Believe it or not, the historical epic is one of the oldest cinematic genres ever made. The powerful characters, larger-than-life scenes, and overwhelming action sequences are not only visually stimulating, but also leave a lasting impression on the audience. Perhaps that’s why most good historical films remain iconic even years after their release. Since John Pastroneit is Cabiria in 1914 at Robert Egger‘ The man from the north in 2022, historical films have made quite a run, punctuated by award-winning and breathtaking works.
The man from the north is already a leader in the historical genre, to the point of becoming one of the best films of 2022 so far. Like some of its acclaimed predecessors, the Viking Epic is breathtaking storytelling woven into a well-told narrative. The man from the north has indeed awakened our memories of all the great historical films produced over the years. So we’ve decided to celebrate history through film, with our top picks of award-winning historical films in chronological order. So let’s get started, shall we?
The Vikings (1958)
At a time when historical movies revolved around kings and princes armed with swords and clad in leather, The Vikings loaded with their swordsmen in boots, furs and axes. Based on the 1951 novel, The Viking by Edison Marshallthis epic film tells the sagas of viking legend, Ragnar Lodbrokand his sons.
The plot revolves around the Viking prince Einar and his half-brother, Eric, a former slave, who fights for the throne of Northumbria. But the rivalry is more about their love, Princess Morgana. Directed by Richard Fleischer, The Vikings stars Kirk Douglas like Einar, Tony Curtis like Eric, and Janet Leigh like Morgana, among others. With admirable cinematography, Orson Welles‘ storytelling, coupled with quintessential Viking war sequences, this film remains a benchmark for many period films.
Ben Hur (1959)
After a record 11 Oscars and rave reviews from fans and critics, you can’t call Ben Hur just a movie; it’s a show that has lasted decades after its inception. The film is a remake of the eponymous silent film, originally adapted from the 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Story of Christby Lew Wallace. The plot follows Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish prince from Judea, forced into slavery by his former childhood friend, who is now a Roman imperial. After Ben-Hur’s family is brutally killed, he survives but swears revenge.
The religious epic film, directed by William Wylerstars Charlton-Heston in the titular role, which won him the Oscars for Best Actor of the Year for his career-defining performance. With over 15,000 extras, an epic chariot race scene and an overwhelming naval battle sequence, Ben Hur presents itself as a example of exemplary achievement in Hollywood history.
A historical classic, Spartacus sees another stunning performance from Kirk Douglas in the titular role and Stanley Kubrickof cinematic genius, which earned the film four Oscars. Based on the eponymous novel by fast howardthe plot is inspired by the story of Spartacusa leader of a slave revolt, and revolves around the events of the Third Servile War, woven into a story of freedom, love and political corruption within the Roman Empire.
The multi-award winning film is inspired by the 15th century epic poem, The Acts and Deidis of the Illustrious and Vallyeant Campioun SchirWilliam Wallace by Blind Harry. Mel Gibson helms the film as director, producer and lead actor. It describes the role of Sir William Wallacea 13th century Scottish warrior, who led his countrymen in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I from England. Brave heart won five Oscars and was widely acclaimed for its engaging and compelling story and production.
This award-winning new millennium film is also considered one of the best period dramas made in the past two decades. Ridley Scott‘s magnum opus, or so we would like to believe, Gladiator features Russell Crowe in the titular role of Maximus the Gladiator. Once a trusted general to the Roman Emperor, Maximus became a slave after the Emperor’s death. He steals the show with his bravery and fighting skills and leads a massive troop to defeat the army.
Although violent and bloody to some extent, the depiction of slavery and the staging of famous battles in this film is commendable. The ensemble cast also includes Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Ralf Moller, Olivier Roseau, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnell, Richard Harrisand Tommy Flanaganamong others.
The Last Samurai (2003)
This period action drama film focuses on the conflict between history and modernism in two very different cultures. Set in 19th century Japan, The last Samourai follows a veteran soldier, Nathan Algren, haunted by his wartime experiences. He is sent to train a Japanese army to put down a rebellion against the new Emperor of Japan. But his mission turns into a journey of self-discovery and transformation, giving him a purpose he never expected.
With lavish sets and rich costumes, accentuated by award-winning performances by Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe, The last Samourai is a beautifully made film and can be considered one of Cruise’s finest works. Directed by Edward Zwick, The last Samourai also includes Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyukiand Shin Koyamadain other roles.
Although loosely based on Homerit is Iliad, this film is more about Achilles than the city of Troy. Instead of the original decade-long Trojan War, the plot follows a few weeks into the war, with Achilles leading the Myrmidons and the Greek army to invade Troy against Hector’s Trojan army. Brad Pitt’s Achilles is indeed the star of the show here, with his invincible and heroic warrior almost single-handedly wiping out the enemy army.
Troy might be a fictionalized version of the ancient epic poem, but stands out on its own merits. The legendary saga of power, fame, love, lust, betrayal and heroism is recreated in a marvelous production, through intense drama and high octane action. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, Troy boasts a starry cast with Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleesonand Peter O’Tooleamong many others.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Another Ridley Scott masterpiece, this historical epic deals with the complexity of religions through a dark and tragic narrative. Set in the 12th century during the Crusades, the plot follows a French blacksmith, Balian, who travels to Jerusalem to save the city from Sultan Saladin, who in turn tries to take the city back from the Christians. The two heroes clash in the legendary battle of Hattin, but each of them defends his own virtues and his faith.
The international cast of the entire film is perhaps one of its main features and boasts of Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Ghassan Massoud, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton, Marton Csokas, Liam Neeson, Michael Sheen, Velibor Topic and Alexander Siddigamong many others.
Let’s say that right away. This is not a film for history buffs or those who swear by historical facts. Based on the 1998 comic book series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varleythis Zack Snyder directorial is a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae, fought between the Spartans and the Persians.
The plot follows 300 Spartan warriors led by King Leonidaswho fought the invasion led by Xerxes and his army of 300,000 soldiers. Real or not, the film stands on the Spartans’ portrayal of heroism and unparalleled warriorship, only enhanced by Gerard Butlerthe gritty performance of Leonidas.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
There are many opinions and views on Rise of Valhalla, due to the disturbing violence and brutality. But that’s also what makes this movie so impactful, because that’s what you sign up for when you watch a Nicolas Winding Refn film.
The Danish period drama is set in 11th-century Scandinavia and follows a little boy and a Nordic warrior-turned-slave called One-Eye, played by Mads Mikkelsen, who travel with a group of Christian crusaders in search of the Holy Land. But the journey leads them to something very dangerous, to a land unknown to dark forces. The catch is that the protagonist is mute, yet he brings unimaginable violence, which gives the action sequences a unique direction.
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