Epic film

An epic is a genre of film that emphasizes human drama on a grand scale. Epics are more ambitious in scope than other film genres, and their ambitious nature helps to differentiate them from similar genres such as the period piece or adventure film. Epics historical films often take an historical or imagined event, mythic, legendary, or heroic figure and add an extravagant setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by a spectacle setting and a sweeping musical score, and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, placing them among the most expensive of films to produce. One of the most common themes or topics of epics are royalty, gladiators, kings, or leading personalities or figures from the ancient times.[1]

They are expensive and lavish to produce, because they use on-location filming, authentic period costumes, action scenes on a massive scale and large casts of characters. Biographical films are often less lavish versions than this genre.

They are often called costume dramas, since they emphasise the world of a period setting: historical pageantry, costuming and wardrobes, locale, spectacle, decor and a sweeping visual style. They often transport viewers to other worlds or eras: ancient times, biblical times, the Middle Ages, the Victorian era, or turn-of-the-century America. Films involving modern battle sequences (war films), and films of the science fiction genre that are set in space, on earth or other planets, though having science fiction oriented battle scenes on a massive scale or have a futuristic backdrop, are also common settings in the epic film genre.

The term "epic" comes from the poetic genre exemplified by such works as the Iliad, Epic of Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.


Genre characteristics

As popularly applied to motion pictures, the term epic refers less to a set of generic qualities than to a vague sense of "epic-ness", a quality more or less synonymous with enormity. The "epic" movie is often set during a time of war or other societal crisis, and covers a long span of time, in terms of both the events depicted and the length of the reel. Typically, such films have a historical setting, although fantasy or science fiction settings have become common in recent decades. The central conflict of the film is usually seen as having far-reaching effects, often changing the course of history. The main characters' actions are often central to the resolution of this conflict.

The epic is among the oldest of film genres, with one early notable example being Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria, a three-hour silent film about the Punic Wars that laid the groundwork for the subsequent silent epics of D. W. Griffith.

The genre reached a peak of popularity in the early 1960s,[2] when Hollywood frequently collaborated with foreign film studios (such as Rome's Cinecittà) to use relatively exotic locations in Spain, Morocco, and elsewhere for the production of epic films. This boom period of international co-productions is generally considered to have ended with Cleopatra (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Nevertheless, films in this genre continued to appear, with one notable example being War and Peace, which was released in the former Soviet Union in 1968, directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, and said to be the most expensive film ever made.

Epic films continue to be produced, although nowadays they typically use computer effects instead of a genuine cast of thousands. Since the 1950s, such films have regularly been shot with a wide aspect ratio for a more immersive and panoramic theatrical experience.

Many writers may refer to any film that is "long" (over two hours) as an epic, making the definition of this genre a matter of dispute. As Roger Ebert put it, in his "Great Movies" article on Lawrence of Arabia:[3]

The word epic in recent years has become synonymous with big budget B picture. What you realize watching Lawrence of Arabia is that the word epic refers not to the cost or the elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision. Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God didn't cost as much as the catering in Pearl Harbor, but it is an epic, and 'Pearl Harbor' is not.

The comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail had the joking tagline, "Makes Ben Hur look like an epic."

Epic films were recognized in a montage at the 2006 Academy Awards.


Historical epics

Historical epics are epic films that take place in the historical past, often focusing on people who alter the course of history. A number of historical epics, especially those made in the 1950s and 1960s, are set in ancient times, particularly in Rome, Greece, or Egypt. Historical epics typically are more grand-scale than other types of epics, featuring elaborate sets and large numbers of extras. Notable examples of historical epics include Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Titanic, Barry Lyndon, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra (1963), Gladiator, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Troy, Spartacus (1960), Alexander and D. W. Griffith's films The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.

Braveheart (1995), a film adaption of William Wallace's life, is often credited as the film that revived the historical epic genre in the 1990s.

Religious epics

Grand-scale films involving Jesus and other religious figures have been called religious or Biblical epics. This genre was popular in the 1950s and was often associated with towering budgets and such stars as Charlton Heston, Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, or Yul Brynner. Notable examples include Quo Vadis (1951), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Ben-Hur (1959).

The ensuing decade brought the first attempt by a major studio to produce a religious epic in which the Christ Event was its singular focus. MGM released King of Kings in 1961, inspired by a Cecil B. DeMille film of the same title from 1927. Four years later, The Greatest Story Ever Told, directed by George Stevens, was completed for $25 million. A recent example is the 2004 Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ.

While the term Biblical epics is used to describe films based on Judeo-Christian stories, other films may be based in other religious traditions, such as The Mahabharata, which is based on Hindu mythology, and The Message, which is based on Islamic history.

Romantic epics

Romantic epics are romance films done on a large scale, usually in a historical setting. The romance itself is often portrayed in a counterpoint to war, conflict or political events in the background of the story. In these films, the romance and the main character's relationships are the centerpiece of the story, rather than a subplot. The archetypal romantic epic is Gone with the Wind (1939).[4] Other examples include Doctor Zhivago (1965), Out of Africa (1985), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), The Painted Veil (2006), Tristan + Isolde (2006), Atonement (2008) and Australia (2008).

War epics

War epics are war films done in a large sweeping scale of epic films. These films are often used to recreate grandscale landmark war battles. David Lean epitomized this with his consecutive trio of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965). Other films would include: Seven Samurai (1954), El Cid (1961), Zulu (1964), Waterloo (1970), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Gettysburg (1993), Schindler's List (1993), Braveheart (1995), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Patriot (2000), Enemy at the Gates (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), We Were Soldiers (2002), Saints and Soldiers (2003), Green Zone (2010) and Red Cliff (2008). War epics also include the anti-war film genre. Films such as All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Stalingrad (1993), The Thin Red Line (1998) are epics.[5]

Animated epics

Some notable animated movies that could be considered as epics would be a multitude of Disney and Pixar movies including[citation needed] Hercules (1997), Tarzan (1999), Treasure Planet (2002), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Finding Nemo (2003), the Toy Story trilogy, A Bug's Life (1998), Monsters, Inc. (2001), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), the upcoming Brave (2012) and the Cars duology . Don Bluth's classic The Secret of NIMH is another example. Richard Williams' The Thief and the Cobbler (1993–1995), though unfinished, was to be considered as an epic film.[citation needed] Spirited Away (2002), and Princess Mononoke (1997) from Studio Ghibli can also be considered epic animated movies, Princess Mononoke being the second longest animated feature. Aardman Animations' Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit are also well-known for being epic animated movies.

Science fiction epics

Although not very well represented in the 1960s' "golden era" of epic films, the science fiction epic received mainstream attention in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nine years later, George Lucas' Star Wars films debuted, rocketing the science fiction/fantasy epic to unprecedented blockbuster successes. Opening in 2009, James Cameron's Avatar again showed the pulling power of the science fiction epic, going on to gross over $700 million domestically and over $2.7 billion worldwide, which makes it the most successful box office movie of all time, not taking inflation into account.

Examples of science-fiction epics are; Inception, Dune, Planet of the Apes, The Time Machine, John Carter of Mars, The Matrix trilogy, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Fountain, The Abyss, Blade Runner, and The Fifth Element.

Fantasy epics

In recent times, many fantasy epics have been produced with varying success, including Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy based on the books of same name by J. R. R. Tolkien, and The Chronicles of Narnia based on C. S. Lewis' famous novels. The Harry Potter film series of J. K. Rowling's creation may also be considered for this category of film, especially David Yates' two-part adaptation of the series finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. Another fantasy epic series is the HBO Adaptation of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire called Game of Thrones, and the fantasy series created by Stephen King called The Dark Tower, which is to be made into a television series distrubuted by HBO as well, along side Game of Thrones.

Other fantasy epics include sword and sorcery and historical fantasy films such as the upcoming film Immortals, 300, Clash of the Titans, Conan the Barbarian, Highlander, Excalibur, Willow, Dragonslayer, and Dragonheart.

Public reception

Gross revenue

The enduring popularity of the epic is often accredited to their ability to appeal to a wide audience. Many of the highest-grossing films of all-time have been epics.[6] The 1997 film Titanic, which is cited as helping to revive the genre, grossed $600 million domestically and over $1.8 billion worldwide, making it the second highest grossing film of all-time, behind 2009's Avatar,[7] which grossed $2.7 billion worldwide. If inflation is taken into account, then the historical epic Gone with the Wind becomes the highest grossing film ever in the United States.[8] Adjusted for inflation it earned the equivalent of $1.6 billion in the United States alone.[6] Adjusted for ticket price inflation, the science fiction/fantasy epic Star Wars stands at number 2, with an inflated worldwide gross of $1.4 billion.[6] We can also add that the highest-grossing film series ever, the Harry Potter series, which has grossed over $6 billion at the worldwide Box Office, is considered an epic.

Academy Awards

So far the most Academy Awards ever won by a single film stands at 11. This feat has only been achieved by 3 movies (Ben-Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) all of which are considered epics.

See also



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