The 25 Greatest Historical Epics

by temple1865 | last updated - 02 Dec 2010 | Public

From the Red Sea to the beaches of Normandy, lavish history in American film.

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1. Gone with the Wind (1939)

G | 238 min | Drama, History, Romance

8.2
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97 Metascore

A manipulative woman and a roguish man conduct a turbulent romance during the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods.

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood | Stars: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O'Neil

Votes: 238,211 | Gross: $198.68M

Margrett Mitchell's tale of Georigans living through the Civil War and Reconstruction told in glorious technicolor. Filled with legendary performances by Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland and Hattie McDaniel, topped off by one of film's greatest orchestral scores and four hours long. It does not get more eipc than this.

2. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Approved | 197 min | Drama, Romance, War

8.0
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The life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist's wife and experiences hardship during the First World War and then the October Revolution.

Director: David Lean | Stars: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger

Votes: 59,899 | Gross: $111.72M

David Lean's romantic epic, based on Boris Pasternak's novel set in Revolutionary Russia is a perfect representative of the genre.

3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

PG | 216 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

8.3
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
100 Metascore

The story of T.E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks.

Director: David Lean | Stars: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins

Votes: 215,319 | Gross: $44.82M

David Lean captures our fascination with the desert in this story of the First World War. A beautiful picture, perfect in every way.

4. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

PG | 161 min | Adventure, Drama, War

8.2
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After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.

Director: David Lean | Stars: William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa

Votes: 166,319 | Gross: $44.91M

David Lean's first epic, a POW movie set in the Pacific during World War II, both thirlling and inspiring, one of the best in a genre full of greats.

5. Schindler's List (1993)

R | 195 min | Biography, Drama, History

8.9
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93 Metascore

In German-occupied Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall

Votes: 969,331 | Gross: $96.07M

Spielberg's finest work, one of the most moving films ever released.

6. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

Unrated | 136 min | Drama, War

8.1
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A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Arnold Lucy

Votes: 50,181 | Gross: $3.27M

The First World War perfectly represented, another very moving film.

7. Titanic (1997)

PG-13 | 194 min | Drama, Romance

7.8
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74 Metascore

A seventeen-year-old aristocrat falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

Director: James Cameron | Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates

Votes: 871,585 | Gross: $0.59M

James Cameron breathing fresh life into the romatic epic genre, one of the all time greatest.

8. Ben-Hur (1959)

G | 212 min | Adventure, Drama, History

8.1
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90 Metascore

When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.

Director: William Wyler | Stars: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet

Votes: 180,485 | Gross: $74.70M

William Wyler take's Lew Wallace's tale to soring heights in this great movie, one of the most moving of all religious epics.

9. The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Not Rated | 195 min | Drama, History, War

6.7
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The Stoneman family finds its friendship with the Camerons affected by the Civil War, both fighting in opposite armies. The development of the war in their lives plays through to Lincoln's assassination and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

Director: D.W. Griffith | Stars: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper

Votes: 18,701 | Gross: $10.00M

The movie that started it all. D.W. Griffith, the genre's pioneer.

10. Patton (1970)

GP | 172 min | Biography, Drama, War

8.0
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91 Metascore

The World War II phase of the career of the controversial American general, George S. Patton.

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner | Stars: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong

Votes: 82,553 | Gross: $61.70M

George C. Scott's performace is one of the greatest in movie history. The Greatest of all World War II movies about Americans on the western front.

11. The Ten Commandments (1956)

Approved | 220 min | Adventure, Drama

7.9
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The Egyptian Prince, Moses, learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille | Stars: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson

Votes: 52,412 | Gross: $93.74M

Cecil B DeMill's greatest work, the story of Exodus beautifully told with fanstastic performances by Charlton Heston, Yul Brenner and Anne Baxter.

12. War and Peace (1956)

PG | 208 min | Drama, Romance, War

6.8
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Napoleon's tumultuous relations with Russia including his disastrous 1812 invasion serve as the backdrop for the tangled personal lives of two aristocratic families.

Director: King Vidor | Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Mel Ferrer, Vittorio Gassman

Votes: 7,479 | Gross: $12.50M

Often maligned and usually condiered inferior to its Russian counterpart, Paramount's War and Peace has everything an epic needs to be considered great, well directed, beautifully photographed and chalk full of stars. Audrey Hepburn's performance is one of the greatest in her legendary carrer.

13. Glory (1989)

R | 122 min | Biography, Drama, History

7.9
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Robert Gould Shaw leads the U.S. Civil War's first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices from both his own Union Army, and the Confederates.

Director: Edward Zwick | Stars: Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman

Votes: 107,914 | Gross: $26.83M

The story of one of the first all black regiments to serve for the Union in the American Civil war wonderfully told, Denzel Washington's performance is legendary.

14. Gladiator (2000)

R | 155 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

8.5
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67 Metascore

When a Roman General is betrayed, and his family murdered by an emperor's corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.

Director: Ridley Scott | Stars: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed

Votes: 1,093,764 | Gross: $187.71M

Ben-Hur meets Spartacus with Russel Crowe, need I say more?

15. Spartacus (1960)

PG-13 | 197 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

7.9
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87 Metascore

The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton

Votes: 105,686 | Gross: $30.00M

Kubrick's beautiful story of servile insurrection. Kirk Douglas and Lawrence Olivier steal the show.

16. Apocalypse Now (1979)

R | 147 min | Drama, War

8.5
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94 Metascore

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade Colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest

Votes: 496,867 | Gross: $83.47M

Francis Ford Coppola's chilling Vietnam story.

17. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

R | 202 min | Crime, Drama

9.0
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9/10 X  
85 Metascore

The early life and career of Vito Corleone in 1920s New York City is portrayed, while his son, Michael, expands and tightens his grip on the family crime syndicate.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton

Votes: 887,943 | Gross: $57.30M

When gangster meets epic.

18. Reds (1981)

PG | 195 min | Biography, Drama, History

7.5
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76 Metascore

A radical American journalist becomes involved with the Communist revolution in Russia, and hopes to bring its spirit and idealism to the United States.

Director: Warren Beatty | Stars: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinski

Votes: 17,807 | Gross: $40.38M

Warren Betty's story of American Jack Reed and Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton) in the Russian Revolution is one of the best of the Romantic Epics.

19. Gandhi (1982)

PG | 191 min | Biography, Drama, History

8.1
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Gandhi's character is fully explained as a man of nonviolence. Through his patience, he is able to drive the British out of the subcontinent. And the stubborn nature of Jinnah and his commitment towards Pakistan is portrayed.

Director: Richard Attenborough | Stars: Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox

Votes: 189,354 | Gross: $52.77M

An epic tale of an epic life.

20. Cleopatra (1963)

G | 192 min | Biography, Drama, History

7.0
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60 Metascore

Queen Cleopatra of Egypt experiences both triumph and tragedy as she attempts to resist the imperial ambitions of Rome.

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz | Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Pamela Brown

Votes: 24,059 | Gross: $57.78M

Another epic tale of an epic life.

21. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

G | 225 min | Biography, Drama, History

6.6
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An all-star, large scale epic film that chronicles the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Directors: George Stevens, David Lean, Jean Negulesco | Stars: Max von Sydow, Dorothy McGuire, Charlton Heston, Michael Anderson Jr.

Votes: 7,085 | Gross: $15.47M

Title says it all.

22. How the West Was Won (1962)

Approved | 164 min | Western

7.1
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A family saga covering several decades of Westward expansion in the nineteenth century - including the Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the building of the railroads.

Directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, Richard Thorpe | Stars: James Stewart, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda

Votes: 15,590 | Gross: $46.50M

When western meets epic.

23. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

R | 112 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

7.8
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76 Metascore

Three trappers protect a British Colonel's daughters in the midst of the French and Indian War.

Director: Michael Mann | Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig

Votes: 124,412 | Gross: $75.51M

Cooper's great piece of American literature perfectly personified by Daniel Day-Lewis.

24. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

R | 169 min | Drama, War

8.6
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90 Metascore

Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.

Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns

Votes: 992,011 | Gross: $216.54M

Spielberg's story of American heroism in Normandy.

25. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

PG | 129 min | Adventure

7.9
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Two British former soldiers decide to set themselves up as kings in Kafiristan, a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander the Great.

Director: John Huston | Stars: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey

Votes: 38,363

Kipling's story is adapted into this great representation of the British Empire on film.