Under The Radar: The 13th Warrior (1999)
Updated: Mar 25
On paper the 13th Warrior had all the makings of an epic summer blockbuster. The film was directed by none other than, John Mctiernan (Predator, Die Hard &The Hunt for Red October). The film’s screenplay was based on the novel: Eaters of the Dead from the king of bestsellers, Michael Crichton (The Andromeda Strain, Rising Sun & Jurassic Park). And, if that wasn’t enough, Antonio Banderas; who was a hot commodity at the time due the recent success of Desperado and The Mask Of Zorro, was cast as the film’s lead.
The 13th Warrior is about a 10th-century Muslim Arab named Ahmad ibn Fadlan (Banderas) who travels with a group of Vikings to a troubled settlement in order to battle ferocious creatures that devour all living things in their path. In essence, it is the retelling of the story of Beowulf except, through Banderas’ character Fadlan.
The 13the Warrior was released on August 27th 1999 and managed to generate 61 million dollars globally against its 160-million-dollar budget thus making it one of the biggest flops in Hollywood history.
There have been numerous reasons for the film’s lackluster performance, but from what I’ve read, it came down to this. The 13th Warrior was an unfortunate victim of a big budget film, spiraling out of control because of a tug of war between the director and writer. In turn, the studio seemed to write off the film, providing little or no promotion what so ever.
This is truly unfortunate because the 13th Warrior isn’t half as bad as the critics claimed it to be back ‘99. Taken for what it is (action film), the 13th Warrior is a guilty pleasure. Thankfully over years, the film has developed a cult following.
In my opinion, the film has aged well and provides for some great entertainment. I really enjoyed the warrior camaraderie mixed in with the “fish out of water” story line. Also, director John Mctiernans’ choices of using practical and in-camera effects gives the film a sense of realism. The battles, costumes and sets made the audience feel like we were on this journey with the Vikings, and Mctiernan was our guide.
The 13th Warrior may not be a classic but it doesn’t deserve the bum rap it got upon its initial release. I have seen far worse movies that have managed to do better at the box office.
If you like the action and adventure, then look no further than the 13th Warrior.