Spartan movies are few, but leading the way are 300, The 300 Spartans, Galdiators 7, Meet the Spartans and The Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules.
Ancient Sparta continues to fascinate today. A prominent Greek city-state, Sparta emphasized extreme military training for its males, preparing them for what she considered the ultimate glory – death on the battlefield. The vaunted Spartan phalanx was considered to be the best in ancient Greece, used to great effect against her enemies in battle. "Come back with your shield – or on it," was the reported parting cry of Spartan mothers to their sons as the former headed off to the killing zone.
Here are Hollywood's best Spartan movies. They are very few, to be sure, but what is available is generally worth exploring...
300 (Warner Bros., 2007)
The ultimate Spartan movie, 300 is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads his 300 Spartan warriors and other Greek allies into the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C, taking on Persian forces led by the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Using the narrow terrain, Leonidas and his men continually repel the numerically superior Persians. A frustrated Xerxes attempts negotiation, plying Leonidas with offers of great wealth and power if he will lay down his arms and surrender. When that tact fails, Xerxes sends in his elite the Immortals, followed by the use of such exotic weapons as black powder explosives and huge war beasts. Finally, Xerxes is able to defeat Leonidas, using a secret goat path to outflank and surround the Spartans, showering them with a deadly rain of arrows. Directed by Zack Snyder, the $65 million CGI bloodfest 300 has to date grossed $456,068,181 worldwide at the box office.
Review: "Once the newness of '300's' look wears off, which it inevitably does, what we are left with is a videogame come to life. The problem here is not so much that '300' is 'Apocalypto' – violent but that its violence is repetitive: Unless you are washed in the blood, so to speak, there is a limit to how often you can see soldiers speared and hacked to death and still stay involved." - Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times (3/9/07)
One sheet movie poster: 300 (2007) - Warner Bros.
The 300 Spartans (Twentieth Century Fox, 1962)
In the first cinematic telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, Richard Egan stars as King Leonidas, with Ralph Richardson (Themistocles of Athens), Diane Baker (Ellas), Barry Coe (Phylon), David Farrar (Xerxes) and Donald Houston (Hydarnes) also on hand. Leonidas and his 300 Spartans are tasked with holding off the Persian Army, buying time for Greece so the other city-states can organize and get into the fight. Directed by Rudolph Mate, The 300 Spartans is a much tamer movie than the graphic 300 (2007), but does feature excellent battle scenes and of course the death finale for Egan and his brave Spartans, who are finally cornered and then slaughtered via an onslaught of Persian arrows that seemingly darken the sun.
Review: "An international cast has been assembled for the enterprise, primarily populated with Britishers, Greeks and Americans. Richard Egan, as King Leonidas of Sparta, is physically suitable for the character, but the heroic mold of his performance is only skin deep – more muscle than corpuscle." - Variety (1962).
Australian daybill movie poster: The 300 Spartans (1962) - Heritage Auction Galleries
Gladiators 7 (MGM, 1962)
Pedro Lazaga directed this Italian-made sword-and-sandal adventure featuring Richard Harrison as Darius, the offspring of the king of Sparta who is fingered in the escape of five gladiators. Darius himself now finds himself sentenced to an undetermined stretch in the Roman Colosseum, where he proves himself a worthy combatant in the bloody arena. Winning his freedom through his expert swordplay, Darius returns to his native Sparta where he recruits six of his gladiator pals and like Yul Brynner and his gunslinging buds in The Magnificent Seven (1960) bloodies his adversaries, avenges his father's death and reconnects with his old flame (Loredana Nusciak).
Review: "As far as sword and sandal movies go, Gladiators 7 is acceptable. It has a relatively fast-paced zip, some interesting sets and costumes, some bad yet not horrible acting, and loads of action – the primary reason anyone is watching this in the first place." - BaronB100d, The Internet Movie Database (11/25/07)
Insert movie poster: Gladiators 7 (1962) - Heritage Auction Galleries
Meet the Spartans (Twentieth Century Fox, 2008)
In this wild $30 million parody it's Sean Maguire's turn to play Leonidas, with Carmen Electra (Queen Margo), Ken Davitian (Xerxes), Kevin Sorbo (Captain) and Diedrich Bader (Traitoro) also filling the big screen. Yes, this is a comedy, with Leonidas and his 12 fun-loving Spartan misfits taking on the entire Persian Army just for laughs – and the chance to tell a repertoire of bad gay jokes. Co-directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the movie employs a number of lookalikes for Paris Hilton, George W. Bush, Rambo, Rocky Balboa, Tom Cruise, Lindsay Lohan, Twiggy, Donald Trump, Britney Spears, et al., making for some strange bedfellows and an even stranger movie. Maguire's King Leonidas proves himself to be an astute military tactician, declaring, "As long as Xerxes doesn't find the secret path to the Hot Gates...their vast numbers won't count for shit!"
Review: "Carmen Electra proves herself a national treasure as our highest-priced whore, Kevin Sorbo makes a Herculean fool of himself, testicles are bitten, penguins defecate, the countless man-on-man gags land every time with a 'gay is gross' eww response, at least six corporate products are placed—and, at its most offensive, a death cry of 'Say hello to Anna Nicole.' I'm moving to Europe." - Aaron Hillis, The Village Voice (1/22/08).
One sheet movie poster: Meet the Spartans (2008) - Twentieth Century Fox
The Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules (Embassy Pictures, 1964)
Way out on the fringes of Spartan movies is the Italian-made Maciste, gladiatore di Sparta – directed by Mario Caiano and released in the United States as The Terror of Rome Against the Son of Hercules. Brooklyn, New York-born Lou Degni a.k.a. Mark Forest has the title role of Maciste, a gladiator from Sparta who flexes his muscles and fights in the arena while catching the eye of one of the emperor's gal pals Olympia (Marilu Tolo). Maciste takes up the cause of the early Christians against the pagan Romans, with the usual intrigue and bloody results ensuing.
Review: "Mark Forest, one of the most enjoyable peplum actors, plays Maciste, a star gladiator from Sparta. As far as I can see, there's no reason to make him Greek, and there's no true Spartan flavor about him. The name might have simply been chosen to evoke (a) Spartacus (who, however, was NOT from Sparta) and/or (b) the traditional toughness of the Spartans." - alphaboy, The Internet Movie Database (9/30/09)
- Gerard Butler as King Leonidas in 300 (2007) - Warner Bros.
Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.