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Once upon a time (so to speak), Robin Williams starred in BEING HUMAN, a comedy set in multiple time periods and directed by Bill Forsyth (Local Hero), released in 1994. One of the story threads takes place in Ancient Rome, where Williams plays a slave reluctant to die with his master, played by John Turturro. Watch a trailer here.

DECLINE OF AN EMPIRE While the young emperor Constantine struggles to make Christianity the state religion of Rome, the Egyptian martyr Katherine faces a terrible fate in the city of Alexandria.
POMPEII Kit Harrington stars as a gladiator in love with a high-born Roman (Carrie-Anne Moss), forced to fight an evil Roman general (Kiefer Sutherland) as Vesuvius blows its top.
BEN HUR While this 2010 miniseries won’t take the place of the classic 1959 version, it has a good cast and great locations, and in some ways is truer to the original Lew Wallace novel.
THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII 253-minute extravaganza from the Golden Age of the mini-series boasts an amazing cast. The melodrama is totally over the top, but why not? Vesuvius is about to blow!
RESTLESS HEART: THE CONFESSTIONS OF AUGUSTINE The life story of the Roman African saint, from the producers of Augustus, Nero, and St. Peter. SANTA BARBARA Vanessa Hessler plays the title role; Simone Montedoro is Claudius, the Roman soldier loved by Barbara, who ends up as a gladiator fighting for his life.
SPARTACUS: BLOOD & SAND Season 1 Steven calls this “an astonishing tour de force of storytelling” and put it on his Top 10 Ancient World Movies List.


complete the epic trilogy, with Liam McIntyre in the title role.
SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA The prequel to Season One reveals the story behind the story, with stunning surprises and unexpected pathos.
PENDRAGON: THE SWORD OF HIS FATHER Britain, A.D. 411 A.D.: As the Romans withdraw, Artos, son of the chieftain Pendragon, is captured by Saxon invaders — and turns to God for help.
SIGN OF THE CROSS Cecil B. DeMille’s pre-Code shocker from 1932 stars Charles Laughton as Nero and Claudette Colbert as Poppaea. CLEOPATRA DeMille’s heady 1934 spectacle stars Claudette Colbert as the Queen of the Nile. Part of the new Universal Backlot Series, this 75th Anniversary Edition is loaded with extras.
AGORA Rachel Weitz stars as Hypatia, the scholar who ran afoul of the Christians amid the death-throes of paganism in the 4th century A.D. Read Steven’s review at his Top 10 Ancient World Movies page.
THE EAGLE Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell veture north of Hadrian’s Wall to recover an eagle standard in the screen version of Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel The Eagle of the Ninth.
THE FILMS OF RITA HAYWORTH Box set includes Salome, a 1953 technicolor extravaganza with Rita performing the Dance of the Seven Veils for King Herod (Charles Laughton). CENTURION Roman soldiers trapped north of Hadrian’s Wall struggle to survive against savage Picts. Michael Fassbender and Olga Kurylenko star.
THE CENTURION Jacques Sernas and John Drew Barrymore star in this 1961 drama set in Corinth on the eve of its destruction by Rome. Widescreen print. On DVD-R from Sinister Cinema. REVAK THE REBEL Jack Palance stars in this TV pilot from 1960 about the adventures of an Iberian prince in ancient Carthage. On DVD-R from Sinister Cinema.
DOCTOR WHO: The Rescue/The Romans In 1965, the first Doctor Who (William Hartnell) visited Rome and matched wits with Nero. (A later Doctor, Jon Pertwee, visited Atlantis in The Time Monster.) DOCTOR WHO: The Complete Fourth Series includes “The Fires of Pompeii, ” in which the Doctor (David Tennant) makes his second visit to the Roman Empire.
ROME: Season 1 HBO’s grandiose but gritty series was a television landmark.
ROME: Season 2 Also available: Rome: Music from the HBO Series soundtrack cd Rome illustrated “making of” book by Jonathan Stamp.
QUO VADIS 2-disk edition of the 1951 classic; Peter Ustinov as Nero and some of the most sumptuous sets and costumes ever created. Read fascinating liner notes about the film’s score here.
QUO VADIS Based on the Novel Prize novel about Rome in the age of Nero, this Polish spectacle from 2001 ranks high on Steven’s all-time Top Ten List of ancient world movies.
THE ROMANCE OF ASTREA & CELADON Eric Rohmer’s pastoral love story about nymphs and druids set in 5th-century Gaul; Roger Ebert calls it “charming and sweet.” THE ROYAL DIARIES Three half-hour dramas about princesses including Cleopatra, based on the novel in the Scholastic Books series. Also included: Isabel of Spain and Elizabeth I of England.
CABIRIA Italian silent brims with spectacle. War rages between Rome and Hannibal, and strongman Maciste must rescue Cabiria from human sacrifice in Carthage. WARRIORS 8 spectacular docudramas from BBC about Hannibal (starring Alexander Siddig), Spartacus, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, The Shogun, Richard the Lionheart, Cortes, and Napolean.
SALOME “This filmed version of Strauss’ shocker features Teresa Stratas as opera’s most depraved perfect a Salome as one would ever hope to see or hear.” (Dan Davis, SALOME / LOT IN SODOM Silent classics: Nazimova as Salome in Oscar Wilde’s tale of Herod and John the Baptist, plus the delirious bacchanales and ultimate destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
SCIPIO AFRICANUS: The Defeat of Hannibal Fascist Italy expended vast resources to make this saga of the greatest of all Roman generals, released in 1937. FABIOLA English-language version of the landmark Italian epic from 1949, inspired by the classic book by Cardinal Wiseman; on DVD-R from Sinister Cinema.
SIMON OF THE DESERT Luis Buñuel’s surreal vision of St. Simeon Stylites, the 5th-century hermit who lived atop a column in the Syrian desert. Criterion Collection edition features lots of extras. THE SILVER CHALICE (based on the novel by Thomas B. Costain) features Paul Newman’s debut, surreal sets, and an unforgettable performance by Jack Palance as Simon the Magician.
THE ROBE Powerhouse cast (Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Michael Rennie) seek spiritual redemption in Caligula’s Rome. Widescreen print, Special Edition.
DEMETRIUS & THE GLADIATORS Sequel to The Robe stars Victor Mature, with Susan Hayward as Messalina and Jay Robinson as Caligula. Widescreen print.
CYCLOPS A wicked emperor, a centurion forced to fight as a gladiator, a gladiatress with a Swedish accent, a slave revolt, and a one-eyed monster — SciFi Channel goes to ancient Rome! I, CLAUDIUS 35th Anniversary boxed set of the legendary series on Steven’s Top Ten List. Bonus: The Epic That Never Was, a doc about the failed attempt in 1937 to film the novel by Robert Graves.
COLOR OF THE CROSS Jean-Claude La Marre directs and plays Jesus in this controversial drama that asks: Was Christ a black man? COLOR OF THE CROSS 2: RESURRECTION Director Jean-Claude La Marre continues the tale of Jesus after his crucifixion.
BARABBAS The convict freed in place of Jesus becomes a gladiator in Rome. Anthony Quinn stars; based on the Nobel winning novel. It’s on Steven’s Top Ten List.
FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 1964 epic that inspired Gladiator. Steven Boyd and Sophia Loren star; Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius and Christopher Plummer as Commodus. Also: Limited Collector’s Edition.
STUDIO ONE ANTHOLOGY 17 dramas from the legendary 1950s TV showcase, incuding “Julius Caesar” with Theodore Bickel and “Pontius Pilate” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. THE NATIVITY/PONTIUS PILATE Two “Studio One” TV shows from 1952, with Cyril Ritchard as Pilate and Geraldine Fitzgerald as Claudia Procula; Oscar-winner Franklin J. Schaffner directs.
SOPHIA LOREN COLLECTION features 4 vintage films including the epic Attila from 1954 starring Anthony Quinn as the conquering Hun, with Loren as Honoria. ATTILA Gerard Butler (300) plays “the Scourge of God” in the epic miniseries; Powers Booth plays Roman general Flavius Aetius and Tim Curry is the emperor Theodosius.
THREE AGES Buster Keaton’s directorial debut spoofs courtship in the Stone Age, Silent Era, and Ancient Rome — featuring the cinema’s most hilarious chariot race! A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM Stephen Sondheim’s musical captures the bawdy spirit of Roman playwright Plautus. Zero Mostel stars.
THE FINAL INQUIRY In 35 A.D., the emperor Tiberius dispatches a Roman tribune to investigate a reputed resurrection in Jerusalem.
MASADA The epic miniseries starring Peter O’Toole and Peter Strauss about the Roman siege of the mountaintop fortress of Masada in 72 A.D. is on Steven’s Top Ten List of ancient world movies.
GLADIATOR: Extended Edition Deluxe 3-disk set includes a new version with 17 added minutes, plus the original Oscar-winning version, plus many extras. Read the novel by Dewey Gram.

THE LAST LEGION Fanciful yarn about the last Roman emperor, based on the novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, stars Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, and Kevin McKidd (of HBO’s Rome).

SWORD & SANDAL DOUBLE FEATURE Massimo Girotti is Spartacus in Sins of Rome, made seven years before the Hollywood version. Giants of Thessaly follows Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. ROAR 13-episode series stars 18-year-old Heath Ledger as a Celtic chieftain leading his people (including beautiul Vera Farmiga) against the Romans in mystical Hibernia (Ireland), ca. 400 A.D.
CAESAR THE CONQUEROR Cameron Mitchell plays the Roman general at war against the Gauls, with Rik Battaglia as Vercingetorix. DUEL OF THE CHAMPIONS To save Rome, Horatius (Alan Ladd) and his brothers must fight three Alban brothers to the death. With Robert Keith as King Tullus Hostilius.
CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS Cornel Wilde stars as the first Christian emperor, with a stirring climax at the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Widescreen print. HEROD THE GREAT Edmund Purdom plays the tormented King of Judea, with Massimo Girotti as Caesar Augustus.
HERO OF ROME Gordon Scott as Mucius Scaevola, defender of the fledgling Republic when King Tarquin plots a return to power; widescreen print. Plus Invincible Gladiator with Richard Harrison. KING OF KINGS Surprisingly action-packed epic stars Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus and Rip Torn as Judas. Score by Miklós Rózsa. Ray Bradbury wrote the narration, delivered by Orson Welles.
JUDAS Jonathan Schaech stars in this revisionist look at the life of the reviled Disciple; see also the documentary The Gospel of Judas. A CHILD CALLED JESUS Fictional account of the childhood years of Jesus in Alexandria and elsewhere from Italian director Franco Rossi.
PETER AND PAUL Emmy-winning TV miniseries stars Anthony Hopkins and Robert Foxworthy. THE APOCALYPSE While Domitian persecutes the Christians in 90 A.D., the imprisoned apostle John (Richard Harris) experiences visions that will be recorded as the Book of Revelations.
ST. PETER Omar Sharif stars in an epic Italian mini-series from the producers of Augustus and Nero. PAUL THE APOSTLE Lavish Euro-TV production features an international cast headed by Johannes Brandup as Paul.
KING ARTHUR Lucius Artorius Castus, a Roman warrior in 5th-century Britain, becomes the legendary Arthur. Extended Unrated Director’s Cut.
EMPIRE The teenaged Octavian turns to a burly gladiator for protection. Serious history? No, but great fun to watch.
NERO 3-hour epic from the producers of Augustus stars Hans Matheson of Doctor Zhivago in a sympathetic portrayal of Rome’s most notorious emperor. AUGUSTUS Peter O’Toole gives a towering performance as the aged emperor reflecting on his remarkable life, from the director of Hercules.
FELLINI’S ROMA Fellini’s paean to the Eternal City includes a haunting episode set in the ancient world and another about the tragic discovery of a unique archaeological treasure.
FELLINI SATYRICON At the peak of his genius, Fellini made this outlandish epic based on the novel by Nero’s arbiter of taste, Petronius. It’s on Steven’s Top Ten List.
SPARTACUS Widescreen edition of the 1960 classic directed by Stanley Kubrick starring Kirk Douglas. Based on the gripping novel by Howard Fast.
SPARTACUS (Criterion Collection) Stanley Kubrick’s epic starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Winner of 4 Oscars including Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov).
SPARTACUS The Australian Ballet delivers a spectacular Roman epic with Steven Heathcote as Spartacus.
SPARTACUS Violent, stirring, visually splendid depiction of the massive slave uprising against the cruelty of Rome, starring Goran Visnjic and Paul Telfer (of Hercules).
SPARTACUS Grigorovich’s choreography to the music of Khachaturian fills the huge Bolshoi Ballet stage with dynamic scenes of tension; with Irek Mukhamedov as Spartacus.
SPARTACUS The Bolshoi’s 1977 performance features Vladimir Vasiliev as Spartacus. “One of the best dance films ever made.” (New York Times)
SPARTACUS The Moscow Classikal Ballet presents Klevtsof, Berezina, and Muravlytov to the music of Aram Khachaturian.
HANNIBAL (1960) Widescreen epic stars Victor Mature as the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with elephants to threaten Rome.
CLEOPATRA (1963) Stunningly restored full-length version of the Hollywood epic starring Elizabeth Taylor is on Steven’s Top Ten List. Also on Blu-ray.
JULIUS CAESAR: HIS TIME HAS COME The dramatic life of JC (played by Jeremy Sisto), with Chris Noth as Pompey and Christopher Walken as Cato.
TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA Italian comedy stars a very young Sophia Loren in dual roles, as Cleopatra and as her look-alike slave girl. With Alberto Sordi.
CLEOPATRA (1999) Sprawling saga based on the novel Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George stars Leonor Varela, Billy Zane, and Timothy Dalton.

WARRIOR QUEEN Masterpiece Theatre presents the tale of Boudica (Alex Kingston) and her attempt to drive the Romans from Britain.

THE VIKING QUEEN Romans invade Britain and the Druids fight back, led by a warrior queen. Ancient history through the lurid lens of Hammer Studios!

HISTORY AT THE MOVIES Nine vintage and classic movies include Sins of Rome (about Spartacus) and a widescreen print of Constantine and the Cross starring Cornel Wilde.
DRUIDS Christopher Lambert as Vercingetorix, leader of the Gauls against Julius Caesar (Klaus Maria Brandauer). Read the novel by screenplay author Norman Spinrad.
RETURN OF THE GLADIATOR From 1971 comes the last hurrah of the Sword & Sandal genre, a tongue-in-cheek adventure starring Brad Harris. Widescreen edition.
SPONGICUS SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick become gladiators in the Imperial Chum Colosseum in this goofy spoof of Spartacus.
LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 4 Includes “Roman Legion-Hare” with centurion Yosemite Sam on a desperate chase to catch Bugs Bunny in the Colosseum. Let the games begin, doc!
THREE STOOGES IN HISTORY 5 shorts include Matri-phony; to save Diana from Emperor Octopus Grabus, Curly poses as the blushing bride. Also available: The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.

MEL BROOKS BOX SET COLLECTION includes History of the World: Part I, higlighted by Madeline Kahn’s dizzy descent into Neronian decadence as the Empress Nympho.

The Immaculate Edition
Sacrilegious parody, or piercing insight into early Church history? Also available: Criterion Collection edition.

PYGMALION Shaw’s take on the Greek myth, with Lynn Redgrave. Bonus: his comedy of Christian martyrs in Rome, Androcles & the Lion, with Billy Connolly. Also available in the Shaw Collection.
ATTILA The Arena di Verona Festival production of Verdi’s opera features Evgeny Nesterenko in the title role. “Spellbinding in intensity!” (Opera News)

LA CLEMENZA DE TITO Mozart’s opera explores conspiracy, love, and pardon in the story of the emperor Vespasian and his heir, Titus.

JULIUS CAESAR Handel’s opera of love and warfare on the Nile, sung in English with Janet Baker as Caesar and Valerie Masterson as Cleopatra.

LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1935) The team behind the original King Kong recreates the eruption of Vesuvius. Preston Foster is a good guy turned gladiator; Basil Rathbone plays Pontius Pilate.
LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959) Italian sword & sandal version stars Steve Reeves and Fernando Rey. Includes a narrated print of the racy, super-rare 1926 silent version (mislabeled 1913) as a bonus.
LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1913) Italian silent based on Bulwer-Lytton’s famous novel. Intrigues and gladiator combats come to a halt when Vesuvius unleashes its molten fury!
POMPEII: The Last Day / COLOSSEUM: A Gladiator’s Story Two superb docudrama mini-movies on one DVD. Hunky Robert Shannon scores as Verus the gladiator!
CALIGULA Gore Vidal wrote the script, and Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud and Helen Mirren star in this notorious X-rated epic. Also available: 3-disk Imperial Edition.
CALIGULA II: MESSALINA, MESSALINA Crude but hilarious comedy about Emperor Claudius the cuckold and his errant wife Messalina, outlandishly performed on the sumptuous sets for Caligula.
SEBASTIANE Derek Jarman’s homoerotic take on the tormented Roman soldier who became a martyred saint. Music by Brian Eno. In Latin with English subtitles.
NOTORIOUS CLEOPATRA 1960s sexploitation flick delivers a ribald rehash of the famous tale. Also includes The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo & Juliet.
THE ARENA Before his hits Night Watch, Day Watch, and Wanted, Timur Bekmambetov directed this gritty tale of women gladiators at a hellish Roman outpost on the Danube.
EL RAPTO DE LAS SABINAS Mexican film from 1962 spins a romantic tale of Romulus and the capture of the Sabine women. In Spanish.
When the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra created a worldwide sensation in the 1960s, it was inevitable that the long-running “Carry On” comedy series in the UK would come out with Carry On Cleo, which gave us Caesar’s immortal line: “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!” See a gallery of images here. The movie is available in THE CARRY ON COLLECTION, or you might find a copy here.

Hail, Caesar! A few years ago, to rave reviews, Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer played the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, staged at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. Happily, the production was filmed, capturing for posterity one of our best actors in one of Shaw’s most dynamic roles. The DVD seems never to have had a US release, but you can purchase a DVD directly from Canada’s, or from third-party vendors at

The Criterion Collection presents Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film, a 3-disk set which includes the dazzling Technicolor Caesar and Cleopatra with Claude Rains and Vivian Leigh (in 1945, the most expensive British film ever made), plus Shaw’s brilliant satire of Christian martyrs and Roman chagrin, Androcles and the Lion, with Victor Mature, Jean Simmons, and Alan Young. Also: Major Barbara with Rex Harrison and Wendy Hiller.

The quintessence of epic cinema at last comes to Blu-ray with BEN HUR: THE 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray], loaded with extras including the 1926 silent version with Ramon Navarro. The movie is also available as a regular DVD boxed set (BEN-HUR: Collector’s Edition), and to watch from iTunes.

No other actor ever matched Heston’s screen presence in ancient garb.
Check out his other Ancient World movies:

ANTONY & CLEOPATRA Charlton Heston directed and stars in the epic 1972 screen version of the Shakespeare play with Hildegard Neil as Cleopatra. Restored widescreen print; includes a “Making Of” doc by Fraser Heston.
BEN HUR Like the original novel by Lew Wallace, this animated version is more religious than the 1959 Oscar-winner. Charlton Heston narrates and reprises his most famous role.
EL CID Not set in the Ancient World, but nonetheless one of Heston’s most epic performances, playing the legendary Spanish knight opposite the ravishing Sophia Loren.
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD Director George Stevens cast Max von Sydow as Jesus in this consummate Hollywood epic studded with star cameos. Charlton Heston plays John the Baptist.
HERCULES Classic Disney animation at its peak; glorious images of ancient Greece highlight a new take on the tale of the world’s most enduring hero. Narrated by Charlton Heston.
JULIUS CAESAR (1970) Charlton Heston as Marc Antony, along with Jason Robards, John Gielgud, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, Diana Rigg & Christopher Lee in Shakespeare’s immortal play.
JULIUS CAESAR (1950) Legendary independent film features a young, unknown, and nearly naked Charlton Heston, who 20 years later reprised his role as Antony in the 1970 all-star version of Julius Caesar.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS Charlton Heston as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 mega-spectacular; the movie that made Heston’s name synonymous with “screen epic.”


SHAKESPEARE: THE ANIMATED TALES includes a striking version of Julius Caesar, plus eleven other 12 plays rendered by Russian animators & British actors.
JULIUS CAESAR (1970) Jason Robards, Charlton Heston, John Gielgud, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Vaughn, Diana Rigg & Christopher Lee in Shakespeare’s immortal play.
JULIUS CAESAR (1953) Marlon Brando’s Antony created a sensation in the Hollywood version directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Also available in The Marlon Brando Collection.
JULIUS CAESAR (1950) Legendary independent film featuring then-unknown (and nearly naked) Charlton Heston...who later resprised his role as Antony in the 1970 all-star version of Julius Caesar.
ANTONY & CLEOPATRA Charlton Heston directed and stars in the epic 1972 screen version of the Shakespeare play with Hildegard Neil as Cleopatra. Restored widescreen print.
ANTONY & CLEOPATRA (1983) Lynn Redgrave and Timothy Dalton as Shakespeare’s larger-than-life lovers, doomed yet ennobled by the bitter reversals of fortune.
ANTONY & CLEOPATRA (1974) Janet Suzman, Richard Johnson, Patrick Stewart, and Corin Redgrave star in the Royal Shakespeare Company production. Watch for a young Ben Kingsley!
TITUS Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange in Julie Taymor’s bold screen version of Shakespeare’s bloody “Titus Andronicus.” Of related interest: Taymor’s spectacular Oedipus Rex.
THE BBC SHAKESPEARE TRAGEDIES I features memorable TV productions with amazing casts, including Julius Caesar, directed by Herbert Wise (who also directed I, Claudius) with Charles Gray as Caesar, Keith Michell as Antony, and Richard Pasco as Brutus). Also: Hamlet, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, and Macbeth.
THE BBC SHAKESPEARE TRAGEDIES II features memorable TV productions with amazing casts, including four plays set in the Ancient World—Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens, and Antony & Cleopatra—plus King Lear.

Click here for a linked list of all Shakespeare plays set in the Ancient World.


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