The central character in these movies is usually a muscular hero like Hercules or Samson. He wears a short peplum and battles monsters, evil despots, and kings or queens. This oil-slicked, nearly-nude hero is rewarded at the end of the movie with the cheers of his people, clan, or tribe — and the hand of a lovely princess.
These movies were mostly made in Italy and some in Spain. Italian moviemakers modelled peplum movies on the big budget Hollywood epics like Charlton Heston's Ben-Hur (1959) or Kirk Douglas' Spartacus (1960). The genre was very important in Italian moviemaking from 1957 to 1965, but was shoved aside in 1965 by the "Spaghetti Western".
Critics often thought peplum movies were poor stuff. They treated them with contempt. Italian director Vittorio Cottafavi called the genre "Neo-Mythology". Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra (1963) and Sophia Loren's The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) are generally considered big-budget sword and sandal movies that mark the end of the genre.
- Winkler, Martin. 2007. Troy: from Homer's Iliad to Hollywood Epic Wiley-Blackwell. p. 14.