Show Mobile Navigation
History |

10 Stories From The Ancient World That Need A Movie

by C.J. Phillips
fact checked by Jamie Frater

There have been 9 Batman films. 6 about Superman. At least 54 films about Jesus. There have been at least 22 films about King Arthur (and never played by a Welsh actor—go figure!) Some of these adaptations are great, some terrible (Batman Forever, I’m looking at you). Here’s a list of amazing legends, historical figures and events that have never been given the Hollywood treatment their awesomeness deserves—feel free to add your own ideas along with cast suggestions in the comments below: let’s get Hollywood to listen up!

10 Truly Disgusting Facts About Ancient Egyptian Life

10 Historic Slasher Film based on Liu Pengli—The First (solo) Serial Killer on Record

Starring: Jason Wong as ‘Liu Pengli, Tony Leung Chiu-wai as ‘Prince of Liang’

We’ve read about one of the first recorded serial killers on the site before. The story of a pampered, sadistic royal murderer could combine the creeping dread of classic slasher movies with the mystique and intrigue of the ancient Han dynasty. With the popularity of horror movies drawing on our brutal past and the relative lack of accurate depictions of ancient Chinese culture, a film about this evil nobleman could fill the gap.[1]

9 Epic Historical Action Flick about Mithridates VI of Pontus—Tragic Tale that Few Have Heard

Starring: Michael Huisman as ‘Mithridates VI’, Krysten Ritter as ‘Hypsicratea’

Do you miss Gladiator being relevant? I do, it was huge. Whenever I’m struggling for something to watch, I’ll once again pin all my hopes on vengeance being won by Maximus Decimus Meridius. So let’s hope for a blockbuster that recaptures this feeling, and what better plot could be found than the tragic rollercoaster life of Pontus’ famed ‘Poison King’ Mithridates VI? His rise to power after being exiled, fierce enemy of a growing Roman Empire, his self-immunisation against all known poisons and the tragic end of his loved ones, with our hero, immune to the poison he took himself, forced to watch his wife and children die before his eyes, unable to go with them. Got chills? No? Yeah well, I’m no screenwriter, but it’d be epic, I’m sure.[2]

8 War Epic based on the Battle of Changping—The Battle of a Million Men

Starring: Randall Park as ‘Lian Po’, Benedict Wong as ‘Bai Qi’ and Ronny Chieng as ‘Zhao Kuo’

Battle scenes in films can be amazing—from the beautiful sequences from Akira Kurasawa’s many samurai movies to the CGI-fuelled mayhem of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, battle scenes can prove to be an apt crescendo to any epic movie.

How about a battle that consisted of around a million warriors going at it? Sounds like the overblown ravings of some Warhammer 40k fan-fic nerd, doesn’t it? Nope, we have the Ancient Chinese to thank once more for providing us with what could be cinemas most incredible battle scene if it were made. The conflict during the warring state period effectively ended the rise of the Zhao state, allowing the Qin dynasty to unify China in 221 BC. Just think of two volleys of a hundred thousand arrows being loosed into the sky—Frank Miller’s ‘300’ can, once and for all, be retired.[3]

7 Fantasy trilogy based on the Legend of Branwen—or Any of the Tales from the Mabinogion

Starring: Alexandra Roach as ‘Branwen’, Cillian Murphy as ‘Matholwch’, Iwan Rheon as ‘Efnisien’ and Mark Lewis Jones as ‘Bendigeidfran’

We’ve had the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. We’ve had A Game of Thrones adapted for the small screen. We now have The Witcher. Fantasy movies, video games and the books they derive from have never been so popular. Why not adapt the legends that inspired these series?

The myths and legends found in the Mabinogion have inspired countless fantasy writers for over a hundred years. The story of Branwen, sister of Bendigeidfran (the Giant king of the island of Britain) being married to Matholwch, King of the Irish before being forced into indentured servitude, sparking a huge war between the islands that (includes a cauldron that resurrects fallen warriors…zombie angle?) is one of the most beautiful tales ever devised. One part Cinderella, one part war story with so many iconic scenes able to be adapted that one would have to make (at least) three movies to do it justice. And, once it’s inevitably made a gazillion dollars in the box office, turning Wales into the new New Zealand of places to film franchises, there are plenty more tales to adapt, replete with amazing locations (Anwfn, the ancient Brythonic underworld), characters (Rhiannon, the half-fairy queen who may have been a Celtic deity) and monsters (the dragon flies on our flag, for heaven’s sake).[4]

6 Character-Driven Biopic about Archimedes of Syracuse—The Ancient Genius

Starring: Dylan O’Brian as ‘Young Archimedes’ and Steve Carell as ‘Old Archimedes’

OK, Netflix, try this on for size. Kings are great and all, we all enjoyed Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce and Timothée Chamalet as Henry V but why not give us the life and times of a famous commoner? What about the Leonardo Da Vinci of the ancient world?

This genius mathematician and inventor lived at the edge of the Hellenic world, both geographically and chronologically, eventually being killed when the Romans invaded. His invention of his eponymous ‘screw’, his legendary ‘eureka!’ moment and his pivotal role in crafting the then-futuristic, strange devices that defended his city would all be the background to some pretty visually-arresting set pieces. Archimedes isn’t as venerated as he was throughout history, with Da Vinci, Tesla and a whole bunch of newer inventors vying for our collective attention. Get some innovative writer to flesh out his character and add some awesome supporting characters and this legend from history can get back to his rightful position amongst the greatest geniuses we all know about.[5]

10 Truly Disgusting Facts About Ancient Greek Life

5 Taut Thriller about Ötzi—The (prehistoric) Ice Man Killing

Starring: Viggo Mortensen as ‘Ötzi’, Mads Mikkelsen as ‘The Killer’ and Eva Green as ‘Any character she bloody well wants written for her’

A humble hunter-gatherer runs through the foothills of the Alps, chased by a group of arrow-shooting tribesmen. He fights off several assailants, taking some serious damage before, finally, he’s hit in the shoulder with an arrow. He drops his prized possession, a copper-headed axe, and lies on the snowy rocks, bleeding out. How did this chase begin, why was this man killed, who killed him? Perhaps the oldest ‘whodunit’ ever, the story of ‘Ötzi the Ice man’ is begging to be adapted. Mist shrouded mountain peaks, leather and fur clothing, sparse, proto Indo-European dialogue; this film could help humanise an otherwise much misunderstood era in our early history—(10,000 BC, anyone?)[6]

4 Action Comedy Charting the Pilgrimage of Mansa Musa—The Richest Man who Ever Lived

Starring: Dave Chappelle as ‘Mansa Musa, Emperor of Mali’

Come on, don’t tell me this wouldn’t be the greatest thing ever committed to celluloid! A wise-cracking, pompous Dave Chappelle depicting the man who single-handedly devalued gold just by purchasing too many holiday souvenirs in the markets of Cairo and Medina is bound to be the most entertaining, funny flick released whichever year it gets made.

Mansa Musa, mentioned in this previous list, is one of the most criminally undervalued figures in history. Even a non-comedy film with Musa played by, inevitably, Idris Elba would do…but Chappelle needs a great film-credit worthy of his other talent.[7]

3 Supernatural Horror Movie about the Bugul Noz—The Pathos-Laden Breton Monster

Starring: Jackie Earle Haley (with some added FX) as ‘the Bugul Noz’

This terrifying folk demon from Breton culture in Northern France is reminiscent of the ‘Shy Guy’ from popular internet collaborative-fiction project ‘The SCP Foundation’. The sometimes-benevolent guardian of the animals who dwelt in the forests of Brittany and would often try to help lost travellers find their way back home. His name literally means ‘The Night Sheppard’ but, despite his noble aims and the tragic nature of being the last of his kind, take one look at this hideous creature and you’ll be struck dead. Add a ‘violently’ to the last sentence, and you have yourself a movie. ‘A group of tourists follow some mysterious lights into the woods after their minibus breaks down’…it writes itself![8]

2 Animated Epic set in the Aboriginal Dreamtime—What Could be the Most Beautiful Movie Ever Made

Starring: Take your pick…but John Ratzenberger will probably be in there.

It is hard not to become mesmerised by the beautiful depictions of the dreamtime from aboriginal Australian culture. You feel as though you want to ‘enter’ the worlds and scenes that have been painted. Well, if they spent a couple of tens of millions of dollars and employed the most powerful CGI and 3D tech there is, it’s conceivable that one could enter the Dreamtime.

Even if the aesthetic is used as the backdrop for a Pixar film, it would be so stunning as to make it an instant classic. It boggles the mind to consider that this most arresting of cultural artefacts hasn’t yet been propelled to international renown. But then, traversing the veritable minefield that is adapting non-native culture by Hollywood may serve to dissuade the big studios. Shame, it could be stunning.[9]

1 Any film about The Norman Conquest—Seriously, why has Nobody Made This?

Starring: Louis Garrel as ‘ William the Conqueror’, Paul Bettany as ‘King Harold Godwinson’, Mackenzie Crook as ‘Gyrth Godwinson’, Tom Brooke as ‘Leofwine Godwinson’ and Kristofer Hivju as ‘Harald Hardrada’

‘Vikings to the left of me, Normans to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you’ said King Harold II of England to his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine…Ok, probably not.

It is perplexing that this fascinating intra-Germanic battle for primacy in England has never gotten the silver screen treatment it undoubtedly needs. The battle of Stamford bridge with the legendary lone berserker wielding a battle axe and the tapestry-inspiring Hastings could form two neat bookmarks for the historical epic to end all historical epics!

The French, Norwegian and English languages could be employed for the script, adding a certain pan-northern-European flavour that is doubtlessly needed when covering the most intriguing, bloody and downright entertaining period in English history.

10 Truly Disgusting Facts About Ancient Roman Life

About The Author: CJ Phillips is an actor an writer living in rural West Wales. He is a little obsessed with lists.

fact checked by Jamie Frater