Tuesday, April 13, 2021

My Ten Favorite Epic Movies

When I was growing up, back in the dark ages when DVDs hadn't been invented yet, my brother and I called these sorts of movies "two-tapers" because they were so long, they required two VHS tapes to hold them.  You knew just from looking at their double-thick cases that they were going to contain astonishing scenery, sweeping character arcs, and possibly some major historical events.  We loved to pull those off our family's shelves when we were laid up with a bad cold, knowing that for three or four hours, we'd be completely absorbed in someone else's troubles and struggles and triumphs and able to forget our own headaches and sore throats.

Well, here are my ten favorite epics.  Note:  Both Shakespeare and Tolkien have been purposely excluded from this list because otherwise it would just be all them.


1. Ben-Hur (1959) 

When Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is unjustly imprisoned by his former best friend (Stephen Boyd), he vows revenge, but eventually learns revenge is less sweet than he'd expected. Possibly the greatest spectacle epic ever filmed.

2. The Great Escape (1963)

The Nazis brilliantly put all their worst Allied eggs (Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner...) in one prison camp, and naturally all those escape artists work together to escape. I love this on so many levels, from the whole band-of-misfits-working-together angle to the clever planning to the actual escape itself. And it's based on a true story!

3. How the West was Won (1962)

One family heads west, and various members of it get caught up in various aspects of settling the Old West, from frontier life to the Civil War to building the railroad to fighting outlaws.  Boasts a truly impressive cast, including James Stewart, John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Carroll Baker, Robert Preston, Lee J. Cobb, Eli Wallach, and soooo many more.

4. The Longest Day (1962)

The story of the D-Day invasion during WWII, told from many viewpoints, with one of the most impressive casts ever assembled: John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Sal Mineo, Richard Todd, and a very young Sean Connery, to name a very few. Until we had kids and lost our big chunks of movie-watching time, Cowboy and I used to watch this together every D-Day.

5. Gettysburg (1993)

Another talented ensemble cast shows many of the events leading up to and during the turning point of the American Civil War. Jeff Daniels turns in a wonderful performance as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberalain, one of my personal heroes.

6. Giant (1956)

A spoiled East Coast beauty (Elizabeth Taylor) marries a stubborn Texas rancher (Rock Hudson), and they spend twenty-five years trying to figure each other out. One of the first movies I can remember seeing, and my favorite James Dean movie.

7. The Big Country (1958)

A ship captain (Gregory Peck) retires from the sea and moves to Texas to be near his fiancee (Carroll Baker), makes friends with her best friend (Jean Simmons), has a deliriously long fistfight with her father's foreman (Charlton Heston), and tries to diffuse a feud.

8. Australia (2008)

A newly arrived Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman) and a drifting Drover (Hugh Jackman) struggle with thieves, a war, and Australia itself to find a way to be together.  The only movie where I get cowboys AND WWII soldiers :-)

9. The Alamo (1960)

Davy Crockett (John Wayne) leads a bunch of freedom-loving Americans to Texas to help the freedom-loving Texans fight for independence.  They hole up in the Alamo mission with Col. Travis (Laurence Harvey) and Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) and a hundred other men and fight off overwhelming enemy forces for days and days and days.

10. Les Miserables (2012)

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) evades a dogged policeman (Russell Crowe) for decades, adopts a young girl (Amanda Seyfried), saves the boy the girl loves (Eddie Redmayne), and finally dies in peace.  Oh, and everyone sings about everything, all the time.  Also, there's a small revolution.

This has been my first contribution to the Of High Stakes and Daring Deeds event hosted by Heidi for six weeks at Along the Brandywine.  Stay tuned for more epic story posts!

25 comments:

  1. Ooh Gettysburg is one of my favorites!

    We saw Australia recently for the first time and I really enjoyed that one.

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    1. Megan, I have loved Gettysburg since my teens. I even considered naming our first child Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as he has become such a hero of mine, and my interest in him started with that movie!

      Australia is such an unusual, sweeping, good-feeling movie, isn't it?

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  2. Your first two, would be at the top of my list as well. The Alamo would also make my list! This was quite fun to read and now I want to watch some of these!

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    1. DKoren, well, those top two are simply two of the finest movies ever, so I'm not surprised. Are there some here you haven't seen? I know a couple are not favorites for you.

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    2. Gettysburg and Les Mis I have not seen. And yeah, If epic = over 3 hours, then I would have different movies for the rest of my list. Ten Commandments, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Lawrence of Arabia, Dances with Wolves, Titanic, definitely,and I can't remember if they reach the 3 hour mark or are just very close, but The Postman and Wyatt Earp would be on there if they are! :-D

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    3. (And that's excluding Middle Earth and MCU movies, of course... cuz otherwise...)

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    4. DKoren, I think you might like Gettysburg. I was close to putting Ten Commandments on here! I kept debating about whether I liked it or Les Mis better. It really could have gone either way.

      (Blogger didn't eat your comment -- I just have comments on posts older than 10 days on moderation cuz it cuts down on spam comments. So, I got it and had to approve it, is all.)

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  3. Haha, I totally get the days of TWO VHS movies together. You knew it was going to be looooong. When I was a wee toddler I didn't know the word epic, but it fits. The films that we owned like that were (and still have because our player still works and I'm tremendously pleased by that): The Sound of Music (we watched it too much), Titanic, My Fair Lady, and Gone With the Wind.

    Of these I've only seen The Great Escape (love!) and Les Mis (which took two nights even on DVD. We had to decide when to stop! Oh, the horror!). Great list! I feel like I would like How the West Was Won especially.

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    1. MC, those were good days, right? When you could tell visually that something was extra long and not be squinting at the back to find the running time. I still have a working VCR too, though I've gradually replaced nearly all my VHS with DVD over the years, thanks to thrift stores and second-hand book shops and such.

      I think you would reeeeally like How the West was Won and The Great Escape. Both have lots of upbeat feels. You might also like The Big Country and Gettysburg

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  4. Great list! I don't think I've seen any of these, but I definitely want to.

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    1. Thanks, McKayla! I definitely recommend all ten of these :-)

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  5. The Great Escape is so good! Glad my dad made me watch it.

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    1. Skye, yes! SO GOOD. I'm happy you've had a chance to see it :-)

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  6. Aww. I love your description of the "two-tapers," and the long days of watching videos while sick. Much nostalgia feels for this 90s kid. ;)

    I'm planning to do a post about Rosemary Sutcliff for Epic Story Month--I better get on that, haha!

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    1. Katie, yeah, good times. I've got another post or two I want to do for this event yet, but the last two weeks were just extremely busy, so... I'm glad it's a long event!!! I still have time :-)

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  7. Ben-Hur, The Great Escape and Australia are some of my favorites too.

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  8. I agree totally on your opinion of Ben-Hur. One of the greatest.

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    1. Saddlery Tack, it is just one of the greatest films of all time. The end. Full stop.

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  9. Did not see Australia or Les Mis . . . or perhaps I have and didn't give them a chance? I have them on my "watch list," thanks to your review.

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    1. RD, I hope you get to see both of those! Australia definitely feels like a throwback to the sweeping epics of the '50s and '60s -- and is meant to!

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  10. Oh, I forgot! Found you by way of Eric Binford's Diary of a Movie Maniac's blog. Great movie stuff, here!

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    1. RD, glad you found me! And yeah, I've had this blog for almost 19 years, so there's plenty to explore ;-) I always welcome comments on old posts and am happy to discuss things even if it's been years since I wrote about it!

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  11. Hi Rachel. It's Maddy here. Just to let you know that I'm afraid the 1920's blogathon is now cancelled as I have closed my blog. Take care.

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    1. Maddy, oh, that's a shame. But I know sometimes life can move on or get too full for blogging, etc. Your blog and events will be missed!

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