Jason and the Argonauts (1963) is a Columbia Pictures fantasy feature film starring Todd Armstrong as the titular mythical Greek hero in a story about his quest for the Golden Fleece. Directed by Don Chaffey in collaboration with stop motion animation expert Ray Harryhausen, the film is noted for its stop-motion monsters. In particular, the sequence in which seven skeletons rise from the earth and attack Jason and his comrades is still widely considered to be among the greatest achievements of motion picture special effects. The score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also worked on other fantasy films with Harryhausen, such as Mysterious Island and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.
Years later, Jason (Todd Armstrong), Aristo's son grown to manhood, saves the life of Pelias during a chance encounter, but loses a sandal doing so. He does not know that he has rescued his father's murderer, but Pelias recognizes his nemesis. Pelias keeps his identity secret. However, he cannot just kill Jason; the prophecy also says that he himself would die.
When he learns that Jason is considering undertaking a dangerous quest to obtain the fabled Golden Fleece to rally the people of Thessaly, Pelias encourages him, hoping that he will be killed in the attempt. Men from all over Greece compete for the honor of joining Jason. Since their ship is named the Argo after the ship's builder, they are dubbed the Argonauts. Among those chosen are Hercules (Nigel Green) and Acastus (Gary Raymond), the son of Pelias, who is sent by his father to sabotage the voyage.
Jason is taken to Mount Olympus by Hermes (Michael Gwynn) to speak to the gods Zeus (Niall MacGinnis) and Hera (Honor Blackman). Hera tells him that she wishes him well, but that Zeus has imposed restrictions on her assistance. (Jason, like all mortals, is unknowingly a piece in the game which the gods play against each other. This is an accurate portrayal of Greek theology, rarely found in any modern medium.) Jason learns that he can only invoke Hera's aid five times. In response to Jason's unasked questions, Hera also tells him that the Fleece does exist and that it lies in the land of Colchis, on the other side of the world.
Many dangers threaten the expedition. When the Argonauts run perilously low on supplies, Jason turns to Hera. She guides him to the Isle of Bronze, but warns him to take nothing but provisions. However, while chasing some goats, Hercules and his young friend Hylas (John Cairney) find a partially-open treasure chamber of the gods, surmounted by an enormous bronze statue of Talos. Despite Hylas' warning, Hercules steals an enormous brooch pin the size of a javelin. The statue comes to life and attacks, causing much mayhem before Jason can destroy it using Hera's advice. Hylas is missing and presumed dead, but the guilt-ridden Hercules refuses to leave until he knows for certain. The other Argonauts will not abandon Hercules, so Jason is forced to call on Hera for the last time. She confirms that Hylas is indeed dead and that Hercules is destined not to continue with them. She also directs them to seek out Phineas (Patrick Troughton), the blind seer, for the way to Colchis.
They find him tormented by two Harpies sent by Zeus to punish him for misusing his gift of prophesy. In return for imprisoning the flying creatures, Phineas tells Jason what he needs to know. In gratitude, Phineas also gives Jason his only possession, an amulet. To reach Colchis however, they must pass between the Clashing Rocks, a strait flanked by towering rock cliffs that shake and drop boulders to sink any ships attempting to pass between them. Fortunately for the Argonauts, they learn this second hand. Another ship tries to run the strait from the other direction and founders. In despair, Jason throws Phineas' gift into the water; a giant merman surfaces from the water and holds back the rocks long enough to let the Argo pass through. On the other side, they pick up the few survivors of the other ship, including Medea (Nancy Kovack), the high priestess of the goddess Hecate.
They sight Colchis the next day. Acastus and Jason disagree on how to approach the King of Colchis, which escalates into a swordfight. Eventually Acastus is disarmed and jumps into the sea to escape. Believing him dead, Jason and his men accept an invitation from King Aeëtes (Jack Gwillim) to a feast, but once they are off-guard, they are captured and imprisoned. Acastus has betrayed them, telling Aeëtes about their mission. However, Medea helps Jason and his men escape.
Acastus tries to steal the Fleece himself, but is fatally wounded by its guardian, the many-headed Hydra. Jason succeeds in killing the monster and taking the Fleece. But Aeëtes is not far behind. He strews the teeth of the Hydra on the ground; they sprout into armed skeletons who pursue and battle Jason and two of his men (in a famous four minute stop motion sequence that took special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen four and a half months to produce.) Seeing that his companions have been slain, Jason escapes by jumping off a cliff into the sea.
With the quest fulfilled, he, Medea and the surviving Argonauts start the return voyage to Thessaly.
Ray Harryhausen regards this as his best film. Previous Harryhausen films had been generally shown as part of double features in "B" theatres. Columbia was able to book this film as a single feature in many "A" theatres in the United States. The skeletons' shields are adorned with designs of other Harryhausen creatures, including an octopus and the head of the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth.