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Ancient Stories in Modern Movies

Updated on February 23, 2020
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Terminator theatrical release poster.Albert Greiner Sr. & Jr. portraying Oedipus, circa 1896.Hero mastering a lion.  Relief from the façade of the throne room, Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, 713-706 BCE.Star Trek II, The Wrath of KhanDepiction of JobHow the Grinch Stole Christmas! posterThe Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Raphael 1502. The Day the Earth Stood Still theatrical poster.Noah's Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise 1847-532012 Theatrical Release PosterMoses with the Ten Commandments by Philippe de Champaigne Von Ryan's Express Theatrical Release PosterJoseph recognized by his brothers by Leon Pierre Urbaine Bourgeois, 1863.Gladiator Theatrical Release PosterThe Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole 1828The Truman Show Theatrical Release PosterThe Lorax Teaser Poster
Terminator theatrical release poster.
Terminator theatrical release poster. | Source
Albert Greiner Sr. & Jr. portraying Oedipus, circa 1896.
Albert Greiner Sr. & Jr. portraying Oedipus, circa 1896. | Source
Hero mastering a lion.  Relief from the façade of the throne room, Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, 713-706 BCE.
Hero mastering a lion. Relief from the façade of the throne room, Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, 713-706 BCE. | Source
Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan | Source
Depiction of Job
Depiction of Job | Source
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! poster
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! poster | Source
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Raphael 1502.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Raphael 1502. | Source
The Day the Earth Stood Still theatrical poster.
The Day the Earth Stood Still theatrical poster. | Source
Noah's Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise 1847-53
Noah's Sacrifice by Daniel Maclise 1847-53 | Source
2012 Theatrical Release Poster
2012 Theatrical Release Poster | Source
Moses with the Ten Commandments by Philippe de Champaigne
Moses with the Ten Commandments by Philippe de Champaigne | Source
Von Ryan's Express Theatrical Release Poster
Von Ryan's Express Theatrical Release Poster | Source
Joseph recognized by his brothers by Leon Pierre Urbaine Bourgeois, 1863.
Joseph recognized by his brothers by Leon Pierre Urbaine Bourgeois, 1863. | Source
Gladiator Theatrical Release Poster
Gladiator Theatrical Release Poster | Source
The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole 1828
The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole 1828 | Source
The Truman Show Theatrical Release Poster
The Truman Show Theatrical Release Poster | Source
The Lorax Teaser Poster
The Lorax Teaser Poster | Source


Many movies have plot lines similar to stories from antiquity. This article is not about movies such as “300” and “Troy” which are retellings of ancient stories. It is about movies with settings different from the original stories. How close movies follow ancient plot lines vary. The movie story lines are from the movie itself and not plot lines changed by sequels and prequels. This article contains spoilers for the ancient stores and the movies mentioned.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

King Gilgamesh and the non-human Enkidu were great friends. They had many adventures together. The angered gods inflicted a fatal illness on Enkidu. After Gilgamesh’s failed attempt to resurrect Enkidu Gilgamesh had to accept that his friend was dead and Gilgamesh had to face the reality that he too would one day die.

In “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), a human, and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), a Vulcan[i], are great friends. They had been on many adventures together. Some of their adventures were shown in the Star Trek television series.

In “The Wrath of Khan” Saavik (Kristie Alley), a young officer, is in a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru scenario. It also has the nickname the “no-win scenario”. Its purpose is to put a trainee into a scenario that ends with them failing and “dying”. Captain Kirk isn’t pleased with Saavik’s performance. She protested there was no way to win in the scenario. Captain Kirk explained to her as a starship captain facing a situation where death is inevitable is always a possibility. He went on to tell her, “how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.”

Through trickery Khan (Ricardo Montalban) buried Kirk, Saavik, Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and some others in a cavern deep underground on an uninhabited planet. This seemed like the end to Saavik and she asked Kirk how he did in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Dr. McCoy told Saavik Captain Kirk was the only person to beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Kirk explained he reprogrammed the scenario so it was possible for him to beat the test. He figuratively cheated death. He then cheated the living death of Khan’s entombment. Kirk was an excellent fighter but he prevailed in this and previous adventures by outwitting his opponents.

At the climax Mr. Spock saved the USS Enterprise and its crew. In the process Spock suffered a lethal dose of radiation. Like Gilgamesh, Kirk faced death through his close friend, Spock.

[i] Mr. Spock has a human mother but he has pointed ears, green blood, and is a silicon-based life form.

Oedipus Tyrannus

Many people know about Oedipus from Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex. In the story Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. Often in Science Fiction movies a woman’s father or father figure dies leaving a younger man as the only significant male figure in her life.

In the Sophocles story Oedipus Tyrannus, an oracle told the king and queen their son, Oedipus, would kill the king and marry the queen. The king and queen decided they would prevent this from happening by leaving the infant Oedipus for dead. This premise fits well for movies involving time travel.

The Terminator is an example of the Oedipus story. The machines knew their defeat was imminent. They decide to send a Terminator unit (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to prevent this undesired future from happening. The mission was to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) so she couldn’t give birth to a son that would lead the human resistance to victory. The resistance sends back Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese unknowingly impregnated Sarah Connor with the child who would grow up to be the resistance leader. Instead of preventing the loss the machines set into motion a series of events that led to their inevitable defeat.

Science Fiction Moves Where a Woman's Father or Father Figure Dies

Father Figure
The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues
Blade Runner
ArmageddonThe Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
The War of the Worlds (1953)
Forbidden Planet
Cherry 2000
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Pacific Rim

Many Bible Stories are in Modern Movies

The Book of Job

Job, a righteous man, is faithful to the Lord. The Lord pointed him out as a blameless man to Satan. Satan pointed out Job was blessed so he had good reason to be faithful to the Lord. Satan claimed if Job had misfortune, he would blaspheme the Lord. The Lord told Satan he could bring any misfortune on Job except physically harm him. Satan took everything away from Job, including his children. Still Job remained faithful. In the end the Lord returned the prosperity to Job and let him have more children.

The 1966 cartoon “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a short film that gives a short version of the story of Job. “The Whos down in Whoville loved Christmas a lot.” Every year they would have a big Christmas celebration. They have much to celebrate. They have all manner or decorations, toys, games, and food. The Grinch (Boris Karloff) reasoned if all the food, toys, games, and decorations were taken away the Whos would not celebrate but cry. On Christmas Eve the Grinch stole all Christmas related things from the Whos. The Whos proved the Grinch wrong when they came out to joyously sing “Welcome Christmas”. The Grinch returned all he had stolen to the Whos.

In the 2000 live action version the Whos have their share of faults. In the original the Whos were blameless and magnanimous in forgiving the Grinch.

The Resurrection

In the New Testament Gospels Jesus Christ came with a message on how people should behave. The Roman Authorities killed him. On the third day he rose from the dead. He appeared to over 500 people and ascended into the heavens.

The movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” has an Alien, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), who came to Earth with a message. Soldiers shot Klaatu dead. Gort (Lock Martin), a robot, brought Klaatu’s body back into the space ship and brought him back to life. Robert Wise, the director, and Edmund H. North, the writer, intended the resurrection be permanent. The film industry censors felt that was too closed to the Gospel stories. In the movie Klaatu explained the reanimation was only for a short time. Klaatu delivered his message then returned to his space ship and ascended into the heavens.

Other Movies With A Resurrection Element

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Star Wars

Noah’s Ark

In this Genesis story God told Noah he would kill everyone on the planet by a flood. Since Noah was a righteous man he and his family would be spared. Noah made no attempt to alter God’s judgement.[i] God commanded Noah to build an ark to specifications. He ordered Noah to take a male and a female of each kind of animal into the ark. Everyone else went about their business not knowing a cataclysm was on the way. When the rain came Noah and his family entered the ark and rode out the flood. When the flood water receded, he and his family exited the ark to face a world all to themselves.

In the movie “2012” scientists learned the Earth was going to undergo a cataclysm that is likely to kill everyone on the planet. Governments got together and built a squadron of large ships in the Himalayas. Museum pieces were replicated and the originals were taken inside the ships. Those chosen to come on board were government leaders and billionaires who paid 1 billion euros for a ticket. The general public was kept unaware of what was going to happen. A few people managed to figure out what was going to happen and what the governments were doing. The catastrophes came and those who made it into the ships were the only ones to survive.

[i] In Genesis chapter 18 Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah. God agrees if his angels find 10 righteous men in the cities, he would spare the cities.

Then you shall die on the mountain you have climbed, and shall be taken to you people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and there was taken to his people. Deuteronomy 32:50

The Moses Story

In the Exodus story God commissioned Moses to free the Israelites from bondage and lead them to the “Promised Land”. Moses pointed out he wasn’t an eloquent speaker. God pointed out his brother Aaron would help him speak to the Israelites. Moses let the Israelites out of Egypt. It was a long journey in miles and in years. Along the way Moses made a transgression. The punishment for breaking faith with God was Moses could see the “Promised Land” but would die before he could reach it. The Israelites entered the “Promised Land” without Moses.

In the move “Von Ryan’s Express” Colonel Joseph L. Ryan (Frank Sinatra) is shot down over Italy and sent to an Italian POW camp. He is the senior POW. Most of the prisoners are British infantry. The British are proud members of a famous regiment. There are only a handful of Americans in the camp. Colonel Ryan is a conscript who was given 3 months of training and made an officer.[i] This made Col. Ryan an outsider to the people he was leading.

When Italy surrenders and switches sides the prisoners are technically free but soon fall into German hands. German troops load them on a train headed for Germany. The POWs kill the guards and take over the train. The POWs reroute the train in an effort to get to Switzerland. Colonel Ryan leads them to a tunnel that exits in Switzerland. He is within sight of the tunnel when he is killed by machinegun fire. The train and the POWs reach Switzerland.

[i] Such officers were nicknamed “90-day wonders”.

Other Movies With The Moses Story

Pitch Black
The Poseidon Adventure
Deep Blue Sea
Battlestar Galactica (TV series)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The Story of Joseph

Joseph was his father’s favorite son. Joseph undiplomatically told his brothers about a dream he had where his brothers bowed down to him. His brothers decided to kill him. They changed their mind and sold him to a passing caravan as a slave. Joseph’s situation went from bad to worse when he was falsely accused of rape. This landed him in prison. His talent for interpreting dreams got him into a position of authority. There was a famine in the land and his brothers, who didn’t recognize him, came to Egypt to get food. After making his brothers go through some machinations Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and reminded them that they sold him into slavery. Joseph saved his family and the Israelite nation.

In the movie “Gladiator” Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) loved General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crow). Marcus Aurelius thinks little of his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Commodus murders his father. Maximus immediately knows Commodus murdered the emperor. Commodus offers his hand to Maximus. Maximus unwisely walks away. Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), Commodus’s sister, is a good foil to Maximus[i]. She slaps Commodus’s face then kisses his hand and says “Hail Caesar”.

Commodus immediately orders Maximus and his family killed. Maximus manages to kill his executioners and rides to Spain to try to rescue his wife and child. Maximus arrives at his farm to find his wife and child dead. He is broken, wounded, and exhausted. Slave traders take him and he is caged on a caravan to Africa. The slave trader (Omid Djalili) sells Maximus to Proximo (Oliver Reed). Proximo sends Maximus into the gladiatorial arena. Maximus is armed with a shield and chained to another man, Juba (Djimon Hounsou), who is armed with a sword. They and other men are sent to fight against gladiators who are heavily armed and armored. Maximus, Juba, and Hagen (Ralf Moeller), are the only ones to survive the combat. Maximus proves an excellent gladiator.

Commodus decides to honor his father by bringing back gladiatorial games to Rome. Proximo gets a contract to bring his gladiators to Rome to fight in the Coliseum. While some of the other gladiators know who Maximus is, to everyone else, he is known only as “The Spaniard”. Maximus and the rest of Proximo’s gladiators are made to fight in a scenario where it seems they will all die. Most of Proximo’s gladiators survive through Maximus’s skillful leadership and fighting. Commodus decides to meet The Spaniard.

When Commodus asks The Spaniard to remove his helmet and reveal himself Maximus balks and turns his back on the emperor. Commodus reminds The Spaniard of their respective positions. Maximus takes off his helmet, faces the emperor and says, “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Maximus goes on to save the empire from Commodus and rejoins his family[ii].

[i] A foil is a character who demonstrates what the main character should do as opposed to what the main character actually does.

[ii] The movie is ambiguous as to whether he just rejoins them in his mind before death or in the afterlife.

Other Movies that Follow The Story of Joseph

Trading Places
Con Air

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loinclothes for themselves.

Genesis 3:7

The Garden of Eden

In the Genesis story God creates Adam and Adam lives in the Garden of Eden. Adam can eat from any of the trees in the Garden except from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. God creates Eve as a suitable partner for him. One day a snake convinces Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. She took the forbidden fruit to Adam who also ate the fruit. God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden forever.

In the Bible Adam made the greatest mistake of all time. He condemned himself and the rest of the human race to sickness, suffering, and death. In the movies the character Adam getting thrown out or leaving the Garden is usually depicted as Adam doing the right thing.

In the movie “The Truman Show” a corporation adopts Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) when he was an infant. The network built a giant studio where they filmed every aspect of Truman’s life. Truman was kept unaware that his life was a reality show. The network continually discouraged Truman from trying to leave the “island” where he lived. When he was in grammar school and said he would like to be an explorer his teacher (Muriel Moore) told him, “Oh, you’re too late. There’s really nothing left to explore.” They had an episode where Tuman saw his father “die” at sea. This gave him a fear of going out on the sea.

Truman lived in an idyllic setting. Throughout his life there were technical malfunctions and people who attempted to let Truman know he was living inside a studio. The television staff and security effectively dealt with these breaches and kept Truman in the dark for many years. Eventually Truman figures out something wasn’t right and he makes attempts to get off the island.

Truman puts aside his fear and gets in a boat and sails towards the horizon. Christof (Ed Harris), the show’s creator, cues a storm at sea to convince Truman to turn back. This put Truman in mortal danger. When a network executive (Philip Baker Hall) said, “We can’t let him die in front of a live audience!” Christof retorted, “He was born in front of a live audience.” When Truman was unconscious Christof ordered the storm stopped. Truman sailed to the end of the studio. Then he walked along the wall until he found a service exit. Christof made a final effort to keep Truman inside the studio. Truman couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. He asked “Who are you?” Christof answered, “I am the creator, of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.” Christof pleaded with him to stay in the studio. Truman bowed, gave his good-bye line, and exited the studio.

Other Movies with a Garden of Eden Theme

The Bicentennial Man
Vanilla Sky
The Matrix
The Lorax
The World, The Flesh and The Devil

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      7 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. A story that has been around for centuries and is still being read is a good indicator its a good story to look to for a story idea.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 months ago from Houston, Texas

      It is amazing how many stories have been told and retold in different manners throughout the years in the form of movies. Excellent job!

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      17 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found it interesting.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      17 months ago from The High Seas

      Love it, love it, LOVE IT! Going to come back and read it again tonight. And probably tomorrow too. Good work!

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      17 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Noted and appreciated, please.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      17 months ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting. C. E. Clark it is how basic stories are applied, and sometimes twisted, in different setting that I find intriguing.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      17 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, I am noting all the comments. Thanks.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      17 months ago from North Texas

      I am in agreement with FlourishAnyway. Stories have, and always have had one of the basic plots. The basic stories being told over and over again set in different places and times.

      As always, an excellent article.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      18 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes I found it interesting how many parallels there are in movies to ancient stories. That shows how timeless these ancient writings are.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      18 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Liz, you are welcomed. Taking note of your comment to increae my knowledge bank. Thank you.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      This is a fascinating study. I have seen a similar comparison done on a very limited scale with English literature., when Pilgrims Progress was linked to the Jane Eyre novel.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      18 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, Gilgamish, Oedipus Complex, the story of Job, and the others are well known by me and others. But by showing how these stories are woven into the movie theme in a parabolic manner, you have enriched us with your wisdom. I have watched the Terminator and another film that described how epic it is.

      It would be a thing of joy if I would get hold of the others like Jo, the Garden of Edem, Christmas, and the Resurrection. Thank you for sharing.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      18 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. There are only a few actual stories. The book of Job is a difficult book. The Book of Job is what convinced Harold Kushner to write "When Bad Things Happen to Good People."

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      18 months ago from USA

      I liked seeing the various themes applied to movies. There are really only so many different general plots you can write about and we tend to turn to old tried and true formulas because they are familiar and have special significance. I especially liked the one on the Book of Job.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      18 months ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting.

      I remember my English Literature teacher pointed out The Bible is the source of many stories. He used "The Poseidon Adventure" as an example of the Moses story and a generic Elvis Presley movie as an example of the Joseph story.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      18 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I have not seen all the movies you listed, however I did not know so many movies had scrips that reflected the stories in the Bible. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is not a movies that I would have related to the story of Job.

      This is a fascinating article and I love the way you told of the Bible stories and connected them to numerous movies.

    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      18 months ago from North Carolina

      Very interesting. Thank you for sharing!


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