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8 of the Best Movies Based on Myths, Legends, and Folklore

Myths and legends have always captivated the imagination of artists and storytellers across the world. These ancient tales of mythical creatures and divine beings continue to inspire contemporary filmmakers to create blockbuster movies. This compilation presents eight outstanding movies that draw inspiration from age-old narratives. While not all of these films are completely faithful to the original stories, they provide a great starting point for those seeking to learn more about ancient epics, folklore, and legends.

Related: If You Like Greek Mythology, Don’t Miss These Movies!

1. The Virgin Spring (1960)

Ingmar Bergman took inspiration for his revenge saga from the 13th-century Scandinavian and Swedish ballad Töres döttrar i Wänge, which recounts a local legend from Kärna revealing the genesis of the neighboring church. Despite diving into the tragic story of a young girl's rape and death on her way to church, Bergman's film remains one of his most daring works, giving glimmers of hope in the era's darkness.

Stream it on: The Criterion Channel, Kanopy

2. The Green Knight (2021)

Drawing inspiration from the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the film stars Dev Patel as Gawain, King Arthur's ambitious nephew longing for knighthood. On Christmas Day, a mysterious figure meets Arthur's knights with a challenge:  whoever dares to strike the Green Knight can claim his axe, but must endure a retaliatory blow in exactly one year. This cinematic masterpiece presents a nuanced portrayal of King Arthur's world that distinguishes it as one of the finest reimaginings of the legends.

Stream it on: Max

3. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

Inspired by the 10th-century Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, this animated gem tells the story of a young girl discovered snuggled among a bamboo shoot. The Bamboo Cutter who discovered her, takes her in, moving his family to the capital to make her a true noble princess. Renamed Princess Kaguya, she pines for her former life and the simple joys of the countryside, particularly her friendship with a boy named Sutemaru. As suitors vie for her affections and her mysterious origins unravel, Kaguya grapples with a poignant choice: to embrace her terrestrial existence or reclaim her celestial heritage.

Stream it on: Max

4. Iphigenia (1977)

This movie takes its inspiration from a Greek myth called Iphigenia, which was also a play written by Euripides. It's a classic Greek tragedy that poses some tough moral questions, without any easily identifiable heroes or villains. The title character, Iphigenia, is the daughter of Agamemnon, the King of Argos, and is a victim in this story. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, demands that Iphigenia be sacrificed to prevent the entire Trojan expedition from being doomed, as a retaliation for a perceived slight. Director Michael Cacoyannis brings a realistic feel to this intense story, making it gritty and sweaty.

Stream it on: Vudu

Related: Dragons in Mythology: To Each Culture a Different Dragon

5. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Ray Harryhausen's incredible animation brings the story of Jason, the mythical Greek commander, and his Argonauts to life as they embark on a hunt for the coveted Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter a myriad of obstacles, including gods, monarchs, and fantastical beings determined to thwart their journey. The skeleton soldiers and the epic showdown with the enormous robot, Talos, are the highlights of this memorable film.

Stream it on: Prime Video

6. Leviathan (2014)

In Andrey Zvyagintsev's film, the presence of a giant whale carcass isn't just superficial; it is a symbol of the Hebrew Book of Job. The biblical story follows Job, a virtuous man whose unwavering faith is tested when Satan challenges God's assertion of Job's righteousness. While the film's allegorical connection isn't overt, it follows a mechanic entangled in a battle against a corrupt local mayor eyeing his property. 

Stream it on: Starz

7. The Golem (2018)

Set in 1673 Lithuania, this sharp Israeli period thriller skillfully interweaves golem-related folklore with fresh narrative perspectives. Hanna (played by Hani Furstenberg) lives in a shtetl that has miraculously avoided a nearby plague, arousing suspicion among gentile communities in neighboring villages. Alienated in her own community, Hanna secretly studies Kabbalah for years, acquiring the knowledge necessary to make a golem for the village's protection. However, rather than the traditional picture of a clay and mud monstrosity, the golem here takes the shape of a child.

Stream it on: Prime Video, Peacock, Tubi, Freevee

Related: 12 of the Most Fascinating Creatures in Norse Mythology

8. Song of the Sea (2014)

Tomm Moore's visually enchanting animated film tells the story of 10-year-old Ben, who blames his sister Saoirse for the apparent death of their mother just after her birth. Ben later discovers that Saoirse is a selkie - a supernatural being with links to both humans and seals. Together, they go on a daring expedition to save fairies from the clutches of Macha, the fierce Celtic war goddess. This is the middle chapter of director Moore's trilogy of films about Irish folklore related to selkies, fairies, and goddesses, each of which deserves to be seen.

Stream it on: Apple TV, Google Play Movies, Prime, Vudu

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