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The American Film Institute defines “epic” as a genre of large-scale films set in a cinematic interpretation of the past. Their scope defies and demands – either in the mode in which they are presented or their range across time.

AFI Top 10 Top 10

AFI's Top 10 Epic Films

Lawrence Of Arabia

1. Lawrence of Arabia

The granddaddy of all epics, few epics can match the scope and awe of David Lean’s masterpiece. AFI has previously honored this movie as #5 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #23 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #10 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, #3 on its 100 Years of Film Scores, #30 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #7 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

Ben-Hur

2. Ben-Hur

If you haven’t seen the famous chariot race, go rent this movie, stat! Made during the Golden Era of Charlton Heston before he became a NRA nut, this movie from director William Wyler is truly epic. AFI has previously recognized this movie as #72 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #49 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #21 on its 100 Years of Film Scores, #56 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #100 on its 100 Years…100 Movies -10th Anniversary Edition.

Schindler's List

3. Schindler’s List

Along with the Nanjing Massacre, the Holocaust was one of the great war tragedies of the 20th century. Somehow, Steven Spielberg has managed to reduce this atrocious stain on human history to a manipulative cartoon about dead Jews. If only a good director has made this movie…. AFI has previously recognized this movie as #9 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #13 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list, #3 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #8 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

Gone With The Wind

4. Gone with the Wind

One of the highest grossing movies of all time and a perennial classic shown on TV every year, this is Southern fried Civil War soap opera is one of the first, great epics. AFI has previously recognized this movie as #4 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list, #2 on its 100 Years…100 Passions, #59, #31 & #1 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes, #2 on its 100 Years of Film Scores, #43 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #6 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

Spartacus

5. Spartacus

Many Kubrick fans look down on this epic because it was a movie that Kubrick was a hired gun on. Producer and star Kirk Douglas brought Kubrick in to direct after the original director Anthony Mann was fired. The resulting movie is, in the Moose’s opinion, Kubrick’s best and effectively ended the blacklist of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. AFI has previously honored this epic as #62 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #22 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, #44 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #81 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

Titanic

6. Titanic

One of the most expensive movies of all time became the biggest hit of all time with over $1.8 billion dollars grossed worldwide. James Cameron’s deftly mixes human drama and ill-fated romance with special effects spectacle. AFI has previously honored this movie as #25 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #37 on its 100 Years…100 Passions, #14 on its 100 Years…100 Songs, #100 on its 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes and #83 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

All's Quiet On The Western Front

7. All Quiet on the Western Front

One of the all time great war films, this is a gripping and realistic account of World War I and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry. AFI has previously recognized this movie as #54 on its 100 Years…100 Movies list.

Saving Private Ryan

8. Saving Private Ryan

This movie’s reputation and subsequent Oscar win was made on the opening sequence Omaha beachhead assault. In reality, the opening sequence is nothing more than a Dolph Lundgren-esque action sequence shot with a bigger budget and a handheld camera. As for the rest of the movie, you’re better off watching the Dolph Lundgren film. If you want to see a better movie about WWII, watch Terrance Malick’s The Thin Red Line. AFI has previously recognized this junk as #45 on its 100 Years…100 Thrills, #10 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers and #71 on its 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition.

Reds

9. Reds

The Moose has not seen Warren Beatty’s movie about Communist and journalist John Reed. AFI has previously recognized this movie as #55 on its 100 Years…100 Passions list.

The Ten Commandments

10. The Ten Commandments

Another classic film from Charlton Heston’s Golden Age, this Cecil B. Demille movie about the life of Moses is on television every year. You don’t get much more epic than this. AFI has previously honored this movie as #43 on its 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains and #79 on its 100 Years…100 Cheers.

COMMENTS

AFI’s list for epics is good, but not great. There are too many great films left off and too many mediocre films chosen in their place. If it were up to the Moose, the list of the 10 greatest epics as defined by the AFI would be, in no particular order Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, The General (1927), Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, The Thin Red Line, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai and Apocalypse Now.

Other great epics you might want to check out include Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, The Last of the Mohicans and Patton.


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