Monday, January 20, 2014

Ask JKM a Question: John Carpenter's Conan the Barbarian?

A reader and friend, Jason Shepherd ponders a fascinating question:

“Maybe it's just me, but I think if John Carpenter had made a Conan movie in the early 1980s... that would have been absolutely awesome.

Imagine it: if Carpenter had been able to cast Kurt Russell as Conan (perhaps not the best physical match, but he would have completely captured Conan's intensity), Adrienne Barbeau, and Keith David.  I would watch the crap out of that movie.


Jason: I love that line of thought.  John Carpenter’s Conan the Barbarian sounds like a movie I would have waited in long lines to see, circa 1981.  I think it could have worked, and here are a few reasons why.

First, John Carpenter contextualizes almost all of his films as Westerns.  It’s not difficult to see Conan’s story as fitting in with that milieu; the story of a man alone, a wanderer, trying to avenge the death of his parents. It’s practically a Western premise already, without any modification.  You’ve already got the central heroic figure, the horses, and the “frontier”-type setting, after a fashion.  I feel like Carpenter could have really captured all that beautifully.

Secondly, Kurt Russell would have made a fantastic Conan, for precisely the reason you describe. He has demonstrated that he can convey Conan’s intensity and focus.  I enjoy Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984) to a lesser degree, but beyond being physically perfect for the role, Arnold Schwarzenegger never, in my opinion, truly captured the cunning nature of Conan.  He’s great in motion and great to look at, but I didn’t feel he was always in the right head space.  Today, based on the Riddick movies, I’d say Vin Diesel could do the job of playing Conan…although he’d need a really good hair-piece, I suppose.

If John Carpenter’s Conan the Barbarian had come out of Universal Studios, circa 1982, we may not have gotten The Thing (1982), however, and so I’m not sure what a great trade that would be. 

Still, I love the idea of settling down into a theater seat, and listening to the opening strains of John Carpenter’s Conan score…with a fanfare composed by the auteur himself.

Would I watch the crap out of that movie?


Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. JC could simply do no wrong in the 80's, a man at the peak of his directorial powers, so absolutely a Conan helmed by JC would have been a must see circa early 80's.

  2. Great question, answer and comment. JC was indeed dialed in - in the 1980s. He was flawless. Russell too.

  3. Conan can be bald if he wants to.


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