1950s-60s: Peplum Craze.

by gig-panas | created - 13 May 2016 | updated - 4 months ago | Public

The peplum film (pepla plural), also known as sword-and-sandal, is a genre of largely Italian-made historical or Biblical epics (costume dramas) that dominated the Italian film industry from 1958 to 1965, eventually being replaced in 1965 by the Spaghetti Western.

The pepla attempted to emulate the big-budget Hollywood historical epics of the time, such as Spartacus, Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments.

The terms "peplum" (referring to the tunic-style Greek and Roman garment often worn by characters in the films) and "sword-and-sandal" were used in a condescending way by film critics. Italian director Vittorio Cottafavi called the genre "Neo-Mythology".

This list is mostly focusing on films about Ancient Rome, Egyptian and Greek mythology and some Biblical movies

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1. Samson and Delilah (1949)

Approved | 131 min | Adventure, Drama, History

When strongman Samson rejects the love of the beautiful Philistine woman Delilah, she seeks vengeance that brings horrible consequences they both regret.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille | Stars: Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury

Votes: 6,153 | Gross: $28.80M

© Paramount Pictures

2. Julius Caesar (1950)

Not Rated | 106 min | Drama, History

The growing ambition of Julius Caesar is a source of major concern to his close friend Brutus. Cassius persuades him to participate in his plot to assassinate Caesar but they have both sorely underestimated Mark Antony.

Director: David Bradley | Stars: Charlton Heston, Grosvenor Glenn, Harold Tasker, David Bradley

Votes: 340

3. Sins of Pompeii (1950)

Not Rated | 110 min | Drama, History

In the town of Pompeii, 79 A.D., a few weeks before the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius, a Roman lady Hélène meets and falls in love with a young Greek man Lysias. He is betrothed to another ... See full summary »

Directors: Marcel L'Herbier, Paolo Moffa | Stars: Micheline Presle, Georges Marchal, Marcel Herrand, Jaque Catelain

Votes: 72

4. The Affairs of Messalina (1951)

Not Rated | 116 min | Action, Drama, History

A story, set in Rome of 44 A.D., concerning the amorous and political intrigues of the evil Empress Messalina, the wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius, and her eventual hounding to death.

Director: Carmine Gallone | Stars: María Félix, Georges Marchal, Memo Benassi, Delia Scala

Votes: 67

5. Quo Vadis (1951)

Not Rated | 171 min | Biography, Drama, History

Fierce Roman commander Marcus Vinicius becomes infatuated with beautiful Christian hostage Lygia and begins questioning the tyrannical leadership of the despot Emperor Nero.

Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Anthony Mann | Stars: Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn, Peter Ustinov

Votes: 12,125 | Gross: $24.29M

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

6. The Queen of Sheba (1952)

Not Rated | 99 min | Drama

The Queen of Sheba falls in love with the King of Israel. The King of Israel, however, is in love with someone else.

Director: Pietro Francisci | Stars: Leonora Ruffo, Gino Cervi, Gino Leurini, Marina Berti

Votes: 81

7. Androcles and the Lion (1952)

Approved | 98 min | Adventure, Comedy

Story of a Christian in ancient Rome who befriends a lion.

Directors: Chester Erskine, Nicholas Ray | Stars: Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Alan Young, Robert Newton

Votes: 682

8. Spartacus the Gladiator (1953)

Approved | 75 min | Adventure, History

74 B.C. Somewhere in the Roman Empire, Spartacus, a young officer, is condemned to be a slave because he hit a superior. Brought back to Roma in a gladiators' school, he escapes and stirs ... See full summary »

Director: Riccardo Freda | Stars: Massimo Girotti, Ludmilla Tchérina, Yves Vincent, Gianna Maria Canale

Votes: 95

© Associati Produttori Indipendenti Film (API) Italy, France

9. The Robe (1953)

Unrated | 135 min | Drama, History

In the Roman province of Judea during the 1st century, Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio is ordered to crucify Jesus of Nazareth but is tormented by his guilty conscience afterwards.

Director: Henry Koster | Stars: Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Michael Rennie

Votes: 8,118 | Gross: $36.00M

10. Salome (1953)

Approved | 103 min | Drama, History

After her banishment from Rome, Jewish Princess Salome returns to her Roman-ruled native land of Galilee where prophet John the Baptist preaches against Salome's parents, King Herod and Queen Herodias.

Director: William Dieterle | Stars: Rita Hayworth, Stewart Granger, Charles Laughton, Judith Anderson

Votes: 1,345

11. Serpent of the Nile (1953)

Approved | 81 min | Adventure, Biography, History

In 44 BC, after the assassination of the leader of Rome Julius Caesar, Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and one of the highest ranking Roman generals and Caesar's possible successor Mark Anthony begin a tragic love affair.

Director: William Castle | Stars: Rhonda Fleming, William Lundigan, Raymond Burr, Jean Byron

Votes: 140

12. Barabbas (1953)

123 min | Drama

The story about the thief who didn't get crucified because Jesus was choosen to take his place.

Director: Alf Sjöberg | Stars: Ulf Palme, Inge Wærn, Olof Widgren, Erik Strandmark

Votes: 63

13. Julius Caesar (1953)

Not Rated | 120 min | Biography, Drama, History

The growing ambition of Julius Caesar is a source of major concern to his close friend Brutus. Cassius persuades him to participate in his plot to assassinate Caesar, but they have both sorely underestimated Mark Antony.

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz | Stars: Louis Calhern, Marlon Brando, James Mason, John Gielgud

Votes: 9,352

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

14. Ulysses (1954)

Not Rated | 94 min | Adventure, Fantasy, History

A movie adaptation of Homer's second epic, that talks about Ulysses' efforts to return to his home after the end of ten years of war.

Director: Mario Camerini | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Silvana Mangano, Anthony Quinn, Rossana Podestà

Votes: 3,027

15. Theodora, Slave Empress (1954)

Approved | 88 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

Teodora, a Roman courtesan and former slave girl, marries the Roman emperor Justinian and assumes the throne as Empress of Rome. But the divide between nobility and slave is too great. ... See full summary »

Director: Riccardo Freda | Stars: Georges Marchal, Gianna Maria Canale, Renato Baldini, Irene Papas

Votes: 183

16. The Egyptian (1954)

Approved | 139 min | Biography, Drama, History

In ancient Egypt, a poor orphan becomes a genial physician and is eventually appointed at the Pharaoh's court where he witnesses palace intrigues and learns dangerous royal secrets.

Director: Michael Curtiz | Stars: Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Gene Tierney, Michael Wilding

Votes: 3,170

17. Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)

Approved | 101 min | Action, Drama, History

In 1st century Rome, Christian slave Demetrius is sent to fight in the gladiatorial arena and Emperor Caligula seeks Jesus' robe for its supposedly magical powers.

Director: Delmer Daves | Stars: Victor Mature, Susan Hayward, Michael Rennie, Debra Paget

Votes: 2,990 | Gross: $26.00M

18. Princess of the Nile (1954)

Approved | 71 min | Adventure, Fantasy, Romance

In 1249, an Egyptian princess allies herself with the son of the Caliph of Baghdad in order to rid Egypt of its Bedouin invaders.

Director: Harmon Jones | Stars: Debra Paget, Jeffrey Hunter, Michael Rennie, Dona Drake

Votes: 273

19. Valley of the Kings (1954)

Approved | 86 min | Adventure

In 1900, in Egypt, archaeologist Mark Brandon is asked by Ann Mercedes to find the tomb of Ra-Hotep but their quest is marred by intrigue, betrayal, murder and danger.

Director: Robert Pirosh | Stars: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker, Carlos Thompson, Kurt Kasznar

Votes: 1,097

20. The Silver Chalice (1954)

Approved | 142 min | Drama, Romance

A Greek artisan is commissioned to cast the cup of Christ in silver, and sculpt around its rim, the faces of the disciples and Jesus. He travels to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome to ... See full summary »

Director: Victor Saville | Stars: Virginia Mayo, Pier Angeli, Jack Palance, Paul Newman

Votes: 1,243

21. Two Nights with Cleopatra (1954)

Not Rated | 78 min | Comedy

Sophia Loren plays a dual role, as both the sultry Queen of the Nile with a "man-a-night" appetite and a beautiful slave girl who takes her place and is wooed by a bodyguard who thinks she's the real monarch.

Director: Mario Mattoli | Stars: Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi, Paul Muller, Nando Bruno

Votes: 229

22. Attila (1954)

TV-14 | 80 min | Biography, Drama, History

Attila, the leader of the barbarian Huns and called by the Romans "The Scourge of God", sweeps onto the Italian peninsula, defeating all of the armies of Rome, until he and his men reach the gates of the city itself.

Director: Pietro Francisci | Stars: Anthony Quinn, Sophia Loren, Henri Vidal, Claude Laydu

Votes: 573

23. Sign of the Pagan (1954)

Approved | 92 min | Adventure, Biography, Drama

With the Roman Empire divided, Attila the Hun hopes to conquer. In his way are a brave centurion, a beautiful princess...and Christianity.

Director: Douglas Sirk | Stars: Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance, Ludmilla Tchérina, Rita Gam

Votes: 530

24. Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

Approved | 106 min | Adventure, Drama, History

A captured architect designs an ingenious plan to ensure the impregnability of tomb of a self-absorbed Pharaoh, obsessed with the security of his next life.

Director: Howard Hawks | Stars: Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins, Dewey Martin, Alexis Minotis

Votes: 3,267 | Gross: $1.50M

25. Helen of Troy (1956)

Approved | 118 min | Adventure, Drama, History

The Iliad's story of the Trojan war, told from the Trojan viewpoint.

Director: Robert Wise | Stars: Stanley Baker, Rossana Podestà, Brigitte Bardot, Jacques Sernas

Votes: 1,813 | Gross: $6.98M

26. The King and I (1956)

G | 133 min | Biography, Drama, Musical

72 Metascore

A widow accepts a job as a live-in governess to the King of Siam's children.

Director: Walter Lang | Stars: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno, Martin Benson

Votes: 22,043 | Gross: $21.30M

27. Alexander the Great (1956)

Not Rated | 141 min | Biography, Drama, History

The life and military conquests of Alexander III of Macedon (July 20/21, 356 - June 10/11, 323 B.C.), commonly known as Alexander the Great.

Director: Robert Rossen | Stars: Richard Burton, Fredric March, Claire Bloom, Barry Jones

Votes: 3,029

28. Nero's Mistress (1956)

104 min | Comedy, History

Nero is on holiday at the seaside. Poppea, Seneca and many other guests are with him. Nero is preparing a great show where he will be the star. When Agrippina, his mother, arrives with her ... See full summary »

Director: Steno | Stars: Alberto Sordi, Vittorio De Sica, Gloria Swanson, Brigitte Bardot

Votes: 246

29. The Sword and the Cross (1956)

87 min | Drama

Tarsus, in the Roman province of Cilicia, AD 120. Two Carthaginian sisters, Lea and Esther, are bought as slave girls by Roman tribune Marcus Valerius, who gives them as a present to proud ... See full summary »

Director: Guido Brignone | Stars: Gianna Maria Canale, Jorge Mistral, Marisa Allasio, Ana Luisa Peluffo

Votes: 53

30. The Ten Commandments (1956)

G | 220 min | Adventure, Drama

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: 56,760 | Gross: $93.74M

31. Goddess of Love (1957)

Unrated | 68 min | Drama

The god Zeus sends Venus, the goddess of love, to Earth to find her own true love.

Directors: Fernando Cerchio, Viktor Tourjansky | Stars: Belinda Lee, Jacques Sernas, Massimo Girotti, Maria Frau

Votes: 23

32. The Vikings (1958)

Not Rated | 116 min | Action, Adventure

A slave and a Viking prince fight for the love of a captive princess.

Director: Richard Fleischer | Stars: Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh

Votes: 11,203 | Gross: $7.00M

33. Hercules (1958)

G | 107 min | Adventure, Fantasy

The muscular Hercules performs his Labors, sails with the Argonauts, and romances the fair Iole.

Director: Pietro Francisci | Stars: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Fabrizio Mioni, Ivo Garrani

Votes: 1,606 | Gross: $10.90M

34. The Warrior and the Slave Girl (1958)

88 min | Adventure

Marcus Numidius (Ettore Manni), a Roman tribune sent to Armenia to put down a gladiators' revolt, captures the rebels' popular leader, Aselepius (Georges Marchal). Princess Amira (Gianna ... See full summary »

Director: Vittorio Cottafavi | Stars: Gianna Maria Canale, Ettore Manni, Mara Cruz, Lina Rosales

Votes: 135

35. Aphrodite, Goddess of Love (1958)

91 min | Drama, History

Antigonus, archon of Corinth, wants to build a magnificent temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, for which the people are oppressed by new and very high taxes. The sculptor Demetrius, ... See full summary »

Director: Mario Bonnard | Stars: Isabelle Corey, Anthony Steffen, Irène Tunc, Ivo Garrani

Votes: 73

36. La spada e la croce (1958)

105 min | Drama

Set against the magnificent backdrop of classic Rome, "The Sword and the Cross" is the story of a notorious harlot who must choose between her lascivious lifestyle and the love and affection of her decent-minded brother.

Director: Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia | Stars: Yvonne De Carlo, Jorge Mistral, Rossana Podestà, Massimo Serato

Votes: 75

37. The Big Fisherman (1959)

Approved | 180 min | Drama, History

Exploring the life of Peter, from being a successful fisherman to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ and being dependent on Jesus Christ.

Director: Frank Borzage | Stars: Howard Keel, John Saxon, Susan Kohner, Martha Hyer

Votes: 295

38. The Last Days of Pompeii (1959)

Approved | 103 min | Action, Adventure, History

Mount Vesuvius looms ominously over the doomed city of Pompeii, a city in turmoil. Its citizens are being terrorized by a group of black-hooded thieves on the rampage, murdering entire ... See full summary »

Director: Mario Bonnard | Stars: Steve Reeves, Christine Kaufmann, Fernando Rey, Barbara Carroll

Votes: 921

39. Legions of the Nile (1959)

91 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

Roman Emperor Octavian rules the empire from Rome, and his rival Marc Antony has taken Egyptian queen Cleopatra as his lover and seized the eastern empire, ruling it from Alexandria. ... See full summary »

Director: Vittorio Cottafavi | Stars: Linda Cristal, Ettore Manni, Georges Marchal, Conrado San Martín

Votes: 192

40. Hannibal (1959)

103 min | Action, Adventure, Biography

During the Second Punic War in 218 BC, Carthaginian general Hannibal attacks the Roman Republic by crossing the Pyrenees and the Alps with his vast army.

Directors: Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, Edgar G. Ulmer | Stars: Victor Mature, Gabriele Ferzetti, Rita Gam, Milly Vitale

Votes: 600

41. The Giant of Marathon (1959)

90 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

A Greek soldier leads the fight against an invading Persian army.

Directors: Jacques Tourneur, Bruno Vailati, Mario Bava | Stars: Steve Reeves, Mylène Demongeot, Sergio Fantoni, Alberto Lupo

Votes: 704

42. Goliath and the Barbarians (1959)

86 min | Adventure

When barbarians invade his village and kill his father, a local man wages a one-man war against them.

Director: Carlo Campogalliani | Stars: Steve Reeves, Chelo Alonso, Bruce Cabot, Giulia Rubini

Votes: 231

43. Sheba and the Gladiator (1959)

98 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

Zenobia, Queen of Palmira, revolts against Rome and defeats the Roman troops... But she makes a big mistake when she falls in love with enemy officer Marco Valerio.

Director: Guido Brignone | Stars: Anita Ekberg, Georges Marchal, Folco Lulli, Chelo Alonso

Votes: 189

44. Herod the Great (1959)

93 min | Biography, Drama, History

Herod, King of Judea, is made a prisoner by the Romans. Convinced the King is dead, his faithful lieutenant, Aaron, is nevertheless unable to keep his promise to kill the Queen if something untoward happened to the King. He leads the young woman out into the desert. Herod's pleas to Augustus are successful and he returns to his palace. His son, Antipater, informs Herod that Aaron has betrayed him.

Director: Viktor Tourjansky | Stars: Edmund Purdom, Sylvia Lopez, Massimo Girotti, Sandra Milo

Votes: 156

45. Hercules Unchained (1959)

G | 105 min | Adventure, Fantasy

While negotiating peace between two brothers contesting the throne of Thebes, an amnesiac Hercules is seduced by the evil Queen Omphale.

Directors: Pietro Francisci, Mario Bava | Stars: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Gabriele Antonini, Patrizia Della Rovere

Votes: 1,746 | Gross: $5.45M

46. Ben-Hur (1959)

G | 212 min | Adventure, Drama, History

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: 200,034 | Gross: $74.70M

47. Solomon and Sheba (1959)

Not Rated | 141 min | Drama, History, Romance

After becoming king of ancient Israel, Solomon faces threats coming from his jealous dispossessed brother Adonijah, the Egyptian Pharaoh and the scheming Queen of Sheba.

Director: King Vidor | Stars: Yul Brynner, Gina Lollobrigida, George Sanders, Marisa Pavan

Votes: 2,595 | Gross: $12.20M

48. Spartacus (1960)

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

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: 112,491 | Gross: $30.00M