Apple has coughed up another huge pile of cash to make "Napoleon", the latest epic from director Ridley Scott that hits cinemas around the world next week, with Joaquin Phoenix donning the tricorn hat of the French emperor.

The budget -- said to be close to $200 million -- has paid for some gargantuan battle scenes from Austerlitz to Waterloo, though the British director also focuses on the intimate side of Bonaparte's life, particularly his fraught love affair with his wife, Josephine.

It is the tech company's latest attempt to earn some Hollywood prestige, following hot on the heels of Martin Scorsese's equally pricey "Killers of the Flower Moon".

Both films may struggle to recoup the investment at the box office, but it is affordable PR for a company that generates revenues of nearly $1 billion a day.

"My hat always goes off to Apple -- it's not inexpensive and they took the risk," said Scott in an interview with AFP and a small group of reporters in Paris.

The 85-year-old mastermind behind classics like "Alien", "Gladiator" and "Thelma and Louise" took the opportunity to have a swipe at the glut of superhero movies coming out of Hollywood, which he described as "really silly".

"To do a historical epic like this today with all these superhero movies going around... it's a big challenge," Scott said.


Ridley Scott said Napoleon has 'fascinated the world in every shape and form' / © AFP

The 2-hour-39-minute "Napoleon" traces the fortunes of France's most famous historical figure from his rise among the ashes of the French Revolution through his incredible military victories to his eventual defeat and exile.

Scott denied rumours that a four-hour cut was already being prepared for Apple's streaming platform, saying that was just a possibility "later, in two years' time, maybe..."

A history buff, he said Bonaparte was an obvious choice of subject.

"There are 10,400 books on the man -- that's one for every week since he died. Why would you not be interested in this man?" Scott said.

"He clearly fascinated the world in every shape and form as leader, diplomat, warrior, politician, bureaucrat, and of course inevitable dictator."

Napoleon remains a divisive figure in France -- lauded for modernising the state and his strategic genius, vilified for re-establishing slavery, codifying sexism and leaving millions dead through his war-mongering ambition.

Some early audiences in France have taken issue with Scott's account, with historian Patrice Gueniffey calling it a "caricature of an ambitious Corsican ogre" and "very anti-French".

Scott is not the first director to take on the subject.

Abel Gance's 1927 silent classic, "Napoleon", runs to seven hours -- which a team of obsessives has recently spent more than a decade restoring.

The subject also obsessed and ultimately defeated another famed British director, Stanley Kubrick ("2001: A Space Odyssey", "The Shining"), prior to his death in 1999.

"I knew Stanley a little," said Scott. "He phoned me after 'Alien' came out and the first thing he said was: 'How did you get that thing to come out of his chest?'"