Ah, swords and sandals movies—epics so grand they set the standard for inspiring cinematic adventures. From Hercules and Spartacus to 300 and Gladiator, these are tales of legendary heroes and ancient battles that have captivated viewers for decades. If you’re looking for a thrilling way to pass the time, then why not revisit some of the greatest sword-and-sandal epics of all time? Here are our top 13 picks for the best swords-and-sandals movies ever made. Get ready to be transported back in time as we explore these timeless classics!
1. Immortals (2011)
If you’re a fan of fantasy movies with badass sword fighting and plenty of action, then you’ll love Immortals. The movie is set in ancient Greece and follows the story of Theseus, a mortal man who must stop the ruthless King Hyperion from enslaving humanity. Along the way, Theseus learns that he is the son of Zeus and must embrace his destiny as a demigod if he wants to save mankind.
The movie features some fantastic sword fighting scenes and is packed with plenty of action and adventure. If you’re looking for a fun fantasy flick to watch, then be sure to check out Immortals.
2. Alexander (2004)
Alexander is a 2004 epic historical drama film based on the life of Alexander the Great. The film was directed by Oliver Stone, with a screenplay by Christopher Kyle and Stone. It stars Colin Farrell in the title role, with Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy I, Alexander’s father; Rosario Dawson as Alexander’s mother, Olympias; Val Kilmer as Darius III, the last king of Persia; Jared Leto as Hephaestion, Alexander’s best friend and general; and Angelina Jolie as Roxana, Darius’ daughter and Alexander’s wife.
Unlike the sword and sandal films on this current list, Alexander is more of a historical drama spiced up from time to time with some interesting battles from the Hellenistic period. A movie that was supposed to be the big thing of 2004 was anemic for most of its length but still visually impressive.See also: 13 Best Movies Like Caligula To Satisfy Your Senses
3. 300 (2006)
The movie (2006) was one of the best swords and sandals movies. 300 follows a group of friends who find a sword in a stone and must use it to save their kingdom from an evil sorcerer. The movie is full of action, adventure, and comedy.
Zack Snyder’s epic creation where he once again showcased what he knows how to do with a green screen as well as a unique display of breathtaking fight choreography. On the other hand, Snyder’s weak part has always been the story, when even in 300 he suffered from poor quality. Fortunately for Snyder, an army of brawny slo-mo blokes executing relatively long sequences of intense combat tried to make up for everything else.
4. Gladiator (2000)
Probably the most famous sword and sandal movie, and in my opinion the best quality of all in the same category. The film stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, and Oliver Reed (in his final film role). The Gladiator story revolves around the life of the fictional character Maximus Decimus Meridius.
The film depicts Maximus, a Roman general who falls from the heights of the empire to the lowest place in that world – slavery. Maximus who becomes a gladiator and from the ring manages to undermine the hegemony of the new emperor.
The movie opens with a brief background history of the Roman Empire in the year 180 AD. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) is dying and he knows that his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) is not fit to rule Rome. Marcus chooses Maximus to be his successor instead. However, when Commodus learns of this plan, he murders his father and declares himself the new emperor.
Maximus is then sold into slavery and becomes a gladiator. He hopes that one day he will be able to return to his family.
5. Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Exodus: Gods and Kings is a 2014 epic sword and sandal movie directed by Ridley Scott. The film stars Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, and Indira Varma. The film was released on December 12, 2014, in the United States.
It tells the story of the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt as told in the Bible’s Book of Exodus. Moses (Bale), an Egyptian prince, learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people. With the help of his brother Aaron (Edgerton), Moses leads the Hebrews in a rebellion against the cruel Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Mendelsohn).
Critics praised Scott’s direction and production design, but criticized the film’s screenplay and its depiction of Moses and Ramses. Despite its mixed reviews, Exodus: Gods and Kings was a box office success, grossing over $268 million worldwide.
6. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben-Hur is a 1959 American epic historical drama film, directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and starring Charlton Heston in the title role. A remake of the 1925 silent film with the same name, Ben-Hur was adapted from Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay is credited to Karl Tunberg but includes contributions from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry.
The film features a chariot race, which draws parallels with the famous chariot scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960). The score by Miklós Rózsa is also notable for its use of leitmotifs. MGM are hoping that Ben-Hur will be their answer to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).
The film was a critical and commercial success, winning 11 Academy Awards (a record that stood for 32 years) including Best Picture and Best Actor for Heston. It grossed $74 million at the US box office ($631 million in 2016 dollars), making it the fifth highest-grossing film in North America up to that point and MGM’s most successful release since Gone with the Wind (1939).
7. Paul, Apostle of Christ (2018)
Paul, Apostle of Christ is a 2018 faith-based historical drama film directed by Andrew Hyatt. The film stars James Faulkner as Saint Paul and Jim Caviezel as Luke the Evangelist. The film was released in the United States on March 23, 2018, by Sony Pictures Releasing.
Paul’s journey from his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, through his years of preaching and teaching in Asia Minor and Greece, up until his eventual imprisonment in Rome under Emperor Nero. Along the way, Luke (Caviezel) risks his life to visit and care for Paul (Faulkner), who is chained in a dark, cold cell and facing execution.
The film has been met with generally positive reviews from critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 70% based on 34 reviews, with an average rating of 6/10. The website’s critical consensus reads: “Paul, Apostle of Christ offers a mostly well-acted – if overly safe – take on a chapter of Biblical history that should prove inspirational for faith-based audiences.”
On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 58 out of 100 based on 10 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”.
8. Hail, Caesar! (2016)
The Hail, Caesar! (2016) is a swords and sandals movie that tells the story of a group of Roman soldiers who are tasked with protecting Caesar from an assassination attempt. The movie is full of action, suspense, and drama, and it is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
9. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Barbarian is a 1982 American fantasy sword and sorcery movie directed and co-written by John Milius. It is based on stories by Robert E. Howard, a pulp-fiction writer of the 1930s, about the adventures of the eponymous character in a fictional prehistoric world. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan, James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom, Max von Sydow as King Osric, and Sandahl Bergman as Valeria.
The film tells the story of Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a barbarian warrior who seeks revenge against the evil wizard Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) for the death of his parents when he was a boy. Along the way, he meets two thieves (Sandahl Bergman and Mako), who help him in his quest to find and kill Thulsa Doom.
Conan is captured by Doom’s henchmen and taken to his mountaintop fortress, where he is chained up and tortured. However, he eventually escapes and leads an army of mercenaries to attack Doom’s fortress. In the end, Conan defeats Thulsa Doom and kills him with his sword.
10. One Night With The King (2006)
One Night With The King is a 2006 film about the life of Queen Esther. The film was directed by Michael O. Sajbel and starred Tiffany Dupont as Esther, Luke Goss as King Xerxes, and John Rhys-Davies as Mordecai.
The film tells the story of how Esther became queen of Persia and saved her people from destruction. The story is based on the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible.
One Night With The King received mixed reviews from critics. Some praised the film for its visuals and acting, while others criticized it for its historical inaccuracies.
11. Risen (2016)
Risen is a 2016 Biblical epic film directed by Kevin Reynolds. The movie tells the story of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a powerful Roman military tribune, and his aide Lucius (Tom Felton), who is tasked with investigating the mystery of what happened to Jesus Christ (Cliff Curtis) following his crucifixion.
As they investigate, Clavius and Lucius begin to question their own beliefs about the man they once crucified. Could Jesus really be the Son of God? And if so, what does that mean for them and the world?
Risen is an epic story of faith, doubt, and ultimately, redemption. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
12. Battle of the Warriors (2006)
The Battle of the Warriors is a 2006 historical epic film directed by Peter Chan and starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai.
The film is set in 3rd century China during the era of the Three Kingdoms and tells the story of the battle between the forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei.
The Battle of the Warriors was a critical and commercial success, grossing over US$100 million worldwide. It was also nominated for several awards, including Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
13. Troy (2004)
Troy is a 2004 epic period war film written by David Benioff and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The film features an ensemble cast led by Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, and Orlando Bloom. It is loosely based on Homer’s Iliad in its narration of the entire story of the decade-long Trojan War—condensed into little more than a couple of weeks—rather than just focusing on the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon in the ninth year. Troy was largely shot on location around the Mediterranean Sea, from Malta to Turkey.
Troy grossed over $497 million worldwide and was nominated for three Academy Awards. It was widely praised for its depiction of warfare as well as its acting, direction, music score, visuals, and production design; however, it received some criticism for historical inaccuracies and its focus on Brad Pitt’s character Achilles at the expense of other important ones like Odysseus.