Monday, January 27, 2020

ARTICLE OF THE WEEK: Hollywood's mid-range PEPLUM movies

Spectacular scenes do not guarantee box office results. From THE EGYPTIAN (1954)

When you think of old Hollywood epics or biblical films, you think of 3+ hours productions with big budgets such as BEN-HUR (1959), THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) or SPARTACUS (1960). Well, there were other epic films aside from those 3 but when the discussion comes up, few people remember the other lesser known ones.

In this article, I'll give an overview of the so-called mid-range epics which were made and released between 1949 and and 1966. I won't cover any movies made before or after that time period. The European or Italian made movies, not financed by Hollywood, won't be listed here. Then there are the low budgeted films like those released by Columbia Pictures, such as SERPENT OF THE NILE or SLAVES OF BABYLON. Or THE GOLDEN HORDE from Universal.

The big epics of Hollywood with a big budget of $5 million and more were:

SAMSON & DELILAH (1949) Though the budget wasn't over $5 million it was considered high back then.

QUO VADIS (1951) - Massive super-production shot in Italy.

THE ROBE (1953) - First movie in CinemaScope. A hit at the box office.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) - Big Cecil B  DeMille epic.

THE CONQUEROR (1956) - Popular at the box office.

BEN-HUR (1959) - The most popular PEPLUM film of the decade: $146 million at the box office.

SPARTACUS (1960) - $60 million at the box office.

EL CID (1961) - Another hit starring Charlton Heston.

KING OF KINGS (1961) - Though it had a smaller than average budget for big epics, it still considered a big one. A box office smash.

CLEOPATRA (1963) - The most expensive movie of the period. Over $30 million.

THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964) - Budget: S15 million

THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965) - Budget: $20 million

THE BIBLE: IN THE BEGINNING… (1966) - Budget: $15 million

Now, just to make sure. The list below is based on the budget of the movies and/or their box-office performances. Some movies, which were sorta on the lower end, became big hits, like DAVID & BATHSHEBA (1951) or DEMTRIUS & THE GLADIATORS (1954). While some film with a massive budget barely made any money, like THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964). It's how the films were sold or how much of an impact they had, back then and how they are remembered today. Many of these 'mid-range' epics are rarely cited when the topic is brought-up.

Note: the box office tallies are estimates. Also, this article is not a comment on the quality of these movies. Just how they performed back then and how they are remembered today, if at all.

Posted at the permanent page: Articles of the week (2019 - 2020)


Budget: $1.9 million (Box office: $7.1 million)

One of the most popular mid-range epics though it rarely comes to mind to those who aren't fans of such movies. Cecil B. DeMille's SAMSON & DELILAH will always eclipse this early PEPLUM film rushed into production after the success of that DeMille hit.


Budget: $1.25 million (Box office: not available).

A nice picture with a great cast, including Alan Young and Jean Simmons (above). Are there any fans of this movie?


Budget: $2 million (Box office: nearly $4 million)

A stellar cast with an emerging star, Marlon Brando. It was a success of sorts but not the runaway hits like other epics of the period. The film is not comparable to BEN-HUR or any such box office hits since it's more drama than action or spectacle.

SALOME (1953)

Budget: not available (Box office: $4.75 million)

A COLUMBIA PICTURES production. Though not as 'cheap' as their other movies, most of them directed by William Castle, SALOME was still pretty much a studio bound higher budgeted version of their quickies. The cast was excellent and the cinematography captured the colourful world it's set in but it wasn't epic by any means. Starring Rita Hayworth as the titular seductress.


Budget: not available (Box office: $2.5 million)

Universal's attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the epics was entertaining and colourful (like many of them) but it wasn't a hit. The definition of mid-range.


Budget: $4.5 million (Box office: $3.2 million)

This early widescreen PEPLUM movie is notorious for more than one reason. It was highly stylized and though it looked great it wasn't well received. You either like it or hate it. There's no in-between. Paul Newman's first movie and he hated it. Starring Jack Palance and Virginia Mayo. They hated working together.


Budget: $3.9 million (Box office: $4.25 million)

One of the higher budgeted mid-range epics, with a great cast and a class A production, this movie, which has attained a cult following of sorts, is not remembered in the same way as THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or any other epics of the time. It was a box office disappointment, in regards to its higher budget.


Budget: $1.9 million (Box office: $26 million)

Sequel to THE ROBE, its budget was half of what the 1953 movie cost but it didn't matter since it became a big hit. Mainly because it's a follow-up to the first CinemaScope hit but also because it's very entertaining.


Budget: $2.7 million (Box office: $4 million)

This epic is very colourful and memorable in its own way but it couldn't duplicate the box office performance of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or BEN-HUR. Starring Lana Turner.


Budget: $2.9 million (Box office: #2.7 million)

Though the film includes massive sets and large crowds and it was shot in part on location, this colourful epic is mainly remembered by film enthusiasts, PEPLUM fans and fans of Joan Collins. Howard Hawks refused to list it during a retrospective on his career. Starring Jack Hawkins and Dewey Martin.


Budget: not available (Box office: $2.5 million)

Another excellent production with excellent cast that got a lukewarm reception at the box office. It's not forgotten by any means but few people bring up when talking about epics of the period. Starring Richard Burton.


Budget: $6 million (Box office: $3.2 million)

Technically speaking, this Robert Wise movie, with a budget of $6 million, should be listed in the big budgeted movies above but it wasn't a box office smash so I had to list here. Sadly, it's one of those forgotten epics of the 1950s.


Budget: $4 million (Box office: $3 million)

This 3+ hours epic is the most forgotten epic of that period. Starring Howard Keel. The movie is in limbo.


Budget: $2.9 million (Box office: $3 million)

Directed by Henry Koster, the same director of THE ROBE. The budget was smaller than the one for THE ROBE and it barely made its money back. Starring Tom Tryon and Elana Eden. It's a solid drama but few people remember this mid-range epic.


Budget: $4 million (Box office: $1.6 million)

Like many of these movies, it's colourful and well made but it was a box office disappointment. Starring Yul Brynner and George Chakiris.

Hollywood / Italian co-productions:


Budget: not available (Box office: $2.9 million)

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Richard Fleischer. Not a BEN-HUR or a SPARTACUS by any means but it was well received.


Budget: not available (Box office: not available)

This movie is mostly seen as an Italian production but it was actually in production at FOX for a long time, ever since the success of DAVID & BATHSHEBA. Production of the movie was eventually moved to Italy because of the 1960 Writers Guild of America strike. Starring Joan Collins and Rosalba Neri.


Budget: $4.5 million (Box office: $2.5 million)

Directed by Robert Aldrich and produced by Joseph E. Levine. A US/French/Italian co-production, this big, ponderous epic was a dud at the box office. Better than most productions at the time, it went nowhere fast: it didn't satisfy the horny moviegoers looking for sexy moments and the subject was too lurid for religious folks. 


bythegods56 said...

Awesome selection of movies. I have trouble enjoying Androcles and the Lion. It just feels like a tonal mess even though I feel like the cast was great. The comedy felt mostly out of place to me.

Anonymous said...

There are some film historians who disagree that 'The Fall of the Roman Empire' led directly to the collapse of Bronston studios. Nevertheless in spite of the fact that it my own personal favourite film, the maths do not look good. It cost an awful lot to make and it made very little back in return.

Having said that it was still among the top ten box office films that year. Furthermore as you point out in your list there were other 'epics' released afterwards.

I too am a fan of Androcles and the lion.


Scott Ochiltree said...

Very good compilation indeed.

Please post some new items this week if you have time, as this is my favorite website. Thanks.

Scott Ochiltree said...

Very good compilation indeed.

Please post some more items this week if you have time. This is my favorite website. Thanks.

Brrrodie the Westie said...

Thanks for the thorough compilation and analysis