Crowe portrays the loyal Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when the Emperor's ambitious son, Commodus, murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murder of his family and his Emperor.
Released in the United States on May 5, 2000, Gladiator was a box office success, receiving positive reviews, and was credited with briefly reviving the historical epic. The film was nominated for and won multiple awards, particularly five Academy Awards in the 73rd Academy Awards including Best Picture. Although there have been talks of both a prequel and sequel, as of 2012, no production has begun.
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 from Rome, Commodus and Lucilla. As the surviving soldiers pay tribute to Maximus, Commodus arrives at the battle ground and attempts to curry favor with his father. Aurelius however favors Maximus which makes Commodus both jealous and suspicious.
Knowing that his time was short, 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 of his decision before telling Commodus. Maximus reluctantly accepts the appointment after expressing a wish to return home to his family. The emperor later informs Commodus who, in a fit of rage and jealousy, murders his father. Declaring himself the emperor, Commodus asks Maximus for his loyalty, which Maximus, realizing Commodus is responsible for the Emperor's death, refuses. Commodus orders Maximus' execution and dispatches Praetorian Guards to carry out the order as well as to kill his wife and son. Maximus narrowly escapes by killing his captors, but is injured in the process. Taking the horses of the now dead Praetorians, he races home only to discover his wife and son hanging amidst the smoldering ruins of his home. After burying his family, Maximus succumbs to grief and exhaustion and collapses.
Slave traders find Maximus and take him to Zucchabar, a rugged Roman province in North Africa, where he is purchased by Antonius Proximo, the head of a gladiator school and a former gladiator himself. 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 Juba, a Numidian hunter and Hagen, a hulking Germanic warrior who, until Maximus' emergence, was Proximo's prized gladiator.
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. Proximo informs Maximus who sees this as an opportunity to get close enough to Commodus to exact revenge. Later in Rome during a reenactment of the Battle of Zama from the Second Punic War, Maximus dons a battle helmet which partly covers his face to hide his true identity and then leads Proximo's gladiators, in the guise of Hannibal's forces, to a decisive victory against a more powerful force who are in the guise of The Roman Legionnaires that were led by Roman General Scipio Africanus, in a battle they were historically slated to lose. Echoing the shock and amazement of the crowd, Commodus descends into the arena accompanied by his nephew Lucius to meet this "Spaniard". As the young emperor approaches, Maximus is tempted to kill Commodus then and there but young Lucius' presence prevents him. Commodus asks The Spaniard for his name and Maximus responds with a blatant act of defiance. Commodus angrily instructs him to remove his helmet and tell him his name. A seething Maximus reveals his identity and defiantly vows vengeance for the murder of his family. The Emperor, unable to kill Maximus because of the crowd's approval for him, leaves the arena as the crowd roars and chants Maximus' name.
Lucilla, after seeing Maximus alive, secretly arranges to meet with him. Maximus angrily accuses her of taking part in her father's and his family's murders which she denied. She tells Maximus that she has powerful allies in the senate who want to see Commodus overthrown. She asks Maximus for his aid in helping to overthrow her brother to which he refuses. As the games continue the next day, 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 beasts, Maximus defeats the larger and more powerful Tigris but refuses to kill him thereby deliberately insulting Commodus by directly defying his orders. The crowd cheers Maximus, bestowing him the title "Maximus The Merciful". Commodus becomes more frustrated at his inability to kill Maximus, let alone stop his soaring popularity. As Commodus descends once again to the arena to confront Maximus, he is greeted with a chorus of boos from the crowd. The Emperor then tries to goad Maximus into rash action by insulting his murdered family. An enraged Maximus simply walks away.
Maximus is later found by 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 to return to Rome and overthrow Commodus. Suspecting his sister's betrayal, Commodus indirectly 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.
The next day, Commodus challenges a bound and restrained Maximus to a duel to be fought in front of a full audience in the Colosseum. Acknowledging that Maximus' lethal skills far exceeds his own, Commodus stabs Maximus with a stiletto, puncturing his lung, and has the wound concealed. In the arena, the mortally wounded and dazed Maximus fights purely on instinct as the two exchange blows before Maximus rips the sword from Commodus' hands. As Commodus screams for another sword, Quintus orders the Praetorian guards not to assist Commodus. A stricken Maximus drops his own sword, and Commodus pulls a hidden stiletto and renews his attack but Maximus resists one of his blows. The two of them struggle with each other for a few moments. Commodus slowly tires, and his strength gives out on him. The Stiletto plunges into his throat. As Commodus collapses in the now-silent Colosseum, a dying Maximus begins seeing visions of the afterlife and his family. He reaches out to them, but is pulled back to reality by Quintus, who asks for instructions. Maximus orders the release of Juba and the rest of Proximo's surviving gladiators and the reinstatement of Senator Gracchus, instructing him to return Rome to a Senate-based government. Maximus then collapses and Lucilla runs to his side. Maximus quietly dies in her arms as his soul wanders into the afterlife to his family. Lucilla reminds everyone that Maximus was a soldier of Rome and that his memory should be honored. Juba, Senator Gracchus, Quintus, and Proximo's gladiators gently carry his body out of the Colosseum, leaving Commodus behind.
That night, Juba returns to an empty Colosseum and buries Maximus' figures of his wife and son in the blood stained sand where Maximus fell and vows that he shall see him again in the afterlife but "not yet." Juba then departs for his homeland and his own family.
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 DreamWorks 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 Studios 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, Surrey 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 Ouarzazate, 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 Ricasoli, Malta.
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. Soundtrack Edit
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 CNN.com 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. Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Were you not entertained?" 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 $US34.82 million on its opening weekend at 2,938 U.S. theaters. Within two weeks, the film's box office gross surpassed its $US103,000,000 budget. The film continued on to become one of the highest earning films of 2000 and made a worldwide box office gross of $US457,640,427, with over $US187 million in American theaters and more than the equivalent of $US269 million non-US markets.