Epic and historical films have been favourite subjects of the Cinema since its birth. One of the major reasons for this phenomenon is that in these kind of productions movie makers have the opportunity to use their creative abilities to the full and to act as independent artists rather than to bear the risk of “failure”, as often happens in the live theatre.
In other words, Cinema has the privilege of directly convincing, impressing and creating “atmosphere” through the powerful effect of the image as opposed to live theatre which heavily depends on dialogue. This fact relies on the undisputed aphorism that a picture is equal to a thousand words.
During the silent Cinema era super-productions on historical subjects used to make headlines, offering the producers big profits or heavy losses. The competition was mainly between the American and the Italian cinema and names like Griffith or Cecil DeMille made history.
Soon after the introduction of the talkies, in 1927, the idea of spectacular epic production was put on the shelf, since its extremely high cost increased the chance of financial failure and thus no producer was willing to undertake this risk. However, DeMille after endless arguments with Zuckor of Paramount finally managed to make three epic films with a limited budget. In 1949, ten years after “Gone with the Wind”, DeMille made an old dream of his come true. He made “Samson and Delilah”. Metro-Goldwin-Mayer (MGM) counter- attacked defending its reputation with an amazing production, the “Quo Vadis» and 20th Century Fox followed with the first movie filmed in cinemascope, “The Robe”. Shortly thereafter, a great number of epic and historical productions were made in the Golden Hollywood era. When the excessive making of epics led to a natural decline, the great minds of Hollywood gathered in Beverly Hills to discuss a counter attack against the “magic” of the small screen. The result of that summit? A few more masterpieces like “Cleopatra”, “Lawrence of Arabia”. “Mutiny on the Bounty» and so on.
In the mid-sixties, Hollywood stopped making epics for good. The great era had ended. The primacy in spectacle passed to Europe, where Italy easily gained the leading role since its film makers, as we already have mentioned, had a great liking for super productions. However, in the early seventies Europe also gave up the making of historical and epic films. What has finally remained is an inheritance of about 270 productions in which we can follow the birth and development of historical and epic films.