Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Plot: Maximus is a powerful Roman general, loved by the people and the aging Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Before his death, the Emperor chooses Maximus to be his heir over his own son, Commodus, and a power struggle leaves Maximus and his family condemned to death. The powerful general is unable to save his family, and his loss of will allows him to get captured and put into the Gladiator games until he dies. The only desire that fuels him now is the chance to rise to the top so that he will be able to look into the eyes of the man who will feel his revenge.
At one point in the production it seems that Ridley Scott thought that having Maximus fight another wave of combatants in the gladiatorial arena wasn't impressive enough to satisfy audiences. While in the end as we've all seen he settled for Bengal tigers, at one point he seriously considered pitting the hero against a full grown rhinoceros.
A common misconception about the production of Gladiator is that in some of the shots the tigers were computer generated images - while this myth persists, the truth is that no CGI animals were used in these scenes. Instead, some of the closer calls were achieved through a combination of live action footage and green screens, while the tiger which jumps onto Maximus's back was actually a real tiger jumping onto the back of a handler who was holding a treat which he fed to the animal before shrugging it off.
Oliver Reed's Character Proximo Was Supposed To Survive Until The End. Sadly Oliver Reed died of a heart attack during the filming in Malta, before all his scenes had been shot. The character of Juba, played by Djimon Hounsou, had been padded out by this point, so the honour of delivering the film's final lines went to him instead.
Mel Gibson (43 at the time) was first offered the role, but declined as he, probably rightly, felt he was too old to play the character.
Lou Ferrigno - The Incredible Hulk himself - was originally cast as Tigris of Gaul
In Fort Ricasoli, Malta, a replica of about one-third of Rome's Colosseum was built, to a height of 52 feet, mostly from plaster and plywood. The replica took several months to build and cost an estimated $1 million. The other two-thirds were added digitally
Joaquin Phoenix scream of "Am I not merciful?" was also not in the script.
Maximus' description of his home (specifically how the kitchen is arranged and smells in the morning and at night) was ad-libbed - it's a description of Crowe's own home in Australia
Jude Law tested for Commodus, but Joaquin Phoenix ran away with the role. Lopez reportedly tried out for Lucilla, but lost out to Connie Nielsen.
Whereas Maximus is a work of fiction, Commodus and Lucilla are not. In 182 A.D. Commodus survived an assassination attempt by his sister Lucilla. He gradually became even more megalomaniacal, even renaming Rome "Colonia Commodiana" (Colony of Commodus). He was eventually strangled to death by a champion wrestler named Narcissus (who had been hired by Commodus' advisers).
While appearing on Inside the Actors Studio, Crowe said that only 32 pages of the script were completed when shooting commenced. Co-writer William Nicholson recounted how Crowe once told him, “Your lines are garbage but I’m the greatest actor in the world, and I can make even garbage sound good.” Initially, Crowe didn’t care for the now-famous line “And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next,” but repeatedly failed to ad-lib anything better.
Much like today's most celebrated athletes, Roman gladiators actually did product endorsements. But the producers didn't think that audiences would know—or believe—that, so left it out of the film.
Nick Cave, the musician wrote a sequel involving a time-traveling Maximus. Cave dealt with the whole "Maximus is dead" problem by having the Roman gods reincarnate him in his script. The plan was for him to then be somehow transported to World War II, the Vietnam War, and then become a modern-day General at the Pentagon. The studio rejected it.
In reality, emperor Marcus Aurelius died of the plague and Commodus ascended to the throne. He was a much loved emperor by the army and the lower classes, until he fell out of their favor due to his egocentric behavior.
The real life Marcus Aurelius died from the Plague, while in the film he dies from being smothered (during an embrace) by Commodus. Later on in the film, Gracchus asks Commodus the ironic question if he had ever "embraced someone dying of plague."
Jack Gleeson modelled his character Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones (2011) after Emperor Commodus.
In the Colosseum scenes, only the bottom two decks are actually filled with people. The other thousands of people are computer-animated.
It is a common misconception that a Roman emperor put his thumb upwards to signify that a gladiator was to be spared, whereas thumb down meant that there would be no mercy for a downed gladiator. In reality, this gesturing was the other way around: thumbs up symbolized a sword action (and thus death), and thumbs down a sheathed sword (mercy). The crew was aware of this while making the film, but since thumbs up is considered to be a good sign nowadays, they decided not to unnecessarily confuse the audience.
A surprising fount of information in terms of Roman history was Connie Nielsen who has always been fascinated by the period. She would be frequently consulted over accurate historical details.
Historically speaking, the real Commodus himself did fight in the arena. Unbeknownst to him, the soldiers preparing the gladiator to fight, would stab the opponent in the back to weaken him in the same way that Commodus himself does to Maximus in this film.