The 6 best examples of Grimdark fantasy movies and shows are:
- Conan the Barbarian (1982)
- The Witcher (2019)
- Berserk (1997)
- Game of Thrones (2011)
- Army of Darkness (1992)
- Beastmaster (1982)
Grimdark fantasy blends elements of horror—gritty violence, dark tones—with tropes of magic, warriors and monsters in a dystopian setting. Though most fantasy carries some element of horror, grimdark cranks up the darkness, violence and bleakness a few notches. Grimdark should give you the visceral sense of watching a scary movie or thriller.
Here are a few of the best movie and show examples.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Based on novels by Robert E Howard in the 1950’s, Conan the Barbarian (1982) is the story of a vengeful warrior in a forgotten time. When his village is overrun by an army of cultists, led by Thulsa Doom, young Conan is sold into slavery. Fortunately, he grew into Arnold Schwarzenegger and won his freedom through gladiatorial combat.
Now, our hero lives a mercenary life to find his fortune. Eventually, he would avenge his family. Witches, giant snakes, wizards and spirits roam this ancient world. However, Conan finds skilled companions and his own wizard along the way. In a broken land ruled by Doom’s hypnotic cult, Conan must cut and conquer his way to vengeance.
The Witcher (2019)
Geralt of Rivia is trained from youth to slay monsters, going through a trial which mutates his body into a fighting machine—enhanced senses, combat ability and even the use of basic spells. Our hero is no hero—he’s a bounty hunter. Therefore, if you want to get rid of that vampire, you better have gold. This loner is nearly as despised as the monsters he hunts.
Magic in this world has an ugly price, as Geralt’s close ally, Yennifer, shows through her storyline as a sorceress. The cost of playing with cosmic forces is nothing to sneeze at.
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The setting takes place on a continent ripped by war. First, it was the elves and dwarves. Then, the arrival of humans erupted into more wars against the elves and dwarves. Now, the humans are at war with each other. Go figure.
As Geralt hunts his way through the world, he finds himself caught up in affairs above his head. The kingdoms in the north are desperate to defeat the sinister Nilfgaardians. Naturally, the local monster hunter of legend can’t just sit on the sidelines. However, horrors still lurk in the shadows, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting humans busy with conflict.
Developed into multiple adaptations, Kentaro Miura’s Berserk follows a powerful warrior named Guts. Guts isn’t sure about his purpose, living only to fight with his massive sword and ruthless spirit. However, a mercenary leader named Griffith would change his life forever. Now, Guts fights for Griffith, working his way to a leadership position as the mercenary band grows.
As the two warriors become friends, Griffith shares with guts his powerful, demonic relic—the Behelit. Naturally, the demonic relic backfires on the two antagonists after a series of bad decisions. Guts realizes that he’s been living Griffith’s dream and not his own. When he tells his friend he’s leaving, a duel ensues. Guts will win, but not kill his friend. However, the loss would be more than Griffith can take, setting off a series of events that summons demons to destroy everything he and Guts built.
This one is dark.
Game of Thrones (2011)
Adapted from George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones is a sprawling grimdark fantasy epic. After the assassination of a mad king and the kidnapping of a northern Lady, a civil war ends in a shattered land of competing kingdoms. Of course, an undercurrent of a zombie invasion lurks behind the drama. However, humans are plenty monstrous all by themselves.
Seriously, try binging more than a few episodes. You’ll notice.
Complete with ice zombie necromancers, hordes of undead, zombie dragons and psychopathic tyrants, Game of Thrones can be horrifying. The tropes of honor and heroism are turned on their heads. However, Martin doesn’t forgo heroism completely. Some characters fall from grace, victims of the power game. On the other hand, unlikely heroes emerge in the chaos.
Army of Darkness (1992)
After Sam Rami’s career-defining Evil Dead, he found his budget increasing for a 3rd installment to this infamous cabin-in-the-woods trilogy. Attempting to send the demon menace back through the portal it came, our hero Ash finds himself in medieval England. Finally, Ash must face down his deadite rival once and for all. Hopefully, with the help of the local kingdom.
Though this franchise began squarely in the horror genre, it further evolved into a horror comedy with Evil Dead 2. The possessing demon is tricky and toys with Ash. Then, this epic conclusion borrowed elements of fantasy—with an army of skeletons assaulting the local kingdom like a Tolkien story. Ash has a final showdown with this terrorizing demon, evolving from simple store clerk to epic hero.
The deadites are as horrifying as ever—especially the old school “take over your body” kind.
Beastmaster (1982) is a swords and sorcery adventure that borrows heavily from the success of Conan the Barbarian, complete with half-naked warriors, witches and evil cults. However, it stands on its own with its hero’s unique ability to speak with animals. Plus, the villains and obstacles he faces are creepy and dark.
Along the way, protagonist Dar encounters a strange group of humanoid monsters with a unique creepy factor. The creatures could devour a man into bones behind their leathery wings—leaving us to imagine the horror behind the curtain. However, Dar’s connection with his hawk friend gains him divine status among the bird people, who show up later to help.
Plus, the monster men created in the cultists’ dungeon were strange additions to the story. Clad in freaky leather head masks and spiky claw weapons, the creatures were essentially human prisoners driven to madness. Now, they roar like beasts.
Naturally, Dar fulfills a prophecy to rid the land of evil, like you do.