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Who Inspired Gladiator (2000 film)?

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Gladiator is a 2000 epic historical drama film directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Ralf Möller, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnel and Richard Harris.
Creator(s): Ridley Scott
Type: Movies/TV/Stage
Genre(s): epic, historical drama
Year Released: 2000

The life of Marcus Nonius Macrinus was one of the inspirations for Russell Crowe's character Maximus Decimus Meridius in the film Gladiator. However, while both Marcus Nonius Macrinus and the fictitious Maximus Decimus Meridius are placed in the same time period and share similarities such as being liked and well known to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Marcus Nonius Macrinus went on to enjoy a successful career and died a wealthy man. In the movie, Maximus Decimus Meridius is portrayed with having a much different later life, losing his family and being sold into slavery.[1]

The fictional character of general Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator) was partially based on Narcissus alongside being based on Marcus Aurelius's general Marcus Nonius Macrinus, Spartacus, Cincinnatus and Maximus of Hispania.[2]

The character Maximus is partly inspired by Spartacus, a former gladiator and an accomplished military leader who led a significant slave revolt.[3]

Maximus is also partly inspired by Cincinnatus, a farmer who became dictator, saved Rome from invasion, then resigned his six-month appointment after 15 days.[4]

Maximus is partly inspired and named after Maximus of Hispania, Constantine's chief military figure in the Spanish provinces.[5]

Gladiator was based on an original pitch by David Franzoni, who wrote the first draft. Not a classical scholar, Franzoni was inspired by Daniel P. Mannix’s 1958 novel Those About to Die.[6]

David Franzoni chose to base his story for Gladiator on Commodus after reading the Augustan History.[7]

Ridley Scott was approached by producers Walter F. Parkes and Douglas Wick. They showed him a copy of Jean-Léon Gérôme's 1872 painting entitled Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down). Scott was enticed by filming the world of Ancient Rome.[8]

Ridley Scott and cinematographer John Mathieson used multiple cameras filming at various frame rates, similar to techniques used for the battle sequences of Saving Private Ryan (1998).[9]

The film Gladiator shares several plot points with The Fall of the Roman Empire, which tells the story of Livius, who, like Maximus in Gladiator, is Marcus Aurelius's intended successor. Livius is in love with Lucilla and seeks to marry her while Maximus, who is happily married, was formerly in love with her. Both films portray the death of Marcus Aurelius as an assassination. In Fall of the Roman Empire a group of conspirators independent of Commodus, hoping to profit from Commodus's accession, arrange for Marcus Aurelius to be poisoned; in Gladiator Commodus himself murders his father by smothering him. In the course of Fall of the Roman Empire Commodus unsuccessfully seeks to win Livius over to his vision of empire in contrast to that of his father, but continues to employ him notwithstanding; in Gladiator when Commodus fails to secure Maximus's allegiance, he executes Maximus's wife and son and tries unsuccessfully to execute him. Livius in Fall of the Roman Empire and Maximus in Gladiator kill Commodus in single combat: Livius to save Lucilla and Maximus to avenge the murder of his wife and son, and both do it for the greater good of Rome.[10]

The film's plot was influenced by two 1960s Hollywood films of the 'sword-and-sandal' genre, The Fall of the Roman Empire and Spartacus. Spartacus provides the film's gladiatorial motif, as well as the character of Senator Gracchus, a fictitious senator (bearing the name of a pair of revolutionary Tribunes from the 2nd century BC) who in both films is an elder statesman of ancient Rome attempting to preserve the ancient rights of the Roman Senate in the face of an ambitious autocrat — Marcus Licinius Crassus in Spartacus and Commodus in Gladiator. Both actors who played Gracchus (in Spartacus and Gladiator), played Claudius in previous films — Charles Laughton of Spartacus played Claudius in the unfinished 1937 film I, Claudius and Sir Derek Jacobi of Gladiator, played Claudius in the 1976 BBC adaptation. Both films also share a specific set piece, where a gladiator (Maximus here, Woody Strode's Draba in Spartacus) throws his weapon into a spectator box at the end of a match as well as at least one line of dialogue: "Rome is the mob", said here by Gracchus and by Julius Caesar (John Gavin) in Spartacus.[11]

Ridley Scott attributed Spartacus and Ben-Hur as influences on the film, "These movies were part of my cinema-going youth. But at the dawn of the new millennium, I thought this might be the ideal time to revisit what may have been the most important period of the last two thousand years—if not all recorded history—the apex and beginning of the decline of the greatest military and political power the world has ever known."[12]

The film's depiction of Commodus's entry into Rome borrows imagery from Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1934), although Ridley Scott has pointed out that the iconography of Nazi rallies was of course inspired by the Roman Empire. Gladiator reflects back on the film by duplicating similar events that occurred in Adolf Hitler's procession. The Nazi film opens with an aerial view of Hitler arriving in a plane, while Scott shows an aerial view of Rome, quickly followed by a shot of the large crowd of people watching Commodus pass them in a procession with his chariot. The first thing to appear in Triumph of the Will is a Nazi eagle, which is alluded to when a statue of an eagle sits atop one of the arches (and then shortly followed by several more decorative eagles throughout the rest of the scene) leading up to the procession of Commodus. At one point in the Nazi film, a little girl gives flowers to Hitler, while Commodus is met with several girls that all give him bundles of flowers.[13]

When visiting the actual Colosseum, Ridley Scott felt that it was too small for the film. Scott and production designer Arthur Max designed a bigger version of the Colosseum which was inspired by Nazi architect Albert Speer including English and French romantic painters.[14]