nb 1] on a black screen followed by a voice-over that establishes the film as the story of Conan's origin. "A burst of drums and trumpets" accompanies the forging of a sword,[nb 2] after which the scene shifts to a mountain top, where the swordsmith tells his young son Conan about the Riddle of Steel, an aphorism on the importance of the metal to their people, the Cimmerians.
The Cimmerians are massacred by a band of warriors led by the evil wizard Thulsa Doom. Conan's father is killed by dogs, and his sword is taken by Doom to decapitate Conan's mother. The children are taken into slavery; Conan is chained to a large mill, the "Wheel of Pain". Years of pushing the huge grindstone build up his muscles and he is then sold to a new master, who trains him to be a gladiator, and after winning many pit fights, Conan is freed. After being freed, Conan is chased by wild dogs. He seeks refuge in an ancient tomb he stumbles upon. Inside the tomb he finds an Atlantean General's ceremoniously displayed corpse along with his sword which he takes as his own. As he wanders the world, Conan encounters a young witch, with whom he has sex in exchange for information. However, she turns into a demon mid-coitus, forcing Conan to drive her off. Conan also befriends Subotai, a thief and archer.
Following the witch's advice, Conan and Subotai go to Shadizar, in the land of Zamora, to seek out Doom. They meet Valeria, a female brigand. The three burgle the "Tower of Serpents", a temple of Doom's snake cult, and steal a large jewel—the Eye of the Serpent—and other valuables; Conan and Subotai also battle and slay a large snake. After escaping with their loot, the thieves celebrate and end up in a drunken stupor. The city guards capture them and bring them to King Osric. He requests they rescue his daughter, who has joined Doom's cult. Subotai and Valeria do not want to take up the quest; Conan, motivated by his hatred for Doom, sets off alone to the villain's Temple of Set.
Disguised as a priest, Conan infiltrates the temple, but he is discovered, captured, and tortured. Doom lectures him on the power of flesh, which he demonstrates by compelling a girl to leap to her death. He then orders Conan crucified on the "Tree of Woe". The barbarian is on the verge of death when he is discovered by Subotai and brought to the Wizard of the Mounds, who lives on a burial site for warriors and kings. The wizard summons spirits to heal Conan and warns that they will "extract a heavy toll", which Valeria is willing to pay. These spirits also try to abduct Conan, but he is restored to health after Valeria and Subotai fend them off.
Subotai and Valeria agree to complete Osric's quest with Conan and they infiltrate the Temple of Set. As the cult indulges in a cannibalistic orgy, the thieves attack and flee with the princess. Valeria is mortally wounded by Doom after he shoots a stiffened snake at her. She dies in Conan's arms and is cremated at the Mounds, where Conan prepares with Subotai and the wizard to battle Doom. By using booby-traps and exploiting the terrain, they manage to kill Doom's soldiers. Valeria reappears for a brief moment as a Valkyrie to save Conan from a mortal blow. Conan recovers his father's sword during the fight, although its blade is broken. After losing his men, Doom shoots a stiffened snake at the princess. Subotai blocks the shot and the villain flees to his temple. Closing narrationSo, did Conan return the wayward daughter of King Osric to her home. And having no further concern, he and his companions sought adventure in the West. Many wars and feuds did Conan fight. Honor and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand... And this story shall also be told. Conan sneaks back into the temple where Doom stands at the top of a long stairway, addressing the members of his cult. Conan confronts Doom, who attempts to mesmerize him, but the barbarian resists and uses his father's sword to behead his nemesis, finally avenging the deaths of his family and people. After throwing Doom's head down the stairs, Conan burns down the temple. He returns the princess, and the final scene shows him as an old king; the narration says his road to the throne is another