Hollywood never tires of making movies about Rome, but not all “swords-and-sandals” flicks are created equal. When filmmakers get it right, however, movies set in ancient Roman are some of the best films ever made.
The 1959 Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston is considered among the greatest films of all time. It’s one of just three films to win 11 Oscars. The ’59 version of Ben-Hur was a remake of a 1925 silent film of the same name. Both were based on Lew Wallace’s 1980 novel. At the time, the $15 million budget for Ben-Hur was the largest amount ever spent to make a movie.
An updated version of Ben-Hur was released in 2016, but was a total flop, both critically and financially. The film starred Jack Huston and was the biggest summer cinematic disaster of 2016.
Just a year after the 1959 Ben-Hur, the movie Spartacus was released in 1960. It starred the famous western actor Kirk Douglas and enjoyed enormous box office success. Not quite as critically acclaimed as Ben-Hur, Spartacus still won four Oscars. The film tells the true story of a slave revolt set in 1st Century B.C. Rome.
It would be decades before perhaps the next truly great Roman film was released, but Russell Crowe starring in Gladiator in 2000 was a spectacular success. It won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 73rd Academy Awards. Crowe was named Best Actor for his portrayal of General Maximus. It raked in $458 million at the box office.