Beowulf (1999 film)

Beowulf is a 1999 American science fantasy-action film loosely based on the Old English epic poem Beowulf. The film was directed by Graham Baker and written by Mark Leahy and David Chappe, and comes from the same producer as Mortal Kombat, which also starred Lambert.

Beowulf French poster.jpg
French language theatrical poster
Directed byGraham Baker
Produced byLawrence Kasanoff
Frank Hildebrand
Mark Leahy
Donald Kushner (executive producer)
Screenplay byMark Leahy
David Chappe
Based onBeowulf
StarringChristopher Lambert
Rhona Mitra
Oliver Cotton
Music byJonathan Sloate
Ben Watkins
CinematographyChristopher Faloona
Edited byRoy Watts
The Kushner-Locke Company
Capitol Films
Threshold Entertainment
Distributed byDimension Films
Release date
  • April 1, 1999 (1999-04-01)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million (estimated)

Unlike most film adaptations of the poem, this version is a science-fiction/fantasy film that, according to one film critic, "takes place in a post-apocalyptic, techno-feudal future that owes more to Mad Max than Beowulf."[1] While the film remains fairly true to the story of the original poem, other plot elements deviate from the original poem (Hrothgar has an affair with Grendel's mother, and they have a child together, Grendel; Hrothgar's wife commits suicide).


The setting is a post-industrial castle that defends the border of an unnamed kingdom. It is terrorized by a creature named Grendel, who kills the castle's defenders, one by one. The stronghold is also besieged by a band of warriors who are attempting to quarantine it. After fighting his way past the besiegers, the warrior Beowulf offers his help to the castle's "border lord", Hrothgar, who welcomes him in.

Hrothgar has a daughter named Kyra, who is loved by Roland, the castle's strongest soldier, but she does not return his affections. It is revealed that Hrothgar's wife (and Kyra's mother) committed suicide when she found out Hrothgar had an affair. The woman he had an affair with was actually an ancient being who had originally lived on the castle's lands and she bore Grendel from the affair.

Beowulf and Grendel fight, wounding each other. Later, after recovering, they fight again and this time Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off with a retracting cestus. That night the castle celebrates as they believe Grendel is dead. Kyra declares her love for Beowulf and he returns her affection. Kyra tells him that she killed her previous husband after he abused her. Beowulf tells her that his mother is human and his father is Baal, "God of darkness, Lord of lies". This explains his tremendous fighting prowess.

While Kyra is with Beowulf, everyone else in the castle is killed by Grendel's mother. Grendel kills Hrothgar, after the truth of his heritage is revealed. Beowulf attacks and kills Grendel by stabbing him through the stump where his arm once was. Grendel's mother appears and attempts to seduce Beowulf as she had done Hrothgar. Beowulf sets the castle on fire, which kills Grendel's mother and completely consumes the building as he escapes with Kyra.



The production was filmed in Romania. The movie's end credits says: "Filmed on location in Romania". Location is the city of Rupea, in Transylvania.


As with other Beowulf adaptations, the film reinterprets the poem, blending its original genre with "tropes from horror and soft pornography," but it also retains and expands on its original elements.[2]

The film addresses the poem's plot point of Beowulf not having a wife or an heir, as it reveals Beowulf to be the same kind of creature the monsters themselves, making him refraining from wanting to produce offspring. The poem's emphasis on genealogy is represented by humans and monsters mating among them, with Grendel being the son of Hrothgar and Beowulf being the result of a god of darkness inseminating a woman.[2][3] Beowulf and Grendel are shown as mirror images of each other, as the former harbors an internal struggle to contain his monstrous nature, while the latter was conceived by her mother as a revenge of an external oppression.[3]

Grendel's mother is portrayed as a representation of monstrous female sexuality.[2][3] She operates as a seductive succubus, giving birth to monsters, but can also shapeshift into a monster herself. This form resembles a dragon, an arachnid and a gorgon,[2] not only evoking the Freudian Medusa's Head, but also evoking the archaic mother by resembling a vagina dentata with phallic talons.[3] She also sexually attacks Hrothgar, inverting the trope of horror film monsters chasing after female leads.[2]


Critical reaction to the film has been highly negative. The general criticisms for the film were the weak script, below-average acting, corny dialogue, deviations from the source material, and over-reliance on camp, although it was hailed for its production design. Danél Griffin of Film as Art said the film "understands that liberties must be taken with the poem's characters to create a more cinematic experience, and there are moments that, even in its liberties, it reveals a deep appreciation for the poem, and a profound understanding of its ideas. There are other moments, however, that seem so absurd and outlandish that we wonder if the writers, Mark Leahy and David Chappe, have even read the poem." Griffin added that "Lambert is certainly effective", but concluded that "clever ideas aside, the film is unfortunately mediocre at best. The set design and some of the revised storyline are both stupendous, but the overall experience makes for poor cinema."[1]

Beyond Hollywood's review said that "genre films don't get any sillier than this", but called the film "above average". The review praised the film's "energetic action" and said that it "excels in set design", but added that "the techno (music) is pretty annoying."[4] Calling the film "a cheesy post-apocalyptic update of the ancient tale", Carlo Cavagna of About Film praised the film's action scenes but felt that Lambert and Mitra had no chemistry.[5]

Nathan Shumate of Cold Fusion Video Reviews also praised the film's action scenes, but felt it used all its good ideas in the first half, "leaving most of the rest of the movie to die of attrition." Shumate added, "That's not to say that there are no effective scenes to be had, [but they] certainly can’t carry the full 90-minute running time. Perhaps it's truly impossible to come up with a definitive film version of this epic. But I wouldn’t want to make a judgement on that simply due to this attempt's mediocrity."[6]


The film's soundtrack mainly featured electronic and industrial songs from various artists and original score material by Juno Reactor's Ben Watkins.

Despite the many songs used in the film, a soundtrack CD was never issued.


  1. ^ a b Danél Griffin (2013) "In Depth: Beowulf: The Movie(s)" Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine, Film as Art
  2. ^ a b c d e Ashton, Gail (2015). Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781441160683.
  3. ^ a b c d Fugelso, Karl (2014). Ethics and Medievalism. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781843843764.
  4. ^ "Beowulf (1999) Movie Review" Archived 2008-09-25 at the Wayback Machine (February 11, 2005) Beyond Hollywood
  5. ^ Beowulf (1999) review Archived 2011-05-17 at the Wayback Machine, Carlo Cavagna, About Film
  6. ^ Beowulf (1999) review Archived 2012-07-30 at, Nathan Shumate, Cold Fusion Video Reviews, November 23, 2000

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