Wrath of the Titans isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, sword and sandals movie to be stuffed to bursting with toga-wearing Brits.
The special effects-laden action film – a sequel to Clash of the Titans, the 2010 blockbuster – came in No. 2 at the box office this past weekend behind The Hunger Games, grossing $34.2 million. Wrath is set in ancient Greece and is about battling gods and demi-gods. Irishman Liam Neeson stars as top deity Zeus along with Aussie Sam Worthington, who plays Perseus, Zeus’ half-human son, and Irish-born Sinéad Cusack appears briefly as Perseus’ mother. UK stars in the cast include Ralph Fiennes (playing Hades, ruler of the Underworld), Bill Nighy, Rosamund Pike and Toby Kebbell.
They’re following in a long tradition of Brits donning togas in similarly silly sword and sandal movies. Why do so many classy, respected and otherwise serious actors happily sign on for these roles? Simple: the paycheck. Hollywood studios finance most of these ersatz epics, ergo cast members receive whopping Hollywood-sized paychecks. Hey, everybody has a mortgage that needs to be paid.
Here’s a list of five British actors who’ve earned spots in the Sword and Sandals Movie Hall of Fame (or should that be Hall of Shame?):
Easily the most venerated British actor of his generation, Sir Larry was happy to make like a Greek or Roman. He did so most famously in Spartacus (1960), the critically acclaimed drama about a slave rebellion. Olivier played a Roman general who, while bathing, propositioned a comely young male slave (Tony Curtis) in a scene considered so shocking it was cut at the time (it was restored decades later).
Late in his career, when he was saying yes to nearly any lucrative role offered in movies and on TV, Olivier glued on a snowy beard to play Zeus in the original Clash of the Titans (1981) and dodged molten lava in a TV mini-series called The Last Days of Pompeii (1984).
The talented Welshman became a full-fledged star (and earned his second Oscar nomination) in The Robe (1953), a biblical drama shot in then revolutionary Cinemascope. He played a Roman soldier who presided at Christ’s crucifixion and later becomes a follower.
Burton played a Roman again, though a much more famous one, when he portrayed Mark Antony in the ballyhooed epic, Cleopatra (1963), in which he starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor, his soon-to-be twice future wife.
The Northern Ireland-born star, who died at age 45 of a heart attack while playing golf in 1977, won a Golden Globe award for his stony performance as Messala in Ben-Hur (1959). He’s the one who’s racing his chariot against Charlton Heston in the Oscar-winning movie.
Boyd again donned sandals and shield in The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), a notorious turkey; he later blamed its failure for the decline in his career. (He was slated early on to play Mark Anthony in Cleopatra, but delays in starting the film eventually led to his dropping out and Burton taking on the role.)
When it still looked as if Bloom was going to be a major movie star, he was cast as Paris opposite Brad Pitt in Troy (2004). Alongside a fabulously buff Pitt and a brawny Eric Bana, Bloom, in his scanty toga, looked like the proverbial 98-pound weakling, and it didn’t help that it was Bloom’s weaselly character’s decision to run off with the beauteous Helen of Troy that caused the Trojan War. (Other Brits in the film included Peter O’Toole, Julie Christie and Brendan Gleeson.)
Here’s Orlando Bloom being told off in Troy by Eric Bana:
The hunky Scottish actor shot to major stardom after showing off his pectacular chest as Sparta’s King Leonidas in 300 (2006). Based on a popular graphic novel, the action extravaganza told how Leonidas and his Spartans, though massively outnumbered, battled against the Persians at Thermopylae until their last man went down. The movie was a global hit, grossing $460 million worldwide. (Flanking Butler in 300 were fellow Brits Lena Headey, Dominic West and Michael Fassbender, who was making his movie debut as a Spartan warrior.)
Here’s Butler talking to Men’s Health about working out for 300:
Who’s your favorite Brit in a toga?