At the beginning of the 21st century, there was a still place for sword and sandal epics when Ridley Scott directed Gladiator. The film took place during the era of Romans where Russell Crowe played Maximus Decimus Meridius, a man who is forced out of his retirement from being a general to become a gladiator in the arena. Maximus has his life ruined when his family is murdered and he finds himself little more than a slave. What the corrupt ruling royalty deciding his fate may not have realized is that such a slave may win the heart of the public with his vicious victories in battles to the death. Maximus soon becomes a force to be reckoned with in the ring.
Having garnered a lot of attention and plenty of accolades during its release, Gladiator is one of the more notable sword and sandal epics for becoming so iconic. The film won the Academy Awards of Best Picture, Best Actor for Crowe, Best Costume Design, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects. A thirst had been set for more films of this nature that seemed to have fallen out of movie trends for quite some time. Not only were their previous pictures to consider for this type of movie but plenty of new films that followed as well. So if you’re still seeking to be entertained by more pictures on the same level as Gladiator, consider these 10 films that may give you more of that sword-swinging grit.
Considered one of the grandest of epics directed by Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), Spartacus is brimming with historical flair and compelling drama for an unlikely hero. Based on the novel of the same name by Howard Fast, the film takes place during the Third Servile War tells the tale of the titular slave who inspired a revolt against his oppressors. The movie has become quotable for the climactic scene where the Romans demand that the revolt leader of Spartacus reveal himself. Rather than allow his revolution to be squashed, all the slaves stand up to declare themselves as Spartacus. With a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo (Exodus), Spartacus would win four Academy Awards. The film stars such Hollywood legends as Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, and Tony Curtis.
In the late 13th century, Scotland was facing a time where their independence was threatened. Unwilling to let his people be destroyed by monarchy, the warrior William Wallace led his Scottish people to war against the English forces led by King Edward I of England. Based on Blind Harry’s 15th-century poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace, the film depicts the brutal and bloody struggle of the First War of Scottish Independence, loaded with grit, war cries, and brutal sacrifice. Directed by Mel Gibson (The Passion of the Christ), this historical epic not only stars Gibson in the lead role of Wallace but also the talents of Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, and Catherine McCormack.
Based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Ben-Hur is perhaps the most iconic sword-and-sandal epic ever filmed. In the early years of AD, the rich Jewish prince of Judah Ben-Hur finds himself going from royalty to slavery when betrayed by a friend. After watching his family tortured and being forced into work in a galley, he eventually rises up to challenge authority in the film’s memorable and thrilling chariot race sequence. Directed by William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives), this Academy Award winning film stars Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, and Sam Jaffe. The film is also a remake of the silent era classic and would receive a modern remake in 2016.
Loosely based on the Roman Empire’s Ninth Legion, Centurion is a historical epic that takes place in ancient Scotland. While searching for the Pict leader, the Ninth Legion has just liberated the Roman officer Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) who will aid in their journey. But their quest will be one of betrayal and violence as Legion find themselves placed in a dangerous situation where they may not make it out alive. Written and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday), this action-packed war epic stars Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Noel Clarke, Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, Riz Ahmed, JJ Feild, Dimitri Leonidas, Imogen Poots, and Ulrich Thomsen.
Kingdom of Heaven
Ridley Scott once more delivers a historical epic of swords and war with Kingdom of Heaven. Taking place in 1184 France, a village blacksmith by the name of Balian is finding life hard to bear after the recent death of his wife. Seeking meaning, he joins his estranged father on a quest to Jerusalem, becoming a crusader. It isn’t long before Balian finds himself caught in a war of corruption, politics, and savage intent involving the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Written by acclaimed screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed), this historical epic about the Crusades features a cast that includes Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas, and Liam Neeson.
Based on the classic story of the Iliad, Troy is a grand spectacle that depicts the large-scale battle of Troy versus Sparta. The film follows the Trojan prince Paris and his forbidden love for the Spartan King Menelaus’s wife Helen. This brings about a fury in Menelaus’s brother, King Agamemnon, to launch a full-scale war with Troy, existing as one of the few remaining kingdoms that hinders Sparta from conquering the Aegean Sea. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, The Perfect Storm) and written by David Benioff (Game of Thrones), this historical epic features an all-star ensemble of Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, and Peter O’Toole.
Based on Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, this is yet another story revolving around the Ninth Legion and their disappearance. Set in 140 AD, the golden eagle emblem of the lost Legion is rumored to have been appearing in tribal temples. This news is related to Flavius Aquila’s son Marcus Aquila who decides to venture off to retrieve the eagle with the aid of his slave to restore the honor of his father. Directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) and Jeremy Brock (Mrs Brown), the film stars Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, and Mark Strong.
Based on Frank Miller’s revisionist comic book, 300 depicts a vibrant, violent, and over-the-top take on ancient sword and sandal warfare. It is 480 BC and war is about to break out between Persia and Greece. Leading for Greece is the violent and determined warrior of King Leonidas of Sparta. Not willing to watch his land and people be defiled by such reach, he misses his strongest warriors to fight off the overwhelming armies of Persia as best as they can. Directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen), this gritty and stylish film of exaggerated ancient war features a cast that includes Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, and Dominic West.
Based on the true story of Pompeii’s fall, this film takes that ancient story and transforms it into the ultimate disaster picture. It is 79 AD and Pompeii appears to be a busy and prosperous city, with Mount Vesuvius looming over it in the distance. The social caste system is still in place where the wealthy and slaves do not see eye to eye. This makes the love interest of a slave all the more forbidden under such strict rule. But all those rules won’t amount to much once Mount Vesuvius erupts with lava and threatens to destroy all who reside in the city of Pompeii. The slave of Milo takes this chance to prove his worth by venturing into dangerous territory to save the love of his life. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Death Race), this intense historical disaster film stars Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland.
The Fall of the Roman Empire
Loosely based on historical events and the non-fiction book series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, this historical epic depicts how the Roman Empire tumbled. It is the end of an era as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is seeking to pass down his throne to the hard-working soldier of Livius. But the de facto heir of Commodus seeks his revenge by poisoning Aurelius to seek what he feels is his deserved role. As Commodus takes control, he rules with a corrupt hand and egotistical intent. Livius puts up with the rule of Commodus but such a man can only serve for so long before he finds himself threatened by an emperor who has grown mad with power. Directed by Anthony Mann (El Cid), this dramatic epic of Roman history stars Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, John Ireland, Mel Ferrer, Omar Sharif, and Anthony Quayle.