Five of the most brutal and epic group combat scenes in celluloid
300: Rise of an Empire will be fighting its way into cinemas this weekend – but will the sequel boast skirmishes worthy of cinema’s epic proportions? Here are five to compare with.
300 (2006) In the original 300, Frank Miller’s stark comic book visuals came to life with the visionary aid of Zack Snyder. Even though Snyder would go on to bigger things with Man of Steel, this is by no means a small-scale affair; King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) faces war in 480 B.C., a vast opposing army threatening to take over his beloved Sparta. Low on numbers, he nevertheless marches to confront his enemy head-on – with 300 of his loyal Spartan warriors gallantly following him against 100,000. The ensuing depicted battle, in which Leonidas leads his men to the Gates of Thermopylae to bottleneck the ensuing army, is as fantastical as those numbers; numerous mystical beasts and storms of arrows are all deployed against the brave few, and what ensues is the unlikeliest screen battle in history. But Snyder’s distinct visual flair, and the history of the real battle, all lend it some credence amid the chaos of perfect abs and masculine beards.
Spartacus (1960) The 31 year-old Stanley Kubrick may have thought he’d bitten off more than he could chew when, at the last minute, he was hired to direct the epic Spartacus. Produced by and starring Kirk Douglas, plus an Oscar-winning supporting role from Laurence Olivier, assured Spartacus’s critical and commcercial success from the off. But it was the huge scope of the movie that would see it go down in history, conveyed best in the film’s climactic battle; Spartacus led thousands of his freed slaves against an immense Roman army, boasting a cast of extras in surplus of 10,000. The scale of the skirmish was unaccounted for even at a time when such large sword-and-sandal epics were all the rage. Kubrick had assembled an actual army; even though box office for the picture boomed, the director sadly wouldn’t make a film as huge again (including 2001: A Space Odyssey). All together now: ‘I’m Spartacus!’
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) We could’ve chosen any one of the epic battles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But for showing off the sheer scale of these movies, it has to be the Battle of Pelennor fields from the trilogy’s concluding chapter; with the irredeemably ugly forces of Mordor encroaching upon Minas Tirith, an all-out blitzkrieg of wizards, orcs, hobbits, and giant elephants and vengeful ghosts unfurls. It’s something that could only have been dreamt up by Tolkien’s boundless imagination, and realised by Peter Jackson’s knack for invention – and totalling over an hour of screen time, it’s a spectacle worthy of the hype given to these adaptations. It’s worth it to see Legolas grind along the tusk of an elephantine beasts, slaying a dozen opponents in one fell swoop.
Saving Private Ryan (1998) June 6, 1944; allied forces land on Omaha Beach, leading one of the final pushes against German forces in the throes of WWII. The historic event has been eulogised ever since, but in 1998 director Steven Spielberg showed us again the visceral horror of the D-Day assaults with Saving Private Ryan. It may star Tom Hanks, face of many an ‘80s comedy, and have won a truckload of numerous awards, but the intensity of its opening 27 minutes is testament to the reality of war. Shot in a shaky documentary style, and orchestrated like a real battle with dirt flying in every direction from shell blasts and the waves lapping against Normandy’s beach inked red with blood, you may get shell shock from a single viewing. But 20th-century warfare has perhaps never been as accurately portrayed before or since, and still manages to induce a sense of awe in today’s CGI-heavy setpieces.
Starship Troopers (1997) Blending satire with all-out action, and a coming-of-age tale with political drama, Paul Verhoeven must have had a blast (figuratively and literally) when making Starship Troopers. When a group of adolescents sign up for the military, they’re sucked into a war between the human race and a race of aliens called simply the ‘Bugs’. The Battle of Klendathu is perhaps the movie’s highlight, displaying the film’s penchant for high stakes, big guns, and extreme gore; leading the assault against the alien race of evil insectoids, Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is faced with an enemy that resembles a hydra, where no matter how many Bugs he and his men destroy, three more arrive in its place. The battle itself successfully combines real peril with a few laughs, and personal drama with the huge scope of the desert setting of the enemy’s home planet; Verhoeven’s bloodier moments aside, this sees the classic director up the ante from RoboCop and Total Recall in terms of action, and laces it with the kind of mock-jingoism he was famous for.