The promotion for this weekend’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” centers on director and co-writer Guy Ritchie’s original take on the Arthurian legend.
But at this point, it’s hard to believe there’s an original take left on the story of the man who pulled Excalibur from a stone and became England’s king.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a look at 13 decidedly different versions of King Arthur:
Nigel Terry portrays one of the more traditional Arthurs, even if he’s a bit more Irish than usual. He and his knights also wear some of the shiniest armor you’ll ever find. Can’t kill them with your swords? Blind them with your armor. Still, it’s a great chance to see some of the earliest works by Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson.
“The Sword in the Stone” (1963)
Arthur is “a scrawny little fellow, about 12” in this animated story, the first of Disney’s many, many versions of the legend. A young Arthur, whom everyone calls Wart, is tutored by Merlin and a talking owl named Archimedes. As part of their lessons, Merlin turns himself and Arthur into fish and squirrels, the latter of which ends with their being pursued by amorous female squirrels.
“A Kid in King Arthur’s Court” (1995)
Las Vegas native Thomas Ian Nicholas (“American Pie”) is a young baseball player who’s swallowed up by the ground during an earthquake and transported to Camelot in this Disney theatrical release. Arthur (Joss Ackland) is a doddering old man who’s never heard of a round table, but he has two attractive daughters, the eldest of whom is played by Kate Winslet. Master Kane, Arthur’s trainer of knights, is portrayed by a young, bowl-cutted Daniel Craig. Also, there are medieval rollerblades.
“A Knight in Camelot” (1998)
A scientist (Whoopi Goldberg) is transported to 589, where she’s mistaken for an ogre in this Disney TV movie. She’s brilliant enough to figure out time travel, yet she’s surprised she doesn’t have cellphone service when she tries to call someone — in Camelot. Despite this, King Arthur (Michael York) makes her a knight dubbed Sir Boss.
“Avalon High” (2010)
Allie Pennington (Britt Robertson) is the new girl in town in this Disney Channel movie. She’s taking a class about King Arthur when she’s assigned a report on the Order of the Bear, a secret society that believes Arthur will be reincarnated whenever the world needs him. “A lot of people take this very seriously,” says her mother, a professor of medieval literature. Mm-hmm, sure. Anyway, spoiler alert, the new Arthur is — gasp! — a 16-year-old girl.
Richard Harris is King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave is Guinevere and Franco Nero is Lancelot in the movie version of the Broadway musical that starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet. A singing Arthur is somewhat rare, but the movie is still a letdown from the original, because everything’s better with Robert Goulet.
“Shrek the Third” (2007)
A high school nerd named Artie (voiced by Justin Timberlake) becomes king of Far Far Away. Shockingly, Timberlake doesn’t sing, but Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Antonio Banderas (Puss N Boots), Rupert Everett (Prince Charming) and Maya Rudolph (Rapunzel) do.
“King Arthur” (2004)
In another new twist, this Arthur (Clive Owen) is the Roman commander in Britain in charge of defending Hadrian’s Wall. I’m not sure about the historical accuracy, but at least this one stars my soul mate, Keira Knightley, as Guinevere.
“The Black Knight” (1954)
A swordsmith named John (Alan Ladd), tutored at Camelot, falls for Lady Linet (Patricia Medina). When she’s about to be sacrificed at Stonehenge — to the accompaniment of female dancers writhing and shaking like something out of a pagan version of “Goddess” from “Showgirls” — John arrives just in time to save her. King Arthur (Anthony Bushell) follows and orders his men to “destroy this evil place.” And that, kids, is why Stonehenge looks the way it does.
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)
King Arthur (Graham Chapman) spends his time galloping horseless along the British countryside — with his assistant, Patsy (Terry Gilliam), clomping coconut halves together to simulate hoofbeats — as he introduces himself to his disbelieving subjects. “I didn’t know we had a king,” one says. “I thought we were an autonomous collective.”
“Knighty Knight Bugs” (1958)
The Black Knight (Yosemite Sam) has stolen Camelot’s singing sword. When Sir Osis of Liver and Sir Loin of Beef refuse to retrieve it, a fierce King Arthur orders his court jester (Bugs Bunny) to fetch it, lest he be “put to the rack, burned at the stake and beheaded.” Oh, Looney Tunes, you had me at Sir Osis of Liver.
“Lancelot: Guardian of Time” (1997)
When the evil sorcerer Wolvencraft (John Saxon) goes back in time to before Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone, Lancelot (Marc Singer) follows to protect the young squire, yet somehow everyone ends up in modern Los Angeles. Arthur (Adam Carter) mostly just sneaks around a museum waiting to be rescued. Thankfully, Claudia Christian (“Babylon 5”) and Jerry Levine (Stiles from “Teen Wolf”) are there to help Lancelot navigate the 20th century and put him in a pair of nicely cuffed jeans while having the good sense not to touch his fantastic medieval mullet.
After visiting a genealogist who’s traced his family back to the seventh century, MacGyver takes a bump on the noggin and wakes up in Camelot, which looks remarkably like a hastily assembled Renaissance fair. I’m assuming Arthur shows up at some point, but I could only force myself to watch a few minutes of the two-part (!) episode, “Good Knight MacGyver.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.