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Swords and sandals and glistening pecs

This year’s enjoyable epic ”The Eagle” got us thinking about other classics of the genre

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The Eagle (2011)
A Channing Tatum sword-and-sandal movie may sound like the punchline to a joke no one wants to hear, but the studly slab of box office beefcake makes a rousing leader in this muddy, bloody tale of a Roman soldier searching for a long-lost golden emblem. B

Ben-Hur (1959)
This is the definition of an old-school epic: hammy heroics from Charlton Heston, a legendary chariot race that lives up to its hype, and 11 Oscar wins. Everything about Ben-Hur is bigger than life…in a good way. A-

Hercules Unchained (1959)
No survey of the genre would be complete without a mention of Steve Reeves and his oil-chested alter ego, the mighty Hercules. It isn’t a great movie, but it is loaded with sweet glued-on beards, hilariously wooden acting, and Reeves wrestling a dazed tiger. C-

Spartacus (1960)
Stanley Kubrick’s slave-rebellion saga takes top honors on this list, due to ace performances from Kirk Douglas, Charles Laughton, and a deliciously weaselly Peter Ustinov, not to mention the most badass gladiator-ring action ever. A

Clash of the Titans (1981)
The titans are more of a kick than the clashes here, with Laurence Olivier thundering as Zeus on Mount Olympus and Harry Hamlin battling stop- motion beasties down below. Tasty feta cheese. B

Gladiator (2000)
”Are you not entertained?!” And how! Russell Crowe unleashes maximum hell as Maximus, a general-turned-slave tragically forced to fight for his honor in Ridley Scott’s unlikely Best Picture winner. A-

300 (2007)
Zack Snyder turns the infamous battle royal between the underdog Spartans and the mighty Persians into a sugar-shock CGI bloodbath. An eye-candy rush, even if it’s all spectacle. B

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