Best Sword-and-Sandal Epics, From ‘Spartacus’ to ‘Gladiator’


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The method is easy: a mesomorphic hero clad in little greater than an ornate loincloth, armed with heavy metal, seeks revenge against the despot who did him incorrect and in the end saves the girl dressed like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie who’s being held in chains by the evil ruler. “Sword-and-sandal” motion pictures have been a part of the movie world since the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s, when Italian administrators like Pietro Francisci and Sergio Corbucci saw a low-budget method to capitalize on the successes of American epics like 1949’s Samson and Delilah and 1953’s The Robe, that the style got here into its personal. Often dismissed as spaghetti westerns with deltoids and shields, sword-and-sandal films evolved from motion pictures produced on the cheap with unknown actors and threadbare plots to multi-million greenback epics worthy of Oscar recognition. These are the genre’s films that not only established the genre, however that elevated it to new heights.


9/9 Hercules (1958)

In 1954, producers Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti released Ulysses, a cinematic extravaganza based on the 17th century poem by Homer that chronicled the hero’s efforts to get back to his house following the war. The movie starred Kirk Douglas in the title function and raked in over $120 million at the box workplace. Seeing an opportunity to exploit a new genre of films primarily based on mythological and biblical adventures, in 1958, director Francisci introduced Hercules to the big display. With a limited budget, Francisci wasn’t capable of secure huge title stars, however he was able to snag an American bodybuilder, Steve Reeves, to play the titular hero. It worked. The movie turned the 21st highest U.S. grossing movie of that year, and it made a star out its muscle-bound main man.

RELATED: Is Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ Historically Accurate?

The story was easy — the hero with superhuman energy falls for Iole (Sylva Koscina), the attractive daughter of Pelias, but must first complete a series of Ninja warrior-style challenges and battle a plethora of evil forces before he can win her hand. The film is a cheese-fest from starting to finish, with unhealthy green display screen backgrounds, even worse dialogue looping (Reeves’ voice was dubbed by actor Richard McNamara), Greek warriors from 1000 B.C. sporting Frankie Avalon haircuts, damsels in misery in bullet bras, and particular effects that had been something however. None of this mattered to audiences, who couldn’t get sufficient of the bare-chested Reeves vanquishing every thing from water buffaloes to T-Rexes. The movie spawned a sequel the subsequent year, established Reeves as the King of Sword-and-Sandal Cinema, and created an entire new sub-genre of movies featuring glistening Greek and Roman gods in battles to the dying. There have been dozens of movies and TV shows about the mythological muscle stud within the years following the discharge of this film, but none can match the unique.

8/9 Son of Samson (1960)

Son of Samson

Closely following the Hercules method, this entry in the sword-and-sandal style is notable for its blatant homoeroticism. Director Carlo Campogalliani seemed to know that he might make a movie that may attraction to journey lovers, however that might also be a subliminal love story about two hunks who meet cute, get separated by fate, then in the end reunite. Once once more, an American bodybuilder, Mark Forest, performs the hero. Maciste is the son of the legendary warrior Samson, who drew his strength from his lengthy hair. Maciste’s hilariously sexually charged first scene with Egyptian pharaoh Kenamun (Angelo Zanolli) includes wrestling to the death an clearly stuffed lion, adopted by awkward dubbed guffawing and the boys playfully pushing each other around. Maciste then heads off to free a band of feminine slaves (all sporting Bettie Page wigs) before the evil Persian Queen Smedes (Beyoncé look-alike Chelo Alonso) can work them to death. Along the means in which, the queen makes an attempt a hysterically awkward dance of seduction to win Maciste’s affections, but he isn’t in the slightest degree fascinated. The film ends with Maciste saving Kenamun from demise and holding him in his arms before the two head off and discover some girlfriends. Although most audiences might have been oblivious to the subliminal messages the film was sending (not to mention Forest’s extremely skimpy garments that left little to the imagination), there is no doubt Son of Samson was a heavy “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” to gay audiences within the still closely closeted early 1960s.

7/9 Spartacus (1960)

'Spartacus' comes close to being wholly historically correct Image by way of Universal Pictures

With the success of the Hercules franchise and different Italian-produced films like 1960’s David and Goliath, Hollywood took notice. If a decrease finances film that includes unknown actors may deliver within the big bucks, simply think what a multi-million greenback production that includes A-list stars may do for the coffers at Universal Studios. Hence, a Spartacus is born. At a value of $12 million (equivalent to over $100 million today), with a cavalcade of prestigious stars that included Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, and Peter Ustinov, and clocking in at nearly 3 1/2 hours, Spartacus elevated the style to new respectable heights. This Stanley Kubrick-directed extravaganza a couple of slave who turns into a gladiator and leads a revolt towards the evil Roman Empire is all swords, all sandals, and all spectacle. Winning 4 Oscars, Spartacus set the usual for future epics like 2000’s Gladiator and 2006’s 300. Just try to ignore Tony Curtis as a Roman slave with a Brooklyn accent, although.

6/9 Valley of the Lions (1961)

Valley of the Lions- Ed Fury

There are two reasons to focus on this Italian import: the plot, which is Tarzan meets The Jungle Book meets Hercules, and the star, Ed Fury. Yes, Fury was another in a protracted line of American bodybuilders-turned-actors who stuffed the loincloths in so many of those low-budget overseas features, however he had enough charisma to be a worthy successor to the Steve Reeves of the world. Although he never rose above the “B” list, Fury had an attraction that allowed him to reprise his function in the film’s two sequels. In this one, Fury plays Ursus, the son of a king who, after his household is murdered by an evil dictator, is raised by a delight of lions. Somehow along the method in which, Ursus has managed to discover a health club to get him that “Physique Pictorial” look, an esthetician to wax his physique, and a barber to fashion his hair like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Once Ursus grows up and decides to leave his lion family, he discovers his royal blood and battles it out with the evil King Simud (Giacomo Furia) to avenge his mother and father’ deaths. Although not almost on the identical stage as Spartacus or even Hercules, Valley of the Lions is a must for sword-and-sandal purists.

5/9 Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

This heroic journey concerning the Greek warrior’s seek for the Golden Fleece is most notable for its incredible particular effects by stop-motion animation grasp Ray Harryhausen. Anyone who was a kid in the 1960s or ’70s and who saw this film on Saturday afternoon TV will bear in mind the nightmares they suffered after watching the enormous Greek statue that comes to life, the flying, screeching gargoyles, the seven-headed hydra, and the army of sword-bearing skeletons. While the solid holds its personal, including Todd Armstrong as Jason, Nigel Green as Hercules, and Honor Blackman as Queen Hera, it is Harryhausen’s magical effects which are the true stars of this spectacular style entry.

4/9 Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the Titans-Harry Hamlin

Eighteen years after Jason and the Argonauts, Harryhausen was nonetheless at it with his trademark “dynamation.” Clash of the Titans actually is an homage to the sword-and-sandal features of the earlier a long time, and Harryhausen brings his thrilling and chilling special effects to the tale of Perseus (Harry Hamlin), son of Greek God Zeus (Laurence Olivier), who should battle a chorus of evil adversaries to rescue the gorgeous Andromeda (Judi Bowker). The film accommodates a particularly memorable and chilling scene during which the serpent-haired Medusa slithers via the corridors of her citadel palace in search of Perseus, shooting arrows and turning unsuspecting troopers to stone along the greatest way. Then, after all, there’s the well-known “launch the Kraken!” scene, as the large multi-limbed beast (a kind of Creature from the Black Lagoon on efficiency enhancing supplements) is free of the depths of the ocean to capture the fair Andromeda. The film was given a refresh in 2010 with Sam Worthington as Perseus and Liam Neeson as Zeus, but it’s the 1981 original that audiences keep in mind.

3/9 Red Sonja (1985)

red-sonja-pic Image through MGM/UA Entertainment Company

What? No Conan the Barbarian on this list? While Conan is a worthy sword-and-sandal journey, particular mention must go to its spinoff, Red Sonja, one of the few within the genre that features a feminine hero kicking butt. It still has Arnold Schwarzenegger (though as a hero named Kalidor, not Conan, because the manufacturing did not have rights to the Conan character), however it’s the ladies who carry this film. Brigitte Nielsen is the warrior in search of revenge on maniacal Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman), the fiend who murdered Sonja’s household. Red Sonja is pure camp from start to end. You have not seen something until you see Sonja knock over an annoying child who’s in her means, or use her sword to gouge out the eyes of an enormous plastic piranha-angler fish combo. Sonja’s epic battle with Gedren, who has the inexplicable capacity to vanish from one spot and pop up in another similar to Bewitched‘s Samantha Stevens, is definitely worth the worth of admission alone. And while nobody would ever accuse Nielsen of delivering an Oscar-worthy performance on this movie, she have to be given golf claps for her ability to appear to be taking all of this nonsense critically, particularly with strains like “If hazard is a trade, I’ll study it by myself.”

2/9 Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe in 'Gladiator' Image via Dreamworks LLC & Universal Pictures

The sword-and-sandal genre lastly obtained newfound respect with director Ridley Scott‘s Best Picture winner that tells the story of Maximus (Russell Crowe), the overall looking for revenge on the sociopathic Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the ruler responsible for the murders of Maximus’ wife and son (starting to see a plot sample with these movies yet?). Violent, bloody, and with a few of the most intense motion sequences ever captured on film, Gladiator does what movies like Hercules and Spartacus couldn’t — present the true brutality of Rome in 180 AD. Watching Maximus wage a battle to the dying against warrior Tigris (Sven-Ole Thorsen) and precise tigers in the Colosseum is true “edge of your seat” viewing. Gladiator made an unlikely action star of Crowe, and Phoenix so masterfully nailed the psychosis of Commodus, it is no wonder he finally ended up taking half in The Joker almost twenty years later.

1/9 300 (2006)


The movie that introduced painted-on abs and chain mail loincloths into mainstream cinema, 300 is a surreal, stylized fever dream of violent machismo set in opposition to the story of a ferocious battle between armies of Spartans and Persians in 480 BC Greece. Never mind the plot, though; it’s all in regards to the experience. 300 is Frank Miller’s graphic novel dropped at life, and it is like an prolonged music video choreographed by Paula Abdul, but with togas, swords, and shields instead of scrunchies, leg warmers, and ballet slippers. It’s additionally the movie that introduced audiences to the “shout performing” of Gerard Butler as Spartan King Leonidas. It would have been tough to discover a teenage boy in 2006 who at some point did not scream, “This is Sparta!” as he walked down the halls of his high school. Still, for all of its over the top stylization, 300 is an ingenious spin on the tried and true sword-and-sandal feature, and it introduced in over $450 million at the box workplace. It additionally spawned a 2014 sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, validating the enduring success of the genre and guaranteeing its continued viability.


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