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Gladiator is a American/British and epic film directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, and Richard Harris.

Released in the United States on May 5, 2000, it was a box office success, receiving generally good reviews, and was credited with briefly reviving the historical epic. The film was nominated for and won multiple awards including five Academy Awards in the 73rd Academy Awards.


Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, a native of Hispania, leads the Roman Army to victory against Germanic barbarians in the year A.D. 180, ending a prolonged war, and earning the esteem of elderly Emperor Marcus Aurelius. As the battle ends, the son and daughter of the Emperor arrive, Commodus and Lucilla.

The dying Aurelius decides to appoint leadership to the morally-upstanding Maximus, with a desire to eventually return power to the Roman Senate, effectively reviving the Republic. Aurelius informs Maximus before telling Commodus, who, in a bout of jealousy, murders his father. Declaring himself the emperor, Commodus asks Maximus for his loyalty, which Maximus, realizing Commodus' involvement in the Emperor's death, refuses. Commodus orders Maximus' execution and dispatches Praetorian Guards to murder his wife and son. Maximus narrowly escapes, but is injured in the process. He races home to discover his wife and son crucified in the smoldering ruins of his home. After burying them, Maximus succumbs to exhaustion and collapses.

Slave traders find Maximus and take him to Zucchabarmarker, a rugged province in North Africa, where he is purchased by Antonius Proximo, the head of a gladiator school. Maximus initially refuses to fight, but as he defends himself in the arena his formidable combat skills lead to a rise in popularity with the audience and respect among his fellow fighters. Known as "The Spaniard", he trains and fights further, and befriends Hagen, a Germanic barbarian, and Juba, a Numidian hunter.

In Rome, Commodus reopens the gladiatorial games to pay tribute to his father and gain the favor of the people, and Proximo's gladiators are hired to participate. During a reenactment of the Battle of Zama from the Second Punic War, Maximus leads Proximo's gladiators, in the guise of Hannibal's forces, to a decisive victory against a more powerful force to the amazement of the crowd and emperor. Commodus descends into the arena to meet the victors and instructs "The Spaniard" to remove his helmet and tell him his name. An angry Maximus shows his face and reveals his identity. The Emperor, unable to kill Maximus because of the crowd's approval for him, leaves the arena. As the games continue, Commodus pits Maximus against Tigris of Gaul, Rome's only undefeated gladiator, in an arena surrounded by chained tigers. Despite being nearly overcome by the animals, Maximus defeats Tigris, but refuses to kill him, thereby deliberately insulting Commodus by directly defying his orders. The crowd cheers Maximus, bestowing him the title "Merciful". Commodus becomes more frustrated at his inability to kill Maximus, let alone stop his ascending popularity.

Maximus finds his former servant Cicero, who reveals that Maximus's army remains loyal to him. Maximus forms a plot with Lucilla and Senator Gracchus to rejoin his army and overthrow Commodus. Suspecting his sister's betrayal, Commodus threatens her young son and forces her to reveal the plot. Praetorian guards immediately arrest Gracchus and storm Proximo's gladiator barracks, battling the gladiators while Maximus escapes. Hagen and Proximo are killed in the siege while Juba and the survivors are imprisoned. Maximus escapes to the city walls only to witness Cicero's death and be captured by a legion of Praetorian guards.

Commodus challenges Maximus to a duel in front of a full audience in the Colosseum. Acknowledging that Maximus's skill exceeds his own, Commodus stabs Maximus with a stiletto, puncturing his lung, and has the wound concealed. In the arena, the two exchange blows before Maximus rips the sword from Commodus's hands, and Quintus orders the Praetorian guards not to assist Commodus. Maximus drops his own sword, and Commodus pulls a hidden stiletto and renews his attack. Maximus then kills Commodus with his own stiletto, plunging it into his neck. As Commodus collapses in the now-silent Colosseum, a dying Maximus begins seeing his wife and son in the afterlife. He reaches for them, but is pulled back to reality by Quintus, who asks for instructions. Maximus orders the release of Proximo's gladiators and the reinstatement of Senator Gracchus, instructing him to return Rome to a Senate-based government. Maximus then dies and wanders into the afterlife to his family. Senator Gracchus, Quintus, and Proximo's gladiators carry his body out of the Colosseum, leaving Commodus behind. That night, Juba returns to an empty Colosseum, and speaks of seeing Maximus in the afterlife.


  • Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius: a Hispano-Roman general in Germania, turned slave who seeks revenge against Commodus. He had been under the favor of Marcus Aurelius, and the admiration of Lucilla prior to the events of the film. His home is near Trujillo (in today's Cáceres, Spainmarker). After the murder of his family he vows vengeance. Maximus is a fictional character partly inspired by Marcus Nonius Macrinus, Narcissus, Spartacus, Cincinnatus, and Maximus of Hispania.
  • Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus: a vain, power hungry and sociopathic young man, Commodus murders his father and desires his own sister, Lucilla. He becomes the emperor of Rome upon his father's death.
  • Connie Nielsen as Lucilla: the older child of Marcus Aurelius, Lucilla has been recently widowed. She tries to resist the incestuous lust of her brother while protecting her son, Lucius.
  • Djimon Hounsou as Juba: a Numidian tribesman who is taken from his home and family by slave traders. He becomes Maximus's close ally during their shared hardships.
  • Oliver Reed as Antonius Proximo: an old and gruff gladiator trainer who buys Maximus in North Africa. A former gladiator himself, he was freed by Marcus Aurelius, and gives Maximus his own armor and eventually a chance at freedom.
  • Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus: one of the senators who opposed Commodus's leadership, who eventually agrees to aid Maximus in his overthrow of the Emperor.
  • Ralf Moeller as Hagen: a Germanian and Proximo's chief gladiator who later befriends Maximus and Juba during their battles in Rome.
  • Spencer Treat Clark as Lucius Verus: the son of Lucilla. He admires Maximus and incurs the wrath of his uncle, Commodus, by impersonating the gladiator. Lucius is a free-spirit and likes his uncle at first until Commodus's true sinister nature comes to the fore. He is named after Lucius Verus, his alleged father and co-ruler of Marcus Aurelius.
  • Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius: an emperor of Rome who desires to return Rome to a republican form of government but is murdered by his son Commodus before his wish is fulfilled.
  • Tommy Flanagan as Cicero: a Roman soldier and Maximus's loyal servant who provides him with information while Maximus is enslaved.
  • Tomas Arana as General Quintus: another Roman general and former friend to Maximus. Made commander of the Praetorian guards by Commodus, earning his loyalty until Commodus orders the execution of his men.
  • John Shrapnel as Gaius: another senator who is in close correspondence to Gracchus.
  • David Schofield as Senator Falco: a Patrician, a senator opposed to Gracchus. Helps Commodus consolidate his power.
  • Sven-Ole Thorsen as Titus of Gaul: an undefeated gladiator who is called out of retirement to duel Maximus.
  • David Hemmings as Cassius: runs the gladiatorial games in the Colosseum.
  • Giannina Facio, Maximus's wife.
  • Giorgio Cantarini, Maximus's son.



Gladiator was based on an original pitch by David Franzoni, who went on to write all of the early drafts. Franzoni was given a three-picture deal with DreamWorksmarker as writer and co-producer on the strength of his previous work, Steven Spielberg's Amistad, which helped establish the reputation of DreamWorks. Franzoni was not a classical scholar but had been inspired by Daniel P. Mannix’s 1958 novel Those About to Die and decided to choose Commodus as his historical focus after reading the Augustan History. In Franzoni's first draft, dated April 4, 1998, he named his protagonist Narcissus, after the praenomen of the wrestler who strangled Emperor Commodus to death, whose name is not contained in the biography of Commodus by Aelius Lampridius in the Augustan History. The name Narcissus is only provided by Herodian and Cassius Dio, so a variety of ancient sources were used in developing the first draft.

Ridley Scott was approached by producers Walter F. Parkes and Douglas Wick. They showed him a copy of Jean-Léon Gérôme's 1872 painting entitled Pollice Verso ("Thumbs Down"). Scott was enticed by filming the world of Ancient Rome. However, Scott felt Franzoni's dialogue was too "on the nose" and hired John Logan to rewrite the script to his liking. Logan rewrote much of the first act, and made the decision to kill off Maximus's family to increase the character's motivation.

With two weeks to go before filming, the actors complained of problems with the script. William Nicholson was brought to Shepperton Studiosmarker to make Maximus a more sensitive character, reworking his friendship with Juba and developed the afterlife thread in the film, saying "he did not want to see a film about a man who wanted to kill somebody." David Franzoni was later brought back to revise the rewrites of Logan and Nicholson, and in the process gained a producer's credit. When Nicholson was brought in, he started going back to Franzoni's original scripts and reading certain scenes. Franzoni helped creatively-manage the rewrites and in the role of producer he defended his original script, and argued to stay true to the original vision. Franzoni later shared the Academy Award for Best Picture with producers Douglas Wick and Branko Lustig.

The screenplay faced the brunt of many rewrites and revisions due to Russell Crowe's script suggestions. Crowe questioned every aspect of the evolving script and strode off the set when he did not get answers. According to a DreamWorks executive, "(Russell Crowe) tried to rewrite the entire script on the spot. You know the big line in the trailer, 'In this life or the next, I will have my vengeance'? At first he absolutely refused to say it." Nicholson, the third and final screenwriter, says Crowe told him, "Your lines are garbage but I'm the greatest actor in the world, and I can make even garbage sound good." Nicholson goes on to say that "...probably my lines were garbage, so he was just talking straight."


The film was shot in three main locations between January and May 1999. The opening battle scenes in the forests of Germania were shot in three weeks in Bourne Woods, near Farnham, Surreymarker in England. Scott and cinematographer John Mathieson utilized multiple cameras filming at various frame rates, similar to techniques used for the battle sequences of Saving Private Ryan (1998). Subsequently, the scenes of slavery, desert travel, and gladiatorial training school were shot in Ouarzazatemarker, Morocco just south of the Atlas Mountains over a further three weeks. Finally, the scenes of Ancient Rome were shot over a period of nineteen weeks in Fort Ricasolimarker, Maltamarker.

In Malta, a replica of about one-third of Rome's Colosseum was built, to a height of 52 feet (15.8 meters), mostly from plaster and plywood (the other two-thirds and remaining height were added digitally). The replica took several months to build and cost an estimated $1 million. The reverse side of the complex supplied a rich assortment of Ancient Roman street furniture, colonnades, gates, statuary, and marketplaces for other filming requirements. The complex was serviced by tented "costume villages" that had changing rooms, storage, armorers, and other facilities. The rest of the Colosseum was created in CG using set-design blueprints, textures referenced from live action, and rendered in three layers to provide lighting flexibility for compositing in Flame and Inferno.


British post-production company The Mill was responsible for much of the CGI effects that were added after filming. The company was responsible for such tricks as compositing real tigers filmed on bluescreen into the fight sequences, and adding smoke trails and extending the flight paths of the opening scene's salvo of flaming arrows to get around regulations on how far they could be shot during filming. They also used 2,000 live actors to create a CG crowd of 35,000 virtual actors that had to look believable and react to fight scenes. The Mill accomplished this feat by shooting live actors at different angles giving various performances, and then mapping them onto cards, with motion-capture tools used to track their movements for 3D compositing.

An unexpected post-production job was caused by the death of Oliver Reed of a heart attack during the filming in Malta, before all his scenes had been shot. The Mill created a digital body double for the remaining scenes involving his character Proximo by photographing a live action body-double in the shadows and by mapping a 3D CGI mask of Reed's face to the remaining scenes during production at an estimated cost of $3.2 million for two minutes of additional footage. The film is dedicated to Reed's memory.

Historical Accuracy

The film is only loosely based on historical events. Although the filmmakers consulted an academic expert with knowledge of the period of the Ancient Roman empire, historical discrepancies were incorporated by the screenwriters. At least one historical advisor resigned due to the changes made, and another asked not to be mentioned in the credits. Historian Allen Ward of the University of Connecticut noted that historical accuracy would not have made Gladiator less interesting or exciting and stated: "creative artists need to be granted some poetic license, but that should not be a permit for the wholesale disregard of facts in historical fiction".

The character of Maximus is fictional, although in some respects he resembles the historical figures of Narcissus (the character's name in the first draft of the screenplay and the real killer of Commodus), Spartacus (who led a significant slave revolt), Cincinnatus (a farmer who became dictator, saved Rome from invasion, then resigned his 6-month appointment after fifteen days), and Marcus Nonius Macrinus (a trusted general, Consul of AD 154, and friend of Marcus Aurelius). Although Commodus engaged in show combat in the Colosseum, he was strangled by the wrestler Narcissus in his bath, not killed in the arena.


The film's plot was influenced by two 1960s Hollywoodmarker films of the 'sword and sandal' genre, The Fall of the Roman Empire and Spartacus. The Fall of the Roman Empire tells the story of Livius, who, like Maximus in Gladiator, is Marcus Aurelius's intended successor. Livius is in love with Lucilla and seeks to marry her while Maximus, who is happily married, was formerly in love with her. Both films portray the death of Marcus Aurelius as an assassination. In Fall of the Roman Empire a group of conspirators independent of Commodus, hoping to profit from Commodus's accession, arrange for Marcus Aurelius to be poisoned; in Gladiator Commodus himself murders his father by smothering him. In the course of Fall of the Roman Empire Commodus unsuccessfully seeks to win Livius over to his vision of empire in contrast to that of his father, but continues to employ him notwithstanding; in Gladiator when Commodus fails to secure Maximus's allegiance, he executes Maximus's wife and son and tries unsuccessfully to execute him. Livius in Fall of the Roman Empire and Maximus in Gladiator kill Commodus in single combat: Livius to save Lucilla and Maximus to avenge Marcus Aurelius, and both do it for the greater good of Rome.

Spartacus provides the film's gladiatorial motif, as well as the character of Senator Gracchus, a fictitious senator (bearing the name of a pair of revolutionary Tribunes from the 2nd century BC) who in both films is an elder statesman of ancient Rome attempting to preserve the ancient rights of the Roman senate in the face of an ambitious autocratMarcus Licinius Crassus in Spartacus and Commodus in Gladiator. Both actors who played Gracchus (in Spartacus and Gladiator), played Claudius in previous films — Charles Laughton of Spartacus played Claudius in the 1937 film I, Claudius and Sir Derek Jacobi of Gladiator, played Claudius in the 1975 BBC adaptation. Both films also share a specific set piece, where a gladiator (Maximus here, Woody Strode's Draba in Spartacus) throws his weapon into a spectator box at the end of a match as well as at least one line of dialogue: "Rome is the mob", said here by Gracchus and by Julius Caesar (John Gavin) in Spartacus.

The film's depiction of Commodus's entry into Rome borrows imagery from Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1934), although Ridley Scott has pointed out that the iconography of Nazi rallies was of course inspired by the Roman Empire. Gladiator reflects back on the film by duplicating similar events that occurred in Adolf Hitler's procession. The Nazi film opens with an aerial view of Hitler arriving in a plane, while Scott shows an aerial view of Rome, quickly followed by a shot of the large crowd of people watching Commodus pass them in a procession with his chariot. The first thing to appear in Triumph of the Will is a Nazi eagle, which is alluded to when a statue of an eagle sits atop one of the arches (and then shortly followed by several more decorative eagles throughout the rest of the scene) leading up to the procession of Commodus. At one point in the Nazi film, a little girl gives flowers to Hitler, while Commodus is met with several girls that all give him bundles of flowers.


The Oscar-nominated score was composed by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard, and conducted by Gavin Greenaway. Lisa Gerrard's vocals are similar to her own work on The Insider score. The music for many of the battle scenes has been noted as similar to Gustav Holst's "Mars: The Bringer of War", and in June 2006, the Holst Foundation sued Hans Zimmer for allegedly copying the late Gustav Holst's work. Another close musical resemblance occurs in the scene of Commodus's triumphal entry into Rome, accompanied by music clearly evocative of two sections—the Prelude to Das Rheingold and Siegfried's Funeral March from Götterdämmerung—from Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs. The "German" war chant in the opening scene was borrowed from the 1964 film Zulu, one of Ridley Scott's favorite movies. On February 27, 2001, nearly a year after the first soundtrack's release, Decca produced Gladiator: More Music From the Motion Picture. Then, on September 5, 2005, Decca produced Gladiator: Special Anniversary Edition, a two-CD pack containing both the above mentioned releases. Some of the music from the film was featured in the NFL playoffs in January 2003 before commercial breaks and before and after half-time. In 2003, Luciano Pavarotti released a recording of himself singing a song from the film and said he regretted turning down an offer to perform on the soundtrack. The Soundtrack is one of the best selling film scores of all time, and also amongst the most popular.


Gladiator received positive reviews, with 77% of the critics polled by Rotten Tomatoes giving it favorable reviews. At the website Metacritic, which utilizes a normalized rating system, the film earned a favorable rating of 64/100 based on 37 reviews by mainstream critics. The Battle of Germania was cited by as one of their "favorite on-screen battle scenes", while Entertainment Weekly named Maximus as their sixth favorite action hero, because of "Crowe's steely, soulful performance", and named it as their third favorite revenge film. In 2002, a Channel 4 (UK TV) poll named it as the sixth greatest film of all time.

It was not without its deriders, with Roger Ebert in particular harshly critical attacking the look of the film as "muddy, fuzzy, and indistinct." He also derided the writing claiming it "employs depression as a substitute for personality, and believes that if characters are bitter and morose enough, we won't notice how dull they are."

The film earned $34.82 million on its opening weekend at 2,938 U.S. theaters. Within two weeks, the film's box office gross surpassed its $103,000,000 budget. The film continued on to become one of the highest earning films of 2000 and made a worldwide box office gross of $457,640,427, with over $187 million in American theaters and more than $269 million overseas.

Epic Impact

The film's mainstream success is responsible for an increased interest in Roman and classical history in the United States. According to The New York Times, this has been dubbed the "Gladiator Effect".

Sales of the Cicero biography Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician and Gregory Hays' translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations received large spikes in sales after the release of the film. The film also began a revival of the historical epic genre with films such as Troy, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, and 300.


Gladiator was nominated in 36 individual ceremonies, including the 73rd Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards. Of 119 award nominations, the film won 48 prizes.

The film won five Academy Awards and was nominated for an additional seven, including Best Supporting Actor for Joaquin Phoenix and Best Director for Ridley Scott. There was controversy over the film's nomination for Best Original Music Score. The award was officially nominated only to Hans Zimmer, and not to Lisa Gerrard due to Academy rules. However, the pair did win the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score as co-composers.

Home media release

The film was first released on DVD on November 20, 2000, and has since been released in several different extended and special edition versions. The director's cut was released on a two-disc Blu-ray in September 2009. Special features for the Blu-ray Disc and DVDs include deleted scenes, trailers, documentaries, commentaries, storyboards, image galleries, easter eggs, and cast auditions. Initial reviews of the Blu-ray Disc release criticized poor image quality, leading to many calling for it to be remastered, like what Sony did with The Fifth Element in 2007.

The DVD editions that have been released since the original two-disc version, include a film only single-disc edition as well as a three-disc "extended edition" DVD which was released in August 2005. The extended edition DVD features approximately fifteen minutes of additional scenes, most of which appear in the previous release as deleted scenes. The original cut, which Scott still calls his director's cut, is also selectable via seamless branching (which is not included on the UK edition). The DVD is also notable for having a new commentary track featuring director Scott and star Crowe. The film spans the first disc, while the second disc contains a comprehensive three-hour documentary into the making of the film by DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, and the third disc contains supplements. Discs one and two of the three-disc extended edition were also repackaged and sold as a two-disc "special edition" in the EU in 2005.


In June 2001, Douglas Wick said a Gladiator prequel was in development. The following year, Wick, Walter Parkes, David Franzoni, and John Logan switched direction to a sequel set fifteen years later; the Praetorian Guards rule Rome and an older Lucius is trying to learn who his real father was. However, Russell Crowe was interested in resurrecting Maximus, and further researched Roman beliefs about the afterlife to accomplish this. Ridley Scott expressed interest, although he admitted the project would have to be retitled as it had little to do with gladiators. An easter egg contained on disc 2 of the extended edition / special edition DVD releases includes a discussion of possible scenarios for a follow-up. This includes a suggestion by Walter F. Parkes that, in order to enable Russel Crowe to return to play Maximus, who dies at the end of the original movie, a sequel could involve a "multi-generational drama about Maximus and the Aureleans and this chapter of Rome", similar in concept to The Godfather Part II.

In 2006, Scott stated he and Crowe approached Nick Cave to rewrite the film, but they had conflicted with DreamWorks's idea of a Lucius spin-off, who Scott revealed would turn out to be Maximus' son with Lucilla. He noted this tale of corruption in Rome was too complex, whereas Gladiator worked due to its simple drive. In 2009, details of Cave's ultimately rejected script surfaced via the internet, suggesting that Maximus would be reincarnated by the Roman gods and returned to Rome to defend Christians against persecution; he would then be transported to other important periods in history, including World War 2, finally playing a role in the modern-day Pentagon.


Further reading

  • Landau, Diana; Walter Parkes, John Logan, and Ridley Scott. Gladiator: The Making of the Ridley Scott Epic. Newmarket Press, 2000. ISBN 1557044287.
  • Schwartz, Richard (2001). The Films of Ridley Scott. Westport, CT: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-96976-2
  • Winkler, Martin (2004). Gladiator Film and History. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-1042-2

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