Legends Reborn: Cinematic Adaptations of Legends

One of the most exciting things about legends and folklore is the way these stories provide endless inspiration for adaptations, updates, parodies, and homages. Because these stories are in the public domain, artists, writers, and filmmakers are free to use them as raw material for all kinds of new creations. 

The stories surrounding King Arthur and his knights, for instance, are the inspiration for Disney’s 1939 animated feature The Sword and the Stone, as well as live-action films like Knights of the Round Table (1953), The Black Knight (1954), Sword of Lancelot (1963) and Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984). Elements of Arthurian lore also appear in films like Dragonheart (1966), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). Mark Twain’s take on Arthurian legend, the 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, was adapted to the screen in 1921 (as a silent film), in 1949 (as a musical), and in 1989 (as a made-for-television movie). For a wide variety of Arthurian delight, check out the 1967 movie musical Camelot, the farcical Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), or the 2019 family film The Kid Who Would be King

The plucky bandit Robin Hood has taken many forms, including that of an anthropomorphic fox in Disney’s 1973 animated musical Robin Hood. Errol Flynn wore the green tights in the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, which has been preserved by the Library of Congress of the National Film Registry. Richard Green played Robin Hood on television from 1955 to 1959, swinging to rescue on the big screen in Sword of Sherwood Forest. Movie icon Sean Connery took a turn robbing from the rich to give to the poor in the 1976 adventure Robin and Marian, and British comedy legend John Cleese got into the game with a supporting role as Robin Hood in Terry Gilliam’s 1981 fantasy classic Time Bandits. Robin Hood has also been lampooned by Mel Brooks (in 1993’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and teamed up with familiar cartoon characters (in 2012’s Tom and Jerry: Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse). 

The magic of cinema has brought many mythical creatures to life, such as the terrifying hydra in Jason and the Argonauts (1963) as well as Pegasus and the Kraken in Clash of the Titans (1981). If you seek dragons, try Willow (1988) or Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. For full-moon screenings after bedtime, check out Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular lupine menace in The Wolf Man (1941). 

If you crave undersea thrills, try exploring the lost city of Atlantis in the 1959 adaptation of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth,  the 1961 feature film Atlantis, The Lost Continent, or 1978’s Warlords of Atlantis. For a 21st-century take on this mysterious lost civilization, try Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire from 2001 or Aquaman from 2018. 

Of course, the best way to enjoy these legends is with your own imagination. With a paper and pen, you can create your own interpretations and combinations: Werewolves in Atlantis? Robin Hood meets the Kraken? A shape-shifting robot in King Arthur’s Court? Why not? These legends have traveled across generations and across the globe; their next stop could be your backyard! 

Cinematic Adaptations of Legends