Updated: Jul 11, 2021
The marketing for Richard Donner’s 1978 adaptation of Superman proudly proclaimed that the film would convince audiences that “a man could fly,” but with Ladyhawke, the late director managed to make me believe in something far less tangible (albeit no less substantial): the existence of true love.
This cinematic fairytale features all of the narrative elements that you’d expect from the genre: knights in shining armor, fair maidens, foul sorcery, animorphism, and—of course—forbidden romance. The authenticity of the performances, however, both grounds and elevates the fantastical story; Rutger Hauer’s fiery passion and righteous fury, Michelle Pfeiffer’s wistful longing and infectious vivacity, and even Matthew Broderick’s tearful reaction shots clearly convey the personal toll wrought by the supernatural tragedy that propels the plot, thus lending the otherwise melodramatic conflict relatable stakes—and, consequently, greater emotional weight and resonance.
Ladyhawke is hardly perfect: the synthesizer score hasn’t aged particularly gracefully; the special effects utilized to depict the characters’ transformations pale in comparison to those found in, for example, An American Werewolf in London; and Donner’s overall approach to the material is best described as “workmanlike, but unspectacular.” Still, it certainly didn’t deserve to be a critical and commercial flop upon its initial release. The movie more than earns its status as a cult classic; the fact that its effortlessly charming tone makes it so easy to become invested in the admittedly bizarre premise stands as a testament to its creator's immense talent.