It’s Cool Sword Day, so watch one of these cool sword movies

Jet Li points a sword at the camera in Hero
Image: Beijing New Picture Film

Sometimes, the best action movies require cool swords

One of the best holidays of the year is finally here: Cool Sword Day.

Watching movies with cool swords in them is a time-honored Cool Sword Day tradition, and for good reason. It’s a perfect match of activity and holiday, naturally, but also ... who doesn’t love a movie with a cool sword?

For this year’s Cool Sword Day recommendations, we’ve tried to keep away from some of the Cool Sword Day classics you probably watch every year on this great day — the Lord of the Rings movies (on Max), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Prime Video and Tubi), The Princess Bride (Disney Plus), the Kill Bill movies (Netflix), Gladiator (Paramount Plus), and any King Arthur movies. They’re all still great, and feel free to watch them, but we want to dive just a little bit deeper this time (with a few too-good-to-deny exceptions).

Without further ado, your 2024 Cool Sword Day viewing options:

Conan the Barbarian

An extremely buff man wields a sword. Image: Universal Pictures

Where to watch: Digital rental/purchase on Amazon, Apple TV

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic sword appears prominently in Conan the Barbarian’s posters, raised to the heavens, radiating light against an empty darkness — as if the gods themselves imbued it with divine and judgmental power. How could we see this Blu-ray cover and not expect the coolest moment to involve rampant delimbing and geysers of gore? And yet! The sequence that makes Schwarzenegger and the sword into mutual icons lacks a single drop of blood.

The bodybuilder stands on a beach, his glossy long hair flitting in the breeze. His stone brow gazes to the horizon as his shredded arm unsheathes the blade, then gingerly shifts between strike and parry positions. He sheaths and then unsheathes, now swinging the blade with crisp, forceful strikes. The camera moves closer, now looking up at Conan. Against an empty blue sky, we see nothing but man and sword. The sword doesn’t need the gods. This combination of flesh and steel will be enough.

But like, to be clear, he still chops the shit out of a ton of bad dudes, and it’s cool as hell. —Chris Plante

Sword of the Stranger

A fierce sword battle in Sword of the Stranger, as sparks fly when the swords meet Image sources: Sony Pictures Animation, Bones/Crunchyroll

Where to watch: Crunchyroll

Sometimes what makes a cool sword “cool” has nothing to do with the sword itself, but who wields it and when. Case in point: Sword of the Stranger, the 2007 anime feature produced by Studio Bones (My Hero Academia) and directed by Masahiro Ando.

The film centers on Kotarou, an orphan on the run from assassins sent by China’s Ming Dynasty, who inadvertently crosses paths with a nameless ronin who has taken refuge in an abandoned temple. Hired to act as their bodyguard, the stranger sets out on a journey with Kotarou in tow that brings them face-to-face with not only a ruthless Ming warrior named Luo-Lang hellbent on capturing Kotarou, but the truth behind his identity.

Sword of the Stranger is best remembered for its blisteringly fast and violent fight sequences, particularly the climactic battle between the stranger and Luo-Lang, which was animated by Yutaka Nakamura of Cowboy Bebop fame. If you’re looking for a great anime film with phenomenal sword fighting, this is an excellent place to start. —Toussaint Egan

13 Assassins

Two men with bloody faces cross swords in what looks like a desperate fight in 13 Assassins Image: Magnolia Pictures

Where to watch: Prime Video, Peacock, free with a library card on Kanopy and Hoopla, free with ads on Tubi, Crackle, Pluto TV, Plex

Celebrate Cool Sword Day and keep the Shōgun times going with this vicious gem from prolific Japanese action director Takashi Miike. Set in the final years of the Edo era, 13 Assassins follows Doi Toshitsura (Mikijirō Hira), an advisor to the sitting Shogun, who seeks the services of the samurai Shimada Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) to stop the Shogun’s brother, Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu, who on top of raping, pillaging, and murdering commoners across the land, is about to take a spot on the Shogunate Council. Shinzaemon knows he can’t take on Lord Naritsugu’s army alone, so he recruits — you guessed it — 12 more badass samurai to assist in his battle.

Miike, a seasoned splatter artist, completely delivers on the tee up of a 13-vs.-200 man battle, which plays out over the entire final third of the movie and on multiple layers of a Japanese town that the assassins trick out with booby traps. Also: there are swords. So many swords. 13 Assassins is maximalist mayhem. —Matt Patches

A Kurosawa movie

Five armor-clad samurai hold their swords in The Hidden Fortress Image: Toho

Where to watch: Most are on Max and the Criterion Channel

I know we were going to avoid a lot of the obvious ones, but you can’t have a Cool Sword Day without a Kurosawa movie, and there are so many excellent ones to choose from.

You could of course go for Seven Samurai or Yojimbo. Those are perhaps the apex of the genre, and remain incredibly entertaining and fun all these years later. But I’ll go to bat for the slightly more under-the-radar The Hidden Fortress, a massive influence on Star Wars and a great Kurosawa movie that leans heavily on Toshiro Mifune’s one-of-a-kind star power. With great fight sequences, a brisk narrative, plenty of humor, and Kurosawa’s eye for gorgeous imagery, it’s one of many masterpieces by one of the great directors ever to do it. —Pete Volk


Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung wear bright green outfits and point swords at each other in front of a waterfall in Hero Image: Beijing New Picture Film

Where to watch: Free with ads on Pluto TV (dub only), digital rental/purchase on Amazon, Apple TV

Zhang Yimou’s wuxia epic has it all — gorgeous cinematography by Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love) that makes great use of big pops of color, stunning action sequences, a clever narrative framing device, and one of the most star-studded casts to ever grace an action movie. Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi star in what was at the time the most expensive movie production in Chinese history. Hero was a major box-office success in China in 2002, and with an endorsement from Quentin Tarantino, Miramax released it in American theaters two years later, where it became the first Chinese-language movie to lead the US box office.

The movie has terrific swords and even better sword play. Special shoutout to the sequence where a bendy sword is used more as a bat than as a sword, and the one where Jet Li catches a falling cup on his sword. —PV

Last Hurrah for Chivalry

A fight erupts in John Woo’s Last Hurrah for Chivalry Image: Criterion Collection

Where to watch: Criterion Channel, digital rental/purchase on Amazon, Apple TV

Before becoming a worldwide action legend known for dual-wielding pistols and an affinity for doves, John Woo made a lovely little period piece about two sword-wielding assassins caught up in a whole lot of intrigue. A tribute to Woo’s mentor, the great Chang Cheh (One-Armed Swordsman, Five Deadly Venoms), Last Hurrah for Chivalry is an outlier in Woo’s ouvre, and is well worth a watch — especially on Cool Sword Day. —PV

The Swordsman

A long-haired man stares forward while holding a forked katana blade in front of him. Image: Well Go USA Entertainment

Where to watch: Peacock, Hi-Yah! free with a library card on Hoopla, free with ads on Pluto TV, Hoopla, Plex, and Freevee

One of many entries in a long line of blind action heroes, The Swordsman is a thrilling Korean action movie set in the aftermath of the Joseon dynasty. The movie follows the story of Tae-yul, the former bodyguard of King Gwanghaegun, whose eyesight has been deteriorating and now has to rescue his kidnapped daughter.

Joe Taslim of The Raid and Warrior fame shines as Gurutai, a sneering slave trader and Qing emissary who serves as the film’s primary antagonist. The action itself is terrific, but what really elevates The Swordsman as a whole is Tae-yul grappling with his rapidly diminishing eyesight and the unfolding tragedy of his backstory conveyed through flashbacks. —Toussaint Egan

Monster Hunter

milla jovovich and tony jaa in the monster hunter movie Image: Sony Pictures

Where to watch: Starz, or for digital rental/purchase on Amazon, Apple TV

Some movies require context and explanation for their inclusion on Cool Sword Day. Others are self-evident. Monster Hunter is in the latter category.

I mean, just look at the sword Tony Jaa is wielding. That is a sick sword. Happy to say the movie is a lot of fun, one of many successful video game adaptations helmed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Great Cool Sword Day viewing. —PV

Pacific Rim

A Jaeger pilot outstretches their arm in Pacific Rim Image: Warner Bros.

Where to watch: Free with ads on Tubi, or for digital rental/purchase on Amazon, Apple TV

One of the most memorable scenes in Pacific Rim features Raleigh and Mako in a very sticky situation. A flying kaiju has brought their mech to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, where they will suffocate and freeze to death in seconds. They have a classic action movie exchange of lines: “We’re out of options, Mako!” “No, there’s still something left!”

Prior to this moment, Pacific Rim had given no indication that there was a sword of any size or composition anywhere in the movie. Then, Mako mashes some buttons on her console, and the AI voice of GlaDOS reads out the all-caps words that appear on her screen: SWORD DEPLOYED.

A secret, surprise blade the size of a bus shoots out of the jaeger’s arm, and a giant robot cuts a kaiju in half with a sword, in space, before reentering the atmosphere in free-fall.

This is to say: What Pacific Rim lacks in quantity or prominence for a Sword Movie, it makes up for in quality and impact. —Susana Polo

Dragon Inn

Two warriors square off, hunched, in a sword duel, in Dragon Inn Image: Janus Films

Where to watch: Criterion Channel, digital rental/purchase on Apple TV

Dragon Inn is about a band of martial arts masters who must protect the children of a general whose political rival sought to have the whole family killed. While the movie doesn’t necessarily have just one singular cool sword, it does make the entire concept of swords even cooler than they already are. Some of the movie’s best and most memorable fight scenes include its heroes wielding swords against hordes of enemies and dispatching them easily and with incredible flair.

Dragon Inn is an undeniably cool movie with a truck-load of incredible sword fights that helped inspire many of the other movies on this list. —Austen Goslin

The Northman

A young blonde boy holds a shining sword while wearing a crown in The Northman Image: Focus Features

Where to watch: Starz, digital rental/purchase on Amazon, Apple TV

A Viking revenge tale may sound more like ax-fare than a celebration of Cool Swords, but The Northman is a shockingly sword-heavy movie and even includes a mythical blade to boot. Robert Eggers’ under-appreciated action epic follows the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) as he seeks revenge for the death of his father at the hands of his uncle.

To find his revenge, Amleth communes with spirits who direct him toward Draugr, a mythical blade that can only be drawn in the dead of night or at the gates of Hel. The sword itself is rad — and has to be obtained by beating a creature that looks straight out of Elden Ring — but the whole movie is a beautiful, gory ode to the kind of brutal revenge that only the coolest swords are capable of exacting. —AG


Christopher Lambert as Conner MacLeod in Highlander. Image: Twentieth Century Fox

Where to watch: Free with a library card on Hoopla, free with ads on Crackle and Plex

No discussion of cool swords could possibly be complete without Highlander. Perhaps one of the wildest and most unexpected action movies of all time, Highlander is full of incredible brawls and excellent weapons.

But as you might expect from a movie about immortals who are forced to spend eternity attempting to behead each other until only one remains, the real stars of Highlander’s armory are its swords. In particular, Connor MacLeod’s two blades, the MacLeod family broadsword and the katana of the Spanish swordsman Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, are two of the coolest swords in movie history and the perfect implements for the movie’s variety of awesome duels. —AG

A Lone Wolf & Cub movie

Ronin warrior Ogami Ittō crossing two swords in front of himself with his son Daigorō on his back in Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx. Image: Criterion Collection

Where to watch: Most are on Max and Criterion Channel

The Lone Wolf and Cub manga is a thrilling period epic of swordplay and revenge — and the progenitor of the trope in which a man protects a child on a dangerous journey. The Mandalorian, Logan, The Last of Us, and Death Stranding all draw from writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima’s seminal samurai story.

The movie series based on Koike’s groundbreaking work is a faithful and highly watchable adaptation; Koike wrote the screenplays himself. The first film, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance, sets the tone for assassin-for-hire daddy Ogami Itto and son Daigoro’s bloodsoaked journey: Itto’s mastery with the dōtanuki and use of feared suio-ryu sword techniques is unmatched. It’s captivating to watch Itto strike down hordes of bandits and ninja assassin squads (and witness the excessive, crimson arterial blood-sprays) with lightning-fast slashes and no shortage of gimmicks — including young Daigoro’s highly weaponized baby cart.

The Lone Wolf and Cub movies range from meditative to exploitative — and waver in quality, considering they pumped out six of these in just a couple years — but stick with it, if only for the massive samurai sword-and-snow-skiing final battle. —Michael McWhertor

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