Swashbuckler films are a subgenre of the action film genre, characterised by swordfighting and adventurous heroic characters, known as swashbucklers. While morality is typically clear-cut, heroes and villains alike often follow a code of honour. Some swashbuckler films have romantic elements, most frequently a damsel in distress. Both real and fictional historical events often feature prominently in the plot.
Right from the advent of cinema, the silent era was packed with swashbucklers. The most famous of those were the films of Douglas Fairbanks, such as The Mark of Zorro (1920), which defined the genre. The stories came from romantic costume novels, particularly those of Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini. Stirring music was also an important part of the formula. The three great cycles of swashbuckler films were the Douglas Fairbanks period from 1920 to 1929; the Errol Flynn period from 1935 to 1941; and a period in the 1950s heralded by films such as Ivanhoe (1952) and The Master of Ballantrae (1953), and the popularity of the British television series The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955–1959). Richard Lester's Dumas adaptations revived the genre in the 1970s.
Main article: Swashbuckler
The term "swashbuckler" originates from boisterous fighters who carried a sword and buckler (a small shield). "Swashbuckler" was a putdown, used to indicate a poor swordsman who covered his lack of skill with noise, bragging, and clamour. Novels, and then Hollywood, altered the word's connotation to make the swashbuckler the hero of the plotline.
Jeffrey Richards[who?] describes the genre as very stylized. The hero is one who "maintains a decent standard of behavior, fights for King and Country, believes in truth and justice, defends the honour of lady". Though these can be regarded as the values of a knight, the setting may fall anywhere between the 11th and 19th centuries.
Main article: Fencing
Fencing is an essential element of the genre, and a dramatic duel is invariably a pivotal part of the storyline. Famous fencing instructors came from the ranks of successful competitors, and included Henry Uyttenhove, Fred Cavens, Jean Heremans, Ralph Faulkner, and Bob Anderson.
Television followed the films.
British television production in the genre was prolific, headlined by The Adventures of Robin Hood, which produced 143 episodes by 1959 and became an outstanding success both in the United Kingdom and the United States. Other popular series included The Buccaneers (1956–1957), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956–1957), Sword of Freedom (1958), The Adventures of William Tell (1958), The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel (ITV, 1956), ITC's The Count of Monte Cristo (ITV, 1956), and George King's The Gay Cavalier (ITV, 1957), Quentin Durward (Studio Canal, 1971), Robin of Sherwood (ITV, 1984–1986), and Sharpe (ITV, since 1993).
American television produced two series of Zorro (1957 and 1990). Following the film The Mask of Zorro (1998), a television series about a female swashbuckler, the Queen of Swords, aired in 2000.
The Spanish television series Águila Roja (Red Eagle), aired from 2009 to 2016, is an example of the swashbuckler genre.
Italian and German televisions produced several series of Sandokan.
See also: Swashbuckler (list) § Actors in films