Has 300 revived the ancient-epic genre?


You may have heard that 300, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, broke a box-office record or two when it opened this weekend.

If its estimated $70 million gross holds up when the actual figures are released today, it will beat the Ice Age movies (2002-2006) for biggest March opening weekend ever, and it will be second only to The Passion of the Christ (2004; $83.8 million) among movies that opened between January and April. It also scored the third-highest opening weekend among R-rated movies, following The Passion and The Matrix Reloaded (2003; $91.8 million).

Even more interesting, this film has proved to be a big hit at a time when many people thought the ancient-epic genre had pretty much died. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), which grossed $187.7 million in total, was one of the four biggest hits of its year, and at the time many people thought it might mark a revival of the Greco-Roman movie — a hope that was buoyed, somewhat, by the surprise success of The Passion, which grossed $370.3 million in the early months of 2004. Then came Troy (2004; $133.4 million), which did okay, but not as well as some people had hoped. And then there were the outright flops King Arthur (2004; $51.9 million) and Alexander (2004; $34.3 million). Even Ridley Scott couldn’t get lightning to strike twice, when he made Kingdom of Heaven (2005; $47.4 million) — admittedly a movie with a medieval theme rather than an ancient theme, but still a big battle movie set largely in the holy city of Jerusalem. And then there was the underperformance of The Nativity Story (2006; $37.6 million), which some have accused of killing the biblical epic.

So, has 300 brought new life to the ancient epic? Maybe, maybe not. The film is certainly very different in look and feel from your typical historical epic, and its popularity could just as easily be chalked up to the fact that it’s a highly-stylized, video-game, music-video adaptation of a comic book. The fact that it is also set in ancient Greece could be perceived as neither here nor there.

But I think the odds of Universal making that movie about King David written by J. Michael Straczynski just got a bit better.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • Trent

    Speaking of JMS: you hear that Ron Howard is no longer working on “The Changeling”? You hear that the new director attached to the project is Clint Eastwood?

    Just, you know, an FYI.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    Yup, I’d heard about that.

  • Anonymous

    “The Changeling”? As in, a remake of the George C. Scott movie? (resists snarky remark connecting JMS with the primary villain-species on his bete noire DS9.)

    I *suppose* Eastwood could pull it off-one of his first directoral jobs was a stalker-girlfriend thriller and one was a western with a ghostly/horror component.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08741378159534413277 Magnus

    An HBO series on Peloponnesia I tells yuh. Peloponnesians vs. Athenians.

  • http://www.fernandogros.com fernando

    I don’t think it is any more a rebirth of the historical epic than Sin City marked the rebirth of noir.

    The appeal of the film is probably more to do with the animated novel/videogame look and, well, the carnage.

    That said, both Troy and Alexander post-date Gladiator, so the genre is maybe not all that dead anyway.

  • http://www.ivchristiancenter.com Greg Marquez

    The reason for 300′s success is its world view. Which it has in common with Gladiator and Braveheart. But which is the opposite of the worldview of Alexander or Troy or Kingdom of Heaven. 300 Gladiator and Braveheart all celebrated martial, manly virtues. 300 celebrates the west, King Arthur, and Troy didn’t.

    I’m a little surprised by the descirptions of 300 as violent. It’s violence is more symbolic or comic book like than real. A normal episode of CSI is much more violent than 300.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15729167937433295927 Geosomin

    I think a lot of it had to do with the Frank Miller connection myself. It was very stylized and..well..comic booky.
    But it was wierd. We went on opening night with a freind who couldn’t wait and there were line up and buzz rivalling the LOTR opening her…even some people dressed up as greeks. Very strange buzz. Plus it wasn’t pretentious and didn’t try to be historically accurate…it was full of adrenaline, style and battlefield gore and for most people watching an old fight epic…particularly based on the Miller comic…well what more could you ask for I suppose? But yet not overly gory – nor more than TV gore…and I think my friend Heather put it best when she said “that was the coolest decapitation I’ve ever seen!”.

    I liked it…but then again I didn’t expect too much. I think flops like Troy (which really was a terrible film..effect wise great but an…what a snore) tried to do too much and still try and be accurate. I’m all for stylized interpretations.


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