The film is based largely upon Norse mythology. In the film's opening scene Erik (Tim Robbins), a young Viking, discovers that he has no taste for rape and pillage, and suffers guilt over the death of Helga (Samantha Bond), an innocent woman.
Erik learns from the wise woman Freya (Eartha Kitt) that Fenrir the wolf has swallowed the sun, plunging the world into the age of Ragnarök. Erik resolves to travel to Asgard to petition the gods to end Ragnarök. Freya informs him that to do so he must seek the Horn Resounding in the land of Hy-Brasil. The first note blown upon the Horn will take Erik and his crew to Asgard, the second will awaken the gods, and the third will bring the crew home.
Keitel Blacksmith (Gary Cady) and his underling Loki (Antony Sher) are opposed to Erik's plan, because peace would end the demand for Keitel's swords. Keitel joins Erik's crew to sabotage Erik's plans. Halfdan the Black (John Cleese), afraid that peace will mean the end of his reign, sets sail in pursuit.
Arriving at Hy-Brasil, Erik and crew are astonished to find it a sunlit land whose people are friendly (if musically untalented). Erik promptly falls in love with Princess Aud (Imogen Stubbs), daughter of King Arnulf (Terry Jones). During one of their romantic encounters, Erik hides from Arnulf using Aud's magic cloak of invisibility.
Aud has warned the Vikings that should blood ever be shed upon Hy-Brasil, the entire island would sink beneath the waves. Erik and his crew defend Hy-Brasil against Halfdan's ship. In gratitude for Erik's having saved Hy-Brasil, King Arnulf presents him with the Horn Resounding, which is much larger than Erik had imagined. Loki steals the Horn's mouthpiece, without which it cannot be sounded, and persuades Keitel to throw it in the sea. Snorri, one of Erik's men, catches them in the act, and Loki kills him. A single drop of the man's blood falls from Loki's dagger, triggering an earthquake that causes the island to begin sinking.
Erik's crew, joined by Aud, prepare to escape in their ship with the Horn safely aboard, but Arnulf refuses to join them, denying that the island is sinking up to the very moment he and the other islanders are swallowed by the waves. Aud, who was able to recover the mouthpiece by chance, sounds the first note on the Horn. The ship is propelled over the edge of the flat Earth and into space, coming to rest upon the plain of Asgard. Erik sounds the second note to awaken the gods, and he and his crew approach the great Hall of Valhalla.
Erik and the crew encounter old friends and enemies slain in battle. The gods are revealed to be petulant children who have no interest in answering mortal prayers. Odin persuades Fenrir to spit out the sun, but tells Erik that the end of Ragnarök will not bring peace to the world. Odin then informs Erik that he and his crew cannot return home. Nor may they remain in Valhalla, since they were not slain in battle; instead they are to be cast into the fiery Pit of Hel. Some of the Vikings who were killed in the sea-battle with Halfdan attempt to save them, but even as they are drawn into the Pit, they hear the Horn Resounding's third note, which flings them clear.
Erik's crew, including the formerly dead men, immediately find themselves back in their home village. They are dismayed to find that Halfdan and his soldiers have arrived before them and are holding the villagers captive. Halfdan and his men are crushed to death by Erik's ship as it falls out of the sky with Harald the Missionary (Freddie Jones) aboard. As the villagers celebrate Erik's return and Halfdan's defeat, the sun rises, ending the age of Ragnarök.Tim Robbins as Erik
Mickey Rooney as Erik's Grandfather
Eartha Kitt as Freya
Terry Jones as King Arnulf
Imogen Stubbs as Princess Aud
John Cleese as Halfdan the Black
Antony Sher as Loki
Gary Cady as Keitel Blacksmith
Charles McKeown as Sven's Dad
Tim McInnerny as Sven the Berserk
John Gordon Sinclair as Ivar the Boneless
Richard Ridings as Thorfinn Skullsplitter
Freddie Jones as Harald the Missionary
Tsutomu Sekine as Slavemaster
Samantha Bond as Helga
Danny Schiller as Snorri the Miserable
Jim Broadbent as Ernest the Viking (a rapist)
Jim Carter as Jennifer the Viking (another rapist)
Neil Innes as Hy-Brasilian
Allan Surtees as Thorfinn's Dad
Simon Evans as Odin
Matthew Baker as Thor
Principal photography took place at Shepperton Studios. Some footage of Erik's village and environments was shot in Norway, while the Hy-Brasil sequence was filmed in Malta. Artwork was made by Tolkien artist Alan Lee.
The production by the Monty Python company Prominent Features received financial backing from Swedish Svensk Filmindustri, which contributed to the film having its premiere in Sweden on 1 September 1989, followed by the US on 22 September, and the UK on 29 September. On cinema it had a running time of 107 minutes, but unhappy with the film's slow pacing, Jones cut it down to 89 minutes for the VHS release the following year.
In 2006 Jones was given the opportunity of re-editing the film for its DVD release. He delegated the actual editing work to his son Bill, who produced a 75-minute "Director's Son's Cut", with re-ordered scenes and much tighter pacing as well as a completely remixed and re-dubbed soundtrack. Terry Jones considered this highly appropriate as the original book was written for Bill.
On 26 May 2015 the original 107-minute theatrical version was released on Blu-ray by Olive Films.
The names of numerous figures from different periods of Norse history and lore are used for characters in the movie, including Freya, Loki, Halfdan the Black, Ivar the Boneless, Thorfinn Skullsplitter, Leif the Lucky, and Mord Fiddle.
Erik the Viking currently holds a 47% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.