'The Green Knight' Was Inspired by Russian Classics, Hammer Horror Movies, Shakespeare, and…Ron Howard?

The Green Knight, one of the most-anticipated movies of the year, sends Dev Patel on an Arthurian quest full of swords, sorcery, and talking foxes. It’s the latest from David Lowery, director of A Ghost StoryPete’s Dragon, and more. And when it came time to create the fantasy world of The Green Knight, Lowery drew on some predictable, and some unpredictable, influences.

Speaking with EW, David Lowery dropped some info on the films that influenced his upcoming The Green Knight. Story-wise, Lowery is drawing on the classic Arthurian legend, specifically the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But what about visual influences to determine how the film looks? Lowery explained:

“We looked at everything from Andrei Rublev, which is, I think, one of the greatest movies ever made, and which you could never make now. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but that was a great visual touchstone for us. We looked at Willow, the Ron Howard film, which is one of my favorite fantasy films of all time. We looked at a lot of ’80s fantasy, to be honest, like Ladyhawke and Dragonslayer and Willow. Those were big ones for us because they were fantasy. They weren’t tied to a specific time and place in human history, and yet they still felt like a grounded reality.”

Lowery added that they also looked at Hammer horror movies, and a Russian adaptation of War and Peace that recently got a Criterion Collection release. They also looked at Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and “a lot of Shakespearean references.”

Andrei Rublev

Released in 1966, Andrei Rublev hails from filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. It’s set in the 15th century and is based on the life of Andrei Rublev, a Russian icon painter. As the official Criterion collection synopsis states, the film follows Andrei Rublev “as he passes through a series of poetically linked scenes—snow falls inside an unfinished church, naked pagans stream through a thicket during a torchlit ritual, a boy oversees the clearing away of muddy earth for the forging of a gigantic bell—gradually emerging as a man struggling mightily to preserve his creative and religious integrity.”

Willow, Ladyhawke, and Dragonslayer

Willow is Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy epic that draws heavily on The Lord of The Rings. George Lucas helped come up with the story, and the film was marketed around that connection, and around the film’s cutting-edge special effects. It made money at the box office but was not the huge hit everyone was hoping for. Still, the film has developed a strong cult following, so much so that Disney+ is currently making a TV series to continue the story. I know Ron Howard gets a lot of guff from film snobs, but I usually enjoy his work. It’s not always great, but it’s usually entertaining. And I like that Lowery actually looked to a Ron Howard movie for inspiration.

Ladyhawke is another ’80s fantasy epic. It comes from director Richard Donner and focuses on a “young thief who unwillingly gets involved with a warrior and his lady who are hunted by the Bishop of Aquila.” Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer star. And then there’s Dragonslayer, yet another ’80s fantasy flick. That one focuses on “a young wizard who experiences danger and opposition as he attempts to defeat a dragon.”

I do think it’s interesting that while name-dropping ’80s fantasy epics, Lowery doesn’t mention the most obvious choice – John Boorman’s big, weird, sexy, and extremely over-the-top Excalibur, a retelling of the Arthurian legend that features Green Knight character Sir Gawain.

War and Peace, Hammer Horror, and Henry V

The War and Peace Lowery mentions is a 1966 adaptation directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. “It’s seven hours, and again, it’s a movie that would cost a billion dollars if they made it today, but because it was funded by the Russian government in the ’60s, they were able to pull it off,” Lowery said. “We probably shouldn’t have used that as a reference point because it just meant we were biting off far more than we could chew.”

Lowery doesn’t specify which Hammer horror movies influenced the film, but there are plenty to choose from. The Kenneth Branagh Henry V he mentions was released in 1989 and was Branagh’s directorial debut and it often ends up on lists highlighting the best Shakespeare adaptations. The bottom line here is that Lowery is pulling from a wide swath of strange, unique influences in his attempt to make The Green Knight truly epic.

The Green Knight arrives on July 30, 2021.

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