The Ray Harryhausen Sinbad Films

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The Ray Harryhausen Sinbad Films | 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' - The Film
'The Golden Voyage of Sinbad' - The Film | 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger' - The Film

Ray Harryhausen's three Sinbad films are among the greatest and fondest remembered adventure films of the 20th Century and have heavily influenced many films that have come since. Although not the first Sinbad films to be made, in fact the first Harryhausen Sinbad film was the third, after 1947's Sinbad the Sailor starring Douglas Fairbanks Jnr and Son of Sinbad, made in 1955 and starring Vincent Price, they are the films that have defined the character of Sinbad in the minds of many.

Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen is a famed stop-motion animator who created the creatures seen in the Sinbad films. He is unique in being a revered special-effects expert who created and controlled his own films. Films are normally created and devised by a production company or in some cases particularly powerful directors and screenwriters – only Ray Harryhausen as a special effects expert was able to create films around his own personal visions and self-set challenges, bringing his ideas to life.

As a child he was inspired by the films of Willis 'Obie' O'Brien, 1925's The Lost World and of course 1933's King Kong, and later worked with Willis O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young in 1949. Another key influence was the excellent Oscar-winning British Arabian Nights classic The Thief of Baghdad (1940), the film Disney's Aladdin desperately wanted to be. These influences, stop-motion animation and the wonder of the magic of the Arabian Nights background, would perfectly combine in the fantastical adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, a man who could quest to explore the unknown. Each of the three Sinbad films would combine a sorcerer character inspired by The Thief of Bagdad's Jaffar1 with lost lands inhabited by mythical creatures, as found in The Lost World and King Kong.

More than a mere model maker, though highly skilled at creating life-like beings, Ray Harryhausen was the man who for each of the three films came up with the concept and story outline, although the screenplay was later developed by a professional writer. He decided what the storyline would be, what creatures Sinbad would encounter and dictated to the director how the scenes in which these creatures appeared must be filmed in order for the effect to work. The man whose absolute faith in Ray Harryhausen allowed these films to be made was Harryhausen's long-standing partner, Charles Schneer.

Charles Schneer

Producer Charles Schneer was the head of independent production company Morningside Productions. As a producer, he was the one responsible for raising the necessary money to make the films, and had the final say on what films he would make. Schneer is unique in being a producer with such absolute faith in Ray Harryhausen he allowed him to make the films that he wanted. Schneer put his own professional reputation on the line when making The 7th Voyage of Sinbad at a time when every major film studio believed that any Sinbad films would fail at the box office, as Howard Hughes RKO Pictures' Son of Sinbad had within two years of first meeting Harryhausen.

It is true that Schneer occasionally was forced to prevent Harryhausen from animating some sequences when time and budget demanded. It is also true that Schneer's ophidiophobia meant he would consistently refuse to allow Harryhausen to achieve his ambition to animate giant snakes2. However these minor points pale in insignificance when compared to the vast, unprecedented amount of trust and freedom Schneer placed in him, allowing Harryhausen to bring his imagination and visions direct to the screen unadulterated and pure. This was the reason why their professional relationship lasted between 1955-1981 and their friendship much longer.


Harryhausen's concept of a film starring Sinbad began in 1952, after he had filmed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Harryhausen had always wanted to illustrate a living skeleton, and realising it would look out of place in contemporary setting, needed a mythological tale to place it in. His fondness for the Arabian Nights tales seemed perfect, and he wrote a 2 page outline entitled Sinbad the Sailor, drew key drawings3, the first of which was of Sinbad fighting a skeleton at the top of a spiral staircase, and had discussions with numerous producers including George Pal and Jesse Lasky Senior. However there was no interest and instead Harryhausen abandoned the project and instead agreed to work with producer Charles Schneer on It Came From Beneath the Sea. This began a creative partnership that continued throughout Harryhausen's career.

After having successfully made three films together, It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth, in 1956 Harryhausen persuaded Charles Schneer to pursue the Sinbad film, even though RKO's Son of Sinbad had failed at the box office. Schneer received backing from Columbia Pictures, and so The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Harryhausen's first colour film, went into production. On its release in 1958 it was a complete, unexpected success. The effects lessons learned during its making led to Harryhausen making The Three Worlds of Gulliver. This was followed by Mysterious Island, after which Harryhausen considered making a second Sinbad film.

Unmade Sinbads

Sinbad in the Age of Muses

This was the title given on the first notes Harryhausen made in 1960 for the project that would become Jason and the Argonauts. In this earliest concept, Sinbad would be one of the characters to accompany Jason onboard the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece. Sinbad was written out of the film, as were the griffin and Medusa also mentioned in these first notes.

Sinbad and the Valley of Dinosaurs

After making the very successful One Million Years BC, starring Racquel Welch, in 1966 Harryhausen briefly considered making a Sinbad film featuring dinosaurs, probably set in Mexico. The idea met with little interest, however, and instead Harryhausen made The Valley of Gwangi, about a valley in Mexico populated with dinosaurs, based on a story his mentor Willis 'Obie' O'Brien had proposed in 1941 but had failed to get filmed.

Sinbad's Voyage to Mars

In early 1977, the year Star Wars was released, Charles Schneer began work preparing a script for a fourth Sinbad film, in which Sinbad would be transported to Mars from the Great Pyramid of Giza. The idea behind the film was that Egyptian civilisation was based on that of Mars4, where Egyptian deities such as Anubis and Horus lived in pyramids among Mars' canals. There were plans for creatures such as a 3-armed genie, a man-eating tentacled plant, a Roc, an aquatic canal monster and most prominently a sphinx to appear, as well as obelisk-shaped spacecraft. It may even have tied in with the pyramid seen in Hyperboria in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Sadly no film companies were interested, and it was abandoned in favour of Clash of the Titans.

Sinbad and the Seven Wonders of the World

In 1981, after finishing Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen and Schneer considered returning to Sinbad with a tale of the Seven Wonders of the World. Sinbad would team up with Ali Barber and assemble a small, gold pyramid, the pieces of which are hidden in the Seven Wonders of the World:

  1. The Pharos in Alexandria
  2. The Great Pyramid at Giza
  3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  4. The Colossus of Rhodes
  5. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus5
  6. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  7. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

As this would require filming in Egypt, Greece, Turkey and South America (standing in for Babylon), the costs involved were quite high and so the idea sadly failed to progress.

Many of the images involved in the Seven Wonders had inspired Harryhausen previously:

  • A lighthouse plays a prominent part in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
  • Pyramids appear in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
  • Zeus himself was in both Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans
  • The Colossus of Rhodes inspired the appearance of Talos in Jason and the Argonauts.

Temples, mausoleums and impossible gardens6 frequently appear in Harryhausen films, especially those set in Arabic or Greek mythology.


One of the Sinbad films greatest appeals is the way that so many impossible creatures are brought to life, all the work of one man. Ray Harryhausen has always emphatically insisted that the beings that appear in his film are creatures, never monsters. He defines monsters as being evil, malevolent and horrifying, such as Dracula. His creations are usually large animals who come into conflict with man when Sinbad and his crew trespass into lost worlds that do not belong to them, or occasionally things under the spell of sorcerers, with the evil and corruption belonging to the evil sorcerer, not the fault of the creature concerned.


Unlike today, where special effects films are made costing millions, the Sinbad films were made on the smallest possible budget, as it was the only way that Morningside Productions could get the films made at all. The effects were all the work of one man, Ray Harryhausen, who spent months if not over a year working on all the effects morning to night in his studio on his own. Because of the very tight, limited budget, when making the films Morningside Productions could not afford to hire well-known established actors, but instead relied on new talent and relative unknowns. Nor could they afford lavish sets or scenery, and instead relied on filming what nature had provided in naturally beautiful locations previously little seen by Hollywood films. Scripts were basic and the shooting of the film on location was done quickly, within weeks, all to keep the costs as low and affordable as possible.

By all rights, under these circumstances, these films should not have made any impact on their original release. That they did, transcended their humble origins and not only stood the test of time but continue to inspire audiences throughout the world is a testament to the hard work, heart and care that went into each and every frame of film.

Comparing the Sinbad Films

Film:The 7th Voyage Of SinbadThe Golden Voyage Of SinbadSinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
SinbadKerwin MatthewsJohn Phillip LawPatrick Wayne
Beard StatusClean ShavenShort and NeatA Bit Bushy
HeroinePrincess Parisa
Kathryn Grant
Caroline Munro
Princess Farah
Jane Seymour
Torin Thatcher
Tom Baker
Margaret Whiting
  • Dragon
  • Cyclops
  • Roc
  • Snakewoman
  • Skeleton
  • Centaur
  • Figurehead
  • Gryphon
  • Homunculus
  • Kali
  • Baboon
  • Ghouls
  • Minaton
  • Sabre-Tooth Tiger
  • Trog
  • Walrus
  • Wasp

The Ray Harryhausen Sinbad Films
1Played in The Thief of Bagdad by Conrad Veidt.2Harryhausen was able to slightly circumvent this by animating snakewomen Sadi and later Medusa.3Sadly many of these key drawings no longer exist.4Links between pyramids and alien civilisations have, of course, been the subject of many science fiction and fantasy tales. These include the original Battlestar Galactica, Aliens vs Predator and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but perhaps the film and television series Stargate has done so the best.5This would be guarded by skeletal horses.6Such as the gardens of Hyperboria at the North Pole.

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