Table of Contents
Winning Best Picture at the Oscars in 2000, enduring as a classic over 20 years later, and having a sequel set to come out in 2024, it’s safe to say that Gladiator is a much-loved film. It’s proven to be one of the most popular films within Ridley Scott’s vast body of work and tells a gripping revenge story that’s well-paced, emotionally resonant, filled with exciting action, and complemented by strong visuals performances and music.
Even if its intriguing-sounding sequel isn’t out yet, there are still plenty of other action-packed historical movies out there that scratch a similar itch. The following are some of the best of these and are essentially required viewing for fans of Gladiator who want to see other titles with comparable stories, equally exciting action, or deal with characters seeking revenge in the distant past.
10 ‘Spartacus’ (1960)
Gladiator isn’t similar enough to Spartacus to call it a remake by any means, but of all the old-school Hollywood epics from the 1950s and 60s, Spartacus is probably the one Gladiator took the most inspiration from. It’s a huge movie that runs for more than three hours, being set in the first century B.C. and telling the story of Spartacus, a man sold into slavery and forced into gladiatorial combat, only to break free of his captors and inspire a rebellion with his fellow slaves that will allow them to get revenge on those who sold and enslaved them.
With its large-scale narrative about an uprising, it doesn’t spend as much time in the arena as Gladiator. However, it’s still an aspect of it, and the revenge sought by the title character is another point of comparison. The behind-the-scenes story of Spartacus is also interesting and dramatic, from its writing to its production, with Stanley Kubrick ultimately being its director, despite the final product not exactly feeling like a Kubrick film.
9 ‘The Northman’ (2022)
An adaptation of the story which inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is another great example of a revenge story with plenty of action and a historical setting. It takes place over 1000 years ago and tells the story of a prince who seeks to murder his uncle for killing his father and taking his mother as a prisoner.
It’s an incredibly down-and-dirty movie, with its violence and grittiness giving it a certain amount of intensity and (probable) realism. Its grim story and gruesome action sequences might make it a hard sell for some, but for others, it’s certain to excite and entertain, with it representing another success within the filmography of Robert Eggers.
8 ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003)
Admittedly, The Last Samurai isn’t set nearly as far back as Gladiator, though it takes place in the late 19th century at a pivotal point in Japanese history. It follows an American man hired to educate the Japanese army about more modern weaponry, though he comes to appreciate their samurai culture and eventually endeavors to join their ranks.
This leads to plenty of conflicts and, eventually, warfare, with the action present throughout The Last Samurai being remarkably visceral and exciting to watch. It’s one of the best samurai-themed films not in Japanese and is another film showing how reliable Tom Cruise is as an action star.
7 ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ (2005)
The story behind Kingdom of Heaven’s release is an unfortunate one. Despite the success of Gladiator just five years earlier, Ridley Scott’s vision for Kingdom of Heaven was compromised during post-production, with an inferior theatrical cut of the film being released to cinemas that ultimately failed to make a big enough splash at the box office.
Thankfully, a director’s cut was eventually released, with the 45 minutes of additional footage making the film’s epic story about Holy War conflicts during the Crusades easier to follow and more compelling. Its director’s cut isn’t far off Gladiator quality-wise, serving as another Ridley Scott historical epic with plenty of stunning visuals, impressive special effects, and satisfying action.
6 ‘Braveheart’ (1995)
Large-scale historical epics haven’t exactly been in fashion in recent years, but two to three decades ago, they were pretty popular. As mentioned before, Gladiator won Best Picture in 2000, and five years before that, Braveheart did the same, being a success at the Academy Awards while also resonating with audiences worldwide.
Braveheart begins as a personal revenge story about William Wallace, a Scottish warrior who got vengeance for his murdered wife before inspiring a large-scale rebellion against English forces in Scotland over 700 years ago. It’s particularly brutal when it comes to its violence and also has a lengthy runtime of almost three hours, but it mostly works well as a satisfying and bombastic historical drama/action/revenge movie.
5 ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)
Another lengthy Best Picture Oscar winner (this time with a runtime of almost four hours), Ben-Hur is about as iconic as classic epic movies get. The story is set around the time of Christ and follows a Jewish man named Judah Ben-Hur, who’s sold into slavery alongside his family, only to one day get the chance of seeking revenge against the person responsible.
It’s most well-known for its scale and groundbreaking chariot race sequence, with the latter holding up as one of the greatest action scenes in cinema history. It’s likely to be one of the first things people think of when they hear the words “Hollywood epic,” and it has aged surprisingly well since its release over 60 years ago.
4 ‘300’ (2006)
A film that manages to feel fast-paced and quite relentless despite also featuring tons of slow motion, 300 is a cheesy, sometimes clunky, but ultimately endearing historical action movie. Well, “historical” probably deserves to have quotation marks around it because in retelling the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., 300 gleefully makes numerous breaks from reality.
Additionally, the visual style of 300 is unique and eye-catching enough to make the unreality of it all easier to swallow, with it being a film that’s likely to satisfy anyone who wants to see well-shot, bloody, and frequent battle scenes from far back in the past.
3 ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (1992)
Starring the always intense and committed Daniel Day-Lewis, The Last of the Mohicans is a sweeping and exciting action/war film set in the 18th century. It centers on a man named Hawkeye, who teams with the titular Mohicans during intense battles fought between British and French forces over various American colonies.
The film’s also notable for being something of an outlier in the filmography of director Michael Mann, given he’s best known for directing crime, action, and neo-noir movies. Mann also proves himself well-suited to historical action movies, with The Last of the Mohicans successfully adapting a nearly 200-year-old novel into an emotional and compelling film.
2 ‘Troy’ (2004)
Troy belongs to the same group of 21st-century historical epics as aforementioned films like Kingdom of Heaven, 300 (arguably), and Gladiator. However, it goes one step further than most by being set over 3000 years ago and loosely adapting Homer‘s Iliad, particularly focusing on the Siege of Troy.
It’s a very hammy film at times, and it might be an understatement to call it bombastic and hot-blooded. Still, the legendary story it retells is a broad and dramatic one, and those able to get on board with the excesses found in Troy’s visuals and many of its performances could well find themselves having a blast for most — or all — of its lengthy 163-minute runtime.
1 ‘The Last Duel’ (2021)
After staying away from historical epics for some years (unless 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings counts), Ridley Scott returned to the genre in top form with 2021’s The Last Duel. Regrettably, it had the same fate as Kingdom of Heaven when it came to the box office, as it was a notorious flop that had a somewhat divided reception from critics while failing to find an audience.
With its action, attention to detail, and intensely personal story, however, it shouldn’t be overlooked by those who’ve enjoyed Scott’s past historical epics. The Last Duel is gritty and difficult to watch at times, but it presents its narrative in an interesting manner, builds to an exciting conclusion, and features great performances from its cast, particularly Jodie Comer and Adam Driver.
KEEP READING: Killer Movies to Watch if You Love ‘American Psycho’