Waterloo: The Movie That Used 15,000 Real Soldiers as Extras

Heziel Pitogo


The 1970 war flick Waterloo was a modest film, to say the least. It had quite well-known stars in its cast and won a number of awards upon its release. However, it bombed at the box office when it came out and was met with a less than positive response from moviegoers and critics alike. The whole Waterloo campaign and the days leading to it may have been too big to capture on screen. But there is one thing that made 1970 war movie stand out from the rest in the said genre — its impressive and very lavish battle scenes incomparable to today’s CGI animation solely because every horse that fell down, every soldier marching on, every explosion happened as they did.


Waterloo was an Italian-Soviet production directed by Russian filmmaker Sergei Bundarchuk and centered not just on the Battle of Waterloo itself – which will reach its bicentenary this coming June 18, by the way – but also in the days that led to the campaign which we know as the Hundred Days.

The whole Waterloo movie runs for a total of slightly a little more than two hours long though the Russian version of the picture runs for a total of four hours. Throughout that time, it jumps from talking to dancing to, definitely, a lot of fighting scenes.

French Cavalry advances

All in all, the whole Waterloo production employed 15,000 real soldiers along with 2,000 cavalrymen as extras. Added to that were fifty circus stunt riders to do the risky stunts like falling of horses and such.

How was the team behind Waterloo pull up a production this massive in those days when CGI was still unheard of? The answer is simply because the team did not make it the traditional way.

For Waterloo, producer Dino De Laurentiis flew up to the Soviet Union despite it being the middle of the Cold War and with the movie’s cast was entirely made up of British and American actors. De Laurentiis was able to use director Bundarchuk, who was Russian, to deal with the Soviets. This deal they struck up not only allowed them to film the whole Waterloo movie in the USSR but also that they could access Russian men and equipment at unbelievably basement prices.

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