A Review of The Movie Gladiator

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806 words

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The movie Gladiator was released in 2000, directed by Ridley Scott and starred Russell Crowe as General Maximus Decimus Meridius. Maximus was a 2nd century Roman soldier, subsequently enslaved and finally taking revenge on the emperor Commodus in the Flavian Amphitheatre as a gladiator. Although made over 18 years ago, and full of historical inaccuracies, the movie still remains highly watchable and entertaining, while bringing to life a very real, historical setting and vividly reconstructing Roman culture at its height. 

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Gladiator is a historical blockbuster offering both a soldier’s and gladiator’s perspective of Roman politics, warfare, culture and more specifically amphitheatre entertainment. The movie follows the life of Maximus – a highly valued general by both his troops and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. At the beginning the viewer is exposed to the brutality and well organised tactics of Roman warfare. As recognition for his honour, bravery and loyalty in the wars against the barbarian tribes of Germania, Marcus declares Maximus as his heir. Commodus, Marcus’ son, who wants to be emperor himself orders Maximus’ death. The political intrigues with its dangerous consequences in Roman times are experienced first-hand by the movie’s hero. Although Maximus manages to escape, he ends up enslaved and forced to train as a gladiator. Maximus makes it all the way to Rome to compete in the gladiator games sponsored by the new emperor Commodus. It is in the Colosseum where Maximus finally can take revenge on Commodus for the killing of his wife and child. The viewer is immersed in the gladiatorial atmosphere of the Colosseum with all its glory, bloodshed, brutality and horror. 

It is this exposure of the viewer to the Roman world of intrigues, warfare, culture, psychology and epic gladiatorial games that exemplifies best the movie’s strength. No documentary could ever capture the setting as well as a multi-million dollar Hollywood film, it would simply lack the budget. Gladiator turned out to be an impressive accomplishment in its re-creation of the golden age of the Roman Empire. With five Oscar wins including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe, it stands testimony to its entertainment value and is still most definitely a must see for history buffs. 

However, the movie is not a sound portrayal of historical facts and herein lies its weakness. Although some characters, such a Marcus Aurelius, his son Commodus and daughter Lucilla are real, the movie’s main character Maximus is not, although probably inspired by famous historical commanders. It also certainly cannot be considered a learning tool for historical events, as the chronology and accuracy is flawed. For example, Commodus ruled for 12 years, yet in the movie it appears a matter of months and Marcus most certainly wanted Commodus as his successor and in reality they were co-rulers for a number of years. Nevertheless, even in spite of the inaccuracies, the movie still manages to emerge and engage the viewer in a very real and relevant historical setting. 

The historical reliability of the film is questionable, however, as Ridley Scott stated, he didn’t try to make a documentary. As identified previously, Marcus Aurelius would have never nominated a general as his successor. He always intended for Commodus to be his heir, although some historical writings point to the fact that Marcus might have had his doubts about Commodus’ suitability. Commodus was even more vindictive and neurotic than portrayed in the movie, he even renamed the months of the year after himself. Lucilla, Commodus’ sister, concerned about his troubling reign conspired with the senate to have him killed, but failed, like in the movie. However, unlike in the movie, she was banished and killed a year later. Also, the clothing in the movie was not always typical of the time period portrayed. According to, “The German tribe was shown wearing Neolithic period clothing…” and the catapults and dart launchers used would have never been used in this type of combat. Gladiators nevertheless were treated like rock stars like in the movie. Their training, the Colosseum, the re-enactment of previous battles on the arena, the use of exotic animals is accurate. Commodus too, just as portrayed took part in gladiatorial contests with his fights most probably staged in reality, not so unlike the movie where Maximus is severely stabbed back stage before fighting Commodus. 

Therefore, one can argue that the movie is truly useful as an insight into Roman 2nd century culture, politics and gladiatorial contests, however, not as much as a chronologically and factually accurate portrayal of events, facts and characters. 

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To conclude, the movie Gladiator is a highly watchable and engaging historical movie with breathtaking views of Rome and the Colosseum that allows viewers to experience Roman culture from the perspective of a soldier who becomes a gladiator; and although factually flawed it still offers enough historical validity to be a must see for all history fans. 

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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A Review Of The Movie Gladiator. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
“A Review Of The Movie Gladiator.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
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