Long Live ‘Gladiator’: 20 Years Later, We Are Still Entertained
Twenty years ago, Maximus Decimus Meridius asked a crowd of bloodthirsty spectators, “Are you not entertained?” That was the first time he asked. He asked if ethics and nobility pale in comparison to cheap thrills and viral sensations. He asked again and again as we periodically revisited Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, Gladiator, over the next two decades. Every time we watch it, Gladiator’s infinitely quotable script takes on new meaning. In this way, it isn’t just a movie. It’s a constant reminder that there’s a pissed off Australian Spaniard in all of us.
Whether you’re rich, poor, or were once a powerful general betrayed by the murderous son of Marcus Aurelius, you can make a difference. Grab a sword, shield, helmet, and restore the Roman Republic. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be one hell of a ride, full of fist-pump-worthy moments laced with enough testosterone to last Sylvester Stallone a week. That’s why we keep watching it; because in our weakest moments, the story of “a general who became a slave, a slave who became a gladiator, a gladiator who defied an empire” is Red Bull for the soul. Twenty years later, we are still very much entertained and here’s why.
Cover Photo: Universal Pictures
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One of Hans Zimmer’s best scores. Ever.
That’s saying something. Zimmer is behind the music and emotion of some of the biggest films ever made: The Dark Knight trilogy (basically all of Christopher Nolan’s films), the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, The Lion King, The Da Vinci Code, the list goes on and on. What he manages to do with Gladiator is next-level; the music is so in-sync with the film’s story that its narrative beats are etched into our minds by the sounds we associate with them.
Russell Crowe was at his most badass.
Hi! My name is (what?)
My name is (who?)
My name is…
"Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, general of the Felix Legions, 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."
Pre-'Joker' Joaquin Phoenix was as troubled as ever.
Phoenix’s first Oscar nomination was for his supporting role in Gladiator. He played the disgruntled Commodus who murders his emperor daddy and shits on his throne. He’s an insecure, cowardly, incestuous little monster—we don’t sympathize with him at all (quite the opposite of his Oscar-winning role in Joker). He’s the perfect villain; out-Joffreying Joffrey before A Game of Thrones was ever on David Benioff and Dan Weiss’ to-read list. Gladiator was the beginning of Phoenix’s insurgence as one of the best actors around.
Richard Harris as Caesar was perfect casting.
Maybe it’s the deified white locks or their British accents but Harris (even though he’s from Limerick) is up there with Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen as most authoritative in film. You listen to these men; there are wisdom and mystery behind their words. This is probably why Harris played Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films (before his untimely passing). His role as Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator does the Ireland native justice.
In fact, all of the performances are spot on.
Oliver Reed was known for his excessive drinking and fighting. Fittingly, the actor played Proximo, the charismatic former gladiator who buys Maximus in the film. The scenes featuring Proximo are some of Gladiator’s best. Unfortunately, Reed had a heart attack after a night of drinking before the filming of Gladiator concluded. Ridley Scott used a body double and CGI to finish Reed’s role in the Gladiator (which wasn’t a common effect in 2000).
You don't even notice the CGI...kind of.
You most likely didn't even notice the fact that Proximo's final scenes weren't acted out by Oliver Reed. In addition to this use of CGI, the film recreates the Colosseum in ancient Rome. The arena was shot in a practical location with only the first few rows of seats being filmed—that massive 360-degree shot of the Colosseum is extended through the use of computer effects (again, this was the year 2000).
Before she was Queen of the Amazon, she was a daughter of Rome.
That's Connie Nielsen. She plays Queen Hippolta (mother of Diana) in DC's Wonder Woman and the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984...just in case you weren't aware.
Quotable to death.
It’s a prefect blend of history and fiction.
Yes, the story of Maximus is fictional; however, Ridley Scott’s depiction of ancient Rome is a lively and relatively accurate one. From the politics to the inclusion of female gladiators, Gladiator is a paragon at taking fact and fiction and making a tasty stew of entertainment (better than Braveheart in that regard).
It made swords, sandals, and sand cool again.
Before Gladiator, we hadn’t seen big films set in ancient Rome or Greece since the 1950s. Gladiator brought Charleston Heston and Kirk Douglas’ shtick back to mainstream entertainment. The years that followed brought us Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and 300 (none of which have lived up to Gladiator).
It contains some of the best fight scenes in movie history.
That one battle in particular, where Maximus fights Tigris, which involves tigers and some serious swordplay, fulfills every fantasy anyone has ever had of being a gladiator.
It’s the last of a dying (if not extinct) breed of movies.
When was the last time you saw a great R-rated, historical, adventure epic that wasn’t part of a franchise?
A damn-near perfect story.
What’s not to love? Everything that occurs in Gladiator feels authentic and earned. The pacing is on point. Maximus gets his revenge but not in a cheesy way. It’s thematically consistent; after Maximus’ death, Djimon Hounsou’s Juba ends the film by saying, “I will see you again...but not yet. Not yet.” In that moment, we know we’ve experienced something on par with any bedtime story, fable, or legend that has come before it (exaggeration).
Kudos to whoever made the entire film into a GIF.