It might surprise you to learn that just over twenty years ago, no one was clamouring for a historical epic about Roman gladiators starring an unproven leading man. The swords n’ sandals genre was a dated throwback, and Russell Crowe, while a highly-regarded actor, wasn’t a draw.
Fast forward halfway into 2000, and Gladiator had surpassed all expectations, cleaning up at the box office. Fast forward another nine months, and Crowe was a household name who’d just won his first Best Actor Oscar; the film itself won Best Picture. A deluge of historical, and often hysterical, movies would follow as Hollywood dusted off the sandals and unsheathed the swords again.
Yet there are a fair few tidbits of trivia about this incredibly popular, acclaimed movie that not so many people are aware of. Did you know that the inspiration for the film came quarter of a century earlier? That the shoot caused a genuine forest fire? That a young Irish actor based his despicable Game Of Thrones character on Joaquin Phoenix’ Commodus? That the working title for the sequel’s script was nearly ‘Christ Killer’?
If any of that is raising an eyebrow, you’ve come to the right place. In honour of the twenty years it’s been since Maximus asked everyone if they were having a lovely day, here’s twenty things you probably didn’t know about Gladiator.
20. Spielberg Approved The Original Pitch
Incredibly, original screenwriter David Franzoni came across the book 'Those Who Are About to Die' by Daniel P. Mannix when travelling around the world after college in the 1970s. Two decades later, given a three-picture deal with DreamWorks in recognition of his work on Steven Spielberg's Amistad, Gladiator was his first pitch.
Franzioni's meeting with Spielberg was short but sweet - supposedly, the celebrated director only had three questions for him:
"My gladiator movie, it was about ancient Roman gladiators - not American, Japanese, whatever else? Yes, I said. Taking place in the ancient Colosseum? Yes. Fighting with swords and animals to the death and such? Yes. Great, let's make the movie."
Franzioni's original script was much more historically accurate. His protagonist was a gladiator called Narcissus, the man who actually strangled Commodus, and Lucilla was, as in real life, executed inside a brazen bull, an infamous Greek torture and execution device made of bronze in which its victims were roasted alive.