Author Top 5s - Duncan Lay's Top 5 Epic Fails in Movie Battles

In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.

Today best-selling fantasy author Duncan Lay joins me to do something a little different. As a man who knows how to write a battle scene he's going to talk about some that perhaps aren't so good as he shares his top 5 epic fails in movie battles. Let's find out where Duncan Lay thinks Hollywood really dropped the ball, or the sword as the case may be.

Movie audiences love a good battle scene to finish their favourite picture on an adrenaline high. Thanks to the magic of CGI, it’s easier than ever to create a fantastic battle scene. Sadly, thanks to Hollywood, it’s also easier than ever to stuff it up. They have advisers and script writers to make sure it works but, it seems, some idiot (probably wearing a loud shirt and chewing a cigar) demands changes to “make it more exciting”. But all they are doing is making it silly.

So here’s five movies that dropped a huge clanger in their battles, which spoiled the effect for me. Now, some of these movies had fantastic fight scenes and duels but, I’m afraid, threw logic and reason out the window when it came to the actual battle.

In descending order, from least offensive to want-to-gouge-my-eyes-out-with-stale-popcorn, they are:


I really enjoyed this often-funny story of Dennis Quaid as a drunken knight, teaming up with the last dragon (Sean Connery) to rid England of an evil King. It’s fun and tongue-in-cheek, with a sprinkling of fine English actors to give it some credibility. Credibility it then flushes down the toilet for the final battle.

We start off with the old chestnut of the peasants, given a modicum of training, able to defeat heavily armed knights on horseback. You could accept that, except they seem able to outrun men on horseback as well. Hmmm. But the real dodginess centres on poor Pete Postlethwaite, a fine actor whose character (a monk) is a “natural” bowman. Leaving aside the fact no monk would have the physical strength to draw back a bow, unless you have trained for at least 10 years, you would not be able to loose an arrow like that and drive it through chainmail. It was a humorous but pointless plot device and dragged down what was otherwise a fun romp.


The battle of Helm’s Deep. Brilliantly conceived and I actually loved the idea of the elves being there to fight (even though there wasn’t hide nor ear of elf within 100 miles of the place in the book). I could live with Saruman inventing gunpowder, even though there was no need for it, given his Uruk-hai got into the keep quite nicely without it.

But having put the elves there, why oh why didn’t Aragorn use them? Thousands of the best archers in the world and he doesn’t let them loose an arrow until the Uruk-hai are two feet away. The orcs stand there, grunting and steaming (looking uncannily like a rugby league team) until some old fart on the keep looses an arrow at them and then they charge and THEN Aragorn lets fly. Come on, the elves should have emptied their quivers before the orcs got within 100 paces of the wall and piled up so many, they couldn’t get inside. A soggy effort in the rain.


Again, a fun movie and a pretty good adaptation of CS Lewis’ Christian fable. But of my paws and whiskers, did they stuff up the final battle.

True, old CS didn’t give them much to work with. In the book, the battle lasts perhaps an entire page, if you include the illustration. But given such scope, they could have come up with something better. The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe gave us eagles and griffins used as dive-bombers, which was a nice touch to the World War II setting. Caspian gave us random fight scenes but no idea how to use the troops at its disposal. For brilliant warriors and clever kings, Edmund and Peter should have been wearing dunce’s caps, not steel helmets. They never used their bowmen or their cavalry properly and let the Telmarines walk all over them. Just so that Aslan could come in and save the day with his walking trees.


Brilliant fight sequences. Just brilliant. Loved the Battle Boar and the charging sheep, plus the trolls as siege weapons and the way Thorin killed Azog.

But how dumb were the battle tactics? The dwarves form the perfect shield wall and then the elves have to jump over it to fight the orcs hand-to-hand? What? Surely you stick your elvish swordsmen on either side of the shield wall, the human pikemen behind the shield wall and then the elvish archers behind that and they would have piled up the orcs like Legolas on steroids. They wouldn’t have even needed the eagles and Thorin could have chilled out under the mountain, playing Ten Pin with giant diamonds. Yes, the elvish jump over the dwarves was symbolic and yes hand-to-hand is better than a straight fight but pleeeease! How did these people survive for so long fighting that dumb?


Yes, I know it’s not fantasy but it’s pretty bloody close. Russell Crowe is broodingly fantastic, the scale and detail was stunning and the storyline was great. But I just couldn’t get over the first battle. They had it so close to perfect. The Legion uses its ballistae and catapults perfectly, advances smoothly and prepares to meet on the barbarian hordes. I was loving it. And then the Romans break ranks and fight hand-to-hand? What the? The other people in the movie theatre probably thought I was choking on a choc-top but it was just my indignation.

The Romans conquered the known world because they NEVER broke ranks! One on one, their gladius was no match for a longsword. They didn’t win because they were bigger and braver and hairier than the barbarians. They won because they were disciplined and fought in ranks.

Maximus was a real gluteus for ordering that. Silliest battle move ever.

Duncan Lay is the author of two best-selling Australian fantasy series, the Dragon Sword Histories and the Empire Of Bones. He writes on the train, to and from his job as production editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper. He lives on the Central Coast of NSW with his wife and two children.

Episode 1 of his new novel The Last Quarrel is available now from Momentum Books.