Sword and Sandal Films in The Aughts Edit

The first ten years following the turn of the millennium, also known as "The Aughts," brought us a variety of movies. Within this influx of brand new, striving multimedia productions, we were given a new era of Sword and Sandal genre movies. Beginning with the production of Gladiator (2000), cinematics have incredibly increased production quality of peplum genre movies. These are able to showcase the grand schematics and striking scenes of this film genre, while still relatively focusing on correct Roman history (1).

Content Edit

  1. History of Sword and Sandal films
  2. New Era Production Value
  3. Noted Modern Sword and Sandal Films:
    1. Gladiator (2000)
    2. Troy (2004)
    3. 300 (2007)
    4. Clash of the Titans (2010)

4. The Future of Sword and Sandal

5. Sword and Sandal Going Forward

6. References

History of Sword and Sandal Films Edit

  • Sword and Sandal films date back all the way to 1914 when the very first Peplum film, directed by Giovanni Pastrone, Cabiria, was released. (For note, The last days of Pompeii (1913) was classified as a drama/adventure.) The film introduced, the soon to be very successful, genre of movie to the public, that played in "episodes" in regards to the 2nd of the Punic Wars and kidnapping of a young girl. In the midst of a volcano eruption, Cabiria and her nurse are taken by Phoenicians to Carthage. Cabiria was meant to be a sacrifice to the god Moloch, through the child eating statue Kronos. Her nurse then gets Fulvius Axilla to go rescue her, thus setting up the plot of the movie. While this movie was silent, it left no spectacle behind the curtains. It included a grand set design and costumes that influenced the community to follow suit. Named as the "godfather of epics," this movie had a run time of nearly three hours. A time unheard of in this scene of filmmaking and it allowed the future endeavors of filmmakers to embark on their own epics.
  • As time continued, so did the increase of film production. While some movies failed to impress, a few, Italian made, movies drew a lot of attention. While influenced by the incredibly success of old western movies, Italian filmmakers decided to create their own historical films, with a twist. Instead of the old west, they would embark in creating the scenes of ancient Greece and Rome. With a keen eye for cinematography and knowledge of Roman history, while many were poorly executed, there were a few that stood out (4). The creation of David and Goliath, sparked one of the most famous stories spread across America. While this movie had such a success on a relatively small budget, Hercules (1958) created a historical film that grossed $4.5 million. An incredible amount of money of for this time period, that truly set the bar for future films.
  • While the history of Sword and Sandal films can be partly credited to the Italian filmmakers and their partial European audience, American filmmakers also got in on their own peplum films. Together combining in some of the most expensive movies of all time and most grossing movies of all time.
    • Cleopatra (1969)- One of the most iconic movies of all time, not only in the peplum genre, but in the movie industry period. This movie single handedly threw the industry into a frenzy due to an onstage romance between its two main stars. The movie set records for highest costs to produce as well as highest grossing and shelling out a million dollars to its lead actress making her the highest paid of her time. This movie drew in a crowd not only because of its quality of story or its grand set design. It drew attention because of the name of performers it brought in. With the leading roles going to primarily drama oriented actors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. This new all star cast oriented movie costs a total of $30 million to make all but set 20th century fox on fire. Luckily due to an onstage romance between Burton and Taylor, it was able to draw enough attention to itself to pull in $57 million in total gross. This incredibly long epic set itself a step above all others by focusing on grandness opposed to historical accurateness, but it succeeded and submitted to be remembered and compared to even today (3).
    • Ben Hur (1959)- Made just 10 years before Cleopatra this movie still hasn't been dethroned. The grand scale drama and cinematography set this movie on an unreachable scale even today. This tale of a slave on the come up to regain his pride for him and the sake of his country, took home 11 Oscars and still holds one of the most grossing movie of all time. $146 million, this movie by William Wyler can thank its success to probably the peak of filmmaking going into the sixties. This, on top of the known success and grand scale of peplum films before it, the epic was ahead of its time. This film is the pinned film to compare when watching any epic or sword and sandal film from the 1900's. The production quality with the resources allocated, were soaring above standard at the time.

New Era Production Value Edit

With the turn of the millennium filmmaking has taken leaps and bounds forward. Thanks to the success of Gladiator in 2000, many people drew more interest into large scale action and epic films. This would lead investments into greater animated and CGI graphics animations in films for superior effects and set adaptations. Following, the success of films through Disney many companies began expanding into the new 3-D IMAX technology and the industry exploded. James Cameron's Avatar eventually becoming the highest grossing film of all time, $2.79 Billion, can thank its success to the great advances to IMAX and 3-D effects. While we still haven't seen a successful IMAX sword and sandal film, its good to know that with each passing film we are one step closer to finding the next big film making technology that could revive the once beloved franchise genre.

Noted Modern Sword and Sandal Films: Edit

Gladiator (2000) Edit

A Movie produced by Ridley Scott at the turn of the millennium, this epic tale of an army general finds himself in a world of hurt when his loses his position and finds his family murdered. Now forced into slavery he must fight his way to the top where he confronts his nemesis in battle where they both eventually perish, but not before he gets his vengeance and hero status. A movie that hoped to revive the dying peplum genre did so in a way not intended. While this movie did bring about an exponential amount of revenue, approximately $456 million. Gladiator also won best picture and actor for its main role Maximus played by Russell Crow. This movie is important to the genre because it changed the way the public viewed and how they expect the genre to be scripted. A once film of love and romance, while being serious but also having a bubbly fakeness to its alternate reality, is now expected to be more focused solely on hardcore violence and hardship. While we have seen slavery before in peplum, this movie focused more heavily on Maximus's strive for revenge, rather than his rise from slavery. This film while having relatively similar cinematography of those of its time, it set itself apart because of its set design and eye towards details. No, this movie did not play into the classic following of the history of Rome, and because this was successful, it is hard to see that return to this genre. This movie was a turning point in sword and sandal films because it took them out of the classic peplum, wearing togas, looking for a hand in marriage, the falling and Rome, and replaced it with a focus on getting vengeance and transcending future films into bloodbaths worth of violence. Violence that teens and young adults were currently asking for at the time that Gladiator answered the call.

Troy (2004) Edit

This movie is a highlight in the genre during this time period because of its preemptive success but rather falling out as time continued. The success of this movie was driven primarily because it is based upon Homer's "The Iliad." This worldwide novel read in many school curriculums had the hype of this movie through he roof. So it was no surprise of the movie's box office success. Eventually Troy would gross a total nearing $500 million. Along another star studded cast in Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt, this movie hit on the idea of modern day sword and sandal films, but is an important film to recall on what not to do. While it had all the money and effects of a grand scale epic, it lacked the necessary story in order to fulfill the needs of viewers'. It was barred harshly to the feeling of a "forced" feel of unneeded action and epic. This movie had a run time of 2 hours and 43 minutes, but only had enough true action to fill a movie half as long.

300 (2007) Edit

Probably the most notable movie on the list of Sword and Sandal films of this decade for many people, 300 was a movie that strived on the want for a gritty, hard fought, bloody movie. While the success of this years movies' came from westerns, such as No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood, 300 was timed perfectly where there wasn't any war movies or even any movies that involved the amount of violence contained within its 2 hour run time. Unless of course you consider Ratatouille Which also came out in 2007, and a great majority of that movie is spent on characters trying to kill the lovable rat Remy. Anyways 300 was a bloody film of the war of Persian-Greco war, where King Leonidas faced the ultimate task of defeating the Persian army, with only him and his 300 men. The title was very creative. In a fight towards democracy within the movie, the fight for box office sales was successful. With a rather small budget of only $60 million this movie grossed over $456 million in the total of 9 years it has been out. This movie is important to the genre because it shows off the new advances in film technology, tapping greatly into the use of CG animations, green screens, and most of all editing filters. These new technological advances are a key element to filmmakers because, proven in 300, it costs a significant amount less to create than previous technology. Overall the movie sparked attention across the nation, and is iconic to anyone who has ever seen it, when the scene of "this is SPARTA!" is heard.

Clash of the Titans (2010) Edit

Clash of the Titans is the last Sword and Sandal film of this decade, so it is of highlight importance. While Gladiator set the decade off with a bang, Clash of the titans shows how far the genre has come. Gladiator had success through its story line, Troy had a good cast and technological advances, 300 had enough violence for all the movies combined along with business strategies in investments in technology...and Clash of the Titans had crumby action scenes and a lackluster momentum within its plot. This movie was a flop due to its attempt to revive the fallen genre. It flirted with the old ideals of adventure and mythology, but failed when people realized Sword and Sandal films worked because they aren't supposed to be good. The movies aren't supposed to be hard action and violence that follows an adventure and also has mythological creatures. The movies are meant to be one or the other. The older films were successful because they didn't take themselves technologically too serious. Yes, there were miniatures and blue screening that were technological. While yes, the filmmakers were using the highest quality of resources, there was an obvious gap of reality and film. 2010 was a year deemed "International Year or Youth."(1) The beginning of a new era of film and culture that was steering away from violence unless comical, adventure unless romantic, and mythological unless its...well involves training your pet dragon. This movie fails primarily when characters are shown battling with large computer animated creatures. Creatures that look ridiculously fake to the point of not even believing it. Much Similar to transformers, that also came out this year, found its success through large animation, but with a modern scene and having it be robotics, played well to the modern age of movies. Where now the present is the future and the past is forgotten unless western. Unfortunately for this film that grossed nearly $493 Million, did so while showing the sudden decline in demand for drawn out peplum and epics. For Future endeavors of Sword and Sandals, it isn't impossible to be successful, with a new youthful community of movie goers, a modern twist with simple use of technology and runtime would suffice a movie worth watching. As for Clash of the Titans, it goes to show the problem of revitalizing ideas that worked well before only because of its timing, is only going to be successful if there are major changes (2).

The Future of Sword and Sandals Edit

As far as the future on Sword and Sandal films, the outlook is bleak but bearable. While the genre is stuck on violence and vengeance, the rest of films are appealing to the now a day norms. The downfall of Clash of the Titans left many people with a bad taste in their mouth about the genre and not many others have come out since. The Genre once popularized by its representation of Roman history and Culture, then turned into grand scale epics, in short moved to movies of blood, revenge and violence, needs to find its next form to take shape. Revamping, adding sequels or even creating new films that try to focus on any of these old norms of peplum are destined to flop. Just look at the 2016 rendition of Ben Hur.

  1. Hitchings, Leah. "no name for the decade" Decade News.
  3. "Cataloge Feature Films"
  4. "Sword and Sandal" Fantasy Subgenre.