10 Streaming Epics To Get You Through Quarantine

Because we finally have more than three hours to check these films off our lists

To be honest, I feel like I’d be writing some version of this article even if we weren’t all ordered to shelter-in-place. Epic in scale, scope, and especially length, there’s something magic to films that decide to go all out with their runtimes. Even more so if there’s an overture, an intermission, an entr’acte…all of the deliberate touches to completely immerse the audience into utter spectacle. From rich family trees to shocking crime capers, to intricately-planned revenge sagas and world-ending events, there are just some stories that can’t be confined to your typical two-hour fare. These films feel like whole events; and in demanding our patience they seek to reward us with rich, vibrant tapestries depicting everything the human experience has to offer. And since there’s no better time to get lost in films like these, here’s a selection of streaming titles to aid in your day-long escapes. Maybe you’ll finally be able to leave the house by the time you make your way through the list.

1.Magnolia — 3 hours, 9 minutes (Netflix)

My personal favorite film ever made, Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling LA saga depicting one particularly terrible rainy day in the San Fernando Valley. With a cast of 9 main characters, all facing their own emotionally-draining crises, there’s never a moment when Magnolia doesn’t have your full attention. PTA drags each of his characters through the muck of life, from fulfilling the dying wishes of a distant father to a gameshow wunderkind’s existential meltdown on live TV. As vile as the world can be towards our heroes, though, there’s chaotic moments of beauty as only PTA can make them, accompanied by an all-timer soundtrack by Aimee Mann and Jon Brion.

2. The Hateful Eight: The Miniseries — 3 hours, 26 minutes (Netflix)

One of the best unexpected treasures to come from streaming is the ability for famous directors to revisit their work however they see fit. Case in point, Quentin Tarantino’s recut of his divisive cabin fever epic, The Hateful Eight. Here, Tarantino splits the film into four episodes, each one chock full of smaller character moments that would otherwise never see the light of day. In this longer, more deliberately paced version, The Hateful Eight develops a unique rhythm all its own–and I honestly fucking love seeing all of these bizarre characters bounce off each other like chilled pinballs filled with napalm.

3. Seven Samurai — 3 hours, 27 minutes (Criterion Channel)

The towering champion of chambara epics and source of its own long-running series of American adaptations, Seven Samurai is rightfully celebrated as a pinnacle of action cinema. Decades after its release, Seven Samurai remains such a fun, gripping watch minute-by-minute. Kurosawa’s direction of action is so clear-cut and focused, and also recognizes how much more each fight scene lands if you put an equal amount of effort into character development as you do your fight choreography.

4. The Irishman — 3 hours, 29 minutes (Netflix)

The Irishman is the ultimate gangster film from a director who already had Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Casino among his repertoire. Built around the bloody, brutal life of hitman Frank Sheeran, The Irishman chronicles the rise and fall of the Italian Mafia’s culture of violence and secrecy. What’s more, the film can also be seen as a reflection on the glamorization of the horrific actions mob movies depict — illustrating the heavy toll such actions take on the lives caught in the whirlwind of Frank’s chaotic actions. It’s an uncomfortable watch but an addictive one, like staring down the barrel of a golden gun.

5. Heaven’s Gate — 3 hours, 36 minutes (Amazon, with Showtime or Starz, DirecTV)

Known more for its storied apocalyptic production history than its own epic merits, Heaven’s Gate is the kind of restored, kitchen-sink historical epic I go absolutely nuts for. Michael Cimino’s recreation of the 1892 Johnson County War is the last of the true Hollywood epics, with its uncontrolled cast of thousands (amid an already stacked ensemble) and lavish production design. Criterion’s restoration of the film also revives Cimino’s full vision for this undeservedly reputation-ending epic, here presented as a footnote in history re-examined as a gripping western, a heart-on-its-sleeve love story, and a savage look at turn-of-the-century class warfare. Also, a ton of roller-skating.

6. A Brighter Summer Day — 3 hours, 57 minutes (Criterion Channel)

A Brighter Summer Day dramatizes the lives of a Taiwanese street gang in the early 1960s, building up to a shocking real-life incident that made headlines. Edward Yang’s coming-of-age epic bests his more well-known Yi Yi, imbuing a gripping gangland epic with the tumultuous context of his country’s troubled history. Set amongst the great exodus of Chinese Nationalists to Taiwan in the wake of the 1949 Communist takeover, Yang positions street gang life as a chance for these stateless youth to carve out their own burgeoning sense of identity, one defined by violence, fleeting romance, and Western rock and roll. There’s a disarming sense of sincerity throughout the film as our lead, Xiao Si’r, falls in love with Ming, a schoolgirl already caught in a love triangle with two other gang leaders. A real puppy love develops between the two, leading to sequences that remind us just how young these characters are…which makes the violent acts they commit in the name of petty victories all the more horrifying.

7. Kill Bill — 4 hours, 7 minutes (Hulu: Vol. 1 & Vol. 2)

Tarantino’s under-wraps “Whole Bloody Affair” version of Kill Bill hasn’t made its debut publicly outside of a handful of theatrical screenings. However, a benefit to having both volumes of this revenge saga on streaming is the ability to play the second immediately after the first ends–preserving the intended experience of seeing these films as one experience as much as possible. For my money, Kill Bill is Tarantino’s best work — it’s a madcap combination of influence and originality, walking the fine line between cartoonish mayhem and heartbreaking drama with as much precision and skill as a Hattori Hanzo sword. Some folks give Vol. 2 flack for not being as action-packed as its predecessor, but seeing Kill Bill as one work allows the tonal shift to work wonders. Seen in its entirety, Kill Bill approaches revenge as the grueling, necessary task it can be, tempering bloody satisfaction with equal measures of cruelty and consequence.

8. Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler — 4 hours, 30 minutes (Criterion Channel)

From the sci-fi worlds of Metropolis to the once-groundbreaking crime procedurals of M, Fritz Lang is an amazing director because you can guarantee he’ll try to show you something you’ve never seen before. With Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, Lang gives his novel touch to a serialized crime caper chock full of hypnotism, elaborately and impossibly-planned heists, and a kaleidoscope of practical camera trickery. At nearly a century old, watching Dr. Mabuse feels like watching the ancestor of bingeable Netflix shows. There’s an insane amount of crazy subplots and events that somehow all manage to come together, all rooted in the cat-and-mouse game between a world-class detective and the even-more interesting crime genius who eludes him. Half-melodrama, half-magic-trick, Dr. Mabuse proves that the hunger for long-form storytelling is something that’s stuck with audiences since the beginning of cinema.

An added bonus: Lang’s sequel, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, is also available on the Criterion Channel!

9. Until the End of the World — 4 hours, 47 minutes (Criterion Channel)

Wim Wenders’ rambling sci-fi epic is perhaps the film on this list that’s the most about the journey rather than the destination. Until the End of the World follows a love triangle between William Hurt, Solveig Dommartin, and Sam Neill as they clash with and avoid bounty hunters of all sorts all over the globe as Hurt travels to his mad scientist father, Max Von Sydow, with a device that purports to record images for the blind…and possibly our own dreams. And a crashing nuclear satellite is also going to wipe out life on Earth. It’s a lot to take in for a synopsis, but so is Wenders’ film; with sumptuous cinematography by legend Robby Müller, Wenders captures everywhere from the bush of Australia, to the ruinous sprawls of urban Europe, to the Blade Runner-esque vistas of Tokyo. All the while, the chemistry between Hurt, Dommartin, and Neill lends Until the End of the World a bubbling, infectious energy like a shaggy dog sci-fi caper by way of Frank Capra and Werner Herzog. The soundtrack is also an amazing eclectic who’s who of the ‘80s and ‘90s, with Talking Heads, Julee Cruise, U2, Depeche Mode, Patti Smith, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds…it’s a nearly 5 hour symphony you won’t be able to stop listening to.

10. Fanny and Alexander: The Television Version— 5 hours, 12 mins (Criterion Channel)

I couldn’t resist closing this list out with another in my all-time favorite movies ever made, and Ingmar Bergman’s best work, Fanny and Alexander. Winner of Bergman’s last Oscar in its “truncated” 3-hour version, Fanny and Alexander chronicles the lives of the sprawling Ekdahl family in the wake of their patriarch’s death. As his widowed mother begins a new relationship with the cruel Bishop Vergerus, bright-eyed Alexander finds refuge within the confines of his imagination. Vergerus, however, possesses a maddening drive to strip Alexander’s family of all of their worldly beliefs — and this nearly six-hour battle between imagination and ideology is chock full of everything both life and film have to offer. This extended TV version restores what Bergman considers the “lifeblood” of the film: those small moments between family and friends that make each relationship feel real, be it a passing romantic dalliance or a fart joke for the little ones. The standout sequence among many is a folktale in the film’s final episode, one that beautifully illustrates how without the delivering power of stories, we’d endlessly struggle to make sense of our lives. In a world of so much uncertainty, the Ekdahl family’s steadfast courage in the face of adversity is reassuring and inspiring in equal measure.

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