The timeless stories portrayed in Greek mythology have been reinterpreted for modern audiences in engaging and beloved movies many times over.
The stories which were popular in ancient Greece clearly have staying power throughout the millennia, with some of the movies below capturing the imaginations of audiences around the world since the invention of cinema.
Below, the ten best and most notable movies based on Greek mythology and ancient Greece are listed — perfect for your next movie night!
Best movies based on Greek mythology
“Helena,” (1924), which may be the first portrayal of mythology on the silver screen, was a classic German silent film. Based on Homer’s Iliad, the movie was originally released in two parts, as “The Rape of Helen,” and “The Fall of Troy.”
The director of the film, Manfred Noa, decided to shoot it using extremely elaborate sets and thousands of extras. This led to the movie going far over budget, and subsequently putting the studio’s finances in a precarious spot. Clearly, however, it is a feast for the eyes.
This 1950s French film, originally released under the title “Orphée,” also incorporates stories from Greek mythology into a new medium. However, the film is set in then-contemporary Paris, giving it a modern twist for viewers.
The retelling of the classic myth incorporates crucial parts of the source material while continuing to reimagine it. In this version of Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades is depicted as a ruined city called “the Zone,” and when Orpheus fatefully turns to look at Eurydice despite being warned not to do so, looks at her through the mirror of a Rolls-Royce.
The film was directed by Jean Cocteau and is part of his “Orphic Trilogy;” however, it is the only movie of the three which so explicitly deals with Greek mythology.
One of the most widely recognizable and watched movies which takes inspiration from ancient Greece is Disney’s “Hercules.” The film was likely many hundreds of thousands’ children’s first exposure to ancient Greek myths, and its beautiful color scheme, catchy songs, and funny dialogue are enough to make anyone interested in Greek mythology!
The movie has managed to cement itself as a children’s classic, and continues to introduce new generations to Greek mythology more than 20 years after its initial release. The film was also popular enough to inspire two spin-offs; the first was a direct-to-DVD movie prequel named “Hercules: Zero to Hero,” and the second was a television show titled simply “Hercules: the Animated Series”.
Although “300” is likely one of the most well-known movies on this list, it is far from historically accurate in its depiction of ancient Greece. The movie is based on a 1998 comic book series, and is thus fairly far removed from its original source material.
Despite this, the flick became an instant classic and the Zack Snyder film has definitely made a place for itself in pop culture — even inspiring the “This is Sparta!” meme which went viral across the internet in the early 2010s.
The plot revolves around King Leonidas, who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The film is not strictly a historical action film, as there are also elements of fantasy interwoven into the movie.
Surely, one of the things that the 2004 movie “Troy,” based on Homer’s Iliad, is most notable for was its star-studded cast. The ensemble movie features characters portrayed by Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, and Diane Kruger. The main storyline of the action-packed film is based on the Trojan War.
The Wolfgang Petersen film was extremely successful at the box office, making over €420 million ($497 million) and becoming the 60th highest grossing film of all time when it was released. The film’s accolades do not end there, however, with the ancient Greek epic also nabbing a nomination for an Academy Award in Best Costume Design.
“Electra” is a Greek-language film released in 1962. It is based on the play of the same name by Euripides, a tragedian of classical Athens. It was directed by Michael Cacoyannis, as the first instalment of his “Greek tragedy” trilogy, followed by “The Trojan Women” in 1971 and “Iphigenia” in 1977. It starred Irene Papas in the lead role as Elektra, and Giannis Fertis as Orestis.
The film was widely critically acclaimed and garnered a Best Film Award at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 1963.
Cacoyannis’ success continued with his 1977 release, “Iphigenia”. The film is based on the myth of the same name, which tells the tragic story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s daughter who was ordered by the goddess Artemis to be sacrificed.
The film stars Tatiana Papamoschou as Iphigenia, Kostas Kazakos as Agamemnon and Irene Papas, whom Cacoyannis also cast in “Electra” (1962), as Clytemnestra. The movie was hugely decorated, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.
Iphigenia also won some awards, notably the 1978 Belgian Femina Award and the Best Film Award at the 1977 Thessaloniki Film Festival. At the same Greek festival, Papamoschou also received the Best Leading Actress Award for her role as Iphigenia.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)
The two “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” movies that were released were hotly anticipated. Due to their being based on one of the most popular series of books for middle schoolers in the 2000s, the Percy Jackson films were expected to be smash successes.
Unfortunately, the material did not translate very smoothly from the written word to the silver screen, and both movies underperformed at the box office. A third instalment in the “Percy Jackson” movies was originally planned, but this never came to fruition.
Despite these setbacks, the films have very advanced CGI effects and portray the story of Percy Jackson, a young demigod, very well to an entirely new audience. The movies are a great way to introduce older children to the stories of the twelve gods and goddesses of Olympus, as most of the characters featured in them are the half mortal children of the gods.
A classic film by fabled Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, this movie is based on the famous Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts; however the film shifts the focus to the sorceress Medea, who helped Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece.
As in the original tale, although Jason promises to return for Medea and wed her, when he comes back from his journey and is greeted with admiration, he forgets about her. Jason marries a Corinthian princess instead, and Medea plots her revenge against him and his new wife. Medea was portrayed by the legendary Greek-American opera singer Maria Callas, and although the film was well-received by critics, it was not a commercial success.
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
The 1963 film “Jason and the Argonauts” became an instant cult classic upon its release. Beloved by critics and audiences alike, the movie stays fairly faithful to the myth that it is based upon. Its star-studded cast includes Todd Armstrong as Jason, along with Nancy Kovack, Honor Blackman and Gary Raymond. Ray Harryhausen, the director of the film, considered it the best work of his career.
An interesting dimension is added to the movie through the inclusion of stop-motion animation within the live-action film. Jason and the Argonauts was produced well before the widespread use of CGI, and so practical effects were employed to portray the mythological creatures featured in it well.
“Alexander” follows the life of the greatest hero of antiquity, Alexander the Great. This movie blurs the lines between ancient Greece and Greek mythology as it follows Alexander, who was a real person, but adds in bits of legends or other fictitious stories to do so. The film portrays some actual battles and the life of Alexander fairly faithfully for a historical action film, but was considered a box-office bomb in the US.
Despite this, the film has a very impressive cast, including the likes of Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto, and Anthony Hopkins. The film’s original screenplay is derived in part from the book “Alexander the Great,” published in 1973 by the University of Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Although this movie is an action DC Films studios flick, it also surprisingly finds it basis in Greek mythology. “Wonder Woman” tells the story of the Greek goddess Artemis, with the movie using her Roman name Diana.
Some of Wonder Woman’s backstory is revealed in the film, including the fact that she is princess of the Amazons. The Amazons were, according to Greek mythology, Artemis’ band of strong female warriors and hunters — and they are featured in DC’s film adaptation.
Although the movie is mostly about Diana (Wonder Woman), DC has announced that there are plans in the works for a spin-off that follows the Amazons themselves.
The Odyssey (1997 miniseries)
Although “The Odyssey” is technically not a movie, but rather a two part miniseries, it is a very influential piece of media based on Greek mythology. The 1997 TV special is based on the poem of the same name by Homer, and was filmed in various countries bordering the Mediterranean, including Malta and Turkey.
The cast includes legendary Greek actress Irene Papas, Armand Assante, Greta Scacchi, Isabella Rossellini, and Bernadette Peters. At the 49th Primetime Emmy Awards the series won an award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries or Special.
The 300 Spartans (1962)
The 1962 Rudolf Maté film depicts the three-day long Battle of Thermopylae, which was fought between an alliance of ancient Greek city-states and Persian invaders. “The 300 Spartans” was made with cooperation from the Greek government, and therefore was filmed in the Peloponnese, southern Greece.
The comic book which inspired the aforementioned flick “300” (2006) would not have existed if it wasn’t for The 300 Spartans. The graphic novel was written by Frank Miller, who watched the 1962 movie as a child and felt compelled to make his own art based on it.
When the film was first released in 1962, critics interpreted it as being a commentary on the then-occurring Cold War. American critics referred to the independent Greek states as “the only stronghold of freedom remaining in the then known world”, holding out against the Persian “slave empire”.
Clash of the Titans (1981)
“Clash of the Titans” was an immediate box-office hit, and quickly became the 11th highest grossing movie released in 1981. The movie is based on the myth of Perseus, the child of Zeus and a mortal mother named Danae.
The film depicts his many adventures, including his run-in with and defeat of Medusa; however, it lacks historical accuracy and many plot points were plucked from other myths or entirely made up for the film. One of the most well-known scenes from “Clash of the Titans” shows Perseus defeating the Kraken, a Scandinavian monster used as a replacement for the original Greek creature, Cetus.
Helen of Troy (1956)
The film stars a young Rossana Podestà as Helen. The other leading figures in the movie based on Greek mythology are Stanley Baker, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Jacques Sernas, with Brigitte Bardot as Helen’s handmaiden in her first production shot outside France.
“Helen of Troy” tells the story of the Trojan War and is based on Homer’s the “Iliad” and “Odyssey”. However, it does not remain very faithful to the source material, but was received fairly positively by critics despite this.
The scene of the Greeks’ initial assault on the walls of Troy features a series of shots that are directly copied from a sequence depicting the Persian attack on Babylon in D. W. Griffiths’ silent film “Intolerance”. Some shots from this sequence were in turn reused in the introductory scenes of the 1963 film “Jason and the Argonauts.”
The 1961 Greek language film “Antigone” stars Irene Papas as the titular character, with Manos Katrakis as Creon.
The film follows the story of the play closely, wherein Eteocles and Polynices, the two sons of the late King Oedipus, vie for the throne of the Seven-tailed Thebes. This results in them both dying in battle. The new king, Creon, refuses to bury one of his brothers, prompting Antigone, the story’s heroine, to defy the king’s orders and bury him herself.
However, the film ends differently to the original; instead of Creon retiring back to the palace as in the play, the film ends with Creon relinquishing his kingship and exiling himself out of Thebes.
This Italian film was originally named “Le Fatiche di Ercole,” or “The Labors of Hercules”, but was renamed to simply “Hercules” for its international release. The film stars Steve Reeves as the titular hero and Sylva Koscina as his love interest Princess Iole.
It was one of many Italian “peplum/sword-and-sandal” films. This was a subgenre of largely Italian-made historical, mythological, or Biblical epics which dominated the film industry in the 1950s and early 1960s. Hercules made Reeves an international film star and effectively paved the way for the dozens of 1960s peplum films which featured bodybuilder actors in their starring roles.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
This movie being based on Greek legend may not be common knowledge; however, the 2000 Coen Brothers film loosely follows Homer’s “The Odyssey”. It is a satirical look at Mississippi in 1937 and the Great Depression.
One of the focuses of the Coen Brothers when it came to creating “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was on music. The music used in the film is mostly period folk music, and was considered by the brothers as a major component of it, not just a background aide.
The film was extremely successful, and was nominated for two Academy Awards as well as the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Although it is a very liberal adaptation of Homer’s original work, the Coens did attempt to retain some features of it. Penelope and her suitors, the Cyclops, and the Sirens all make appearances in the film, albeit in modernized forms.