The 10 Best Action Movies That Take Place In The Ancient Past – Screen Rant

An action film doesn’t need to be set in modern times to be great. Some of the best take place in the ancient past, like these 10.
Robert Eggers's The Northman is the latest in a long line of brutal action films set in the distant past. The action genre has long been one of the most popular in Hollywood, from the westerns of old to the testosterone-fueled bonanzas of the 1980s. But as The Northman proves, you don't have to have a contemporary setting to be a great action film.
Numerous ancient era films have delivered top-notch action over the years, especially since the year 2000, which featured the double whammy of Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But how do these ancient era action flicks stack up against each other?
Brad Pitt highlighted an incredible ensemble cast for the 2004 epic war film Troy. The film tells the tale of the Trojan War from Homer's Iliad and also stars Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, and Diane Kruger.
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The film has everything from grand large-scale battles to one-on-one duels. The battle on the beach is a terrific example of the film's breathtaking cinematography and action choreography. Brad Pitt's Achilles also has some iconic fights with Hector and Boagrius.
Before he burst into international superstardom as Superman, Henry Cavill starred as Theseus in the brutal 2011 action-adventure film, Immortals. As reported by Firstshowing, director Tarsem Singh designed the film's action scenes to be evocative of renaissance paintings.
The use of color and the cinematography in the film are terrific and make the film a quality visual experience. Not only does the film show human characters engaging in epic battles, but one scene depicts a confrontation between gods and Titans. The action throughout is brutal and unrelenting.
A 2004 martial arts film with significant romantic elements, as with so many martial arts films of the post-Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon era, House Of Flying Daggers is visually breathtaking and features a mesmerizing use of color. It is an example of a wuxia film that could never be made in Hollywood.
There are several terrific action scenes that all have a unique look to them. One of the most famous is the bamboo forest fight, a stylish scene that featured numerous characters positioned high up in the trees, clinging to bamboo.
Mel Gibson's 2006 action-adventure drama is truly one-of-a-kind, filmed in the language of the Yucatec Maya. It actually only takes place a few hundred years in the past, but it is nonetheless an action film about an ancient culture that's worth talking about.
The story follows Jaguar Paw as his Mesoamerican tribe is raided by Mayans who capture, sacrifice, and terrorize them. Jaguar Paw manages to escape after killing several of his captors who chase him into the jungle. The action in the film is brutal and merciless.
Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion make up the over-the-top Bollywood action epic franchise Baahubali. The films take place in ancient India and are inspired by the epic tale of the Mahābhārata.
The film features beautiful cinematography, energetic performances, and action choreography that doesn't hold back. The film's most famous moment is the now-memed scene where warriors are catapulted into an enemy stronghold.
Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book is heavy on the style. It is arguably the quintessential Zack Snyder film and led to film adaptations of Watchmen and The Justice League. The film tells a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans fought an overwhelming army of Persians.
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Gerard Butler stars as Leonidas who proclaims "This is Sparta!" in the film's most iconic moment. The film's color grading and use of slow-motion give the action scenes a very unique feel. While a successful action film, the film was heavily criticized for its depictions of both Spartan and non-Spartan society.
One of the quintessential adventure movies of the 1960s featured a story revolving around classic Greek mythology. Legendary visual effects artist, Ray Harryhausen, brought thrilling characters to life through the use of stop motion, such as the Hydra and the towering Titan Talos.
One of the film's most thrilling moments is when Jason and Co. sword fight a small army of skeletons. Harryhausen's animation of the skeletons was absolutely groundbreaking upon the film's release in 1963 and is still being celebrated to this day.
Jet Li starred in this 2002 martial arts film set in the 220s BC. It was a time when China was divided into seven warring nations which the state of Qin was trying to unify. The film drew comparisons to Rashomon due to its unreliable narrator and different versions of the story told.
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The action in the film is very stylish and one breathtaking fight scene on a lake features characters who prance on the surface of the water. The Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon influence is abundant, as the film offers the heavy use of impressive wire-working.
John Woo-directed 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a landmark film featuring jaw-dropping physics and an engaging story. It was based on the 1940s serialized novel by Wang Dulu. The film was nominated for Best Picture at the academy awards and won for best foreign film.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features outstanding martial arts action and inspired a whole slew of similar films in the years that followed. The iconic wall-running physics captivated audiences upon release and led to Prince of Persia and numerous other works that recycled the idea.
Ridley Scott's 2000 release was a landmark film and made Russell Crowe a household name. Crowe stars as Maximum, a great Roman general who is betrayed by Commodus and sentenced to the gladiator ring.
There are numerous terrific action scenes that follow, including the fierce fight between Maximum and Tigris of Gaul. A bizarre proposed sequel would have had Maximus resurrected by Roman gods to stop the spread of Christianity, resulting in him being cursed with immortality and eventually working in the Pentagon.
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Kevin Shirka is a writer, filmmaker and actor. Originally from Columbus, Ohio he now resides in Southern California. Kevin is passionate about cinema, as well as soccer and video games. He is the founder and operator of Youtube’s Indiana Jones Nerd.


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