Zirconium carbide (ZrC) films were prepared by using two Ar+ beams to sputter a zirconium target and a graphite target separately, and a third Ar+ beam to simultaneously bombard the growing film. The effects of the arrival rate ratio of zirconium to carbon (Zr/C) and the bombarding Ar+ energies of 0.1–15 keV on the formation, structure and properties of the films were investigated. It was found that although the Zr/C atomic ratio could be varied within a range of 0.45–1.26 without inhibiting the formation of crystalline ZrC, the increase of Zr/C will reduce the hardness and enhance the (220) orientation of ZrC films. The energy of bombarding Ar+ ions substantially influenced the crystallographic orientation and morphology of the deposited films. The experimental results disclosed that the ZrC films prepared by 800–1000 eV Ar+-assisted bombardment with a Zr/C ratio of 0.78–0.97 have a fine and compact structure, and hardness as high as 2800–3150 kgf mm-2. © 1998 American Vacuum Society.