Best Epic Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best epic movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (2004) – Mel Gibson

Believers flocked in record-breaking numbers to see Mel Gibson’s brutal depiction of Jesus Christ’s suffering and crucifixion.

29. ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988) – Martin Scorsese

Willem Dafoe plays an unforgettable Jesus Christ grappling with the duality of being half man, half divine as Scorsese grapples with his own faith and doubt.

28. ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956) – Cecil B. DeMille

Few moments remain as iconic as Charlton Heston’s Moses parting the Red Sea to escape Yul Brynner’s Pharaoh.

27. ‘Cleopatra’ (1963) – Joseph Mankiewicz

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were never more iconic than as Cleopatra and Marc Antony in this Egyptian epic.

26. ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011) – Terrence Malick

The elusive Terrence Malick juxtaposed the epic formation of the universe with intimate images of modern-day suburbia with Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain.

25. ‘The Killing Fields’ (1984) – Roland Joffé

Genocide is horrifically rendered during Cambodian dictator Pol Pot’s “Year Zero” cleansing, which ultimately claimed the lives of 2 million civilians.

24. ‘The English Patient’ (1996) – Anthony Minghella

Juliette Binoche shined as a young nurse tending to Ralph Fiennes’ World War II burn victim, who shared sultry stories in flashback.

23. ‘Out of Africa’ (1985) – Sydney Pollack

Meryl Streep and Robert Redford captured a new generation the way Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn did in “The African Queen.”

22. ‘Reds’ (1981) – Warren Beatty

Sixteen years after “Doctor Zhivago,” Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton riveted a new generation in romance amid the Bolshevik Revolution.

21. ‘The Piano’ (1993) – Jane Campion

Set in 1850s New Zealand, Oscars went to filmmaker Jane Campion, child star Anna Paquin and lead actress Holly Hunter as a mute who escapes husband Sam Neill for an affair with Harvey Keitel.

20. ‘Amadeus’ (1984) – Milos Forman

Tom Hulce’s laugh is contagious as child prodigy Mozart, but F. Murray Abraham steals the show as the jealous runner-up Salieri.

19. ‘Hamlet’ (1948) – Laurence Olivier

The crown jewel of Laurence Olivier’s “Shakespeare Trilogy” shows the peak powers of a star evolving from stage to screen.

18. ‘Ran’ (1985) – Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa was downright Shakespearean in this “King Lear” tale of a Medieval Japanese warlord handing his empire to his three sons.

17. ‘The Leopard’ (1963) – Luchino Visconti

Burt Lancaster carries this beautiful epic about the Prince of Salina, trying to preserve his family amid social upheavals in 1860s Sicily.

16. ‘The Lion in Winter’ (1968) – Anthony Harvey

“Game of Thrones” wouldn’t exist without the epic backstabbing of Peter O’Toole’s King Henry II and Katharine Hepburn’s Oscar-winning Eleanor.

15. ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) – Bernardo Bertolucci

After “The Conformist” and “Last Tango in Paris,” Bertolucci struck gold winning nine Oscars in a tale of the final Emperor of China.

14. ‘The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp’ (1943) – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Martin Scorsese is among the fans of this early color epic about a British soldier from the Boer War through World War II with some of the most creative passage-of-time sequences ever done.

13. ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939) – Victor Fleming

Rhett and Scarlett became fiery lovers for the ages in the highest-grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation), but frankly my dear, this Best Picture hasn’t aged well in its longing for the Antebellum South.

12. ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ (2011) – Steve McQueen

Showing the horrors lurking just off screen in “Gone With the Wind,” Chiwetel Ejiofor is nearly lynched in an unflinching long-take, while Michael Fassbender horrifically leans on Lupita Nyong’o like she’s some fence post.

11. ‘Spartacus’ (1960) – Stanley Kubrick

In a goosebump moment, Kirk Douglas’ fellow slaves refuse to rat out their friend, standing in his defense to declare, “I’m Spartacus!”

10. ‘Gladiator’ (2000) – Ridley Scott

“Are you not entertained?” Russell Crowe’s Maximus defied Joaquin Phoenix’s blood-thirsty emperor with killer action in the Roman Coliseum.

9. ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959) – William Wyler

Charlton Heston’s career role came as an enslaved prince, rising from the hull of a galley to dominate a chariot race with a divine assist from Jesus Christ.

8. ‘Braveheart’ (1995) – Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson’s William Wallace sought wild-eyed revenge against King Edward 1 of England, staging a Scottish revolt and declaring, “Freedom!”

7. ‘Dances with Wolves’ (1990) – Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner directed himself in this long-overdue look at the American West through the eyes of the indigenous Native American population.

6. ‘Doctor Zhivago’ (1965) – David Lean

Maurice Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme” entrances audiences, as Julie Christie and Omar Sharif keep each other warm in snowy Russian landscapes.

5. ‘Titanic’ (1997) – James Cameron

Love it or hate it, James Cameron’s unsinkable blockbuster holds the record for Oscar wins and Celine Dion earworms, all while giving us Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as star-crossed lovers for a new generation.

4. ‘Giant’ (1956) – George Stevens

Superior to “Gone with the Wind” in every way, George Stevens exposes racism against Latinos on the border with epic scope and symbolic direction of Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in his final role.

3. ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) – Robert Zemeckis

Don’t let Tom Hanks’ dunce act fool ya; Forrest and Jenny navigate the tumultuous American 20th century from the Civil Rights Movement to Vietnam. Critics argue that it celebrates ignorance, but stupid is as stupid does. As Roger Ebert wrote: “’The more you think about it, the more it reveals itself as actually sort of profound.”

2. ‘The Seven Samurai’ (1954) – Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese masterpiece inspired generations of filmmakers with its epic sweep, symbolic windmills and slow-motion samurai battles in a classic later remade as “The Magnificent Seven.”

1. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962) – David Lean

David Lean’s desert treatise remains the gold standard of epic filmmaking, as Peter O’Toole shines alongside Maurice Jarre’s iconic score, showing how colonials carved up the Middle East with effects to this very day.

Check out the other genres below!

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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