A lot can be said for how well movies about antiquity portray life and events, even if they don’t always get everything right.
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Eventually, the line between history and legend gets blurry after a certain length of time has passed. We can figure together how people lived in the past from the physical evidence that has been preserved. If a movie relies solely on facts like dress, architecture, and social norms, it can suffer from anachronistic elements.
Movies set in ancient Rome were common, as were those using historical figures whose names are familiar to modern audiences. There have been comedies, war stories and serious dramas about the ancient world since then. While these films don’t always get the details right, they do a good job at evoking the atmosphere and people of ancient civilizations.
As of December 18th, 2020 Kristy Ambrose has updated this page
For history historians and cinema aficionados alike, there is no respite, therefore we’ve added a few more treasures to this already impressive collection. However, this does not imply that each new film added to this collection was shot in B&W and found in a box of VHS cassettes. The fact that modern production studios are constantly looking to the old world to tell new stories proves that the genre has never truly faded out. As a result of a global audience, we are able to go beyond ancient Greece and Rome.
1. Confucius (2010)
The fact that this is a biopic contributes to the film’s plodding pace doesn’t take away from the story’s power. From his time as a young man teaching in the 5th century BCE, through his time as a husband and philosopher in his latter years, this story follows the life of Confucius. A few extra action scenes and accounts of military engagement were added to the movie, which was not historically accurate, but such adjustments are usual in modern adaptations.
He gives a human face to the social structure that he created and that most of Asia would later adopt thanks to Yun-Fat Chow. Among the historical individuals mentioned are people like Laozi, the founder of Taoism.
2. Agora (2009)
Agoradoes not only recreates Alexandria’s temples and administrative structures, but also the social conventions and politics of the time..
One of Hypatia of Alexandria’s students is a slave who thinks that Christianity will lead him to freedom, while the other is an outspoken critic of the local bishop.
Limited release in North America due to its depiction of the early church and its believers as unflattering yet factual. In fact, the film cleans up the gory details of Hypatia’s slaying.
3. The History of the World, Part 1 (1981)
Because it’s true, it’s funny in its own right. Only a little portion of this film takes place in ancient Rome, but the piece that does is noteworthy and exploits historical truths as part of the humor. Truthful information can be found in everything from a man selling indoor piping to a specific set of rules for returning generals. Even Bea Arthur’s sassy civil servant, the gladiator collecting unemployment benefits? A welfare state did exist in ancient Rome.
As a “stand-up philosopher,” Comicus, the primary character, performs similar duties to a Master of Ceremonies or a comic, which were widespread occupations throughout history, but especially prevalent in Roman debauchery.
4. Centurion (2010)
Why Hollywood suddenly became interested in the mystery of what happened to the Ninth Spanish Legion in 177 CE is a mystery, but the fact remains that we have a few films about it, and this is the best.
In order to teach the rebellious Picts a lesson, a legion of Romans marched north, but they were never heard from again. It is widely accepted that the guerilla attack that took out the vast majority of the group is to blame for the dramatic turn in the plot.
While the specific events of the film are a bit exaggerated, it does accurately portray some of the more gruesome and odd customs of the Roman army that invaded the country. This covers their plans to exterminate the Picts and take over Briton as a whole. When an entire legion was wiped out in a single day in the Battle of Actium, the Roman Empire was put off from ever trying to capture northern Briton again.
5. The Trojan Women (2004)
Regardless of whether or not the Trojan Battle ever took place, this film’s depiction of the aftermath of war in the ancient world is accurate.
Women from the royal family of Troy are not only destined to serve as spoils, but must also watch as their children are slaughtered to end the line of their ancestors, a destiny that was met by many ancient peoples due to invasions or barbarian hordes.
Tales of Hector’s death in the Iliad aren’t included in these tales; they took place after Hector’s death, and show the destiny of those who survived. This poetry, Virgil’s, was composed hundreds of years after the Iliad and Oddysey, but contains many similar stories from Trojan refugees.
6. Hero (2002)
The location of Heroes is authentic, despite the fact that the plot is just a legend. When China was divided into various states around 200 CE, an ambitious Emperor and his minister attempted to conquer and unite them all in their efforts to consolidate power. In this film, a complex assassination plot that may or may not be based on actual events takes place, not everyone agrees with the idea.
Look no farther than this film if you’re looking for a cinematic experience that will take your breath away thanks to its stunning use of lighting and costumes.
7. Barabbas (1964)
At a time when people were fascinated by the Biblical sword-and-sandal epic, writers were looking for any opportunity to adapt passages from the Bible into films. It’s a terrific example, but it doesn’t go as far as this film does in terms of deviating from the original source material.
This film will serve as an introduction to the life and times of Barrabas for those who have never heard of him. No one’s worldview is validated in this film. One of the film’s primary goals is to depict the brutal and frequently brief lives of ancient Roman gladiators and slaves, which it accomplishes admirably, thanks in large part to Anthony Hopkins’ outstanding performance.
8. Alexander (2004)
The film has received a lot of flak for its casting and writing, but the way it depicts specific historical events, places, and people is right on target. His adoring mother Olympia, his wise tutor Old Ptolomy, and his proud father King Philip are all included in this group.
Many of Alexander’s legendary conflicts against the Persian Empire and more subtle historical puzzles like who killed King Philip and why are re-created in the film. A lot of time and effort went into making this look like it was shot in a real place and time. Sadly, the dialogue was given only a tenth of the attention it deserved.
9. Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods (2019)
Why can’t animation do the same for the ancient world as comedy? Based on the comic novels that inspired this picture, a small village in Brittany has always maintained its freedom despite being surrounded by Roman forces.
In numerous comic books, the conflict between the two factions has been shown as a real-life scenario. An animated version of Asterix has existed before, but this one is newer and provides a better depiction of Roman occupation. If force doesn’t work, use culture to your advantage and, last but not least, bribe them.
10. Life Of Brian (1979)
Here’s another instance in which comedy outperforms drama and even documentaries when it comes to telling the truth. It begins with a joke about Brian being mistaken for Jesus since the day he was born, which he has done ever since. First, the plot introduces Christ as if this were a spiritual film; nevertheless, the focus quickly shifts back to Brian. It’s all about his ill-fated voyage through the ancient Judean and Roman political arenas.
Even in its original release year of 1979, this film was widely panned for its slapstick treatment of early Christian rituals such as crucifixion and leprosy. It is possible to believe some of the jokes. Pontius Pilate may or may not have had a speech impediment, and there is no way to know for sure.
11. Spartacus (1960)
When Hollywood was at its peak, movies about Rome were the superheroes of the time. High-budget, star-studded productions were directed by some of the industry’s most renowned personalities. For historical authenticity, they often fell short in their depictions of the lavish and shameless lives that were led by the imperial and oligarchic elites.
This is not to say that Spartacus is blameless; on the contrary, it accurately depicts how Rome’s disputes over slavery, gladiatorial training, and other social issues led to the actual slave revolt depicted in the film. For example, Senator Gracchus and Marcus Publius Glabrus, and even Julius Ceasar himself were genuine individuals.
12. Beowulf (2007)
However, this Scandinavian legend extends back far further than the earliest text we have of it. True to its historical setting, however fantastical Grendel and his golden dragon may appear in this picture, it is faithfully recreated in an authentic Danish feast-hall and other ceremonies related to marriage and monarchy in the period.
The film’s distinctive selling point is its portrayal of Beowulf as both a hero and a con man, a sly dig at the gap between myth and reality, or in this case, between legend and fact.
13. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966)
Not only did this film break new ground in cinema for its realistic depiction of everyday Roman life, but it was also a precursor of Mel Brooks’ Mel Brooksflick. It wasn’t just the 1960s that were rife with rebellion in Hollywood. Roman Bible epics like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum were met with resistance in the form of films like these. The tale is silly, but the setting is actually fantastic, with mundane elements like clothes, cosmetics, city design, and daily activities mostly true..
Instead of noble characters like Jesus and Julius Ceasar, the principal characters are slaves, prostitutes, lecherous elderly men and crooks of all sorts. It’s not even really biblical or aristocratic, and it takes use of the Romans’ liberties to poke fun at the censorship of the day.
14. Red Cliff (2008)
The Warring States Period in China is the subject of a wide range of media, from fantasy films like Hero to more accurate renderings of history like Red Cliff.
Final days of Han Dynasty and conflicts that erupted as a result of Emperor Wu’s efforts to conquer China are retold in this epic novel. Real historical characters are featured in the film, along with true historical events and features like battle standards, equipment and dress.
15. The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Despite being lengthy and explanatory to the point of feeling more like a documentary than a feature picture, the stunning settings, sequences, and camera work keep the audience engaged. ModernGladiators is a shortened version of this, with certain key storyline alterations and characters omitted or substituted for new ones.
Roman politics, Marcus Aurelius’ rule, and the demise of the empire are all accurately shown in The Fall of Roman Empire.