50 best epic movies ever – part one
James Cameron doesn't mess about – he had to develop whole new technologies in order to create his 3D sci-fi adventure. Sam Worthington plays space marine Jake Sully, on assignment piloting an avatar body on the alien world of Pandora. When he becomes romantically entangled with Zoe Saldana's local hunter Neytiri, he gets drawn into the conflict between the resource-hungry human mining company and Neytiri's people.
The story beats come with metronome predictability, but that's part of Cameron's genius – the plot ticks over like a well-oiled machine, and hit all the right emotional buttons. It certainly connected with audiences – Avatar broke every box office record going.
Out of Africa (1985)
1920s Kenya is the backdrop for this archetypal epic, which concerns itself with the life of Karen Blixen, a Danish woman running a coffee plantation in the British-ruled country. With sweeping cinematography of the African landscapes, a stirring score from John Barry and a fantastic performance from Meryl Streep (well, when does she deliver anything less?), Sydney Pollack’s film feels too big to be contained by your TV.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone with the Wind may have one of the most famous final lines in history, but there’s so much more to appreciate about it: its grand historical sweep that encompasses the American Civil War and its aftermath; the terrific performances of Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Hattie McDaniel; its beautiful colour cinematography (in filming the fire scene, the crew used all eight Technicolor cameras then in existence). At almost four hours in length, it has become the yardstick by which all American epics are measured.
Another sprawling movie that portrays a thick tranche of American history, Giant tracks the travails of a cattle-ranching family over a period of 30 years. The costliest film ever made at the time of its production and, at 200 minutes in length, living up to its name, it features strong work by Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and, in his last ever role, James Dean.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Directed by master of epic cinema Cecil B DeMille, The Ten Commandments picks its tale from one of the grandest sources imaginable: the Old Testament. Charlton Heston gets into full bearded, scenery-chewing mode as Moses, leading the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery, parting the Red Sea and receiving the word of God from the top of Mount Sinai.