[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Movies On Demand. Catch up on last year’s Awards Season contenders and past winners On Demand. Today’s list is a selection of classic Oscar-winning epics.]
On the RMS Titanic, Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) and gives her the time of her life. The ship hits an iceberg and Rose must find Jack while the ship sinks deeper into the freezing water. From director James Cameron, “Titanic” has lived on for nearly two decades as the love story of our times. Tragically romantic and stunningly staged, it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and remains one of the most successful and influential movies of all time.
This classic look at the competitive spirit features two runners competing for Olympic glory in their own fashion and for their own separate reasons. “Chariots of Fire” is based on the amazing true story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams at the 1924 Olympics, and remains an incomparably stirring and inspirational piece of cinema. Often noted for the infamous, Oscar-winning score from Vangelis, this 1981 epic also won the Academy Award for Best Picture and is ranked 19th on the British Film Institute’s list of the best British films ever made.
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) happens into one memorable experience after another through a panorama of American history from the 1950s to the present. He is supported by his love for Jenny (Robin Wright), with whom he shares his lifelong memories. Hanks’ iconic performance in “Forrest Gump” earned him the Oscar for Best Actor, while the film as a whole, directed by Robert Zemeckis, triumphed as Best Picture. With an unprecedented historical sweep, the alternately touching and powerful “Forrest Gump” lives on as the definitive modern American epic.
Against the backdrop of the American Civil War and starring screen legends Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, “Gone with the Wind” transcends as cinema’s greatest epic of passion and adventure. The film won a record-setting 10 Academy Awards in 1940, and has since been preserved by the National Film Registry and is annually ranked among the top 10 American films ever made by the American Film Institute. With its immortal cast, magnificent cinematography and sweeping score, this cherished classic continues to thrill audiences today.
This film chronicles the exploits of Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) during the Civil War. After being accepted by a Native American tribe, Dunbar’s loyalties are put to the test. Directed by Costner in a revelatory achievement, “Dances with Wolves” won the Academy Award for Best Picture and is considered a landmark for revitalizing of the Western epic. Sweeping, emotive and remarkably filmed, Costner’s cinematic achievement has been preserved by the National Film Registry as the quintessential modern American Western.
Mel Gibson is William Wallace, a bold Scotsman who used the steel of his blade and the fire of his intellect to rally his countrymen to liberation. This propulsive, uncompromising and deeply-felt historical recounting stunned audiences for its simultaneous depiction of brutality and humanity. Nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest American epics ever produced, “Braveheart” went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture and Director (Gibson). Two decades later, it stands out as one of the great American war films of all time.
This epic masterpiece stars Charlton Heston in the title role of a rebellious Israelite Jew who takes on the Roman Empire during the time of Christ. A remake of the 1925 film of the same name, “Ben-Hur” boasted a record-breaking budget and hitherto-unseen size and scope in production design. The results, even 50 years later, speak for themselves. Winning an astonishing 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, “Ben-Hur” has been recognized by the American film Institute as the second greatest American epic ever made.
“The Godfather” follows a Sicilian clan’s rise to power in America, balancing the story between the Corleone’s family life and the ugly crime business in which they are engaged. Marlon Brando is simply astonishing as crime boss Vito Corleone, giving one of the finest, most transformative performances ever seen on the big screen. Winning a collection of Oscars including for Best Picture, Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola) and Best Actor (Brando), “The Godfather” presented a family saga like no other and would kick off one of the most influential cinematic franchises in history.
The second installment continues the saga of two generations of power within the Corleone family: the roots and rise of a young Don Vito (played now by Robert De Niro) and the ascension of Michael (Al Pacino) as the new Don. Francis Ford Coppola’s unprecedented, Oscar-winning cinematic accomplishment, “The Godfather Part II” depicts, with breathtaking cinematography and brilliant performances, the convergence of family, crime and the American Dream. Ranked among the greatest films ever made, “Part II” only builds on the accomplishment of its predecessor.
Sylvester Stallone became an instant superstar with his portrayal of the underdog boxer who gets a million-to-one shot at boxing’s World Heavyweight crown. Cited as one of the great comeback stories in American cinema, “Rocky” hit theaters and promptly shook the country with its irresistible narrative, winning over critics, audiences and finally the Academy Awards alike. The film also features Bill Conti’s soundtrack, one of the most rousing and everlasting musical compilations ever put on screen.
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