The 13th Warrior (1999)


The 13th Warrior is a 1999 American historical fiction action film based on Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead, which is a loose retelling of the tale of Beowulf combined with Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s historical account of the Volga Vikings.

It stars Antonio Banderas as Ahmad ibn Fadlan, as well as Diane Venora and Omar Sharif. It was directed by John McTiernan. Crichton directed some uncredited reshoots.

The film was produced by McTiernan, Crichton, and Ned Dowd, with Andrew G. Vajna, James Biggam and Ethan Dubrow as executive producers.


Ahmad ibn Fadlan is a court poet to the Caliph of Baghdad, until his amorous encounter with the wife of an influential noble gets him exiled as an “ambassador” to the Volga Bulgars. Travelling with his father’s old friend, Melchisidek, his caravan is saved from Tatar raiders by the appearance of Norsemen. Taking refuge at their settlement on the Volga river, communications are established through Melchisidek and Herger, a Norseman who speaks Latin. From Herger, the two learn that the celebration being held by the Northmen is in fact a funeral for their recently deceased king. Herger also introduces them to one of the king’s sons, Buliwyf. Ahmad and Melchisidek then witness a fight in which Buliwyf kills his brother in self defence, which establishes Buliwyf as heir apparent, followed by the Viking funeral of their dead king, cremated together with a young woman who agreed to accompany him to Valhalla.

The next day, a young prince named Wulfgar enters the camp requesting Buliwyf’s aid: his father’s kingdom in the far north is under attack from an ancient evil so frightening that even the bravest warriors dare not name it. The “angel of death”, a völva (wisewoman) determines the mission will be successful if thirteen warriors go to face this danger – but the thirteenth must not be a Norseman. Ahmad is recruited against his will.

Ahmad learns Norse during their journey by listening intently to his companions’ conversations. He is looked down upon by the huge Norsemen, who mock his physical weakness and his small Arabian horse, but he earns a measure of respect by his fast learning of their language, his horsemanship, ingenuity, and ability to write.

Reaching King Hrothgar’s kingdom, they confirm that their foe is indeed the ancient “Wendol”, fiends who come with the mist to kill and take human heads. While the group searches through a raided cabin they find a Venus figurine, said to represent the “Mother of the Wendol”. On their first night two of their number – Hyglak and Ragnar – are killed. In a string of clashes, Buliwyf’s band establishes that the Wendol are humanoid cannibals who appear as, live like, and identify with bears.

Their numbers dwindling, having also lost Skeld, Halga, Roneth and Rethel, and their position all but indefensible, they consult an ancient völva of the village. She tells them to track the Wendol to their lair and destroy their leaders, the “Mother of the Wendol” and their Warlord who wears “the horns of power”. Buliwyf and the remaining warriors infiltrate the Wendol cave-complex and kill the Mother, but not before Buliwyf is scratched deeply across the shoulder by her poisoned “fingernail claw”.

The remaining warriors return to the village (losing Helfdane who opts to stay behind and fight) and prepare for a final battle they do not expect to survive. Buliwyf staggers outside before the fight and inspires the warriors with a Viking prayer for the honoured dead who will enter Valhalla. Buliwyf succeeds in killing the Wendol warlord, causing their defeat, before succumbing to the poison. Ahmad witnesses Buliwyf’s royal funeral before returning to his homeland, grateful to the Norsemen for helping him to “become a man and a useful servant of God”. He is seen at the movie’s end writing down the tale of his time with them.


  • Antonio Banderas as Ahmad ibn Fadlan.
  • Diane Venora as Queen Weilew.
  • Vladimir Kulich as Buliwyf (the Leader).
  • Dennis Storhøi as Herger (the Joyous).
  • Omar Sharif as Melchisidek.
  • Anders T. Andersen as Wigliff – King’s Son.
  • Richard Bremmer as Skeld (the Superstitious).
  • Tony Curran as Weath (the Musician).
  • Mischa Hausserman as Rethel (the Archer).
  • Neil Maffin as Roneth (the Rider).
  • Asbjorn Riis as Halga (the Wise).
  • Clive Russell as Helfdane (the Fat).
  • Daniel Southern as Edgtho (the Silent).
  • Oliver Sveinall as Haltaf (the Boy).
  • Sven Wollter as King Hrothgar.
  • Albie Woodington as Hyglak (the Quarrelsome).
  • John DeSantis as Ragnar (the Dour).
  • Eric Avari as Caravan leader.
  • Maria Bonnevie as Olga.
  • Susan Willis as Wendol Mother.
  • Yolande Bavan as Wendol Mother Companion.


Originally titled Eaters of the Dead, production began in the summer of 1997, but the film went through several re-edits after test audiences did not react well to the initial cut. Crichton took over as director himself due to the poor test audience reception, causing the release date to be pushed back over a year. The film was re-cut, a new ending added, along with a new score. Graeme Revell was replaced by Jerry Goldsmith as composer. The title was changed to The 13th Warrior.

The budget, which was originally around $85 million, reportedly soared to $100 million before principal photography wrapped. With all of the re-shoots and promotional expenses, the total cost of the film was rumored to be as high as $160 million, which given its lackluster box office take (earning US$61.7 million worldwide), made for a loss of $70–130 million.


The original soundtrack was composed by Graeme Revell and featured the Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard. The score was rejected by Michael Crichton and was replaced by one composed by Crichton’s usual collaborator, Jerry Goldsmith.


The film debuted at No.2 on its opening weekend behind The Sixth Sense.


  • Production and marketing costs reputedly reached $160 million, but it grossed $61 million at the box office worldwide, making it one of the biggest box office bombs in history and the biggest one of 1999, with losses of up to $129 million.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): John McTiernan.
  • Producer(s): John McTiernan, Michael Crichton, and Ned Dowd.
  • Writer(s): William Wisher Jr. and Warren Lewis.
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Cinematography: Peter Menzies Jr.
  • Editor(s): John Wright.
  • Production: Touchstone Pictures.
  • Distributor(s): Buena Vista Pictures.
  • Release Date: 27 August 1999.
  • Running Time: 102 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link


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