Spear Movies

spear•movie /’spir ‘mû-v-é/ n 1 : motion picture depicting ancient people thrusting or throwing sharp-pointed weapons or blades  2 :  pre-Christian, biblical, Dark Ages or medieval cinema  3 : historical drama, usu. on an epic scale (genus Braveheart or Gladiator)

The following is a random chronological selection of films that we feel have, or have not, successfully depicted ancient times.  Of course, ‘nobody is interested in making a film like that any more’ -- right? 

You be the judge.

Napoleon (1927) - Abel Gance’s masterpiece, moody and psychologically intense.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - powerful vision of 15th Century France.

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) - Laughton is possibly the best ever Henry.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) - and no one came close to Errol Flynn.

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) - Bette Davis matches Flynn.

The Sea Hawk (1940) - the only pirate movie we’re including here, simply the best.

Henry V (1944) - Lawrence Olivier’s surreal Shakespearean masterwork.

Hamlet (1948) - not quite as spectacular as Prince Harry, but haunting nonetheless.

Quo Vadis (1951) - Peter Ustinov steals the show as Nero.

Scaramouche (1952) - one of the best adaptations of Rafael Sabatini swashbucklers.

Ivanhoe (1952) - highly fictionalized, but entertaining Walter Scott classic.

Young Bess (1953) - Jean Simmons is a luminous young Elizabeth.

The Robe (1953) - Tribune Richard Burton sees the light; surprisingly powerful.

The Egyptian (1954) - not the best ever Egyptian epic, but one of the best.

The Ten Commandments (1956) - DeMille out does his earlier b&w version.

Saint Joan (1957) - Jean Seberg is a luminous Joan.

The Vikings (1958) - very corny, enormously entertaining, great score.

Ben Hur (1959) - still the most impressive cinematic depiction of Ancient Rome.

Spartacus (1960) - heart-tugging, powerful and immensely human epic.

El Cid (1961) - Chuck Heston chews scenery, Sophia Loren steals the show.

Cleopatra (1963) - Taylor and Burton are magnificent; the best ever Egyptian epic.

Tom Jones (1963) - Tony Richardson’s bawdy adaptation of Fielding’s classic.

Zulu (1964) - rousing, powerful, tragic and heroic, magnificent ensemble piece.

Becket (1964) - a bit dry, but an interesting drama about political power play.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) - Tony Mann’s epic, currently being remade.

Chimes at Midnight (1965) - Orson Welles’ ferocious and atmospheric triumph.

Andrei Rublev (1966) - Tarkovsky’s dreamlike time machine to medieval Russia.

A Man for All Seasons (1966) - excellent cinematic adaptation of Bolt’s superb play.

The Lion in Winter (1968) - superb and atmospheric; O’Toole and Hepburn rule.

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) - wonderful insane ‘60s take on Victoriana.

Carry on Up The Khyber (1968) - we had to include one of these.

Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) - Glenda Jackson is a magnificent tragic Mary.

Macbeth (1971) - Polanski’s nightmarish, gripping twist on the Scottish play.

Fellini’s Roma (1972) - Ancient Rome on LSD, better than Satyricon.

Barry Lyndon (1975) - Kubrick’s sublime Thackeray adaptation.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - no one has done Dark Ages filth better.

Robin and Marian (1976) - Connery and Hepburn will break your heart.

The Duellists (1977) - Ridley Scott’s Napoleonic psychodrama.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) - the most quotable Biblical epic, evar.

Excalibur (1981) - Boorman’s insane, gleaming vision of Malory’s romance.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) - not bad; but Costner is no Flynn.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992) - Ridley Scott delivers with grit and verve.

Gettysburg (1993) - Daniels, Sheen, Berenger in stirring Civil War drama.

The Madness of King George (1994) - interesting and atmospheric, if stagey.

Braveheart (1995) - Gibson revitalizes medieval epics, plays loose with facts.

Rob Roy (1995) - powerful and overlooked later Scottish saga, good swordplay.

Elizabeth (1998) - Blanchett is a stunning Bess in this epic with a strange MTV-vibe.

Gladiator (2000) - Ridley finds a powerful muse in gladiator Russell Crowe.

A Knight’s Tale (2001) - daft and silly, Heath Ledger in armor with Queen songs.

The Last Samurai (2003) - Tom Cruise is a ferocious Yankee Samurai.

King Arthur (2004) - dreary and improbable twist on the legend.

Troy (2004) - Wolfgang Peterson is no Homer; but spectacular nonetheless.

Alexander (2004) - Oliver Stone likewise reaches for the stars, with variable success.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005) - effective 12th Century crusader epic. Ridley was making this when we approached him with Blood Royal; talk about bad timing.

The New World (2005) - borderline spear movie, Malick’s magical Pocahontas tale.

Apocalypto (2006) - Mel Gibson’s gutsy, all-Mayan-speaking action epic.

Marie Antoinette (2006) - pop culture take on 18th Century French monarch.

300 (2006) - a gaudy historical comic book brought to life.

The Golden Age (2007) - sequel to Elizabeth manages to make Cate Blanchett boring.

Beowulf (2007) - mad motion-captured take on the Norse poem.

10,000 B.C. (2008) - preposterous caveman fantasy.

The Young Victoria (2009) - lovely Emily Blunt as the youthful British Queen.

Clash of the Titans (2010) - noisy remake of Ancient Greek fantasy.

The Eagle (2011) - more Romans on the rampage in Celtic Britain.

Game of Thrones (2011) - Dark Ages HBO fantasy series.