Greatest "epic" film you've ever seen

Having just recently seen a couple of films which could be described as “epics” (Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia), I’m curious; what would you all consider to be the greatest “epic” film you’ve ever seen?

For the purposes of this discussion, “epic” movies are movies with vast, sweeping storylines, stunning visuals, ensemble casts… basically any movie where the film had a significant impact on film history. For example; early films like Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, etc could be epics, but also more recent fare such as Avengers: Endgame (which wrapped up a 22 movie arc and contained arguably the most stars of a single film ever).

For me… at the moment, my pick has to go to three in particular. The earliest is probably Gone With The Wind, which was released in what many film historians consider the absolute greatest year for film in history, 1939. I also include Lawrence of Arabia in my list; the visuals are stunning, the cast is perfection, and the story holds your attention despite being nearly four hours long. And… Avengers: Endgame. Marvel Studios managed to take the MCU from the humble beginnings of using a largely forgotten (except among comic book nerds) character like Iron Man to try and see if they could make successful movies with their lesser-known characters, to a movie franchise unequaled among the superhero film genre and that is the most successful film franchise of all time by over twice the total of the closest grossing franchise to it (Star Wars, grossing just over $10 billion in comparison to the MCU’s nearly $23 billion). In a lot of ways, having now seen a couple of David Lean’s films and also comparing it to some of the earliest “epic” films Hollywood has to offer, I think Endgame is both a return and an homage to epic films of the past, which we have sadly lost in favor of the formulaic fare being churned out by the bucketful. The directors managed to balance out one of the largest casts ever assembled and give each of them significant screen time to tell their stories, seamlessly interweaving the varying plotlines in a way that hasn’t been done in Hollywood for a long, long time.

Honorable mentions have to be given to A Quiet Place (a film which relied mostly on its visual content to tell its story), Titanic, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Clash of the Titans (the original Harryhausen version), Jason and the Argonauts, and the original King Kong.

So how about you guys? What would you consider to be an “epic” film, and which is the best you’ve seen? I should add, I am going to be taking notes and will likely watch a lot of the answers if I haven’t already seen the film, so this is also a suggestion list for new films I should see! :wink:

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I love epics. As Roger Ebert said, no good movie can be too long, and no bad movie can be too short. In addition to the ones you listed, I absolutely love:

  1. Dances With Wolves - The 4-hour-long version is spectacular. It gets a bit of hate (especially since it beat Goodfellas for best picture and best director). Which weirdly enough makes me feel like it’s underrated.

  2. Master And Commander: Far Side Of The World - Another beautiful film. I was really hoping they’d do more from the book series. Peter Weir’s vision and execution were perfect.

A couple others: The Great Escape, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Peter Jackson’s King Kong

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I love @SatelliteOfLove’s mentions of Master and Commander and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

But for my money? I’d have to go with Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. It’s a samurai epic crossed with King Lear (and a dash of Lady Macbeth thrown in), and the end result is viscerally and emotionally devastating.

Kurosawa was up for a Best Director Oscar that year, but honestly, the film should have been nominated for Best Picture, and both Kurosawa and the film should have won over the anemic epic that did win Picture/Director, Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa. I stand by Ran because it’s a unique, powerful, and unforgettable experience.

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John Woo’s Red Cliff. Five hours of one of the all-time great action directors bringing life to one of history’s most iconic underdog victories where clever tactics won out over a vastly superior fighting force. It doesn’t seem to be that well known in America despite Woo’s involvement, and I can’t recommend it enough (and be sure to get the full five hour, two film version, rather than the two hour incoherent botch job which was briefly released with an English dub).

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I haven’t heard of this! Yay! New movie to watch. Thanks!

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I went through a huge phase of Kurosawa films when they were released through the Criterion Collection. Ran, Seven Samurai, Throne Of Blood, Hidden Fortress. All gorgeous. He truly was a master visual storyteller

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And if we’re throwing epic spaghetti westerns into the mix a la Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, then I can’t let Leone’s other epic spaghetti western go unmentioned, Once Upon a Time in the West.

Henry Fonda is a force of nature as the villain there.

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I often watch it when I’m sick.

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One of the best of the best of the best of the best, @SatelliteOfLove. Kurosawa really understood the importance of furnishing a story that’s not only on the same level as the visuals, but also of having both the story and the visuals complement each other. I’d also throw Kagemusha into the mix.

Another all-time master storyteller is Ingmar Bergman. Now, unlike Kurosawa, the majority of his films aren’t what would be considered epics. They’re smaller, more intimately constructed than those sprawling, larger-than-life epics, but he did do one film that arguably has a lavish, grandiose, epic feel to it. That is, I’m referring to Fanny and Alexander. It’s not a film that has over-the-top action (that was not Bergman’s wheelhouse), but I think you could consider that to be an epic drama. Any which way, it’s an amazing film.

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While I don’t necessarily disagree, I literally cannot watch that film ever again. For one reason: the giant bugs.

I went to see that film with my mother in the theater, and both of us were covering our eyes and trying to suppress our nausea during that scene. It’s amazingly well done; I just can’t stomach it, realistic giant bugs and leeches apparently being a trigger visual for me. I think it was the image of the one guy’s head being slowly engulfed from the top down by a giant leech that really made me gag; I gag just thinking about it.

Some fun movie trivia though; that particular scene was originally done in the 1933 King Kong by director Merian Cooper, but he excised it after screening the film for a test audience and realizing that the scene was all they could talk about afterward, and he wanted the focus to be on Kong. The film was allegedly destroyed (side note: if anyone ever discovered it to still exist and was able to restore it, they would be a SERIOUSLY rich person; that film segment is listed among the greatest lost film sequences of all time), and the only thing that remained were some production stills and the storyboards. So when Peter Jackson got the go ahead to make the remake, he found those stills and the storyboards and painstakingly reproduced it as close as he could to Merian Cooper’s original vision. So if you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s King Kong, you’re also seeing Merian Cooper’s, at least when it comes to the giant bugs.

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I am not going to watch it again because the ice skating scene was incredibly stupid.

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I’ve gotta go with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Cooper’s King Kong is a favorite of mine since I was a kid. What I love about Jackson’s version is you can tell how much the 1933 movie meant to him. His version is definitely a love story to the original. Some of the little bits that were direct call backs to Cooper’s are so much fun (Kong playing with the jaw of the dead V-Rex for instance). But yeah, the giant worm/leech scene was terrifying.

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When I first saw the film, I felt the same way. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and I’m getting soft (emotionally and in the belly) that I actually like it now. I watched it with my daughters and it was definitely one of their favorite scenes. The one time Kong got to simply enjoy life. Made the death feel a bit more tragic since right after the scene all hell breaks loose and leads to the end (which destroyed my kids and left them in incredulous sobs).

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Pure evil. Best introduction to a villain ever.

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Though I wonder how many people who watch the film these days actually get that a big part of the reveal is how shocking it is to see Henry Fonda, one of the great pure hero actors ever, playing the villain. Fonda even wanted to dramatically change his typical look by growing a beard and wearing brown contacts, but Leone talked him out of it as he wanted that reaction of “Holy crap, it’s Henry Fonda!”

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I’ll chime in on Lawrence of Arabia. That was a fascinating movie to me, one that I chose to watch expressly because it was an epic. I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but I found it so fascinating that, after it was over, I started reading everything I could about it so that I could know what the real story was.

I’ve seen a few of the religious epics and I’d submit both Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments as amazing epics. Those movies with huge casts and lots of money spent on them really show the money well spent.

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I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said about Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai. Gorgeous, engaging, technically brilliant … truly epic.

In terms of modern movies, it’s been a while since I set aside a whole Saturday or Sunday to watch the director’s cuts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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Fellini’s Satyricon and Pasolini’s Trilogy Of Life are certainly sweeping in scope. I second anything Kurosawa (especially love Rashomon and Throne Of Blood). And of course the Lord Of The Rings trilogy has the requisite grandeur.

For films of a completely different kind of epicness I offer the Qatsi trilogy, with Koyaanisqatsi still an incredible film to this day.

One could in theory include Caligula on this list, but it’s got issues.

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Another huge fan of Lawrence of Arabia here.
The 2002 Jet Li movie Hero is certainly an epic, and is also one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen.
Others for your consideration, and depending on your interpretation of “epic” - Apocalypse now, The Devils, Fitzcarraldo, The Seventh Seal, Once upon a Time in America.

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