Ranked: The Greatest Historical Epics Ever Told

More than a century of cinematic epics, from 1914's "Cabiria" to 2017's "Dunkirk."
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Ranked: The Greatest Historical Epics Ever Told Newsweek

The historical epic is a tricky genre to do well. Complex, generation-spanning plots need to be told with clarity, battle scenes need to thrill, and the sumptuous costumes and elaborate special effects cannot overwhelm the central story. Often, they can just seem dull, especially if the audience is not given any reason to emotionally invest in events that took place centuries ago.

It's not surprising, then, that Netflix's upcoming historical epic Outlaw King seems to have fallen flat with critics. Starring Chris Pine as Scottish king Robert the Bruce, it tells the story of Scotland's struggle for independence from English colonists.

Despite the worthy story, Outlaw King seems to have succumbed to the pitfalls that many historical epics face. Following the movie's premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, critics labeled it dull and forgettable, with IndieWire even calling it "a gritty and scattershot Braveheart spinoff that will make you—through gritted teeth—concede that Mel Gibson did it better."

Some critics seem to have found it difficult to even concentrate on the story, so distracted were they by Pine's full-frontal nude scenes. Website Jezebel suggested that the actor's anatomy was by far the most epic thing about the movie. These negative reviews eventually led director David Mackenzie to chop 20 minutes off the movie's running length ahead of its November release date in the U.S.

Luckily for Mackenzie, there are plenty of great historical epics he could have taken into the cutting room with him for inspiration.

Using data from review-aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb and (where available) Metacritic, we've created a list of the most critically acclaimed historical epic movies ever to charge into cinemas, from 1914's Cabiria to 2017's Dunkirk, as well as sword-and-sandals epics such as Spartacus and Ben-Hur and the Greek myth–based Jason and the Argonauts, featuring Ray Harryhausen's pioneering stop-motion special effects.

01 Braveheart
50. Braveheart (1995). Total score: 223. IMDb users: 8.4. Metacritic: 68. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.1. Directed by: Mel Gibson. Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan. Plot summary: When his secret bride is executed for assaulting an English soldier who tried to rape her, Sir William Wallace begins a revolt against King Edward I of England. Paramount Pictures