Top Five Movies set in the ancient world beyond the classics

The ancient world has inspired many movies: some bad and some good. Everyone has seen Ben Hur, Spartacus and Gladiator, but these five are tried and tested.

5. Up Pompeii

Starring Frankie Howerd as the cheeky slave Lurcio in the last days of Pompeii. A naughty Roman romp, with risque asides and light raunch. Made into both a TV series, the film inspired two sequels with Lurkio as the star in medieval England (Sir Lurkalot) and World War 1 (Private Lurk). The TV series also inspired a sequel set in medieval Baghdad.

4. Hypathia 

Rachel Weisz’s Hypathia is a powerful politician and brilliant mathematician, who navigates religious division and (re)discovers irrefutable evidence for the heliocentric  model of the solar system before Christians destroy the classic world with her in. A great film set in the dying days of the Roman World, it is let down by problematic portrayals of some Egyptian characters.
It is very different to the novel by Charles Kingsley.

3. Quo Vadis

Peter Ustinov’s Nero was the defining role of the 50s. Based on the fin de siecle novel of the same name by Henry Sienkiewicz (a Nobel Laureate), it is a great portrayal of the High Empire in the same days as Up Pompeii.

In 2019 Donald Tusk brought the show back into the public consciousness with a well aimed tweet.

2. Barrabus 

A Biblical epic whose hero is one of the baddies. Barrabus (Anthony Quinn) is a bandit and all round naughty boy in first century Galilee. Saved from crucifixion, he is condemned to the mines. An episodic film which has much of the stately grace of the biblical epics, but is more earthy.

1. The Robe

The rich and spoilt playboy Marcellus Gallio, played by Richard Burton, is sent to Palestine for angering Caligula. Whilst there, he commands the troops who are crucifying Christ. Marcellus wins the robe and loses the world. A powerful plot that resonates in a more secular age.
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Mosaic from Cirencester