What's the best (non-WW2) "historical epic" of the last 25 years?

Posted 3 months.

27 Comments

  • Micah in China - 2 months ago

    It turns out I don't like any of these films. I just spent longer than I should have trying to find a decent alternative but in terms of keeping to a historical "epic", that plots a character's journey, and determines an outcome for many people in times of crises within the past 25 years, I'm not sure there is much better. But I'll throw in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as an option.

  • Loren in NYC - 2 months ago

    Although the studio’s cut failed at the box office (for good reason), ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ in its full Ridley Scott version is better than ‘Gladiator’ and only ‘Master and Commander’ on your list comes close. Yes, Orloondo Bland seems miscast, but then he’s largely meant to be an audience surrogate in a fine scrum of performances by Eva Green, Martin Csokas, Brendan Gleason, Ghassan Massoud, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis and an uncredited Ed Norton behind the mask.. Ridley’s recreation of the Crusades makes up for in heart and intelligence what it can’t quite muster in period accuracy.

  • Michael Tubbs - 2 months ago

    While I'm tempted like other commenters to use this space to take a shot at the Revenant, I'll leave that work to others like Balian did in the greatest historical epic of the last 25 years, Kingdom of Heaven. Another one of Scott's features butchered in the editing process Kingdom of Heaven's director's cut is a near forgotten masterwork. This film has as much to say about the conflict within ourselves as it does the conflict for Jerusalem. Without condoning or condemning Ridley's epic articulates the many ways religion permeates society and shapes the individual. On top of all this there are few film makers that can pull off the old-school Hollywood scope like Scott. Battle scenes are every bit as grand as any of the others listed. The film is missing the wit and charm that comes with Peter O'Toole in something like Lawrence of Arabia but that's missing from all of these other films as well. And c'mon this gif is straight fire: https://giphy.com/gifs/11kXtQOAni1gze

  • Michae Green - 2 months ago

    PS I also think the list is fair and frankly a good one! Go Sam, Adam and the advisory board.

  • Michae Green - 2 months ago

    I try to keep my comments to a minimum but this question brought me out of hybernation. For me it is a no brainer, the answer is Titanic. As a 10 year old who owned every book on the ship crash this was literally a dream come true. Yes it’s long and maybe a little cheesy, but it still is the only movie that I have ever seen twice in theatres. I happen to love most of these films but for me it’s easy...I’ll Never Let Go!

  • Jeff - Olympia, WA - 2 months ago

    So, when I think of historical epics I think of movies like Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia. What films in the past 25 years evoke the same scale, scope and nobility, if you will, of these great films?

    Master & Commander - the current favorite - is the only option I found dull and forgettable at the time of its release, but maybe I should give it another shot. The Revenant, while memorable, had a kitchen-sink degree of challenges that I think made the film slightly overrated. Gladiator is fine - the closest to a contemporary Spartacus or Ben-Hur - but also slightly overrated. Titanic is a fairly polarizing option, as some recognize its scale and extraordinary detail, while others find the love story lacking and absolutely hate it.

    For me, that leaves Braveheart, a jaw-dropping spectacle in the vein of the historical epics of old, only with period-accurate brutal violence. Twenty-plus years later this film holds up very well and remains Mel Gibson's best directorial effort and one of his best performances.

  • Daniel Camacho - 2 months ago

    My vote has got to go to Other, specifically towards There Will Be Blood, which in my opinion is the best film of this century thus far. While its style doesn't necessarily gel with the more classical, action/adventure sensibilities of most of the films on this poll, PTA's masterpiece was certainly the first that came to mind.

    Daniel Camacho
    Atlanta, GA

  • Jordan Parmenter - 2 months ago

    Master and Commander is incredible, but I definitely had to go with Other in for the Directors Cut edition of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven for its depiction of religious conflict as it exists both within society and within ourselves. Plus there's all that epic historical action. That's pretty good too.

  • Skye from Winnipeg, MB - 2 months ago

    I feel like I'm in the same boat as a lot of people where I wish that '12 Years a Slave' was in consideration, although some may wonder if it would qualify as an epic. It's a searing, tense, unforgettable period drama that gives voice to generations of people who endured unwavering brutality at the hands of their captors. In my early days as a film blogger, I was even bold enough to proclaim that it featured David Lean quality filmmaking across the board. I still stand by that statement, from the cinematography to the production design to the performances to the script to the direction... Whatever, I'm calling it an epic, the best since Spike Lee's 'Malcolm X', which would have annihilated the competition... if only.
    Love the show as always.

  • Joe from West Lafayette - 2 months ago

    I'm throwing in a vote for 1995's other (and superior) Scottish highland historical drama, Rob Roy. It's often overshadowed by Braveheart, which I also do love, despite featuring one of cinema's best villains (Tim Roth's Archie) and my pick for greatest sword fight. Seriously, look up the Rob Roy swordfight on Youtube, it is incredible and a scene I have circled back to often over the years. A great use of silence. I might be stretching the definition of 'Epic' since Rob Roy is definitely a more grounded film than the others that made the list, but I don't care. I think it belongs on the list.

  • Lisa N. of Ayer, MA - 2 months ago

    Although Master & Commander is by several leagues far superior than all the other entries on this list, I have to say I was disappointed when I heard this list. Only one of these films is a truly excellent film that stands up to the test of time and a thoroughly critically eye. The other films are popular, emotional and for the most part box-office hits, but are not what I would call "great historical epics." Instead, please consider the excellent biopics of amazing leaders who held their countries together during extremely turbulent such as 1998's Elizabeth and 2012's Lincoln. Or the heart-wrenching sagas of our countries' shameful past as depicted in 2013's 12 Years a Slave and 2007's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Even 2016's Lost City of Z is a thoughtful exploration of the old and new worlds coming together in mysterious and violent ways that is would easily get my vote before any of the entries on this list.

  • Randall - 2 months ago

    It's Master & Commander which is not just a great historical epic, but also one of the all-time great adventure movies. Master & Commander lost best picture to Return of the King in 2003. So it goes; Peter Jackson would wring three films out of the Hobbit and we would never see another adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey--Maturin series.

    Occasionally Russell Crowe tweets some reason to hope for another film--and I always do. Modern blockbusters are unmoored, removed from our world by their CGI spectacles and supernatural plots.

    Master and Commander reminds you how unnecessary all of that is--it's refreshing to see something so tethered. Men with no super-power other than their cunning give chase across the globe, pushing the edge of their wills and the limits of their science. That's a movie.

    -Randall
    Portland, OR

  • Phil in Chicago - 2 months ago

    It has to be Terence Malick's The New World, specifically the 172-minute extended cut. Epic in its production and the sweep of its story, this film takes what is "historical" and makes it absolutely present. As a viewer, you can't get much closer to a perfect movie experience than when Malick gets us to consider both the beauty and brutality at the heart of America, and he gives us maybe the most profound and challenging representation of grace so far in his career.

  • Paolo from Bristol - 2 months ago

    It's tough to understand what epic means? Is an epic a long film? a long odyssey maybe? Also historical is quite a tricky one for me. Is the 60's too recent and familiar to fit in the category of a period costume drama? Anyway, I voted for others since I didn't want to praise any of these films in particular. But I have to admit it was difficult to find a good choice.
    All my favourite historical films are before 1993. For my pick, I am going far away from American big-budget films with a stellar cast and vote for two great epics: 1993's Chinese complex and visually arresting historical melodrama Farewell My Concubine by Chen Kaige. It follows 53 years in the lives of two Peking Opera School students, from the 20's to the 70's.
    My second pick is the Italian film's The Best Youth (2003). The only movie that is 6 hours long and you wish it was longer. Time flies, honestly. It's such a poetic and marvellous movie, and easily the best Italian film of the 21st century. The story of Italy, experience through the life of the members of an Italian family from 1966 to 2000. Maybe the setting is too recent, and it doesn't have any fights with raging bears, but I can only describe it as epic.

  • Jim Mcmahon - 2 months ago

    This is the easiest poll in recent memory for me-- I think Master and Commander is in a different league than the rest of the list.

    That said, I second the love for Kingdom of Heaven with a condition: I only care about the extended edition. I got about half an hour into the theatrical release before turning off what I considered to be a lot of rushed nonsense, but the longer version is indeed much more nuanced, layered and comprehensible (I had a similar experience with Scott's Blade Runner in that once the narration was removed I found it easier to follow the story).

    I can't put it anywhere near Lawrence of Arabia. Still, "Great, but not among the Greatest Films of All Time Forever and Ever, Amen" isn't bad.

  • Benji - 2 months ago

    Why don't we like Forrest Gump again? It was huuuuge! It didn't make any of the the best of the '90s March Madness brackets. What's the deal? ... because it makes fun of someone with an intellectual development disorder? That's probably it.

  • Beat - 2 months ago

    what a terrible, terrible list.

  • Randal - 2 months ago

    You guys might have bitten off more than you could chew with this poll - how do you define "epic"? Is it about the subject? Is it about the cast? Is it about the scenic vistas? The answer is all of the above (and more). Given the choice of films, time/subject window in the poll, and"Other" aside, it's got to be Master & Commander. At the risk of being sexist - a problem with traditional "historical epic" films - it's all about manly men doing manly things in a manly manner. I really enjoy Master & Commander and think it's a great example of storytelling. Sadly, I'm not sure epic film making is something that's done anymore or will be in the foreseeable future.

    Thanks for the show guys and keep up the good work.

  • Hillary in Pittsburgh - 2 months ago

    I really wish Braveheart was left off the list. It's homophobic for no good reason. Its' star has been, to say the least, a terrible person off the screen. To be honest, Apocalypto would have been a better choice. Braveheart is also heavy handed in depicting William Wallace's quest for a nebulous freedom that the film does little to define other than it being a good thing.

    Maybe Selma would have been a better add?

  • Dione from east lansing mi - 2 months ago

    As soon as I heard this and before you listed your choices, I thought of The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert ford and my reasons are just a list of superlative contributions—Roger deakins’ Cinematography, Nick Cave’s score, and Andrew dominik’s direction which gave us acting tour de forces by not only the stars Brad Pitt and Casey affleck but all the way down the line including Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, mary Louise Parker and garret dillahunt—dillahunt’s terror in the cabin when Jesse James comes “to visit” literally made my stomach hurt. This is my pick as the best historical epic of the last 25 years

  • Jack Roby - 2 months ago

    Filmspotting, I’m disappointed this is the best list of options you can produce under the historical epic genre. Each example is a lesser film of a one-time great - Gladiator? Ridley Scott still lives in the shadow of his one-two punch of an opener Alien/Blade Runner. The Revenant? A pretentious, hollow western coasting by on a gimmicky central performance to entrance susceptible critics into thinking its art. Perhaps the Historical epic was shunned into a Oscar-Bait abyss when we started to believe men could fly and films required a guy named a Chris to star. Dig deep enough though in any given decade and you can find hidden gems buried beneath the surface. My vote goes to a recently overlooked masterpiece from a perennially overlooked director - James Gray’s The Lost City of Z. A David Lean indebted epic, it is both simultaneously grand and intimate in its portrayal of real life adventurer Percy Fawcett’s ultimately fatal obsession for recognition and legacy. Featuring a impressive balancing act of breathtaking contrasts in scenery - from Edwardian chambers to Amazon Jungles to even a brief segway into the horror of WW1, Gray manages to still maintain a all too human story within the face of such overwhelming, untamed beauty.

  • Tom Schutzer (Westfield, NJ) - 2 months ago

    The film's director and star have become problematic in ensuing years, while the historical accuracy of the story has been called into question, if not serious doubt. But, for me, no historical epic comes close to matching Mel Gibson's Braveheart for its pure cinematic excellence.

    From emotional one-on-one interactions to truly epic practical battle scenes. From tender and believable courtship sequences to rousing battlefield speeches. The score by the late James Horner lives on in my playlist to this day - a truly beautiful and resonant Celtic influenced masterpiece. The Oscar-winning cinematography, direction, and sound may have taken home the hardware, but where the film really excels is the screenplay. It's infinitely quotable and enthralling throughout, but in a dozen or more viewings over the years, that final call of "Freedom!" has never failed to leave me bawling my eyes out.

  • Tom Morris - 2 months ago

    For me the greatest historical EPIC is Kingdom of Heaven! It’s my favorite Ridley Scott movie, I think it’s better than Blade Runner. This film details all of the complicated sides of the Crusades and is an excellent parable about how the world is still complicated. It’s a lavish production, massive battles, heavy acting, and very engrossing plot. Like Lawrence of Arabia it shows how all sides are Grey. Huge highlight is the depiction of Saladin.

  • Francis in Bethesda - 2 months ago

    So many missing movies here that are so much better than Master & Commander: 12 Years a Slave, Lincoln, Elizabeth, The Wind that Shakes the Barley American Gangster and American Hustle all could be on this list too. All are true epics (unlike, say, Hunger, which is an awesome historical film but lacks the epic sweep). Of all of these I would have to say Elizabeth for the best of this group.

  • Hank W. (Columbus, Oh) - 2 months ago

    The Revenant, while probably most famous for Leo finally getting his Oscar, is a fantastic film even outside of his near perfect performance. It seems a fairly simple revenge narrative, but more than that this is a tale about the will to survive. I don't think there is any question as to whether or not Hugh Glass would have survived if his son was dead and he had nothing to look to after his arduous journey. What reason would he have possibly had? I think this analogy can be applied to all of our lives, and maybe I'm projecting my own world view onto the film but, goals are vital to our own metaphorical survival. From a more technical aspect the way Inarrito and Lubezki film any of the action or combat scenes does an incredible job of making you feel like you're right their in the action. Especially that first scene when their camp is attacked, just astounding film making that really takes the realism of the film up a notch.

    A few bonus comments, I would probably put 12 Years a Slave over The Revenant but I'm not really sure if that counts as a historical epic. Additionally, the best epic (though WW2 related) from this time period is legendary Polish director Andrej Wajda's Katyn from 2009. I bring that up because if my perusing on Letterboxd is accurate neither of you have ever seen one of his films?! Not to mention he isn't on the list of possible marathons! Come on guys, Kieslowski and Polanski can take a hike, Wajda is the King of Polish cinema, and in my mind probably always will be.

  • Sal Tessio - 2 months ago

    You have to go with this year's Gotti. This is a great picture starring a true wiseguy, John Travolta. Kelly Preston is amazing and Stacy Keach? He is at peak-form - he hasnt done work this good since Mike Hammer on CBS! Spencer LoFranco is going to be a major star and will probably receive a best supporting actor nomination for his role. With a song by Pitbull and some of the great acting of the year, this recent-history picture is epic in scale and should be considered as one of the great movies of the year and all history. Don't believe the failing Rotten Tomatoes and their Fake News "reviews." This should have been included on the list, but I am sure it will overwhelm the competition in "other".

  • Peter from Somerville - 2 months ago

    My vote goes to Carlos or Che.

    Whether you want to call Carlos a film or a miniseries, it has a cinematic scope and quality that feels conscious of the passage of time and how it affects all the main characters.

    Likewise, Soderbergh creates Che as a real life person, not just a slogan or some ideal example of a "HISTORICAL FIGURE" - a person with major flaws and strong suits.

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