Study Guide

Gladiator Introduction

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Gladiator Introduction

Release Year: 2000

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson

Stars: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen

If you'd lived around the beginning of the first millennium A.D., you might have gotten your kicks watching leather-clad men slaughter each other in the gladiatorial pits of the Roman Empire.

And, if you had been over seventeen at the beginning of the second millennium A.D., you might have gotten your kicks watching…leather-clad men slaughter each other in the gladiatorial pits of the Roman Empire.

The only difference? In turn-of-the-millennium cinematic fare like Gladiator, no one actually was getting sliced in half.

But our fascination with movies about Ancient Rome wasn't just a circa-2000 craze like butterfly clips, Von Dutch caps, and studded belts. We've been living the toga party of our wildest dreams (from an air conditioned movie theater, naturally) for a long time.

In fact, there are enough of these films that they've been given a nickname—sword-and-sandal films—after the two most recognizable Roman Empire accessories.


If you take a peek at a list of sword-and-sandal films, you'll notice that most of them were made before 1980, with a large number from the 1960's.

But they've been making a steady comeback…largely as a result of the smashing success of Gladiator (2000).

Ridley Scott's film about Roman general Maximus (played by Russell Crowe), who loses everything (his career, his family, his home) only to rise from the ashes as a slave and ultimately take down the evil emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), showed just how compelling these films could be…and how effective CGI could be in recreating the past.

The potent mix of compelling narrative (a former general on a quest to avenge the death of his family and surrogate father), insanely gory action sequences, killer visuals, and all-star performances from Crowe (who took home an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film) and Phoenix, made Gladiator a box office mega-hit.

The film earned back its 103 million dollar budget in two weeks (dang), and went on earn more than 450 million dollars in box office revenues alone. Its success at the box office translated into success on the awards circuit, with the film earning twelve Oscar nominations (and five wins—Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Costume, Best Sound, and Best Visual effects) and two Golden Globes.

So it's no surprise that Gladiator has lead to a renewed interest in watching dust-covered dudes battle it out for supremacy in the arena…but it's also no surprise that that interest in watching dudes wave swords while clad in sandals never really died out.

After all, how can you go wrong with the kind of movies that feature fights between a revenge-crazed gladiator, a world champion pit fighter, and four tigers? The answer: you can't. That stuff is impossible to look away from.

But don't worry: no tigers were hurt in the making of this movie.

What is Gladiator About and Why Should I Care?

Because contemporary America is a lot like Ancient Rome.

Sure, we wear suits instead of togas. We like our tigers in zoos instead of in arenas. And we snack on Flamin' Hot Cheetos instead of nightingale tongues.

But there are still some serious similarities.

What's one half of the United States Congress called? The Senate. What do all those fancy buildings in Washington, D.C. look like? Ancient Roman architecture redux—the Supreme Court of the United States is a dead ringer for the old Roman Senate. And America—like Rome was back in the day—is a global superpower.

In fact, to quote John Lennon, "Today, America is the Roman Empire, and New York is Rome itself." (Source)

The Roman legacy is alive and well, y'all. In many ways, the United States is the living legacy of the Roman Empire.

As Maximus would say, "There once was a dream called Rome." And we're still chasing that dream today.

It's no wonder, then, that movies like Ridley Scott's Gladiator have such lasting appeal—about two millennia of lasting appeal (and counting). We're fascinated with our cultural and political origins, and movies like Gladiator give us some insight into how things used to be.

Especially when it comes to remembering how those Romans used to be entertained.

It gets pretty mind-boggling pretty fast: the experience of watching Gladiator is the experience of being entertained by a historical spectacle (the movie itself)…but it also includes scenes of Romans being entertained by historical spectacles (the games in Gladiator are based off of battles that were considered "history" even in Ancient Rome.)

That ka-blam sound you just heard wasn't a car backfiring. It was the sound of your mind being blown.

And it was also the sound of history repeating itself.

Because if America's the heir apparent to the Roman Empire, then blockbuster movies like Gladiator are the heirs apparent to the actual gladiatorial games.


Who says actors actually to be alive to make a movie? Oliver Reed died during the film's production, and the producers decided add a digital recreation of his face in during some of the scenes they really needed. (Source)

You know that big battle scene at the beginning? Well that's real fire, folks. The forest in England where the scene was shot was going to be deforested anyway, so Ridley Scott & Co. decided to help out a little bit and burn down some of the trees. (Source)

Oliver Reed (Proximo) was definitely a hothead. At one point, he supposedly challenged Russell Crowe to a fight. (Source)

Gladiator Resources


Real Gladiators, Real Dirt
A page that talks about the actual-factual historical gladiators of ancient Rome.

Um, Actually…
A site that explores the factual inaccuracies of Gladiator. (There are a bunch of 'em.)

La Dolce Citta
A great site about the Rome…and the Roman Empire.

For Russell Crowe SuperGeeks
The inevitable website for a Gladiator fan club.

Book or TV Adaptation

Rome On The Silver Screen
A book written by classics professor Monica S. Cyrino about ancient Rome on the big screen.

How Did They Make Those Tigers?
A link to a book about the making of Gladiator.

You've Seen The Movie, Now Read The Book
A link to the book Those About to Death, which inspired David Franzoni to conceive and write the story of Gladiator.

Articles and Interviews

Two Thumbs Down?
A review of the film from the New York Times. It's, um, not great.

Does This Mean Gladiator Is A Classic?
An article about Gladiator written by a classics professor at the University of New Mexico.

Does This Mean That Commodus Is Hitler?
A short article about the ways in which Gladiator is also about Fascism.


Extra, Extra. Watch All About It.
A behind the scenes video about Gladiator—it's a little easier than figuring out the bonus features on the Blu Ray.


The Music Swells…
Feel like reliving the audio experience of the film? Look no further. Here's a link to the film's soundtrack.


Lookin' Good, Guys
A picture of Ridley Scott, flanked by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. Did they coordinate their outfits?

Oh Look. More Gladiatorial Gore.
This painting intrigued Ridley Scott enough that he agreed to make the film.

Cheer Up, Buddy.
A picture of Russell Crowe with his best actor Oscar in 2001. He doesn't look that thrilled.

Don't Worry—It's Not Real
A picture of one of the stuffed tigers used during Maximus' famous fight scene with Tigris of Gaul. Real tigers were used…but not killed.

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