"Fire and wind come from the sky, from the gods of the sky. But Crom is your god. Crom, and he lives in the Earth. Once giants lived in the Earth, Conan. And in the darkness of chaos, they fooled Crom, and they took from him the enigma of steel. Crom was angered; and the earth shook. And fire and wind struck down these giants - and they threw their bodies into the waters, but in their rage, the gods forgot the secret of steel and left it on the battlefield. And we who found it - are just men. Not gods. Not giants. Just men. The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery... You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no oneóno one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts... This you can trust..."
Adaptation Dye-Job: Schwarzenegger has dark brown hair instead of the plain black that the original Conan had.
All There in the Script: Valeria's name is never mentioned in the film, despite the fact that she's a major character. Her name is listed in the credits, however.
An Aesop: The Riddle of Steel: Strength doesn't come from a blade, as anyone could be overpowered and killed regardless of the quality of their weapon. Nor does it come from the flesh, as Conan refuses to be defeated even after he is physically beaten and crucified, and left for dead. Rather, true strength comes from within, as Conan finally finds it within him to defeat Thulsa Doom after Valeria sacrifices herself to save him, and he breaks his father's sword while fighting The Dragon.
Ancient Tomb: Where Conan obtains the Atlantean Sword. According to the director's commentary, it's the tomb of an Atlantean General who was buried along with his harem.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Thulsa Doom tells Conan, "You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants, and my pets. And that is what grieves me the most! You killed my snake." Played for character development rather than comedy; it shows the audience that while Doom places basically no value on human life, he'll get real mad if you mess with his possessions.
Badass: Conan, needless to say. Subotai and Valeria as well.
Conan's father's sword, which Thulsa Doom steals and Conan eventually recovers — and breaks.
The Atlantean sword that Conan picks up during his adventures.
Cowardly Lion: The wizard who aids Conan and helps bring him back from the dead is not particularly cowardly and doesn't really fear Thulsa Doom, however he nearly craps his pants in terror at the spirits who try to claim Conan during his resurrection.
Crapsack World: The Hyborean era is harsh and unforgiving. And yes, the nicest people in the film are a bunch of thieves and murderers.
Dressing as the Enemy: Conan knocks out and steals a member of Doom's Cult robes and impersonates him so he could sneak in. It doesn't work
Dull Surprise: Some of the characters in the movie. "Thorgrim is beside himself with grief!"
Equivalent Exchange: Conan is mortally wounded by his crucifixion on the Tree of Woe, so his lover Valeria convinces the Old Wizard to work a healing spell to save him from the brink of death. The Wizard warns that the gods demand a price for this sort of thing, and she says she'll pay it. When she's later shot with a snake arrow by Thulsa Doom, she decides that her death is her payment. Whether that's true is not revealed, but it seems consistent with the bleak universe of the film.
Excalibur in the Rust: The Atlantean Sword looks like a solid piece of rust when Conan first finds it in the tomb. That might just be the decayed scabbard, though, since Conan just whacks the sword on stone a few times and the crud comes right off.
Doom: And that is what grieves me the most. You killed my snake! Thorgrim is beside himself with grief. He raised that snake from when it was born. (Thorgrim glowers)
Forging Scene: The film starts with the forging of the Father's Sword.
He Will Not Cry, so I Cry for Him: Conan tenderly dresses the corpse of Valeria, the love of his life, as he prepares her funeral pyre for her journey to Valhalla. Yet for all his love, any tears that are left from his Men Don't Cry upbringing in childhood has been dried away by his twenty years of pitiless slavery. His best-friend Subotai silently sheds Tender Tears as the sorcerer asks "Why do you cry?" To which Subutai answers: "He is Conan, Cimmerian. He will not cry so I cry for him."
Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Characters actually do tend to wear helmets when fighting in this movie, except when context doesn't justify it, like when they're sneaking around a temple, or in the antagonists' case, getting their orgy interrupted by the heroes. Almost totally averted during the Battle of the Mounds, except when Conan uses his to lure Thorgrim into a trap and Doom removes his to aim his funky snake-arrow (He's not in any major risk of getting head wounds either, given his distance from his foes).
The Hermit: The Wizard. He is pretty friendly, but apparently his chief social contact is with the dead, who he sings to. It's not specified if he is actually talking to spirits, or if he's just insane.
Horny Vikings: Ironically, it is the Cimmerians, not the Vanir (who are actually a fantasy counterpart culture to the Vikings in Howard's stories), who are represented as a culture of psuedo-Vikings. The Cimmerians are described as believing in "Valhalla", and Crom is instead represented as an Odin-like god than the distant, brooding deity he was in the original canon. Granted, this may be a mutation of how, in the original Howard novels, Conan spent most of his adult life amongst the Aesir (another Viking counterpart culture) and had taken come to like their ways more than he did those of his own people.
Heroic BSOD: When Conan realizes that the Cult of Set are the same group that murdered his family, he is so stunned that he nearly gets eaten by a giant snake.
Hypnotic Eyes: Thulsa Doom is a master of this technique. It helps that he is an Atlantean with dark skin and piercing blue eyes who has seen a thousand years.
I'm a Humanitarian: Pay attention to the giant soup pot and red-lit antechamber in Thulsa Doom's Den of Iniquity to see what the caterers are cooking up. Mocked on the Director's commentary: "Split-pea-and-hand soup."
Intoxication Ensues: "Black lotus. Stygian—the best!" Cut to Conan and Subotai stumbling through the streets, giggling.
Katanas Are Just Better: The movie has Conan being trained in swordsmanship by the War Masters of the East, basically making him a samurai. He's seen performing a kata with a katana (or nodachi?). Though he's never actually seen fighting with one, instead favoring the broadsword.
Living Relic/Time Abyss: Thulsa Doom is over a thousand years old, and is the last survivor of the fall of Atlantis. He has seen one age give way to another, the shifting of continents, and the rise and fall of empires.
Made a Slave: The boy Conan, after Thulsa Doom destroys his village.
Mangst: You wouldn't think someone like Conan the Freaking Barbarian would Angst, but you'd be wrong. Illustrated perfectly in this exchange between two of Conan's sidekicks at Valeria's Viking Funeral:
The Wizard: (noticing that Subotai has tears running down his face) "Why do you cry?"
Subotai: (points to where Conan is standing in the shadows, staring at Valeria's pyre) "He is Conan! A Cimmerian! He will not cry. So I cry for him."
Misery Builds Character: The movie opens with the quote "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger" and this is a persistent theme throughout the movie: Conan survived the Wheel of Pain which made him physically strong and tough, he survived being a gladiator which made him an excellent warrior, and he survived the Tree of Woe which strengthened his desire to kill Thulsa Doom.
Thulsa Doom is a master of this, and uses it to build an empire of willing servants who will gladly kill and die for him at his command. He uses it on Conan's mother before lopping her head off. He tries it on Conan too, but it doesn't work. When he is finally killed, the spell is broken.
Multi-Melee Master: While, as we all know, Heroes Prefer Swords, Conan's experiences as a gladiator have made him this, especially once he goes to train with the weapon masters in the east. He's shown wielding large axes as masterfully as he does swords. Some of the weapons he fights with early on are fairly rare and exotic.
Mythology Gag: The film contains several references to the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, such as:
The scene where Conan, Subotai, and Valeria climb the Tower of the Serpent is similar to a scene from The Tower of the Elephant where Conan and Taurus of Nemedia scale the Tower of the Elephant.
The character of Valeria is Conan's companion in the story Red Nails (although in Red Nails she's a pirate, while in the film she's a thief).
The Wolf Witch may be loosely based on Zelata from The Hour of the Dragon, although Zelata aids Conan in his quest while the Wolf Witch seduces and then attempts to kill Conan.
Valeria returning from the afterlife to save Conan's life mirrors a scene from The Queen Of The Black Coast when Conan's lover, Belit, does the same thing.
The name of Thulsa Doom is from Robert E. Howard's Kull stories, which exist in the same universe as his Conan stories (albeit thousands of years earlier). Name aside, the Thulsa Doom in the film is more similar to Howard's Thoth-Amon, a priest of the serpent god Set who appears in three of the Conan stories.
The scene of Conan being chased by wolves and finding the sword is a reference to "The Thing in the Crypt" by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The only difference is that Conan doesn't fight an undead thing.
Nature Lover: The followers of Thulsa Doom present the appearance of this. They tell Conan to throw down his sword and return to the earth. Conan (as told by the Wizard) scoffs at this; "Time enough for the Earth in the grave!"
A Nazi by Any Other Name: The final scene, where Thulsa Doom addresses his followers, has cinematography similar to Triumph of the Will such as the Balcony Speech, Doom discusses a "cleansing" of the world to come, and even begins to rant with Hitler-like vocalisations as opposed to his usual Tranquil Fury. (Though the final mass suicide scene is actually based on the Jim Jones mass suicide, which occurred not long before the filming of the movie).
Nemean Skinning: When a fleeing Conan finally finds a weapon, the wolves that had been hounding him reappear. Cut to Conan wearing their skins.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Thulsa Doom even Lampshades this without foreseeing the inevitable conclusion: He killed Conan's parents and tribe, sold him into slavery under the Vanir who put him under a decade of hard toil until he became as strong as an ox, then pitted him in gladiatorial fights, teaching him the basics of combat, and later taught him advanced combat in Khitai. Thulsa Doom takes the credit for all of this work that made Conan the peerless warrior he is today, yet completely fails to accept that Conan will not be deterred from his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
Novelization: Done by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter and Catherine Crook de Camp. Notable in that de Camp and Carter had not only edited collections of Howard's tales, but also had written their own additions to the canon.
Off with His Head!: Thulsa Doom decapitates Conan's mother during the raid on the village. At the end of the movie, Conan does the same to him.
Old Master: The Asian swordmaster in the movie was actually played by the movie's swordmaster.
Ominous Latin Chanting: "Riders of Doom", and "The Orgy" (which plays when the trio are inside the Mountain of Power).
Outside-Context Villain: A truly epic introduction of the villain in this fashion, as the Riders of Doom descend upon Conan's village out of the blue.
The ashes were trampled into the Earth, and the blood became as snow! Who knows what they came for... weapons of steel? Or murder? It was never known, for their leader rode to the south, while the children went north with the Vanir. No one would ever know that my lord's people had lived at all. His was a tale of sorrow.
Patricide: Thulsa Doom's power is such that he can compel his followers to murder their own parents. King Osric is afraid that his wayward daughter may do the same.
Osric: You see this? They call it the "Fangs of the Serpent". And this one was thrust into a father's heart by his very son! And my own daughter has fallen under this Thulsa Doom's spell. Is there a dagger such as this in her hand for me?
Rage Against the Heavens: Conan's prayer to Crom before the Battle of the Mounds has traces of this. He basically tells Crom "I'd love it if you'd help me beat these guys. But if you won't, then you can go fuck yourself."
Look at the strength in your body... the desire in your heart! I gave you this. Such a waste. Contemplate this on the Tree of Woe.
Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Thulsa Doom's cult makes liberal use of snake imagery and keeps giant snakes as guardians.
Revenge: Conan's quest for vengeance after his family and people are slain by Thulsa Doom.
Rule of Cool: The famously awesome opening sequence in which Conan's father forges the sword that will become his son's has exactly nothing in common with real swordsmithing (swords are usually wrought from lumps of hot iron, not cast as liquid in molds as depicted in the film), but even actual swordsmiths consider it to be a magnificent piece of film-making.
Scaled Up: Thulsa Doom transforms into a giant snake while watching his followers have an orgy.
Scary Black Man: Thulsa Doom, played by James Earl Jones. In the director's commentary it's revealed that they wanted Thulsa Doom to look like he was a member of a race that has long since vanished from the earth. He has black skin, but he also has straight hair and blue eyes.
Sequel Hook: The final shot of the film shows an older, bearded King Conan sitting upon a throne as the narrator tells of things to come.
The Wizard: So, did Conan return the wayward daughter of King Osric to her home. And, having no further concern, he and his companions sought adventure in the west. Many wars and feuds did Conan fight. Honor and fear were heaped upon his name. In time he became a king by his own hand... and this story shall also be told.
Shout-Out: In addition to numerous shoutouts to the original Conan stories, listed above, the film includes numerous references to historical villains and badasses:
Conan's line about crushing your enemies and hearing the lamentation of their women is a paraphrase of a statement attributed to Genghis Khan.
His companion Subotai is named after Genghis Khan's best general.
Thulsa Doom has moments echoing the actions of Adolf Hitler (while addressing his followers from the balcony) and Hassan-i Sabbah, founder of the original Order of Assassins (or Hashishim), who is reputed to have demonstrated the devotion of his followers by ordering one to leap to his death.
The Children of Doom seem to be a weird mix of the Jim Jones cult, an evil version of early Christians, and hippies.
The Wizard, who is a bald man played by a Japanese actor, mentions singing songs of battle to the spirits, and Conan is brought back to life by having characters written all over his exposed skin. These three plot points resemble the story of Hoichi the Earless, a Japanese Buddhist monk (bald, of course) who was contracted to sing tales of war and heroism by a group of spirits, and was protected from their wrath by having characters written on his exposed skin. (Unlike Conan, however, Hoichi unfortunately fell foul of the spirits - he lost his ears, since the people writing on his skin forgot to do those.)
Silence Is Golden: The movie has a very sparse script. Much of it contains no dialogue at all. Conan exchanges only five words with his love interest. In place of spoken words, the bombastic music is allowed to do the talking instead.
Speaking Simlish: In the scenes showing his career as a gladiator and his "breeding to the finest stock," the spectators jabber at each other in Simlish.
This Is Unforgivable: After Conan raids one of Thulsa Doom's towers and steals his treasures, he is most upset because Conan kills a giant snake guardian.
Thulsa Doom: You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants, and my PETS! And that is what grieves me the most! You killed my snake. Thorgrim is beside himself with grief! He raised that snake from the time it was born.
Trick Arrow / Unusual Ammo: Thulsa Doom fires snake-arrows — arrows that are originally snakes, are pulled out and magically made into arrows, then fired, then they turn back into snakes. Fortunately, this is too awesome to be laughed at.