50 best epic movies ever – part one
The Message or Mohammad, Messenger of God (1976)
Telling the story of Islam’s central prophet on film was always going to be a tricky task, what with it being frowned on by the religion to depict Mohammad (PBUH). As a result, Moustapha Akkad’s epic used organ music to suggest His presence and had other characters channel His words. Two versions – in English and Arabic – were made, shot with funding from Colonel Gadaffi. You couldn’t make it up.
Directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley, Gandhi is the ultimate Anglo-Indian epic, a three-hour salute to the world’s best-known proponent of non-violent civil disobedience. The fictional funeral holds the record for the most extras ever used in a film – 300,000 people (enough to populate Coventry or Pittsburgh) were drafted in for the scene.
Of course it fell to Kenneth Branagh to direct the first ever unabridged film of Shakespeare’s meisterwerk – all four hours of it – and play the titular Danish prince. The swelled ranks of supporting cast are a roster of acting royalty that includes Jacobi, Christie, Briers and Winslet. Alas, Ken Dodd plays Yorick.
Stanley Kubrick's epic portrayal puts Kirk Douglas in the sandals of Spartacus, a slave-come-gladiator who leads his troops against his Roman captors in a bloody clash of swords and shields. With one of the greatest film scores ever recorded, and the likes of Laurence Olivier in front of the camera, Spartacus ticks each and every box in the epic category.
The Battle of Britain (1969)
The summer of 1940 saw the RAF thwart Hitler's Operation Sea Lion – aka operation invade Britain. Eye-watering flying sequences on a huge scale ramped up the film's budget, but with the film's fast-paced dogfights between Spitfires and the Luftwaffe, that cash was very well spent. In the words of Churchill – "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few"