In the kingdom of Aruk, the high priest Maax [ MAY-aks] (Rip Torn) is given a prophecy by his witches that he would die facing the son of King Zed (Rod Loomis). Learning of Maax's scheme to murder his child as a sacrificial offering to the kingdom's god Ar, Zed exiled Maax and his followers from the city. However, Maax sent one of his witches to transfer the unborn child from the womb of Zed's queen (Vanna Bonta) and into a cow to be born. After his birth the witch brands the infant with Ar's mark, but is killed by a villager who takes the infant in his care and raises him as his own son. Named Dar while raised the village of Emur, the child learns how to fight while advised by his father to keep his ability to telepathically communicate with animals a secret. Years later, a fully grown Dar (Marc Singer) witnesses his people being slaughtered by the Jun, a horde of fanatic barbarians in league with Maax. Dar, the only survivor of the attack, vows revenge and journeys to Aruk to avenge his people. In time, Dar is joined by an eagle that he named Sharak, a pair of thieving ferrets he calls Kodo and Podo, and a black tiger whom he names Ruh.
Eventually, Dar meets a redheaded slave girl called Kiri (Tanya Roberts) before getting himself lost and ending up surrounded by an eerie half-bird, half-human race who dissolve their prey for nourishment. As the bird men worship eagles, they spare Dar when he summons Sharak and give him an amulet should he need their aid. Dar soon arrives to Aruk where Maax had assumed total control with the Juns' support and subjects the people to witness their children being sacrificed. After having Sharak save the child of a townsman named Sacco, Dar learns that Kiri is to be sacrificed. On his way to save her, Dar is joined by Zed's younger son Tal and his bodyguard Seth (John Amos), learning that Kiri is Zed's niece as the three work to save her. While Seth goes to gather their forces, Dar helps Kiri and Tal infiltrate the temple and save the now eyeless Zed and while escaping from the temple's beast-like Death Guards.
Consumed by revenge, Zed refuses to listen to Dar's warning against ordering an immediate attack on the city and rejects him as a freak. Forced to leave, Dar later learns that his friends are captured and races to Aruk to save them from being sacrificed. In the conflict that followed, Maax reveals Dar's relationship to Zed before slitting his throat and facing the Beastmaster. Despite being stabbed, revived by his remaining witch before she was killed, Maax was about to kill Dar when Kodo sacrifices himself to cause the high priest to fall into the sacrificial flames. But the victory is short-lived as the Jun horde are approaching Auruk, arriving by nightfall to face the trap Dar and the people set up for them. Tal gets wounded as Dar succeeds in burning most of the Juns alive while defeating their chieftain before the bird-men arrive to consume those remaining. The following day, though Seth learned that he is Zed's first born, Dar explains that Tal would make a better king as he leaves Auruk. Dar sets off into the wild with Kiri, Ruh, Sharak and Podo (who has given birth to two baby ferrets) on the path to new adventures.
Beastmaster began with a screenplay in the early 1980s written by Paul Pepperman and Don Coscarelli. The two writers based their film on Andre Norton's 1959 novel The Beast Master. The writers changed the story dramatically as the original novel had the hero named Hosteen Storm who was a Navajo fighter in a futuristic science fiction setting. Norton was unhappy with the liberties taken with the film's script and asked for her name to be removed from the credits. When Coscarelli signed on as a director, Pepperman became the film's producer and brought in co-producer Sylvio Tabet to the project. The producers went to raise funds for the film at the 1981 MIFED film market in Milan and at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. The budget of $9 million was raised, giving director Coscarelli his highest budget to work with.
Coscarelli was frustrated while making the film, during which he feuded with the film's executive producer predominantly over the film's editing and casting. Coscarelli originally wanted Demi Moore for the role of Kiri, but the executive producer overrode his choice and had Tanya Roberts cast. The role of Maax was originally written for Klaus Kinski, but he was not cast over a salary dispute. The film was shot over the course of five-and-a-half months. The film was shot California's Simi Valley and in Los Padres National Forest's Lake Piru in Ventura County, and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Interior shots were done at MGM/UA lot.
The Beastmaster premièred in theatres on August 19, 1982. It was released in 16 cities in the United States on 165 screens and opened in eight more cities and 66 screens in its second week. The film opened in fifth place on its opening week. After six weeks, it had a total box office of revenue of $3,561,475.
It subsequently received significant local TV and cable airplay, notably HBO and TBS and TNT. The film was shown so often on HBO, that comedian Dennis Miller joked that HBO stood for "Hey, Beastmaster's On". In 1993, a programming director for TNT claimed that it was second-only to Gone with the Wind as the most popular movie to air on the network and attributed its success to its ”mythological appeal—it’s more serious than the Conan movies.” Another programming director, for Cinemax, stated that ”You can come into any part of it and not feel you’ve missed much.”
This sword-and-sorcery film was only a modest box-office performer during its initial 1982 release, grossing roughly $14 million ($34.4 million adjusted) against an estimated $8 million budget ($19.6 million adjusted), but it has steadily built a strong cult following over the years. Josh Milrad was nominated for a Young Artist Award for "Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture" for his co-starring role as Tal in the film.
The Beastmaster received a sequel in 1991 Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time. The film was directed by the original film producer Sylvio Tabet. The direct-to-video third film was released in 1996 titled Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus. Both sequels feature Marc Singer in the role of Dar. The films were followed by a syndicated television series in 1999. The television series changes the backstory of Dar who is played by Daniel Goddard.
The score was composed and conducted by Lee Holdridge; it was recorded in Rome with members of The Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia of Rome and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Rome. The soundtrack album was originally issued by Varese Sarabande, and subsequently by C.A.M. In 2013 Quartet Records released a 1200-copy limited edition featuring the original album (tracks 1-13, disc 1) and most of the film's score (Holdridge wrote eighty minutes of music for the film; a few cues could not be found, but the album includes music that was not heard in the finished product).
- The Legend of Dar (Main Theme) (1:32)
- The Horde (The Destruction of Emur) (2:43)
- A Sword and an Eagle (The Epic Begins) (4:49)
- Friends of Dar (Suite 1): A) The Princess Kiri B) Kodo, Podo and Reu (3:35)
- The Pyramid (2:47)
- Night Journey (Suite 2) A) The Eagle B) The City (3:56)
- The Battle on the Pyramid (6:42)
- A Hero’s Theme (The Legend of Dar) (2:56)
- Heroic Friends (4:30)
- Escape From the Pyramid (2:40)
- Dar’s Solitude (1:28)
- The Great Battle (Dar’s Triumph) (3:37)
- The New Kingdom (3:22)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 1 - Main Titles) (1:48)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 2 - Stealing the Child) (3:12)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 3 - The Ritual) (1:36)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 4 - A New Father) (1:35)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 5 - Jun Raid) (4:21)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 6 - Sword and Eagle) (4:41)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 7 - Ferret Chase/Quicksand) (2:13)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 8 - Captive Panther/Fighting Juns) (2:53)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 9 - The Bathing Scene) (1:20)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 10 - Dar Pursues Kiri) (5:10)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 11 - Journey to the City) (1:31)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 12 - Sacrifice Thwarted) (4:16)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 13 - Death Sentence) (2:16)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 14 - Eagle Vision) (2:22)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 15 - The Rescue of Kiri) (2:21)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 16 - Raft Escape) (4:12)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 17 - Into the Pyramid/Corridor Ambush) (1:00)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 18 - Stealing the Keys/The Cell) (4:41)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 19 - The Escape Begins/The Escape Continues) (2:49)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 20 - A Little Late) (1:27)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 21 - Outside the Pyramid) (1:34)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 22 - Through the Gate/Dar the Outcast) (2:44)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 23 - Pyramid Battle, Part I (Alternate) (2:49)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 24 - Pyramid Battle, Part II (Alternate) (2:18)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 25 - Pyramid Battle, Part III (Alternate) (3:57)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 26 - Preparations) (1:48)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 27 - The Horde Attacks/The Moat/Dar vs. Jun Leader) (4:48)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 28 - The Tide Turns) (1:30)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 29 - A New King) (3:24)
- The Beastmaster (Seq. 30 - Finale) (2:05)
- The Battle on the Pyramid (Film Version) (6:42)