Hercules (1958 film)

Hercules (Italian: Le fatiche di Ercole, lit. 'The Labours of Hercules') is a 1958 Italian peplum film based upon the Hercules and the Quest for the Golden Fleece myths. The film stars Steve Reeves as the titular hero and Sylva Koscina as his love interest Princess Iole. Hercules was directed by Pietro Francisci and produced by Federico Teti. The film spawned a 1959 sequel, Hercules Unchained (Italian: Ercole e la Regina di Lidia), that also starred Reeves and Koscina.

Italian film poster
Directed byPietro Francisci
Produced byFederico Teti
Screenplay byEnnio De Concini
Pietro Francisci
Gaio Frattini
Story byPietro Francisci
Based onThe Argonauts
by Apollonius of Rhodes
StarringSteve Reeves
Sylva Koscina
Gianna Maria Canale
Fabrizio Mioni
Arturo Dominici
Mimmo Palmara
Lidia Alfonsi
Gina Rovere
Music byEnzo Masetti
CinematographyMario Bava
Edited byMario Serandrei
Galatea Film
Distributed byLux Film (Italy)
Warner Bros. (US)
Release date
  • 20 February 1958 (1958-02-20) (Italy)
Running time
107 minutes
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$4.7 million (US/Canada rentals)[2]

Hercules made Reeves an international film star and effectively paved the way for the dozens of 1960s peplum (or "sword and sandal") films featuring bodybuilder actors as mythological heroes and gladiators battling monsters, despots, and evil queens.


Hercules is on the road to the court of King Pelias of Iolcus to tutor Pelias' son Prince Iphitus in the use of arms. Pelias' beautiful daughter Princess Iole updates Hercules on the history of her father's rise to power and the theft of the kingdom's greatest treasure, the Golden Fleece. Some suspect—and it eventually proves true—that King Pelias has acquired the throne through fratricide. Hercules and Iole are attracted to each other and a romance eventually develops.

King Pelias is warned by a seeress about a stranger wearing one sandal who will challenge his power. When his nephew Jason, the rightful King of Iolcus, arrives in town wearing one sandal, Pelias takes fright and packs him off to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the distant land of Colchis. Jason and Hercules sail aboard the Argo with their friends Ulysses and his father, Laertes, Argos, the twins Castor and Pollux, the lyre-strumming Orpheus, the physician Aesculapius and others.

After weathering a tempest at sea, the Argonauts dally in a lush garden-like country with Antea, the Queen of the Amazons and her ladies. Jason falls in love with Antea, but, when the Amazons plot the deaths of the heroes, Hercules forces Jason to board the Argo and secretly set sail in the night. On the shores of Colchis, the heroes battle hairy ape-men while Jason slays a dragon and retrieves the Golden Fleece. The Argonauts embark for home with their prize.

In Iolcus, the populace greet the returning heroes but Pelias and his henchman Eurysteus steal the Golden Fleece, deny Jason's claim, and plot his destruction. A tense battle between Pelias' forces and the heroes follows. Hercules halts Pelias' cavalry dead in its tracks by toppling the portico of the palace upon them. The defeated Pelias drinks poison. Jason ascends the throne while Hercules and Iole set sail for new adventures.

Subplots involve the death of Pelias' headstrong son Prince Iphitus, and exploits for Hercules resembling the Labors of the Nemean Lion and the Cretan Bull.



The film was shot in Eastmancolor, using the French widescreen process Dyaliscope. An American Bison served as the Cretan Bull.[3]


Hercules was released in Italy on 20 February 1958.[4]

American producer Joseph E. Levine acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the film and Warners advanced Levine $300,000 for the privilege of distributing the film in the US.[5]

The film opened at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore on 26 June 1959[1] where it set a house record with $30,000 in its first week.[6] With an intensive promotional campaign costing $1.25 million and a then-wide release of 550 theatres,[1] Hercules became a major box-office hit.[7]

It premiered in England on May 18, 1959 and in Spain on Nov. 23, 1959.[8]


In America, the film generated a Dell comic book adaptation with illustrations by John Buscema[9][10] and a 33 RPM long-playing RCA Victor recording of the film's soundtrack.[11][12]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of the movie, episode #502, was first aired on December 18, 1993, on Comedy Central. The MST3K presentation edited the original movie to fit the TV show's time constraints, which causes Hercules's characters to go from "the midst of one plot development before the commercial ... [to] somewhere else entirely" afterwards.[13]

Although two other MST3K episodes featuring Hercules movies (Hercules Against the Moon Men, at #49, and Hercules Unchained, at #61) were ranked in the Top 100 list of episodes as voted upon by MST3K Season 11 Kickstarter backers, Hercules did not make the cut.[14] In his rankings of all 191 MST3K episodes, however, writer Jim Vorel ranked the episode #78, the highest of the four Hercules movies that aired on Comedy Central. "It’s a mish-mash of Greek myth," Vogel writes, that is "the most purely entertaining film in the series. ... The total abject devotion of all the other men toward Hercules is naturally hilarious."[15]

The MST3K version of Hercules was included as part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume XXXII DVD collection, released by Shout! Factory in March 24, 2015. The other episodes in the four-disc set include Space Travelers (episode #401), Radar Secret Service (episode #520), and San Francisco International (episode #614).[16]


  • Hughes, Howard (2011). Cinema Italiano - The Complete Guide From Classics To Cult. London - New York: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-608-0.


  1. "'Hercules' Has 6,000 WB Dates Lined Up". Variety. 15 July 1959. p. 32. Retrieved 20 May 2019 via Archive.org.
  2. "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. Hughes, p.3
  4. Eder, Bruce. "Hercules". AllMovie. Archived from the original on 20 May 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  5. Scheuer, P. K. (1959, Jul 27). Meet joe levine, super(sales)man! Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/167430798
  6. "'Horse' Okay at $11,000; 'Hercules' Hot 30G; 'Ship' Slow 5 1/2G". Variety. 1 July 1959. p. 8. Retrieved 20 May 2019 via Archive.org.
  7. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. Della Casa, Steve; Giusti, Marco (2013). "Il Grande Libro di Ercole". Edizione Sabinae. Page 23. ISBN 978-88-98623-051.
  9. "Dell Four Color #1006". Grand Comics Database.
  10. Dell Four Color #1006 at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
  11. Lucanio (1994). With fire and sword: Italian spectacles on American screens, 1958-1968. Scarecrow Press. p. 181. ISBN 0810828162.
  12. Kendall, Club (1993). Film Score Monthly. Lukas Kendall. p. 119.
  13. Episode guide: 502- Hercules. Satellite News. Retrieved on 2018-07-16.
  14. Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000 Update #41. Kickstarter. Retrieved on 2018-07-16.
  15. Ranking Every MST3K Episode, From Worst to Best. Vorel, Jim. Paste Magazine. April 13, 2017. Retrieved on 2018-07-16.
  16. MST3K: Volume XXXII. Shout! Factory. Retrieved on 2018-07-11.

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