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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. They typically entail high production values, a sweeping musical score (often by an acclaimed film composer), and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, placing them among the most expensive of films to produce. As a genre, epic films share strong similarities with epic poems such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Ramayana.

Genre characteristics

Generally speaking, the term "epic" refers to movies that have a large scope, often set during a time of war or other conflict, and sometimes taking place over a considerable period of time. A historical setting is typical, 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, when Hollywood frequently collaborated with foreign film studios (such as Rome's Cinecittàmarker) to use relatively exotic locations in Spainmarker, Moroccomarker, 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 Unionmarker 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.

The definition of epic has expanded over the years to include films that in general have a large scale or scope in history, time, or events. The crime films The Godfather (1972), Scarface (1983), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and Casino (1995), for instance, could hardly be considered epics in the same way that the Cinecitta films were, but are sometimes listed as such by critics.

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:

"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 Titanic, Spartacus, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, Gladiator, Ivan the Terrible, and D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking films The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.

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

Epic Western

Sword and sandal

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 isGone With the Wind (1939). Other examples include Cleopatra (1963), Doctor Zhivago (1965), Out of Africa (1985), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), 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. A partial list would include: El Cid (1961), The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia (both 1962), Zulu (1964), Khartoum (1966), Patton (1970), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Schindler's List (1993), Braveheart (1995), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Patriot (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), We Were Soldiers (2002), Troy (2004), 300 (2007) and Red Cliff (2008). War epics also include the anti-war film genre. Films such as Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Stalingrad (1993), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The Last Samurai (2003) are epics.
See also: List of historical drama films

Crime epics

Crime epics are unusual to that of other epic subgenres; crime epics tend to focus on the lives of the people within organized crime, mostly within an operatic and dramatic scale. The criminal lifestyle and how it affects others is presented in all aspects as the driving force of the story. The archetypal crime epic is The Godfather (1972). Other examples include The Godfather: Part II (1974), Scarface (1983), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), GoodFellas (1990), The Godfather: Part III (1990), Casino (1995), Heat (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), City of God (2002), The Departed (2006), and American Gangster (2007).

Science Fiction / Fantasy Epics

Although not very well represented in the 60's golden era of epic films the genre of science fiction epic was really started in 1968 with Stanley Kubricks version of 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas' Star Wars films first released in 1977. Since then truly Epic science fiction and fantasy films have remained few, although The Lord of the Rings film trilogy by Peter Jackson has kept the genre alive. Also a prominent fantasy epic is the Harry Potter film series of J.K. Rowling's creation. There is also a series based on C.S. Lewis' famous novels, The Chronicles of Narnia and a movie based on Christopher Paolini's debut novel, Eragon.

Animated epics

Some notable animated movies that could be considered as epics would be a multitude of Disney movies including "Hercules" (1997), "Tarzan" (1999), "Aladdin" (1992), and the most famous being "The Lion King" (1994). Richard Williams' "The Thief and the Cobbler" (1993-1995), though unfinished, was to be considered as an epic film.

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. 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 highest grossing film of all-time. If inflation is taken into account, then the historical epic Gone with the Wind becomes the highest grossing film in North America. Adjusted for inflation it earned the equivalent of $1.3 billion in the United States alone. Titanic, however still remains the highest grossing film worldwide, even when inflation is accounted for.

Academy Awards
So far the most Academy Awards ever won is standing at 11. This feat has only been achieved by 3 movies (Ben-Hur, Titanic and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) all of which are epics.



See also

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