Dragonslayer is a 1981 fantasy movie set in a fictional medieval kingdom, following a young wizard (played by Peter MacNicol) who experiences danger and opposition as he attempts to defeat a dragon.

A co-production between Walt Disney Productions and Paramount Pictures, Dragonslayer was more mature and realistic than other Disney films of the period. Because of audience expectations for a more child-friendly film from Disney, the movie’s violence and adult themes were somewhat controversial at the time – even though Disney did not hold US distribution rights, which were held by Paramount (it was rated PG in the U.S.; TV showings after 1997 have carried a TV-14 rating). Disney later created Touchstone Pictures to produce more mature fare.

The film was directed by Matthew Robbins (later director of *batteries not included), from a screenplay he co-wrote with Hal Barwood. It starred Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, and Caitlin Clarke.

Dragonslayer also featured then-unknown actor Ian McDiarmid as the minor character Brother Jacopus. McDiarmid’s next film role after Dragonslayer would be that of the villain Palpatine in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, a role which he would reprise in the subsequent Star Wars films.

The special effects were created at Industrial Light and Magic, where Phil Tippett co-developed an animation technique called go motion for the film. Go motion is a variation on stop-motion animation, and its use in Dragonslayer led to the film’s nomination for the Academy Award for Visual Effects; it lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark (another Paramount film). The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Original Music Score; Chariots of Fire took the award. Including the hydraulic 40 foot model, 16 dragon puppets were used for the role of Vermithrax, each one made for different movements; flying, crawling, fire breathing etc.

The film was also nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Once again, it lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In October 2003, Dragonslayer was released on DVD in the U.S. by Paramount Home Video.


To create the dragon fire, the FX team used a pair of military-style flamethrowers.

The entire movie was filmed in natural light.


First film to use go-motion, a variant of stop-motion animation in which parts of the model (in this case, the dragon) were mechanized and the movement programmed by computer. During shooting, the computer moves the model while the camera is shooting, resulting in motion blur, which makes the animation more convincing.


Filmed as a co-production between Walt Disney Pictures and Paramount. Dragonslayer (1981) was more mature and realistic than most Disney films of the time.


Peter MacNicol’s film debut.


Shot on location in Wales. But the final scene was shot in Skye, Scotland.


Including the hydraulic 40 foot model, 16 dragon puppets were used for the role of Vermithrax, each one made for flying, crawling and breathing fire.


The story has many familiar dragon motifs found throughout Western culture. In particular Saint George and the Dragon, in which maiden sacrifices were made to appease a harassing dragon. Saint George’s tale also includes a sacrificial lottery resulting in the surprise condemnation of a princess. Saint George is also frequently depicted with a magic (blessed) lance or a sword.


Many town locals were employed in the film as village extras.


Peter MacNicol is said to be embarrassed by this film and does not list it on his CV.


“Vermithrax Pejorative” roughly translates as “The Worm of Thrace Which Makes Things Worse.”


Filed under: Fantasy

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