Gladiator (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"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."

In Ancient Rome, General Maximus Decimus Meridius is named heir to the ailing Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wishes that Rome be restored to a republic with the Senate ruling as the representative of the people. The Emperor's son, Commodus, refuses to accept this future: 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 this fate, but unfortunately for him, his wife and young son do not. Maximus swears to avenge their 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 great action sequences and all-around general badassery, reviving the epic movie genre in the process; 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.

Tropes used in Gladiator (film) include:
  • 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.
    • Perhaps especially if he turned out to be a just ruler. "Why would we go back to being a Republic after the system that gave us Commodus the Just?"
  • Anachronism Stew
  • Ancient Rome
  • Anti-Villain: Quintus
  • 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.
  • Artistic License History: 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.
    • Also in-universe, Scipio Africanus and his citizen-levy legions would have had an apoplectic fit if they seen later generations characterize 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."
    • The real life Commodus was not incestuous towards his sister at all, and her exile and execution was purely for trying to plot his assassination.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Maximus Decimus Meridius is an example of an Awesome McCoolname with actual justification. His given name is Decimus; Maximus being his nickname/title (also used by other Real Life renowned Roman commanders), and Meridius either being his family name or more likely, referring either to his conquests in the South or his possible hometown of Emerita Augusta. Therefore in English, he would possibly be Decimus the Great, Conqueror of the South.
    • The more traditional order would likely have been "Decimus Meridius Maximus", but the traditional name structure wasn't always adhered to, especially by people outside of Rome or Italy. Either way, it's accurate that everyone would just call him "Maximus" anyway.
  • Badass Beard: Maximus grows one...
  • Badass Boast / Rousing Speech: "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."
  • Badass Spaniard: 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.
    • Curiously, in the Spaniard dub of the film, he's called "el Hispano" ("the Hispanic"), which would have been the correct term at the time. After all, any Spanish person of the target audience would have spotted the mistake and cringe badly if they would have called him "el Español".
  • Band of Brothers: Maximus' legion is implied to be this.
  • 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.
  • Best Served Cold
  • Big Bad: Commodus.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • 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").
  • Bittersweet Ending: Maximus dies in the end after defeating Commodus but heck, he gets to see his wife and son. Awwww. 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."
  • 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 and qualifies more for an Orange and Blue Morality.
  • Black Best Friend: Juba to Maximus.
  • Bread and Circuses
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: All Commodus wanted was a hug. And the empire...
  • Call to Agriculture: "Maximus the Farmer!"
  • The Cameo: Brian Blessed appears as an audience member in The Colosseum.
  • Chained Heat: Combined with Back-to-Back Badasses in Maximus' first gladiator-battle.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • "Am I not merciful?"
    • "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.
  • Classic Villain: Commodus, representing Ambition and Envy.
  • 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 killed the narcissistic Commodus (actually his own master at arms, who 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.
  • Crusading Widower: Maximus.
  • Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good: For the final battle, Maximus is wearing black armor, and Commodus wears white.
    • Dark Is Evil: In one scene Commodus's robe is totally black.
  • Deadly Hug: How Commodus comes to power.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: Maximus is put in a fight with the only undefeated gladiator, Tigris of Gaul.
  • Despair Event Horizon
  • Determinator: Both Maximus and Commodus.
  • Died Happily Ever After: At the end, there's a few brief shots of Maximus in a field, walking towards his family in Elysium.

Maximum: [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.
  • Driven by Envy: Commodus. Also Quintus.
  • Dual-Wielding: Tigris of Gaul fights with a sword in one hand and an axe in the other.
  • Epic Flail: A common gladiator weapon.
  • Epic Movie
  • 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.
  • Foil: Noble, humble, wise Maximus and insanely ambitious Commodus. Maximus' bosses also count: Noble Emperor Marcus Aurelius and ex-slave-turned-fight-promoter Proximo.
  • Freudian Excuse: Commodus explains, prior to killing his dad, that all he wanted was a little love and a warm hug...and what he would have done to get it.
  • Game-Breaking Injury: Double subversion. Maximus is stabbed before his battle with Commodus, but manages to defeat Commodus and give a last order before dying.
  • Genre Blind: Old Marcus Aurelius, of all people. Telling your immoral son you're naming another as your heir with no witnesses around or record of your decision... yeah...
  • Give Me a Sword: Both ways; Maximus gets one without asking while Commodus is left to fend for himself.
  • Gladiator Games
  • Gladiator Revolt
  • Good-Looking Privates: Maximus, of course.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Heel Face Turn: The entire Praetorian Guard, Quintus in particular.
    • Something of a bit of Truth in Television, given the Praetorians had a reputation for deposing and assassinating Emperors, although the real-life Commodus supposedly maintained the loyalty of the Guard until the end of his reign.
  • The Hero Dies
  • Humiliation Conga: Commodus is disarmed and battered by a man he's clearly just injured, his own general turns against him and then he's slowly, painfully killed by his own stiletto knife to the neck. By the look on his face, he doesn't even care anymore.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Lucilla telling her son about Maximus, but not telling him to keep his mouth shut about it.
    • Marcus Aurelius gets handed one right before he decides to tell his evil ambitious son in private that he won't be Emperor.
  • Implacable Man: Maximus foils Commodus' plot to have him killed by killing ALL the praetorians sent to kill him.
  • Improvised Weapon User: Several instances. From making a flail simile out of a severed hand still attached to the end of a chain to a helmet as a pummeling weapon.
  • 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.
  • It's Personal
  • It Works Better with Bullets: A rare non-gun example: "Sometimes the frost makes the blade stick."
  • 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 Germanians (who were, it's worth mentioning, ultimately never conquered by the Romans):

Quintus: A people should know when they're conquered.
Maximus: Would you, Quintus? Would I?