Epic film

Epic films are a style of filmmaking with large scale, sweeping scope, and spectacle. The usage of the term has shifted over time, sometimes designating a film genre and at other times simply synonymous with big-budget filmmaking. Like epics in the classical literary sense it is often focused on a heroic character. An epic's ambitious nature helps to set it apart from other types of film such as the period piece or adventure film.

Epic historical films would usually take a historical or a mythical event and add an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by an expansive musical score with an ensemble cast, which would make them among the most expensive of films to produce. The most common subjects of epic films are royalty, and important figures from various periods in world history.[1]

Cabiria poster
Italian film Cabiria (1914), one of the earliest epic films and one of the most influential movies ever made


The term "epic" originally came from the poetic genre exemplified by such works as the Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Odyssey. In classical literature, epics are considered works focused on deeds or journeys of heroes upon which the fate of a large number of people depend. Similarly, films described as "epic" typically take a historical character, or a mythic heroic figure. Common subjects of epics are royalty, gladiators, great military leaders, or leading personalities from various periods in world history. However, there are some films described as "epic" almost solely on the basis of their enormous scope and the sweeping panorama of their settings such as How the West Was Won or East of Eden that do not have the typical substance of classical epics but are directed in an epic style.

When described as "epic" because of content, an epic movie is often set during a time of war or other societal crisis, while usually covering a longer span of time sometimes throughout entire generations coming and passing away, in terms of both the events depicted and the running time of the film. Such films usually have a historical setting, although fantasy or science fiction settings have become common in recent decades. The central conflict of the film is usually seen as having far-reaching effects, often changing the course of history. The main characters' actions are often central to the resolution of the societal conflict.

In its classification of films by genre, the American Film Institute limits the genre to historical films such as Ben-Hur. However, film scholars such as Constantine Santas are willing to extend the label to science-fiction films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars.[2] Lynn Ramey suggests that "Surely one of the hardest film genres to define is that of the "epic" film, encompassing such examples as Ben-Hur, Gone with the Wind....and more recently, 300 and the Star Wars films...none of these comes from literary epics per se, and there is little that links them with one another. Among those who espouse film genre studies, epic is one of the most despised and ignored genres"[3] Finally, although the American Movie Channel formally defines epic films as historical films, they nonetheless state the epic film may be combined with the genre of science-fiction and cite Star Wars as an example.[4]

Stylistically, films classed as epic usually employ spectacular settings and specially designed costumes, often accompanied by a sweeping musical score, and an ensemble cast of bankable stars. Epics are usually among the most expensive of films to produce. They often use on-location filming, authentic period costumes, and action scenes on a massive scale. Biographical films may be less lavish versions of this genre.

Many writers may refer to any film that is "long" (over two hours) as an epic, making the definition epic a matter of dispute, and raise questions as to whether it is a "genre" at all. As Roger Ebert put it, in his "Great Movies" article on Lawrence of Arabia:[5]

The word epic in recent years has become synonymous with big budget B picture. What you realize watching Lawrence of Arabia is that the word epic refers not to the cost or the elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision. Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God didn't cost as much as the catering in Pearl Harbor, but it is an epic, and Pearl Harbor is not.

The comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail had the joking tagline "Makes Ben-Hur look like an epic."


The epic is among the oldest of film genres, with one early notable example being Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria, a three-hour silent film, about the Punic Wars, that laid the groundwork for the subsequent silent epics of D. W. Griffith.

The genre reached a peak of popularity in the early 1960s,[6] when Hollywood frequently collaborated with foreign film studios (such as Rome's Cinecittà) to use relatively exotic locations in Spain, Morocco, and elsewhere for the production of epic films such as El Cid (1961) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962). This boom period of international co-productions is generally considered to have ended with Cleopatra (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Nevertheless, films in this genre continued to appear, with one notable example being War and Peace, which was released in the former Soviet Union during 1967-1968 and, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, and said to be the most expensive film ever made.

Epic films continue to be produced, although since the development of CGI they typically use computer effects instead of an actual cast of thousands. Since the 1950s, such films have regularly been shot with a wide aspect ratio for a more immersive and panoramic theatrical experience.

Epic films were recognized in a montage at the 2006 Academy Awards.

Public reception

Gross revenue

The enduring popularity of the epic is often accredited to their ability to appeal to a wide audience. Many of the highest-grossing films of all-time have been epics.[7] The 1997 film Titanic, which is cited as helping to revive the genre, grossed $658 million domestically and over $2.1 billion worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing film of all-time behind the 2009 film Avatar,[8] another epic which grossed $2.7 billion worldwide. If inflation is taken into account, then the historical epic Gone with the Wind becomes the highest-grossing film ever in the United States.[9] Adjusted for inflation it earned the equivalent of $1.6 billion in the United States alone.[7] Adjusted for ticket price inflation, the science fiction/fantasy epic Star Wars stands at number 2, with an inflated gross of $1.4 billion in the United States.[7]

Academy Awards

So far the most Academy Awards ever won by a single film stands at 11. This feat has only been achieved by three films: Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), all of which are considered epics.

See also


  1. ^ Tim Dirks (12 July 2008). "Epic Films". Filmsite. Retrieved 12 July 2008.
  2. ^ Santas, Constantine (2002). Responding to film: a text guide for students of cinema art. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-8304-1580-9.
  3. ^ Haydock, Nickolas (2009). Hollywood in the Holy Land: essays on film depictions of the Crusades and Christian-Muslim clashes. McFarland. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-7864-4156-3.
  4. ^ "AMC Film Site Epics/Historical Films". Filmsite.org. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
  5. ^ Roger Ebert (2001-09-02). "Lawrence of Arabia (1962)". Great Movies. suntimes.com. Archived from the original on 2005-09-04. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
  6. ^ allmovie (2008-07-12). "Explore by genre:Epic". allmovieg. Retrieved 2014-03-05.
  7. ^ a b c Box Office Mojo. "All Time Box Office Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2007-07-12.
  8. ^ "All Time Domestic Box Office Results". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  9. ^ "All Time Box Office Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation". Boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2014-07-16.

Further reading

  • Constantine Santas, "The Epic in Film: From Myth to Blockbuster." Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland: 2008. ISBN 978-0-7425-5528-0.
  • Constantine Santas, James M. Wilson, Maria Colavito, Djoymi Baker, "The Encyclopedia of Epic Films," Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland: 2014. ISBN 978-0-8108-8247-8
Barabbas (1961 film)

Barabbas is a 1961 religious epic film expanding on the career of Barabbas, from the Christian Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark and other gospels. The film stars Anthony Quinn as Barabbas, features Silvana Mangano, Katy Jurado, Arthur Kennedy, Harry Andrews, Ernest Borgnine, Vittorio Gassman, and Jack Palance, and was distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was conceived as a grand Roman epic, was based on Nobel Prize-winning Pär Lagerkvist's 1950 novel of the same title. A previous film version of the novel, in Swedish, had been made in 1953.

The film was directed by Richard Fleischer and shot in Verona and Rome under the supervision of producer Dino De Laurentiis. It included many spectacular scenes, including a battle of gladiators in a Cinecittà film studio mock-up of the arena, and a crucifixion shot during an actual total solar eclipse.

Cantata de Chile

Cantata de Chile is a 1976 Cuban social realist musical epic film directed by Humberto Solás about the Santa María School massacre in Chile in 1907.

Derek Elley

Derek Elley (born c. 1955) is an American film and music critic and author, best known as the resident film critic for Variety until his departure in March 2010. With over 1200 reviews to his credit as of December 2014 on Rotten Tomatoes, he specialises in reviewing Asian films and joined Film Business Asia as chief critic upon its inception after leaving Variety in 2010.Elley was a music critic in the 1970s and 1980s, and authored the annual International Music Guides. In 1986 he published Dimitri Tiomkin: The Man and His Music in conjunction with the National Film theatre. In 1977 he published World Filmography with Peter Cowie, and began authoring the annual Movie Guides for Variety from the 1990s. In 2013, Routledge published his The Epic Film: Myth and History, a detailed insight into the making and history of epic films. In it, he refers to Ben Hur (1959) as the "zenith of the Hollywood cycle". With his expertise in Asian cinema, Elley has been outspoken on several topics, and has been critical of misogyny in Tsai Ming-liang's films.

Dominic Monaghan

Dominic Bernard Patrick Luke Monaghan (; born 8 December 1976) is an English actor. Monaghan first gained fame for being Hetty Wainthropp's sidekick Geoffrey in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (1996–98). He then played Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck in Peter Jackson's epic film trilogy The Lord of the Rings (2001–03) based on the novel of the same name by J.R.R Tolkien, Charlie Pace on the television show Lost (2004–2010), and Chris Bradley in superhero film X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). He currently hosts the nature programme Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan (2012–present).

East Side, West Side (1927 film)

East Side, West Side is a 1927 American drama film directed by Allan Dwan and starring George O'Brien (in the same year that he played the lead in Murnau's Sunrise), Virginia Valli, and June Collyer. The supporting cast includes J. Farrell MacDonald and Holmes Herbert. The epic film was shot extensively on various locations in New York City and includes a sinking ship loosely based upon the RMS Titanic.The film is preserved at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.The film was remade in 1931 as Skyline with Thomas Meighan and Hardie Albright.

El pecado de Adán y Eva

El pecado de Adán y Eva (English: The Sin of Adam and Eve) is a Mexican biblical epic film from 1969.

Epic (genre)

An epic is traditionally a genre of poetry, known as epic poetry. In modern terms, epic is often extended to describing other art forms, such as epic theatre, films, music, novels, television series, and video games, wherein the story has a theme of grandeur and heroism, just as in epic poetry. Scholars argue that the epic has long since become "disembedded" from its origins in oral poetry, appearing in successive narrative media throughout history.

Germinal (1993 film)

Germinal is a 1993 French epic film based on the novel by Émile Zola. It was directed by Claude Berri, and stars Gérard Depardieu, Miou-Miou and Renaud. At the time it was the most expensive movie ever produced in France. The film had 6,161,776 admissions in France making it the 4th most attended film of the year.It won the César Award for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, and was nominated for Best Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best director, Best Writing, Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Music and Best Production Design. The film was selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 66th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.The film, set in the nineteenth century, closely follows the plot of the novel, which is a realistic story of a coalminers' strike in northern France in the 1860s.

Moorstown Castle

Moorstown Castle is a late 15th-century stone structure consisting of a circular keep and walled courtyard or bawn. The circular tower house is unusual in Irish architecture, most tower houses being square. It was built by James Keating, an ally of the Earl of Ormond. The castle and associated lands passed to Robert Cox in 1635 and by marriage to the Greene family. It was bought by Richard Grubb through the Landed Estates Court in 1855. The property remains in private ownership.It is thought that the 17th-century Catholic priest, poet and historian Geoffrey Keating had family connections with the castle. Evidence suggests that he may have been the third son of James FitzEdmund Keating of Moorstown.Moorstown Castle was one of the Tipperary locations used in Stanley Kubrick's 1975 epic film Barry Lyndon.

Pelle the Conqueror

Pelle the Conqueror (Danish: Pelle Erobreren, Swedish: Pelle erövraren) is a 1987 epic film co-written and directed by Bille August, based upon the famous 1910 novel of the same name by Danish writer Martin Andersen Nexø. The film tells the story of two Swedish immigrants to Denmark, a father and son, who try to build a new life for themselves. It stars Pelle Hvenegaard as the young Pelle, with Max von Sydow as his father, and also features Axel Strøbye and Astrid Villaume.

A co-production of Denmark and Sweden, August chose to adapt Boyhood, the first part of Nexø's novel, seeking to make an epic and citing the novel's status as essential reading in Denmark. At 11, Hvenegaard was cast after an audition of 3,000 children; Hvenegaard was named for the novel's eponymous character.

The film screened at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Festival. It was critically acclaimed, winning the Palme d'Or and the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and numerous other honours.


Prabhas (also known as "Prabhas Raju" born 23 October 1979) is an Indian film actor associated with Telugu Cinema.

Prabhas made his film debut with the 2002 drama film Eeswar. He has won the Nandi Award for Best Actor, for his role in Mirchi. He appeared in a Bollywood item song, in Prabhudeva's 2014 film Action Jackson.His works include Varsham (2004), Chatrapathi (2005), Chakram (2005), Billa (2009), Darling (2010), Mr. Perfect (2011), and Mirchi (2013).

Prabhas played the title role in S. S. Rajamouli's epic film Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), which is the fourth-highest-grossing Indian film to date. Prabhas reprised his role in its sequel, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017), which became the first Indian film ever to gross over ₹1,000 crore (US$155 million) in all languages in just ten days, and it is the second highest-grossing Indian film to date.

Prabhas is the first south Indian actor to have his own wax statue in Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

Raj Tilak (1958 film)

Raj Tilak (Hindi: राज तिलक; English: Crown Prince) is a Bollywood Hindi film of 1958 Black-and-white Ruritanian romance epic film written by the Gemini Studios story department, consisting of K. J. Mahadevan, C. Srinivasan and Kothamangalam Subbu, along with Ramanand Sagar, while the film was directed and produced by S. S. Vasan. The film features Gemini Ganesan and Vyjayanthimala in the lead, with Padmini, Pran, Gajanan Jagirdar, Bipin gupta, Meenakshi, Lalita Pawar, Durga Khote, Manmohan Krishna and Shammi, forming an ensemble cast.The screenplay was done by Ramanand Sagar, who had earlier worked with S. S. Vasan in Insaniyat. The film was a remake of 1958 Tamil film Vanjikottai Valiban.

Raja Bersiong (1968 film)

Raja Bersiong is a 1968 Malaysian historical epic film in Malay directed by Jamil Sulong and based on a story by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Despite costing RM 750,000 to produce, ten times the cost of the average Malaysian film, it was a flop at the box-office.The story is loosely based on historical myth Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, first told about pre-Islamic Kedah that was once ruled by Raja Ong Maha Perita Deria The story is very popular and has been filmed two other times, in 1963 and 1968. It has also been staged as a theaterical production by Petronas Performing Arts Group’s.

Sodom and Gomorrah (1922 film)

Sodom und Gomorrha: Die Legende von Sünde und Strafe ("Sodom and Gomorrah: The Legend of Sin and Punishment"; released in English as Sodom and Gomorrah or Queen of Sin and the Spectacle of Sodom and Gomorrha) is an Austrian silent epic film from 1922. It was shot on the Laaer Berg, Vienna, as the enormous backdrops specially designed and constructed for the film were too big for the Sievering Studios of the production company, Sascha-Film, in Sievering. The film is distinguished, not so much by the strands of its often opaque plot, as by its status as the largest and most expensive film production in Austrian film history. In the creation of the film between 3,000 and 14,000 performers, extras and crew were employed.

The Johnstown Flood (1926 film)

The Johnstown Flood (1926) is an American silent epic film drama directed by Irving Cummings, that addresses the Great Flood of 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The film stars George O'Brien, Florence Gilbert and Janet Gaynor. This is a surviving film with a print held at the George Eastman Museum.

The Sign of the Cross (1932 film)

The Sign of the Cross is a 1932 American pre-Code epic film released by Paramount Pictures, produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille from a screenplay by Waldemar Young and Sidney Buchman, and based on the original 1895 play by Wilson Barrett.Both play and film have a strong resemblance to the novel Quo Vadis, and like the novel, take place in ancient Rome during the reign of Nero. The art direction and costume design were by Mitchell Leisen who also acted as assistant director. Karl Struss was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. The film stars Fredric March, Elissa Landi, Claudette Colbert, and Charles Laughton, with Ian Keith and Arthur Hohl. It is the third and last in DeMille's biblical trilogy, following The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927).

Theme of Exodus

"Theme of Exodus" is a song with music by Ernest Gold, written for the 1960 film epic film on the founding of the modern State of Israel Exodus, the film was based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The film features an ensemble cast, and its celebrated soundtrack music was written by Ernest Gold who won both Best Soundtrack Album and Song of the Year at the 1961 Grammy Awards for the soundtrack and theme to Exodus respectively. It is the only instrumental song to ever receive that award.Following its initial film appearance, the theme has been recorded by many artists in both instrumental and vocal versions, and has also appeared in a number of subsequent films and television programs. The best-known cover version of the theme is an instrumental version. This version was accompanied by The London Symphony OrchestraBob Marley incorporated portions of the theme into his song "Exodus".

Whitewashing in film

Whitewashing is a casting practice in the film industry in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles or in roles which are scripted for non-white characters. The film industry has a history of frequently casting white actors for roles about non-white characters. By downplaying the roles that such figures have had in cultural events, the practice is seen as a form of censorship analogous to the whitewashing of criticism.

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