Dragonslayer is a 1981 American fantasy film directed by Matthew Robbins, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Hal Barwood. It stars Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam and Caitlin Clarke. A co-production between Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions, Paramount handled North American distribution while Disney thru Buena Vista International handled international distribution. The story, set in a fictional medieval kingdom, follows a young wizard who experiences danger and opposition as he attempts to defeat a dragon.
The second of two joint productions between Paramount and Disney (the other being Popeye), Dragonslayer was more mature than most other Disney films of the period. Because of audience expectations of the Disney name generally considered as solely children’s entertainment at the time, the film’s violence, adult themes and brief nudity were somewhat controversial for the company at the time even though Disney did not hold the US distribution rights. The film was rated PG in the U.S.; TV showings after 1997 have carried a TV-14 rating. It’s possible that this film was one of several factors responsible for Disney’s later creation of Touchstone Pictures to produce more mature fare, starting with 1984’s Splash.
The special effects were created at Industrial Light and Magic, where Phil Tippett had co-developed an animation technique called go motion for The Empire Strikes Back(1980). 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 Best Visual Effects; it lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the only other Visual Effects nominee that year, whose special effects were also provided by ILM. Including the hydraulic 40-foot (12 m) model, 16 dragon puppets were used for the role of Vermithrax, each one made for different movements; flying, crawling, fire breathing etc. Dragonslayer also marks the first time ILM’s services were used for a film other than a Lucasfilm Ltd. production.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score; Chariots of Fire took the award. It was also nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, once again losing to Raiders of the Lost Ark. In October 2003, Dragonslayer was released on DVD in the U.S. by Paramount Home Video.