Top 10 Epic Battles in Movie History

The greatest movie battle scenes include 300, Kingdom of Heaven, and Braveheart.

By Phillip Moyer | Published

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a war movie, a fantasy film, a historical epic, or a superhero movie — nothing quite hits the spot like an epic battle. And while there have been plenty of large-scale battles over the course of film history, not all of them have what it takes to make the fight memorable. These ten films, however, have stuck out to filmgoers the world over, and it’s not hard to see why.

10. Avengers: Endgame (2019) – Battle of Earth

As the culmination of more than a decade of Marvel movies, it would be surprising if Avengers: Endgame didn’t have an epic battle. But the sheer scale of seeing alternate universe Thanos bringing his entire force down on the Avengers on Earth was even bigger than could be expected.

With pretty much every hero from every previous Marvel movie making a showing, the film served as about as high-octane of a way to end the infinity stone saga as anyone could possibly ask for. And they managed to let everyone play a key role in the battle. With this much crowd-pleasing action, it’s hardly a surprise that Endgame became the highest-grossing movie of all time (before losing that record to the original Avatar, that is)

9. Kingdom of Heaven (2004) – Siege of Jerusalem

The movie Kingdom of Heaven might not have been a huge hit when it was released into theaters, but Ridley Scott’s historical epic about the events leading up to the Third Crusade features an ending battle that’s well worth watching. Like most great movie battles, the key is the build-up.

We see the Crusaders treat the Muslims with unspeakable cruelty, then watch the majority of their force get soundly defeated after foolishly deciding to march through an area without any water sources. Then, we see Balian of Ibelin (played by Orlando Bloom) stuck as the only leader left to defend Jerusalem, with Saladin’s massive army bearing down on the city. Out of fear that Saladin would treat them as cruelly as they treated his people, Balian wages a desperate battle for survival. 

8. Troy (2004) – Battle of Troy

brad pitt troy netflix

The Illiad might be one of the greatest ancient works of poetry in existence, but it’s an absolute slog to read through. For those who want a movie that serves as a cliff-notes version without cheapening out on the epic battle scenes, Troy will do just fine.

The movie’s main battle takes place over the course of the entire movie, with some impressively intense and immersive fights that will help you realize that Homer’s 2800-year-old epic is still enjoyable to this day. It doesn’t matter how long ago a work was written — fascinating characters are still fascinating characters, and an epic battle is still an epic battle.

7. The Last Samurai (2003) – Battle of Shiroyama

The Last Samurai might ultimately be an eastern-themed Dances with Wolves knockoff that takes some fairly significant liberties with history, but it did get one thing right: at the end of the Satsuma Rebellion, at the Battle of Shiroyama, the last remnants of the samurai charged the heavily-armed imperial forces with nothing but swords. The film’s romanticized version of this event is a movie battle that keeps you rooting for the Samurai up until the very end.

The real trick that makes the Battle of Shiroyama work is the way the film convinces you that maybe, just maybe, the samurai can pull it off. The battle begins with some clever tactics that make it seem like the gunless samurai might be on equal footing with the imperial forces, with every successful move building up hope that the samurai might win. Then the imperials bring in the Gatling guns… and it turns out there’s only so much that duty and honor can do against 400 rounds of flying lead per minute.

6. Gladiator (2000) – Battle in Germania

For a movie that’s about small groups of people fighting in an enclosed space, Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator sure starts out with a massive sense of scale. Beginning with the wonderfully dramatic image of a headless corpse riding out of a forest on horseback, we’re treated to the scene of a large Roman army facing off against an even larger Germanic horde and taking them on through discipline, superior technology, and lots and lots of incendiary weaponry. 

Of course, like any good movie battle, it eventually devolves into a bloody, chaotic melee that just so happens to showcase the skill of one Maximus Decimus Meridius (a role that earned Russell Crowe his first Best Actor Oscar), who will later find himself enslaved and forced to fight for the entertainment of the masses.

5. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) – Battle of Endor

If you watch the movie for the first time, it’s impressive how Return of the Jedi manages to start the Battle of Endor with such a feeling of hopelessness. The heroes down on the forest moon of Endor have been captured, the entire rebel fleet is flying straight into a trap, and Luke Skywalker has stuck onboard a Death Star facing up against someone who absolutely demolished him in the previous movie. On top of that, the very fact that Luke chooses to fight seems like it’s sealing his doom.

With this setup, the movie’s massive space and ground battle takes off, and it’s thrilling to watch the good guys snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Even the Ewoks’ battle against the Storm Troopers is well-done, despite the flak that their presence gets from some of the more cynical fans. 

4. 300 (2006) – Battle of Thermopylae

For years after Zack Snyder‘s over-the-top pseudo-historical testosterone fest hit the theaters, you couldn’t find a movie-goer who didn’t believe a group of Spartans in phalanx formation was practically invincible. 300’s bombastic, highly-stylized portrayal of the Battle of Thermopale managed to bring back the myth of Spartan military superiority in the same way that the real battle spread the idea back in ancient Greece.

Watching wave after wave of Persian warriors try and fail to break the ranks of 300 overly-muscular hoplites was a sight to see. With limbs flying in slow motion and a proud narrator describing just how awesome the Spartans are, it’s hard not to find yourself transfixed by the spectacle.

3. Braveheart (1995) – Battle of Stirling

Not many battle scenes begin with a mass flashing and mooning of the enemy army while trying to survive a barrage of arrows. Yet that’s how Braveheart’s depiction of the Battle of Stirling begins, and it’s just one of many great moments from the movie’s most memorable battles.

Equally memorable is the battle’s intense depiction of why doing a mass cavalry charge into a thick line of pikes is a bad idea. Seeing the Scotsmen easily dispatch one of the most feared units on the medieval battlefield using nothing but long, pointy sticks is more satisfying than it has any right to be.

2. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Omaha Beach Landing

There’s nothing that quite sets the tone for a movie like the opening sequence of Steven Spielberg’s revolutionary war movie, Saving Private Ryan. The movie’s depiction of the Omaha Beach landing isn’t a battle that inspires hope or excitement — instead, it starts the film off with a sense of foreboding.

War is not fair or glamorous, it seems to say. War does not care which side has a noble cause. War is brutal, and it will grind you up and spit you out without so much as a second thought. The movie doesn’t stray too far from this theme even after the battle ends.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – Battle of Minas Tirith

There’s no shortage of great battles in the Lord of the Rings movies, but the sheer scale of the Battle of Minas Tirith in Return of the King trumps them all. The visual of seemingly endless squads of orcs surrounding the white walls of Minas Tirith lets you know just how impossible the odds are, and the scene lives up to the epic, hard-fought battle it promises in its build-up. 

When the orcs use their catapults to start bashing in the city walls, and then the defenders start hurling the city walls right back at them, you know you’re in for a treat — and it only gets better from there. From the rampaging oliphaunts to the battle with the Witch King and including an undead horde, the battle keeps turning itself on its head, making it hard to predict what will come next.