Gladiator's a movie about family…but in a very strange way. (No one is accusing this movie of being family friendly, for example.)
It's about both the perversion of the whole idea of family, and about the lack of family. Commodus wants to sleep with his sister, and kills his father. Marcus Aurelius sees Maximus as more of a son than Commodus. Lucilla's husband is dead, and Commodus acts like his surrogate father.
Oh yeah—and Maximus' wife and son are murdered, and he quickly joins the ranks of a bunch of other, family-less gladiators.
Questions About Family
Does the fact that Maximus' wife and son die make him a more compelling character?
Why's Commodus obsessed with his sister? Does it have anything to do with his relationship with his father?
In what ways are the gladiators a family, with Proximo or Maximus as their father?
What's the significance of the fact that Lucilla is a widow?
Chew on This
Even though Gladiator dramatizes the dissolution of families, it suggests that families can be formed in other places (the gladiators seem like a family unit, and so do the Roman soldiers at the beginning of the film).
Marcus Aurelius doesn't think of himself as a good father. While he doesn't go into more detail, the fact that he has spent much of his reign campaigning suggests that maybe he wasn't around to raise his kids.