50 best epic movies ever – part two
The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
Director George Stevens stuffed his four-hour account of the life of Christ with famous faces – to mixed effect. Max von Sydow, then an unknown outside Ingmar Bergman’s arthouse films, does a creditable turn as the Lamb of God, but he's somewhat undermined by the parade of Hollywood stars in supporting roles – including Charlton Heston, Telly Savalas – and John Wayne's infamous cameo as the Centurion, drawling, "Truly, this man was the son of Gawd."
Martin Scorsese swaps mobsters for monks with his depiction of the life of the Dalai Lama, who's forced into exile by the oppression of China's communist government – facing a series of arduous challenges on the journey to safety. Fun fact: the film inspired Axl Rose to write Chinese Democracy, the title song from his oft-delayed Guns N' Roses album.
What Zack Snyder's Spartan saga lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with stunning visuals. Using an appropriately spartan palette, Snyder's film recounts the story of the 300 warriors who fought a vastly superior Persian force at Thermopylae, in an adaptation of the graphic novel by comics legend Frank Miller. Historical accuracy goes out the window, but that's fair enough – this is an exercise in myth-making.
Akira Kurosawa's last great epic was loosely based on Shakespeare's King Lear, depicting a samurai warlord's descent into madness as his three sons betray him one by one. At the time, Ran was Japan's most expensive movie, with Kurosawa constructing and destroying a full-size castle for the climactic battle scene.
Russell Crowe burst onto the Hollywood scene with his characteristically gruff portrayal of the Roman general Maximus, who finds himself in somewhat reduced circumstances when his family is killed and he's sold into slavery as a gladiator. Will he fight his way to the top and have his revenge on wicked, incestuous Emperor Commodus? With macho man Ridley Scott, directing, is there any doubt?