What exactly is an Epic Movie? Generally speaking it is a movie of such sweep and high production values as to be remembered for decades to come. Many of these films have beautiful cinematography, stirring musical scores, and a “cast of thousands”.
This is not an all inclusive list, and no doubt many films some think should be listed may not be. There are so many epics, and so little space.
Gone With the Wind” (1939)
Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler, Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara, Olivia de Havilland as Scarlett’s sister Melanie, and Leslie Howard as the long suffering Ashley Wilkes. His curse, as was Rhett Butler’s was to love Scarlett. This sweeping saga of the Deep South before, during, and after the Civil War won an unprecedented ( at the time) 8 Academy Awards, including Vivien Leigh as Best Actress, Hattie McDaniel Best Supporting Actress (notable for being the first black actor to win the Oscar) and Best Picture of 1939. The film had been nominated for 13 Academy Awards. The film has not been without its controversy for some of the portrayals of people of color, especially Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy. The film was made for $3.9 Million and to date has grossed over $390 Million worldwide. Its memorable line near the end uttered by Clark Gable, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a Damn!” cost producer David O’ Selznic a $5000.00 fine levied by the Hollywood Production code.
Dr. Zhivago ( 1965)
Directed by David Lean, who was well known for his sweeping dramas, depicts the life of a Russian Doctor/Poet who falls in love with the wife of a political activist. Set before and after the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, it details how Zhivago copes with the horrors of the First World War, his marriage to an upper class socialite, and being in love with the young woman who he sees as his muse. Zhivago is torn between his marriage vows, and his passion for Lara. The film starred Omar Sharif as Zhivago, Julie Christie as Lara, with stellar performances by Rod Steiger, Alec Guiness, and Geraldine Chaplin as Zhivago’s wife Tonya. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and won 5. Cinematography, Costume Design, and the score by Maurice Jarre among them.
There have been several films made of the Titanic disaster of 1912, but none had the scope and majesty of the James Cameron directed version starring Kate Winslett, and Leonard Dicaprio. While their characters are fictional, theirs was one of Cinema’s great and tragic love stories. Cameron’s attention to detail gives us one of the most accurate depictions of this luxurious, but doomed ship. Nominated for 14 Academy Awards, the film won 11 including Best Picture of the Year, tying with Ben Hur, and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Titanic was also the most commercially successful motion picture in history, making a record $900,000,000.00 worldwide, ($600,779,824.00 in the US alone.)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Fellowship of the Ring (2001) The Two Towers (2002) The Return of the King (2003)
While a trilogy of itself does not necessarily qualify as an epic, the Peter Jackson Directed film version of the classic J.R.R. Tolkein literary masterpiece does by the scope of the story alone. Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, and Christopher Lee, each film achieved epic proportions on its own. The final film, The Return of the King was the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Nominated for 11 awards it won them all. The tale of Middle Earth, good and evil, won over the hearts of movie goers. Jackson is in pre-production for the precursor to The Lord of the Rings; The Hobbit.
Schindler’s List (1993)
Stephen Spielburg was already a well known and respected director when he made Schindler. This was the true story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a vain, greedy man who uses Jews as slave labor in Poland during WWII. Schindler had planned to make his fortune on the backs of the Jews, yet lost everything buying the freedom of over 1100 of them. The film also starred Ralph Fiennes as SS Officer Amon Goethe, a cruel man who uses the Jews as target practice out of boredom. Ben Kingsley played Itzak Stern, a Jewish functionary who helps Schindler run his factory, and later compile the list of Jews to save. The film was done in black and white to show the starkness of the horrible situation. Spielberg refused to accept pay for the film stating it would be “blood money”. Schindler’s List was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and won 7 including Best Picture.
Epic films are not all necessarily winners of Best Picture Oscars, but many times they do. The scope of human enduring is often the thrust of an Epic film. These are but a few of the celebrated films that have become known as Epics.