15 Wild Facts About 'Conan the Barbarian'

The Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring 'Conan the Barbarian' was written by Oliver Stone—who was also slated to direct it.
Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages

You already know Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like a million bucks in Conan the Barbarian, but these facts may help you appreciate his sword-wielding majesty in a new light.

1. The film’s opening Nietzsche epigraph is misquoted. The original quote is “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” The movie’s quote is actually, weirdly enough, a paraphrase of Nietzsche that Watergate break-in mastermind G. Gordon Liddy made during his autobiography book tour in 1980.

2. Conan the Barbarian is co-written by Wall Street and Platoon director Oliver Stone, who himself was originally slated to co-direct. Other directors on the short list for the job—before it was given to John Milius—were John Frankenheimer, Sam Peckinpah, Alan Parker, and Ridley Scott.

3. Milius originally knew nothing about the Conan the Barbarian character, and signed on to direct because he always wanted to make a Viking movie.

4. Milius’ original storyline for Conan was a trilogy involving a sword metaphor. The first was about the strength of the sword, the second was about how to wield the sword, and the third was about the consequences the sword wrought. To date, Milius has only been involved with one Conan movie. A sequel, Conan the Destroyer, was released in 1984 and a reboot, also called Conan the Barbarian, came out in 2011.

5. Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone both turned down the Conan role.

6. Producers met Arnie when he was doing press for the film Pumping Iron, and thought he was perfect for the look of the barbarian.

7. Thulsa Doom, the evil sorcerer played by James Earl Jones, was originally a character in “Kull the Conqueror,” another pulp fiction series from Conan creator Robert E. Howard. Milius wanted Jones’ character to resemble the last member of an otherworldly race that had all but died out.

8. The name of Conan’s female companion Valeria, played by actress Sandahl Bergman, is never said during the film. Bergman was cast because director John Milius saw her as a dancer in director Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz, and Milius thought she could give the rough and tumble Valeria a ballerina’s sense of movement.

9. Bergman’s finger was nearly cut off during a fight scene. Instead of asking if the actress was okay, Milius allegedly shouted, “Valeria [her character] would never let that happen!” Schwarzenegger seriously injured his knee on set when he was thrown from a horse. Despite barely being able to walk, the real-life tough guy finished the last weeks of shooting.

10. Schwarzenegger was originally supposed to narrate the film. Producers switched the duties over fear his accent was too thick.

11. The production was slated to be shot entirely in Yugoslavia, where pre-production was set up for four months—but the country’s uneasy political atmosphere caused filming to be delayed for six months before the production moved to Spain.

12. The film was shot in Spain’s Madrid and Almeria regions over five months.

13. The two primary swords in the film—Conan’s father’s sword and the sword he takes from the Atlantean skeleton—were real 9-pound carbon steel swords that cost $100,000 each to create. They were made with blunt edges for safety reasons.  Fiberglass and aluminum copies were made of each for fight scenes.

14. The three main actors underwent a grueling two-hours-a-day, three-days-a-week fight training regimen for five months straight, taught by martial arts master Kiyoshi Yamazaki. Yamazaki makes an appearance in the film as Conan’s sword instructor from the East.

15. Schwarzenegger did all of his own stunts—the filmmakers were unable to find a matching body double his size.