In Ancient Rome, General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) is named heir to the ailing Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), who wishes that Rome be restored to a republic with the Senate ruling as the representative of the people. The Emperor's son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), is not a happy camper: he murders his father, declares himself to be the new Emperor, and orders that Maximus be killed when the general refuses to pledge loyalty to him. Maximus escapes his fate, but unfortunately for him, his wife and young son do not. Maximus swears to avengetheir deaths and join them soon after; wandering around the countryside, he is soon found and brought into slavery. Maximus is trained as a gladiator by his captors, and he successfully wins the crowd's approval in his first few performances; this allows Maximus to travel to Rome and compete in gladiatorial battles arranged by Commodus. Maximus soon wins Rome's approval — to the point where he begins to become more popular amongst the people than Commodus — and begins to plan his revenge...Gladiator, released in 2000, is known for reviving the epic movie genre, great action sequences, and all-around general badassery; it was also a huge hit for Ridley Scott. Though Scott didn't win the Oscar for Best Director, the film itself took home many others — including the all-important Best Picture — and earned Russell Crowe his first Oscar.This film is not to be confused with the proto-superheroic 1930 book Gladiator, the TV gameshow Gladiators, or the general trope Gladiator Games. A remake of The Fall Of The Roman Empire.
Maximus just wanted to go home but the emperor needed his help one more time.
Marcus Aurelius just wanted to make Rome a republic again but his scheming son killed him.
Commodus just wanted to assume absolute power but Maximus came back.
Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Many examples, especially between Maximus and, variously, Marcus Aurelius, Proximo, Juba, and Lucilla. Arguably it is the skillful use and execution of these scenes that allows this to transcend being a great action movie and become an epic masterpiece.
Ambition Is Evil: Commodus tells his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, that while he doesn't have the traditional virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude, he does have Courage ("Perhaps not on the battlefield, but there are many kinds of courage..." — and in truth, he's actually a pretty good fighter, he just never saw real battle), and Ambition, which drives him to excel. He then murders his father and assumes the Imperial throne for himself. This is especially Anvilicious, considering that Marcus Aurelius was going to hand power over to General Maximus specifically because Maximus didn't want to rule. In fairness, he wanted Rome to be a Republic again, and knew that would never happen if his ambitious and power-hungry son, however just a ruler he might turn out to be, assumed the throne.
Armor Is Useless: Maximus cuts through body armor with his swords, even though it would have probably protected them better in Real Life.
Arrows on Fire: Used in the opening battle. The Romans initially held the barbarians back with conventional arrows then, once the battle started, they shot flaming arrows and flaming catapult projectiles which seemed to have a longer range. We see a lot of barbarians break and run at the initial few volleys - smoke and fire clogging up your side of the field, watching allies being burned alive and an iron wall of soldier waiting to kill or enslave you as they march through the smoke thicket will do that.
At one point, Rome is described as being founded as a Republic, and numerous characters refer to plans to turn it back into a republic for the people. Rome was actually founded as a kingdom, only becoming a republic later on. Word Of God is that Roman history was not re-written for the film, but that these statements were incorrect within the film itself, reflecting how the characters themselves preferred to see history.
The real life Commodus was not incestous towards his sister at all*
indeed according to the (notoriously unreliable) Augustan History, Lucilla was the only one of his sisters that he didn't climb into bed with
, and her exile and execution was purely for trying to plot his assassination.
In-universe, Scipio Africanus and his citizen-levy legions would have had an apoplectic fit if they seen later generations characterise them as the chariot riding, archery using, "home team" gladiators for the sake of historical gloss on a, to them, vulgar execution (Republican era gladiator fights of Scipio's era were generally not to the death). If anything, the fitout of Maximus' men was far closer to Roman Republican legions than the "home team."
Awesome McCoolname: Maximus Decimus Meridius is an example of an Awesome McCoolname with actual justification due to the Roman system of cognomina, or titles/official nicknames. His given name is Decimus (at one point his family name is given as Aelius), Maximus was a common cognomen used by many other Real Life renowned Roman commanders, and Meridius probably refers either to past conquests in the South or his Spanish heritage (technically the names are in the wrong order, and should be Decimus Aelius Maximus Meridius). In English, he would possibly be Decimus the Great, Conqueror of the South.
Badass Boast / Rousing Speech / Verbal Business Card: "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions,note the plural is historically inaccurate loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Heavily subverted. Maximus' wounds are shown in their full ugliness as they heal. His grief at the sight of his wife and son's bodies also has physical components and isn't dignified in the least.
The Big Guy: Hagen, the German whom Proximo uses to test new fighters. He's a class three as despite his physical prowess (Maximus aside, he's pretty much the last person you want to fight in the arena), he's actually a perfectly friendly, candid guy. He'd probably be an outright Gentle Giant except that he's, well, a gladiator.
Maximus' names for the two horses on his breastplate translate to "Silver" and "Trigger".
"You have a great name" ("Maximus" literally translates to "very great")
Black and White Morality: Maximus is a brave, noble veteran who initially wants to make Rome a republic again and later wishes to avenge the murder of his wife and son. Commodus is an insane, patricidal megalomaniac with a Caligula complex.
Bring My Brown Pants: The scribe wets himself as he and the other gladiators are about to enter a fight in the Zucchabar arena. With good cause, as in a deleted scene he emphatically points out that he's got zero combat experience and is very aware he'll die soon.
Brother-Sister Incest: It is implied that Emperor Commodus plans to do this with his sister whether she wants to or not (she doesn't), but he never gets the chance. That and threatening her son make a good Kick the Dog moment, though.
Bittersweet Ending: Of the "mostly good" kind. Most of the gladiator school is wiped out and the survivors are imprisoned, but they are eventually released. Maximus defeats Commodus in a duel, ensures Rome will become a republic, and dies of his wounds. However, he is seen reunited with his family in Elysium. This is mirrored just afterwards, when Juba returns to an empty Colosseum to bury Maximus' figurines, and says "I will see you again. But not yet. Not yet."
The Caligula: The Roman emperor Commodus. Commodus wasn't as bad in real life as he was in either this film or The Fall of the Roman Empire, but he still wasn't the sort of monarch you'd take home to mother - he thought he was the reincarnation of Hercules, fought as a gladiator in the arena, and is best-known for ending the "Five Good Emperors". He also ordered one of his slaves to be burned alive for making his bath too cold. Yikes. He'd spent most of his reign just doing whatever he fancied, and having a grand old time — it wasn't until there were several attempts on his life (one involving his sister) that he really kicked into gear and became a tyrannical dictator.
"Are you not entertained!? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?"
Cincinnatus: Maximus. After long years of slogging through the north, conquering for Rome, he just wanted to go home to his family and farm, even when he realized he was being offered total power in Rome, and that, Aurelius said, was why it had to be him to steward the Empire until it could be a Republic again.
Composite Character: Maximus, compared to real life. There was a general, Pertinax, who was a friend of Marcus Aurelius and succeeded Commodus, and there was a gladiator, Narcissus, who assassinated Commodus (actually his own master at arms; he murdered him at home, in his bath).
Conspicuous CG: Not in the movie per se, but this was the reason there are tigers in the movie as opposed to rhinoceros in the script. They couldn't find any trained rhinoceros (if such thing exist), so they tried to use CGI ones, but the result wasn't up to par, so they opted for tigers instead. The rough tests of the CGI rhinos can be seen on the DVD.
Crippling The Competition: Commodus restrains and stabs Maximus just prior to their final, climactic arena duel in order to gain the upper hand during the fight.
Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good: For the final battle, Maximus is wearing black armor, and Commodus wears white. Interestingly, ancient Rome had rather different associations for these colors. Black was the color of joy and festivity, which probably explains why Commodus, the dissolute playboy emperor, is usually seen wearing it. White, though, was associated with the elderly, authority figures*
the English word for "someone running for office", candidate, comes from the Latin word for white. Roman office-seekers wore white togas to the elections
Dark Is Evil: In one scene Commodus's robe is totally black.
Dashing Hispanic: Rather than Spanish, he is technically Hispanic (as in someone from the ancient Roman province of Hispania, which is now Spain), and he is played by an Australian actor speaking The Queen's Latin, but Maximus Decimus Meridius is pretty Badass.
Deleted Scene: One of them has two guards who screwed up and allowed Maximus to escape about to be executed with arrows, and Commodus walking in front of them while the archers are tensed to fire, and standing directly between the two condemned men as they are killed by arrows. This is supposed to show how self-destructive he's become since becoming emperor. This scene and several others have since been added back in with a recent Director's Cut, as is the increasing norm for a Ridley Scott movie.
Died Happily Ever After: At the end, there's a few brief shots of Maximus in a field, walking towards his family in Elysium.
Maximus:[to his soldiers] If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!
The Dog Bites Back: The Praetorian Guard repay Commodus' repeated dog-kicking by sheathing their swords in the final confrontation, basically saying "fuck this guy, let him sleep in the bed he made!" This makes even more sense with a deleted scene where Commodus executes two praetorians as scapegoats when Maximus turns up alive. The Praetorian commander vehemently protests the execution, but is forced to personally give the execution order himself.
Doomed Moral Victor: Maximus becomes a darling of the public, kills the emperor in a duel and dies afterwards. He was already mortally wounded by the Emperor just before they entered the arena. It was meant to be more of a fancy execution than a duel, in order to discredit the hero and bolster the strength of the Emperor. The evil Emperor still loses.
The Evil Prince: Commodus, though he had something of an excuse: his father, rather than passing on emperorship to him, as had become commonplace (at least in the world of the movie: in Imperial Rome, it was relatively common for an Emperor to choose an adoptive heir as opposed to a blood one; look at Julius, Augustus and Marcus Aurelius himself), was going to give it to Maximus, who in turn was going to use it to put power back into the hands of the Senate and restore the Republic.
Evil Virtues: Commodus believed his virtues were just as good as the ones of a traditional ruler.
Fake Shemp: An infamous example. Oliver Reed died before filming all his scenes as Proximo, so they used shadows, CGI, and creative re-editing of already-shot scenes, along with some stock footage, to finish filming and rewrote several important scenes that would have been otherwise unfilmable.
Good Republic, Evil Empire: The good guys are hoping to turn the Roman Empire back into a Republic by giving more power to the Senate. The bad guy wants to get rid of the Senate altogether. (Historically speaking, no one planned to make Rome a republic again, especially since the last five emperors had been both good and competent guys.)
Grim Up North: Germania is a cold, harsh place filled with violent barbarians.
Groupie Brigade: When Maximus and the other gladiators are lead into the Colosseum, they're mobbed by a group of scantily-clad women with obvious admiration and intentions towards them, one of them even grabs Maximus and whispers "I want you" in his ear until a guard pulls her off.
A Handful for an Eye: At the beginning of the one on one duel against Tigris surrounded by tigers. The opponent kicks dirt/gravel/dust into Maximus's face.
Hollywood History: Marcus Aurelius was eager to have Commodus take over, Commodus was strangled in his bath after a 13-year rule, and power did not transfer to the Senate after his death. That, and Rome was not "founded as a republic." It was a kingdom originally.
Lucilla was executed by Commodus (she tried to assassinate him) in 182 AD, predeceasing him by a full decade.
Any Roman legion breaking ranks as shown in the film would have been decimated; by the individually-powerful Germans during the battle, and by their commanders after it.
Inadequate Inheritor: The emperor favored Maximus over Commodus because he considered his son too corrupt for the job, wanting instead a humble reformer to take the helm. Pity one of his son's "virtues" was Ambition.
Kingpin in His Gym: Commodus is shown practicing his swordsmanship against multiple opponents, showing that wealth and power have not made him soft. This holds true to the real Commodus, who was supposedly very good in the Colosseum... although he tended to fight men with training weapons while using real ones himself.
Know When to Fold 'Em: Discussed in the opening scene, regarding the Germans (who were, it's worth mentioning, ultimately never conquered by the Romans);
Quintus: A people should know when they're conquered.
Commodus deciding to fight a gladiator in the arena looks like a plot device to let Maximus get his revenge. The historical Commodus did actually fight in gladiator contests, although it isn't how he died.
The writers planned to have a scene with popular gladiators endorsing products, which happened historically, but it was decided that audiences would think it was unrealistic.
Retired Badass: Proximo, once the greatest gladiator in Rome, who was freed by Marcus Aurelius himself. Also Tigris of Gaul, another (younger) retired gladiator who had never been defeated, brought back by special dispensation of Commodus in an attempt to kill Maximus.
Rousing Speech: "Is Rome worth one good man's life? We believed it once. Make us believe it again."
"Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead! Brothers; what we do in life, echoes in eternity."
Theme Music Power-Up: Maximus has a driving, forceful orchestral battle theme only heard twice, once on the German battlefield and once in the Colosseum. In both moments he is leading armies to victory like a true front-line general.
Thousand Year Reign: That is how long Commodus wants his incestuous line to last, when he thinks he's won completely.
Originally, Maximus was supposed to fight Proximo in the Colliseum after being captured, probably as a penultimate Kick the Dog from Commodus.
Nick Cave was asked to pen a sequel. It featured poor Maximus being reincarnated by the Roman gods, then teleported across time to fight as a soldier in every war ever fought. His "touching the earth" thing became a "ritual" to keep him sane. No, really.
David Franzoni's original script had Maximus named Narcissus, Commodus being strangled in the baths (as in RL by the real Narcissus), the fight at the Colosseum against a rhinoceros instead of tigers and Lucilla not making it to the end of the movie but being executed (as she was in reality) along with some senators inside a Sicilian Bull.
Why Won't You Die?: Commodus asks Maximus this after Maximus makes it through a match which was blatantly set against him.
Commodus: What am I going to do with you? You simply won't... die. Are we so different, you and I? You take life when you have to... as I do.
Maximus: I have only one more life to take. Then it is done.
Maximus: Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!
You Can Barely Stand: Commodus stabs Maximus before facing him in the arena. Maximus, a seasoned general mind you, proves to be able to defeat the reasonably skilled but nonetheless inferior Commodus, but dies from bleeding afterwards.