Quo Vadis (1951)
”Three Years in the Making! Thousands in the Cast! Filmed in Rome!” touts the tagline of this three-hour saga, which earned eight Oscar noms. Sixty years later, Quo Vadis is remembered more for its monumental scale than for its story, a Roman potboiler about a soldier (Robert Taylor), a Christian convert (Deborah Kerr), and a mad emperor (Peter Ustinov).
To this day, only Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King have matched the record 11 Oscars won by this 1959 classic about the troubled bond between a Jewish merchant (Charlton Heston) and a Roman soldier (Stephen Boyd). The film’s massive success made a star of Charlton Heston, who wasn’t the only actor up for the title role: Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, and Leslie Nielsen are all said to have considered the part.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this legendary epic about a rebellious Roman slave (Kirk Douglas) is considered by some to be the gold standard of sword-and-sandal movies, inspiring everything from Gladiator (2000) to the TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
It’s the stuff of Hollywood legend: an out-of-control budget, a torrid offscreen love affair, an endlessly troubled shoot. Never mind that the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton extravaganza won four Oscars and ended up as the year’s highest-grossing film; Cleopatra will go down in history as one of the greatest bombs of all time, a movie so cursed that its failure nearly sank its studio, Fox, and the sword-and-sandal genre itself.
Jason & the Argonauts (1963)
Sure, this mythological adventure has some actual actors in it, notably Todd Armstrong as the headstrong Greek hero Jason. But the real stars of the show are the Harpies, the Hydra, and all the other stop-motion creatures brought lovingly to life by F/X legend Ray Harryhausen, whose work inspired generations of future moviemakers.
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Whether you caught it in its original theatrical release or as a rainy-Saturday TV rerun, this campy adventure pic was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser thanks to a starry cast (including Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Harry Hamlin) and the eye-popping monsters created by Ray Harryhausen.
Plagued by rumors of script troubles and on-set tantrums, this sword-clanging action pic — about a Roman general (Russell Crowe) fighting for his freedom — shocked naysayers by turning into a worldwide blockbuster and winner of the 2001 Oscar for Best Picture.
The hunky trifecta of Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom led the charge in this retelling of the siege of Troy. While it grossed a less-than-epic $133 million in the States, Troy took the world by storm, raking in nearly half a billion dollars worldwide.
The star-free action pic rocked Hollywood with an out-of-nowhere $70 million opening weekend, proving that swords and sandals could still slay moviegoers 50 years after the genre’s golden age. Director Zack Snyder and lead actor Gerard Butler both vaulted onto the A list thanks to the movie.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Avatar‘s Sam Worthington donned a tunic as the demigod Perseus in this remake, which brought a whole new dimension (the third dimension, to be precise) to the campy 1981 classic.