17 Underrated Epic Films That Surprisingly Few Have Watched

In the bustling cinema landscape, where blockbusters reign supreme and cult classics find their devoted following, lies a trove of hidden treasures waiting to be unearthed. Ready to expand your movie horizon? Here are 18 relatively unknown epic films you most likely haven’t watched. 

Lawrence of Arabia 

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

In this gripping biopic, director David Lean perfectly captures T.E. Lawrence’s complexities and relationships with Arab Leaders. Starring Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, a British officer who became renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt, Lawrence of Arabia explores the challenges faced in combat and Lawrence’s divided allegiance between Britain and his newfound allies among the Arabian desert tribes.

The Last Temptation of Christ

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

While originally met with mixed reviews and criticism about its religious representation, The Last Temptation of Christ remains one of the most thought-provoking portrayals of spirituality and redemption. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Willem Dafoe, the film explores Jesus’ path to salvation as he battles against the Roman occupiers led by Judas (Harvey Keitel).


Photo Credit: Roadshow Film.

Set during the First World War, this Australian drama follows two young army men as they serve in the Gallipoli campaign. Directed by Peter Weir and starring a young Mel Gibson, Gallipoli captures the anguish soldiers suffer through a creative lens. While accompanied by several action sequences, the film merely focuses on the pair’s journey from young men to soldiers faced with the harsh reality of combat. 


Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Set against the backdrop of Italy’s unstable political and social climate during the twentieth century, this historical drama follows the lives of two men from different social backgrounds. As each witness the political conflicts between communism and fascism, director Bernardo Bertolucci captures the conflicts between social classes in twentieth-century Italy. 

War and Peace 

Photo Credit: Continental Distributing.

Adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel of the same name, War and Peace follows the lives of Russian noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by Sergey Bondarchuk, the film perfectly captures Tolstoy’s grandeur with gripping war sequences and elegant costumes. 

The New World 

Photo Credit: Entertainment Film.

A historical drama that creatively reimagines the founding of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, The New World offers a poetic and thoughtful approach to the cultural clashes between Native Americans and European settlers in the early seventeenth century. Starring Colin Farrell and Q’orianka Kilcher, the film also delves into the relationship between Captain John Smith and Pocahontas in a colonized America. 

Little Big Man 

Photo Credit: National General Pictures.

In this satirical Western, director Arthur Penn manages to delve into themes of cultural identity, morality, and American West myths through the eyes of the film’s protagonist. The film follows the extraordinary life of Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a white man raised by the Cheyenne tribe. Jack recounts his adventures throughout the film, including meeting historical figures such as General Custer (Richard Mulligan) and surviving the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn. 

The Big Red One 

Photo Credit: ITC Entertainment .

Following the journey of a unit of soldiers in the First Infantry Division during the Second World War, The Big Red One is a gritty war tale that captures the harsh reality of combat. We witness the unit, led by Sergeant Possum (Lee Marvin), traverse numerous conflict zones as they come to learn the meaning of sacrifice and solidarity. Based on director Samuel Fuller’s wartime experiences, the film pays tribute to the bravery and resilience of those who fought in one of history’s deadliest battles. 

The Last Emperor

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

This biographical epic chronicles the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. The film explores Puyi’s ascent to the throne as a young boy, his resignation, and his life as a prisoner under Communist rule. With themes of power, identity, and the transformation in China in the 20th century, this is one film not to be missed. 

The Bridge on the River Kwai 

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Directed by David Lean, this Oscar-winning World War II film follows a group of British prisoners of war who their Japanese captors force to build a railway bridge to Burma. The film delves into themes of dignity, duty, and the human spirit as the prisoners struggle with their abuse.


Photo Credit: Loew’s, Inc.

This biblical epic, directed by William Wyler, follows Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a Jewish prince falsely accused of treason by his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd). On his journey from slavery to redemption, Ben-Hur encounters Jesus Christ. This record-breaking Oscar winner explores themes of faith and forgiveness mixed in with epic sequences and an unforgettable chariot race scene.


Photo Credit: Beijing New Picture Film.

This Chinese martial arts drama, directed by Zhang Yimou, is set during the Warring States period. The film follows Nameless (Jet Li), a warrior who claims to have defeated three assassins who are plotting against the King of Qin. But as Nameless recounts his alleged encounters with the assassins, the truth behind his motives comes to light.

Barry Lyndon

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel of the same name, Barry Lyndon tells the story of Redmond Barry, an Irish rogue who uses his skills of manipulation and deceit to climb up the social ladder in nineteenth-century Europe. Barry Lyndon is an exquisite exploration of ambition, fate, and the pursuit of wealth.


Photo Credit: Toho.

Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is a Japanese drama that reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear in feudal Japan. The film depicts Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), an elderly warlord who decides to divide his kingdom among his three sons, resulting in betrayal, intrigue, and a disastrous fight for power.


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

William Friedkin’s Sorcerer is a gripping thriller about four men from around the world who are paid to transport extremely dangerous explosives across treacherous South American jungles. As they navigate the harsh terrain and face countless challenges, tensions grow, and their dark pasts return to haunt them.


Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Giant is a gripping drama directed by George Stevens and based on Edna Ferber’s novel. The film chronicles the lives of a Texas cattle rancher, Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), his wife Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), and a rebellious ranch hand, Jett Rink (James Dean), spanning several decades. Giant delves into topics of family, race, class, and the shifting landscape of American culture in the 20th century.

A Matter of Life and Death 

Photo Credit: Eagle-Lion Films .

A Matter of Life and Death is a romantic fantasy film directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It follows a British airman, Peter Carter (David Niven), who miraculously survives a plane crash but finds himself in a celestial court, arguing for his right to remain on Earth with the woman he loves. The film investigates the nature of love, fate, and the afterlife through inventive storytelling, impressive visual effects, and philosophical ideas.

The Deer Hunter

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

The Deer Hunter follows a group of Pennsylvanian steelworkers who bond over their experiences during the Vietnam War. With themes of friendship and trauma and exceptional performances by Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter offers a harrowing portrayal of the psychological toll of combat.

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Amy Watkins

Writer & Blogger

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