Six entertaining Historical Epics

Six entertaining Historical Epics

Historical Epics are great for action and storytelling. They shoud also be supported by great sets and costumes and history. The following movies do those things.


OK, so this is a testosterone filled, homoerotic, mindlessly violent frat boy film, but what Epic isn’t? AND based on a comic book? So what? It’s also based on historic events and incorporates nicely some of the true cultural elements of the Greek peoples of Sparta, who were considered brutes in the ancient world. It is delivered in a highly stylized format based on the original graphic comic by Frank Miller.  I, personally, found 300 very nice to look at. The Oracle scene where the ivory-skinned virgin seems to be floating in air as revelations come to her is among the most visually stunning I can remember. All in all, I think it’s a fun action film that might ask kids to look a little deeper at the history behind the film.

Passion of the Christ

What I love about a good epic, is that it really transports me to another time and place, with different moral codes and ways of life. Although I am not a religious person, this film told a clear and moving story without really losing the average American with too much magic. Really, the only magic is the resurrection in the end of the film. For me, that is what made this a realistic historical epic. Jesus message was pure and simple. The film was naturally criticized for all sorts of things from anti-semitism (yeah, a little) to historical inaccuracies (sure). Although I was not moved as much as the little weeping lady two seats behind me, I found it to be inspiring and a little slice of the ancient world for me to chew on. And then Mel cursed the Jews in a little traffic incident in Malibu.


Another testosterone driven epic, but among the best. Visually appealing, Gladiator is not a true story but a composite of different characters from different periods in Roman history. Maximus is a composite of several historic Romans, whereas Commodus was a real Emperor of Rome and among the craziest. This film has several levels of family, honor, historic accuracy (as far as the way of life is depicted) and a healthy dose of sword and sandal violence. The dusty gray tone of the film always suggests the filthy tone of Rome, despite its beautiful architecture, it was a failing state full of corruption. I’m not a big fan of Russell Crowe, but I must say this is his best role in my eyes. Ridley Scott was at his artistic best in this one, not that it’s better than his other work, just on par with it.


Another Mel Gibson flick, I know I know. He’s a weird and polarized guy in Hollywood, but I gotta say the man can make a movie. Watching Braveheart today strains the imagination a bit, with a 45 year-old Gibson playing a teen boy in love, it’s a bit tough to watch at first. But the story is genuine, historically based and it gets the blood boiling. At points, like I said, it crosses the line into cheese-factor, ok I’m talking about the scene where he runs along the mountain tops with the bagpipes blowing. Another action packed epic that should inspire some historical inquiries. Sophie Marceau is almost worth watching the movie all by herself.


More Gibson, Ahhhhhh! Stay with me. This film is an awesome spectacle to look at. The costumes, sets, jungles, actors and temples are amazing to look at. The opening sequence does a great job of setting the stage and introducing relatively unknown people to film goers. The film gets a little preachy at times about conservation and human greed, and the ‘hole’ plot line with the wife is a stretch for me. However, there are action scenes that are just cool to watch, then there are ones where your heart pounds for the character, Apocalypto has a bunch of those. Gibson continued his native language (Yucatec Maya) trend from the Passion of the Christ where he used Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew. The film hits a magnificient crescendo when the main character, Jaguar Paw, is brought to the Maya capital for sacrifice.

Last of the Mohicans

I loved this movie, despite its pretentious (but excellent) cast. Starring Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in the classic James Fenimore Cooper classic adaptation, this movie relies on the amazing backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains and its cast of established acting vets. With European wars and colonization pushing the Native American tribes out of their lands and into political wars, the last three Mohicans (sort of) try to navigate the new American colonies and the British/French war. The emerald forests of North Carolina are spectacular scenery and the action of this film gives a good feel for the days before the American revolution.

Honorbale Mention:

Empire of the Sun, Saving Private Ryan, The Last Emperor, Atonement, Titanic, Mongol

Worth a look if you need more Epic:

Alexander, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven