MovieChat Forums > Lion of the Desert (1980) Discussion > Did you ever wonder why "Lion of the Des...

Did you ever wonder why "Lion of the Desert" is so obscure? Here's why...

It cost $35 million, has three big name stars, was shot on location and is epic in scope, but it only grossed $1 million worldwide and sits alongside other big money losers of the time period, like "Heaven's Gate" (1980) and "Inchon" (1981). Was it because it was supported by Gaddafi? Was it because it portrayed the Italians in a bad light and freedom-fighting Libyans as the protagonists? Or maybe it simply lacked the pizzazz to draw audiences.

For me, it's the last one. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good in this historical film and the movie perks up whenever Steiger and Reed are on the screen; Quinn too, but less so. And you can't beat the authentic locations and action/adventure; the cliff-gorge battle, for instance, is a treat. Yet there's something meh about the overall proceedings. It lacks the artistic style of "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962). It doesn't help that the first act is relatively tedious and the action doesn't kick-in until the 40 minute mark.

Since the movie lights up whenever Reed and Quinn are on the screen (Steiger's Mussolini being a minor character), the script should've focused more on their characters. When these two opponents finally confront each other at the end it's gripping drama. But the rest of the movie isn't so compelling, disregarding the positives noted. Furthermore, the propagandizing Libyan bias is laughable.

Still, if you like flicks like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Braveheart" (1995), it's worth checking out.


I saw this at the theater on original release when I was a young teen. I love big historical epic battle films and other than old ones on TV there wasn't much available in this genre between the late 70s and the 90s.

March or Die, Zulu Dawn, this film and Gallipoli were about the only examples of this genre released between the late 70s and the 90s era of Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans, Rob Roy etc.

I recall that this one did have some good scenes, but all in all, it came across as blatant propaganda. I didn't enjoy much about this movie except the battles. Some of it was very over-wrought. One memory that stands out were the scenes where the Libyan rebels were shot in slow motion. This was so cheesily overdone. Plus, Gaddafi soon got a really bad rep as a terrorist supporter in the 80s and anything with his name on it was poison.

I can imagine Lion of the Desert being quite popular in the Arab/Muslim world, but outside that it would have very limited appeal, presenting an unpopular viewpoint in a genre that was fading out due to audience disinterest and the high production cost of filming huge battles pre-CGI. I only saw it the one time. I bought an old used VHS tape in the late 90s, but it got chewed up the first time I tried to play it. Wouldn't mind seeing it again.


It's been available on various streaming channels. I saw it about 7 months ago on one of them; it might have been Pluto or maybe Roku. Of course they drop movies after a while but films that are dropped by one are usually picked up by another.