50 best epic movies ever – part one
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Sergio Leone, the Italian director famed for his “Spaghetti Westerns”, took on a different – but no less compelling – era of American history in this movie. Its four-hour running time spans 35 years, from the Prohibition era to the 1960s, with Robert De Niro playing a Jewish gangster returning to his old Brooklyn neighbourhood. But this isn’t merely a superior crime movie – it transcends the genre to become timeless story, non-chronologically and masterfully told, of friendship, love and betrayal.
Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
With a cast that reads like a who’s who of British stage talent, this is a love story that spans empires, told against the backdrop of two earth-shaking events: the Russian Revolution and the First World War. The titular characters are of course the Russian Tsar and Tsarina, who are on the verge of a terrible downfall, and their portrayal by Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman is terrific – but we should also mention the superb performance by Tom Baker as Rasputin.
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Here we’re shown the beginnings of history’s greatest empire’s descent into the Dark Ages, with major players portrayed by the likes of Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, James Mason and Sophia Loren. The time period is the same as Gladiator’s – the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus – and there’s a similar theme of Rome’s avarice and arrogance leading it to destroy itself from within. A total visual treat: chariot races, epic battles, sweeping vistas... and Sophia Loren.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
It’s perhaps one of Stanley Kubrick’s lesser known films, but Barry Lyndon is often numbered among the best movies ever made by beard-stroking cineastes – and it’s not hard to see why. A three-hour rags-to-riches trek from mid-18th century Ireland to war-torn mainland Europe and then back to England, it’s replete with duels, battles, the stealing of money and hearts, not to mention some of the finest movie craftsmanship in history: it was filmed entirely using natural and available light.
El Cid (1961)
Chuck Heston pops up in yet another epic, this time playing the legendary hero that drove the Moors out of Spain, enjoying a troubled, star-crossed romance with Sophia Loren (yep, her again) along the way. Despite its 182-minute length, El Cid features scant dialogue, relying more on grand images to tell its gripping story.