Film / The 300 Spartans

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The 300 Spartans is a 1962 film depicting The Battle of Thermopylae. It stars Richard Egan as Leonidas, Ralph Richardson as Themistocles and David Farrar as Xerxes.

When it was released many saw it as an allegory for the Cold War. Nowadays it's probably best known as part of the inspiration for Frank Miller's famous graphic novel 300 and its subsequent film adaptation.


This film contains examples of:

  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: The Persians for most of the film, but also the Spartans for the final stage of the battle.
    Leonidas: Spartans! Orders for the day: Our numbers are too few to hold the pass. So we shall attack - and kill Xerxes.
  • Badass Army: The Spartans, obviously. But the other Greeks and the Persians are no slouches either. The Spartans are just better.
  • Badass Beard: Several Greek and Persian leaders including Xerxes have beards, but notably not Leonidas. Most of the extras don't have beards either.
  • Badass Boast: Xerxes says that his father sent "a mere wave" to Marathon ten years ago, while he is now leading "an ocean".
    • Also, based on the ancient sources:
    General Hydarnes: Yesterday, we only probed your positions. When we attack today, our arrows will blot out the sun!
    Leonidas: Good; then we will fight in the shade.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Spartans all die at Thermopylae, but they've brought time for their allies to win other battles and their actions inspire the rest of Greece, ultimately turning the tide of the war.
  • Chewing the Scenery: It's been said that the entire cast fed on the sets for the entire filming process.
  • Defiant to the End: King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. Especially after Leonidas dies, and they refuse Xerxes' offer to spare their lives as long as they hand over Leonidas's body.
    Spartan officer: We stay with our king.
  • Due to the Dead: In Homeric fashion.
    Spartans: Protect the body of Leonidas!
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Played with; everyone wears a helmet, but Leonidas and other Greek officers have ones which show their faces instead of the full-face-covering "Corinthian" helmets of the rank and file.
  • The Hero Dies: Leonidas is killed in the final melee, then the surviving Spartans die protecting his body - more akin to how it happened in the real battle according to Herodotus, compared to 300.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: All of the Spartans at Thermopylae. And also the Thespians.
  • Hollywood Tactics:
    • The film doesn't present phalanx fighting any more accurately than 300 does. The Spartans form up in long thin lines with large gaps in between ranks instead of a dense, compressed shield wall. They do form a dense flying wedge at the end, but that's different.
    • The Spartan line formation is for fanciful anti-cavalry tactics - by having the front line lie down at the last moment in order to trap the horsemen between them and the rear line.
  • Kill 'em All: All of the remaining Greeks at Thermopylae at the end of the battle.
  • Large Ham: Xerxes.
  • Last Stand: When the Greeks realize they are about to be surrounded, Leonidas sends his allies back while he and his Spartans remain to defend the pass, but the Thespian force refuses to leave.
  • Obstructive Zealot: Leonidas only brought his bodyguard to Thermopylae. The Spartan Ephors (councilors) prevent the rest of the Spartan army from reinforcing them because of a religious festival. But unlike 300 there's no suggestion they were bribed by the Persians.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The Thespians, whose sacrifice was no less than the Spartans, are wiped out offscreen.
  • Praetorian Guard: The Persian Immortals.
  • Rain of Arrows: How the Persians finish off the Spartans, with Xerxes not wishing to waste any more of his men in further attempts at hand-to-hand fighting.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The Persians are played by American and Greek actors and extras. But the Persian people were close relatives of the Europeans (being the original and true "Aryans"), the majority of modern Iran's population could be considered "white", and most people there identify as such.
  • Shown Their Work: The film shows a fair few of the historical figures involved besides the most famous ones, Leonidas and Xerxes, including: Queen Gorgo, Leonidas's wife; Themistocles of Athens; King Demophilus of Thespiae who stayed with the Spartans in their last stand; and Leotychidas, Sparta's other king, as they had a two-king system. On the Persian side: Generals Mardonius and Hydarnes; Queen Artemisia of Caria, a Greek ally of Xerxes; and Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king who became Xerxes' advisor.
  • Sword & Sandal: It is a movie about Ancient Greece, after all.
  • Translation Convention: Usually in play, except in one scene where Leonidas speaks in Greek then repeats what he said in English.
    General Hydarnes: Xerxes says that if you and your men lay down your arms, he will allow you to leave peaceably.
    Leonidas: Molon labe. (beat) Come and take them.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Averted; King Xerxes orders that his soldiers on the campaign be given one last night with their wives, then the women are to be killed. Yes, women from his side. "There are plenty of women in Athens and Sparta and I want my men to be eager to get at them". Perhaps the audience wasn't quite sure he was the villain of the movie yet. How the Spartans treated the enemy women is of course not discussed.


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