300 is a heavily stylized Battle Epic movie directed by Zack Snyder, released in 2007 and based on a 1998 comic miniseries by Frank Miller. It is based on real events - the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC during the Second Greco-Persian War, as described by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. Miller was introduced to the Thermopylae story through a 1962 Sword And Sandal movie version called The 300 Spartans, which influenced him deeply as a child. The comic and film are extreme examples of historical movies being Very Loosely Based on a True Story, as artistic license is liberally employed, more so in the film.A young, one-eyed Spartan soldier relates to a group of soldiers how recent events came to pass. King Leonidas of Sparta (Gerard Butler) refuses to bow to the God King Xerxes' demands for Sparta to submit to the Persian Empire. A visit to the deformed, elderly Ephors and their Oracular Urchin/Sex Slave brings worse news: Sparta cannot wage war against the armies of Persia on the eve of the sacred Carneia festival.After much deliberation, Leonidas himself defies the oracles' prophecies; gathering three hundred of Sparta's finest soldiers and calling them his "personal bodyguard", Leonidas plans to walk to the Hot Gates (Thermopylae), a narrow pass between the ocean and mountains. By rebuilding an ancient wall to bottleneck the vast Persian army, the superior fighting ability of the Spartans would conceivably make up for the small size of their army. Seven hundred or so other Greeks turn up as Leonidas and the 300 make their way to the Hot Gates, and a hideously deformed Spartan man called Ephialtes also joins the convoy to ask Leonidas for a place on the battlefield; in exchange, Ephialtes will give the king information about an unguarded path that would leave the Spartans wide open to retaliation from behind. Leonidas refuses to accept Ephialtes into the fighting ranks — it would leave a weak point in their defense — and returns his attention to preparing for the battle.When the Persian Army brings its forces down on the Hot Gates, the Spartans' plan works perfectly, and a lot of one-sided ass-kicking ensues.In the meantime, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) tries to persuade the Spartan politicians to support Leonidas, but Theron — scarily played by Dominic West — is the most stubborn of the lot.The battle goes exactly according to Leonidas' plan; the skill and perfect defensive position of the Spartans proves to be too much even for the monstrous Persian army. The kill count is obscenely lopsided, and the only real problem occurs when Ephialtes sells his information to Xerxes for women, wealth and a (horrible) uniform.300 is very stylized due to its comic book roots and also since it's presented as a morale-boosting story by Dilios. While accurate in some historical aspects (mostly quotes), it's presented first and foremost as a visual Greek epic tale of glory and death and how battling half naked is strategically superior. Trying to justify or explain it is as futile as explaining why Matrixshould face court-martial for property damage. Think of Sin City (also by Frank Miller) with gold and red instead of white and black and with 80% less prostitutes.A sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire was released in March 2014.
These! Are! TROPES!:
Absurdly Sharp Blade: Both sides hack a lot of limbs and heads off quite cleanly like a hot knife through butter, despite having only iron weapons.
Acoustic License: At the end of the film, the narrator is revealed to be talking to an army of over thirty thousand men. Somehow, the guys way in the back who are probably half a mile away, hear him perfectly fine.
Adaptational Badass: Invoked slightly. The original comic was still filled with badasses but the movie version went straight into pure fantasy with monsters and combat feats that defy the laws of physics. The movie was more of a comic book than the comic book.
Adaptation Expansion: The entire Gorgo subplot was created for the movie as were a few fight scenes depicting more fantastic elements (the orc-like monster, the giant rhino, etc.) Also, the Captain's son is a side character in the movie but only had a brief mention in the comic.
Adrenaline Time: Used extensively. It's mocked in a number of the parodies of this film.
Adult Fear: The terror in the Captain's voice when he realizes what's about to happen to his son is a very chilling sound that any parent can relate to.
Alternate DVD Commentary: If you love 300 and think it's awesome, you should check out the RiffTrax. If you hate 300 with the passion of a thousand nations of the Persian Empire, you should definitely check out the Rifftrax.
Amazon Brigade: Gorgo's attitude and actions suggest that Leonidas wasn't kidding when he said he could march Sparta's women to Thermopylae instead of its men. Spartan women enjoyed more political power than in other Greek city-states, since their husbands were so often off at war.
Armor Is Useless: Played so very straight; the Spartans in this movie do not wear anything except loincloths, helmets, and cloaks. They do discuss the purpose and importance of the Shield Wall, which would be an aversion of this trope if they actually bothered to use that strategy for longer than the first thirty seconds of fighting.
Neither does Dilios, who is clearly embellishing the tale more with each retelling.
Artistic License - History: The movie is obviously not meant to reflect true history. In fact, historical records of the event are already believed to be rather sensationalized and greatly embellished. Zack Snyder and Frank Miller also drew inspiration from ancient artwork, which, much like Hollywood, glamorize battles of the past. Audiences have loved muscle-bound, half-naked supermen kicking the snot out of each other for a while. The embellishment is heavily implied as part of the Greek propaganda even during the film. On the other hand, Zack Snyder did state rather audaciously that the history presented in the film is "90% accurate, although the visuals are pretty crazy". However, none of these explain a few details:
The Spartan soldiers' disdain for the Ephors and the supernatural in general. Spartans were particularly religious for Ancient Greeks.
The Spartan Ephors are transformed from the equivalent of five Senators who run Spartan government into deformed molester priests who betray their people.
Sparta was run by two democratically elected "kings" who held equal power and were in turn judged by the ephors. Going to just one of them is pointless, and even if he did accede, he'd probably be branded a traitor and thrown out of the city immediately.
Leonidas criticizes Athenians as "boy-lovers." Spartans were even more committed to pederasty, the relationship between adult men and adolescent boys, than the other Greek city-states. note The relationship between adult men and adolescent boys was used like in all Greek states for education of the adolescent boy. However many Spartan sources, and even some outside of Sparta, insist that the relationship was not sexual in nature as that would have been similar to a father doing it with his son. The relationships were broken by the time the older man married as he would have to concentrate on his main job in peace: procreation. In Athens however the matter was completely different due to the locking up of women in gyneceums and their general lack of rights compared to Spartan women, the main sexual relationships of men were with other men. When it came to the relationship between adult men and adolescent boys it involved a lot of competition between the older men for the affections of the teens and the whole thing resembled soap operas with the older men serenading the boys writing them love poerm and stuff like that, something that would have ended with two beheaded bodies in Sparta. That might have been what Leonidas meant by "boy lovers".
Adultery was not shameful in Sparta.
Slavery was outlawed in the Persian Empire, and Xerxes proclaiming himself a god would have been seen as heresy in the Zoroastrian religion he followed.
The Spartans on the other hand, far from a rural, freedom-loving society, were a minority (almost a military kaste) who lived by continually and ruthlessly repressing the majority of the population, the helots. The latter were essentially slaves who worked the land to produce the food so that the former could spend all their time in oppressing them, and fighting other wars in between. During some periods, a Spartan could kill a Helot unpunished if he wanted.
The historical Xerxes is depicted in ancient artwork as having a long beard and hair, wearing elaborate royal robes. If he had a lot of body piercings and made public appearances while nearly-naked he apparently did not allow anyone to do any sculptures of it.
Author Tract: Critics have argued a lot about whether or not the film is an allegorical author tract, whose tract it is, and who represents what.
Awesome, but Impractical: The war rhino is certainly quite impressive, but it gets killed by a well thrown spear before it even has a chance to reach the Spartan front line. Furthermore the war elephants, which the Spartans manage to push off the cliff. note A scene maybe inspired by this◊ picture, concerning another war in Antiquity.
Also, the Spartans not wearing body armor.
Axe Crazy: Every other Greek believes the Spartans to be this. They aren't wrong...
The Uber-Immortal is a literal example, as he wields an axe.
Badass Boast: There is a reason the term "laconic wit" was named for the Spartans. They had a deep cultural love for pithy, badass statements.
As recorded/invented by Plutarch: Leonidas' laconic reply, "Come and get them!" when the Persians demand that the Spartans surrender their weapons. The original Greek, "Molōn labe", is the motto of the Greek I Army Corps, as well as the United States Special Operations Command Central.
Another example, taken straight from Herodotus, is when they are warned that the Persian army is so great, its arrows will blot out the Sun. A Spartan soldier casually replies, "Then we will fight in the shade."
Gorgo's reply to the messenger's query of why she dared to speak in the presence of men "Because only Spartan women give birth to real men" was something she said, although historically she said it to a visiting Athenean lady, not a Persian messenger.
Leonidas alludes to his historical response during the conversation with the Persian Messenger. In reality, his actual response to the Persian's demands for "Earth and Water", was to politely inform them that they could "dig it out for themselves!" Then he threw them down the well!
Leonidas asks the Arcadian soldiers what their professions are, then turns to his own men.
Beauty Equals Goodness: The Ephors are grotesque, lecherous and corrupt. Many of the villainous Persians are freakish and inhuman. Ephialtes betrays his fellow Spartans when they do not accept him for his deformity.
Blatant Lies: "I thought to take a short stroll. These three hundred soldiers are my personal bodyguard." The counselors clearly know he is lying, but can't do anything about it.
Note that the real life Spartan kings did in fact have a bodyguard of 300 men called the Hippeis. They were however the opposite of the men Leonidas took with him to Thermopylae: young men under 30 mounted on horses.
Blood Knight: The Spartans are history's definitive example of this. Throughout the film, we get to see that the rest of the Greek forces are somewhat terrified that the Spartans are enjoying themselves too much.
Bloodless Carnage: Despite the viseral nature of the film, whenever a sword slashes an enemy blood goes everywhere but never hits the ground. It just disperses and never leaves a stain.
Bottomless Pit: Where the Spartans threw the Persian messenger who demanded their surrender. It's supposed to be a well, and the scene based on the historcal account of the Spartans telling the emissary to dig out their tribute of earth and water themselves.
Bowdlerise: Male genitalia appeared in the graphic novel, while all male characters wear at least their Spartan shorts in the film.
Chroma Key: All but one shot were done in a Montreal soundstage in front of a blue screen.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: 300 vs 1,000,000. There were a few thousand Arcadians but they get three seconds of screentime.
Crucified Hero Shot: Leonidas assumes this pose as he faces a torrential downpour of arrows that kill him, and we eventually see his corpse in this pose.
Cultural Posturing: Leonidas and Xerxes exchange proud statements about their cultures during their first meeting.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Spartans are portrayed overall as good guys, but the story still contains reminders of their bloodlust. It opens with one of them lovingly describing mass ritual infanticide (which actually happened, by the way).
Den of Iniquity: Xerxes' royal pavilion, filled with drugged courtiers, freaks and all forms of sex. Xerxes throws such a swingin' party that even Baphomet shows up.
Determinator: The Spartans could count as a reconstructed example of this. They likely knew they couldn't defeat all the Persians. But in the end and historically, the victories they got inspired the other Greek states to unite against the Persians.
Deus ex Machina: Subverted. The Spartans celebrate when a storm hits the Persian ships only for the rest of the fleet to arrive the next morningnote The Spartans are happy about this turn of events because it would mean that the Persian fleet would have to land away from Thermopylae and attack their position, rather than landing at Thermopylae and overwhelming the Spartans with sheer numbers, or simply landing past them. The storm means the Spartans get to fight.
The Persian messenger ends up being kicked into the well, shortly after the infamous dialogue between him and Leonidas.
"Well, let's give them something to drink. To the cliffs!"
Does Not Like Shoes: Although it's difficult to see due to the speed of the scenes, the Immortals go barefoot. Considering that one of them dropkicked a Spartan soldier while fighting, the lack of footwear could be a choice for more agility.
Equal-Opportunity Evil: The legions of Xerxes are from all over the world (including Africa and Japan, apparently), and he even hires hunchbacks, which is Truth in Television, as the Persians had territory in the Middle East, parts of India (or at least Pakistan), and also ruled part of North Africa. The Greeks, however, were all... Greek.
Evil Cripple: Ephialtes, the deformed, treacherous hunchback. While the deformities themselves were added by the adaptation, he's also portrayed more sympathetically than the classical myths show him as. He's depicted as a Spartan outcast who was only saved from being killed in his infancy by his compassionate father. When he tries to offer his services to King Leonidas he is shot downnote Not even out of hate, either, but for practical reasons: Ephialtes is confirmed as a strong individual warrior, but his deformity prevents him from lifting a shield to stand in the shield wall, making him a liability as a soldier in a group, leading to a switch to the Persian camp that reads less like a Face-Heel Turn and more like a moment of Then Let Me Be Evil. In the sequel, he is deeply remorseful for his betrayal.
Exact Words: The Persian emissary demands that Sparta give the traditional tokens of submission: Earth and Water. Leonidas complies by throwing the emissary down a well. In fact, his historical response before doing so was that they could "dig it out for themselves!"
Leonidas tells Xersex that before the battle is over, the world will know that even a God-king can bleed. During their Last Stand, Leonidas makes good on that promise.
Leonidas stabs the uber-Immortal in the eye with a spearhead.
Dilios loses an eye during the fighting at the Hot Gates. He quips that it won't hinder him because "the gods saw fit to grace me with a spare."
Face-Heel Turn: Ephialtes wanted to join the spartans but was turned down so he joined Xerxes instead.
Faceless Goons: The Immortals all wear face-concealing silver masks. It turns out that what's underneath is actually much worse, since they're revealed as humanoid monsters with filed-down teeth when one gets his mask blown off by a Spartan.
Fanservice: An army of muscle-bound men wearing little more than leather straps and loincloths, their bodies lathered with blood and sweat and grime after a long day of slaughtering their enemies, the gratuitous slow-mo that accentuates every hard line of their abs, biceps, and thighs... yeah.
To clarify, Sparta used iron as currency while Persia (and everyone else) used gold and silver. Persian currency would be useless to Theron unless Persia conquered Sparta.
Friend or Foe: The Uber-Immortal doesn't have trouble with throwing around his Persian handlers when he is liberated from his chains. In fact, his companions look more worried about him than the Spartans do.
Genius Bruiser: Leonidas shows himself to be a shrewd tactician and leader in addition to being a badass front-line fighter. He also displays full proficiency in Laconic wit.
Genre Blindness: Astinos should have been well-trained enough to know that hearing anyone crying out his name in terror would mean he was in imminent danger and take action accordingly. He loses his head for it.
Giant Mook: At least two of them are fought in battle. The Persians also use elephants. 300 being what it is, they get pushed into the sea and are never seen again.
In the scene where the (black) emissary of Xerxes bribes the priests of the oracle; the emissary fades to a silhouette with only his eyes remaining, glowing white.
Also, the eyes of the wolf Leonidas slays for his initiation.
A God Am I: Xerxes fancies himself a god. The Spartans think this is hilarious.
God Emperor: Xerxes, reflecting an fictional belief the ancient Persians supposedly had and explaining why the "making him bleed" bit was so dramatic. The real life Persians were mostly Zoroastrian and thus monotheistic, believing in the divinity of a single deity, Ahura Mazda, and not that of their king.
Hollywood Costuming: The Spartans are dressed in loincloths save for their helmets and shields. This was based on the Greek fondness for athletic male figures in artwork, which fitted in well with Frank Miller's superhero comic background.
Home Guard: The Arcadians are presented as such, having various professions and taking up arms when needed, in contrast to the Spartans, who take soldiering as their primary profession.
Honor Before Reason: "Spartans never retreat! That is Spartan LAW and BY Spartan Law we will stand and FIGHT and DIE!"
How Do You Like Them Apples?: Leonidas eats an apple while supervising his men, as they search through piles of dead enemy soldiers after a battle, killing any survivors they see.
Leonidas: [talking with his mouth full] Besides, there is no reason we cannot be civil, is there? Artemis: [finishing off a wounded Persian] None, sire.
I Like Those Odds: At the end, just before the Battle of Plataea, Dilios points out that though the Persians number 120,000, they are scared out of their minds. "The enemy outnumbers us a paltry three-to-one, good odds for any Greek!"
Insistent Terminology: Leonidas is always referred to as being at the front regardless of his actual position, and always having 300 Spartans at his back even after some have been killed or left.
Ironic Echo: "This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this."
I Surrender, Suckers: At the end. They know it'll fail, but it's a cover for Leonidas to use his plan.
It's What I Do: Leonidas explains to the Arcadians that despite having a numerically smaller force, he brought more soldiers then they did.
Karma Houdini: We never see the Ephors punished for selling out their country. It might be presumed that, once corruption in the Senate was discovered, it could be traced back to them.
Karmic Death, metaphorically, sort of: Queen Gorgo was awesome enough to shank Theron (by surprise) with a borrowed sword some time after he requires a sex-bribe from her, complete with the Ironic Echo mentioned above.
Kneel Before Zod: Xerxes demands that Leondias kneel to him as part of his sign of submission. Leonidas replies that he's killed so many of Xerxes' soldiers that his knee is locked up.
Luckily My Shield Will Protect Me: According to Leonidas, it will also protect the soldier to my left. This is historically accurate, considering all the Spartans were trained as heavy-infantry hoplites who were specifically designed with the intention of being deployed in phalanx formations.
The Giant Mook that Leonidas fights during the Immortals' assault takes this to an even crazier level, casually removing a sword stabbed all the way through the muscles of his upper arm and continuing without any real sign of discomfort or impaired ability.
McNinja: The Immortals look like ninjas with their black face masks and vaguely Japanese swords.
Mistaken for Quake: The approach of the Persian army makes the earth tremble, and [captain guy] thinks for a moment an earthquake is happening.
Monstrous Humanoid: A number of the Persons. The Immortals are visualized as some undefined race of humanoid monsters with killer teeth. The Persian executioner is an obese, terribly deformed bald man with blades for arms.
Never My Fault: Ephialtes blames Leonidas for crushing his dreams of being a Spartan, despite the fact that Leonidas very patiently, and very kindly, explains to him that the reason that he won't let Ephialtes fight is because he can't hold his shield up, which will create a weak spot in the phalanx.s
No Indoor Voice: Gerard Butler screams about half his lines in the film. In the comic, Leonidas' dialogue is not drawn as yelling quite so often.
Not Even Human: Used in one of the scenes where the Spartans are fighting the Immortals. A Spartan rips off an Immortal's mask to reveal that... They're Not Even Human! There's no suggestion anywhere else in either the plot or actual history that the Immortals were anything but, you know, just humans, albeit ones working for the supposedly evil Persian Empire. Or it's blatant propaganda by an Unreliable Narrator.
One-Liner: Plenty. Stelios's "Then we shall fight in the shade," Leonidas's "This is SPARTA!", "Tonight we dine in Hell!", and "Come and get them!" The narrator Delios receives a slightly more subtle joke: When asked about his one eye, he replies, "It's only an eye. The gods saw fit to grant me a spare." Probably the most obvious one is Leonidas's comment that "There's no reason we can't be civilized" as his men butcher their wounded enemies. Spartans were expected to be able to express themselves in a concise, forceful and witty manner, which is where we get "Laconic humour."
One Sided Battle: Three hundred Spartans and 700 Thespians versus several hundred thousand Persians. The Persians are overwhelmed in battle until the climax.
Proud Warrior Race: Why are 300 Spartans more of a threat than ten thousand troops from other Greek cities? Because the other troops are bakers, potters, bankers, and other civilian professionals who've been conscripted into militia duty. The Spartans are something that had never been seen on Earth before: Full-time professional soldiers.
Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The iconic "This! IS! SPARTA!" is the former Trope Namer. Gerard Butler really went the Large Ham route with the role. The comic◊ did not have the emphasis, so this was something Butler added himself. He does the same for "Tonight! We dine! In hell!"
Pyrrhic Victory: The Persians win in the technical sense but the tide has turned by the next battle.
The Quisling: Ephialtes turns the tide of the battle in the Persians' favour by revealing a mountain pass that will allow them to outflank the Greek forces. The Persians also bribe the Spartan priests and a member of their senate to facilitate the Persian conquest.
Rated M for Manly: To the extreme. Warning: this film will impregnate any non-protected viewers, be they men or women.
A Real Man Is a Killer: If you're not killing someone, then you fail Sparta forever. This was basically Truth in Television in Spartan culture, although it's exaggerated here. (Of course, we're not sure how accurate the historical accounts are, either.)
Refuge in Audacity: Leonidas' plan to use Loophole Abuse to get around the fact he legally can't go to War. He's simply going for a walk, perhaps to the Hot Gates, whilst accompanied by 300 "Bodyguards"... What's illegal about that?!
Rousing Speech: Dilios gives a magnificent one to the combined Greek army just before the credits roll.
Rule of Cool: The producer of the film is on record as saying, "I don't want anything in this film that isn't COOL."
Say My Name: Artemis does this, immediately followed by a Big "NO!" just before Astinos is beheaded.
Sarcastic Clapping: After Queen Gorgo finishes her speech before the Spartan council, the corrupt Theron mockingly applauds her before he tries to discredit her to his colleagues with claims of adultery.
Scarpia Ultimatum: Theron's offer to Queen Gorgo goes like this: "Have sex with me and I will help you convince the senate to send reinforcements to your husband."
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Unlike the Spartans, most of the other Greek forces decide to withdraw when they discover they've been outflanked by the Persians, who have discovered the hidden goat-path and are moving to surround them.
Shirtless Scene: To put it mildly. Shirts are apparently outlawed for Spartan men. Shirtless Movie would be more accurate. The film actually tones this down from the comic, where Spartans can be seen casually chilling out in the buff. Which is accurate to real life.
Stealth Insult: Leonidas' statement to Ephialtes after the latter's betrayal, "May you live forever," doesn't sound like an insult at first. It could be taken to mean that Ephialtes will never get the glory of an honorable death in battle. It could also mean that Ephialtes will always be remembered as a traitor. In fact, in modern-day Greece, "Ephialtes" carries the same connotation that calling someone a "Benedict Arnold" would in the US.
Take That: Leonidas gets one aimed at Ephialtes. As the latter faces the former whilst the Persians are about to attack, Leonidas tells him, "May you live forever." This implies that he intends that his betrayal should be remembered throughout the generations and because the Spartans valued death in combat highly. Leonidas essentially gave him the verbal equivalent of the finger. From Ephialtes' reaction, he takes it as such as well.
Underestimating Badassery: Xerxes' massive ego causes him to learn this the hard way, realising far too late, that despite their reputation as savages, the Spartans are clearly stronger and far more intelligent than they let on. The fact that a token force of 300 individuals somehow are managing to hold out for over 3 days against an overwhelming force of 10,000 men... yeah. Made worse that he still doesn't realise that Leonidas' plan is clearly for the Spartans to go out performing a Last Stand, which will rally the rest of Greece into a furious horde against the Persian army.
Un-Person: Xerxes threatens to do this to all of Sparta if Leonidas doesn't bow down to the King of Kings.
Unreliable Narrator: The whole movie is Dilios telling a campfire story to boost morale, and as Frank Miller said, he doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story. More specifically, he even narrates parts he wasn't even present for (the ending of the battle, for instance). In each campfire scene he's in a different location as well, implying he's been embellishing it more with every retelling.
We Can Rule Together: Xerxes tries to tempt Leonidas multiple times with making him Warlord of all Greece answerable only to the God-King himself if Leonidas and his army join the Persian ranks.
We Have Reserves: The general mood among the Persians is that due to the sheer size of their army they can afford to sacrifice plenty of their troops to beat the Spartans, sending in wave after wave that all end in utter defeat. Xerxes declares that he would gladly kill off his own men for victory; Leonidas counters that he would die for his own.