My dictionary had the following definitions for the word "epic":

epic: telling a story about a hero or about exciting events or adventures


epic: a long book, movie, etc., that usually tells a story about exciting events or adventures

I wanted to know, in practice, how many hours long does a movie have to be in order to be called an epic? Is there a set of time periods corresponding to the length of an epic movie? Or are there any other criteria involved in defining such a movie?

2 Answers 2


Epics are often defined not in terms of length, but in terms of plot - an epic typically is about an Epic Hero that encounters adversity and must overcome it. In this sense, a lot of works in many different media are considered epics - works all the way from Gilgamesh to Beowulf to Star Wars have been considered epics.

  • Another requirement seems to be "doesn't happen in present day", but maybe it's just that I can't think of one that does.
    – Walt
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 13:18
  • 1
    @Walt There is the book "Jitterbug Perfume" by Tom Robbins. In the introduction he says it's an epic because "it begins in ancient Bohemia an doesn't conclude until 9 o'clock tonight, Paris time," so that includes the present day. Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 16:46

Source Wiki:

Many writers may refer to any film that is "long" (over two hours) as an epic.

But mainly epic came from poetic genre

Source Wiki:

When described as "epic" because of content, an epic movie is often set during a time of war or other societal crisis, while usually covering a longer span of time sometimes throughout entire generations coming and passing away, in terms of both the events depicted and the running time of the film. Such films usually have a historical setting, although fantasy or science fiction settings have become common in recent decades. The central conflict of the film is usually seen as having far-reaching effects, often changing the course of history. The main characters' actions are often central to the resolution of the societal conflict.

In its classification of films by genre, the American Film Institute limits the genre to historical films such as Ben-Hur. However, film scholars such as Constantine Santas are willing to extend the label to science-fiction films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars.[2] Nickolas Haydock suggests that "Surely one of the hardest film genres to define is that of the "epic" film, encompassing such examples as Ben-Hur, Gone with the Wind....and more recently, 300 and the Star Wars films...none of these comes from literary epics per se, and there is little that links them with one another. Among those who espouse film genre studies, epic is one of the most despised and ignored genres"[3] Finally, although the American Movie Channel formally defines epic films as historical films, they nonetheless state the epic film may be combined with the genre of science-fiction and cite Star Wars as an example.[4]

Stylistically, films classed as epic usually employ spectacular settings and specially designed costumes, often accompanied by a sweeping musical score, and an ensemble cast of bankable stars. Epics are usually among the most expensive of films to produce. They often use on-location filming, authentic period costumes, and action scenes on a massive scale. Biographical films may be less lavish versions of this genre.

Many writers may refer to any film that is "long" (over two hours) as an epic, making the definition epic a matter of dispute, and raise questions as to whether it is a "genre" at all. As Roger Ebert put it, in his "Great Movies" article on Lawrence of Arabia:[5]

The word epic in recent years has become synonymous with big budget B picture. What you realize watching Lawrence of Arabia is that the word epic refers not to the cost or the elaborate production, but to the size of the ideas and vision. Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God didn't cost as much as the catering in Pearl Harbor, but it is an epic, and Pearl Harbor is not.


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