Between the film's amazing cast (Russel Crowe, Djimon Hounsou, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, to name a few) and the wonderful direction of Ridley Scott, it is easy to expect that Gladiator would be a great film to watch. And it is.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius chooses to name his general, Maximus, as heir to the throne over his own son, Commodus. And because of this, the young Commodus killed his father in order to gain the throne. Maximus is then arrested, not only because he was chosen as the rightful heir, but because his loyalty was with the late emperor. Despite managing to escape, Maximus loses everything; his family is executed under Commodus' orders, and he himself is captured by slavers. It is not long before Maximus is made to become a gladiator and discovers that his wayward path is bringing him back to Rome.
Another thing that makes Gladiator such an iconic film in the genre is the fact that it brought attention back to the genre itself. For most of the 80's and the 90's there were hardly any significant films depicting ancient Rome and Egypt. Gladiator's box office performance would pave the way for films such as 300 and shows like Spartacus.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand
This impressively well done TV series follows the story of a Thracian fighter who get involved with the Roman army. However, due to an unfortunate series of events, the talented fight finds himself captured, his village destroyed, and his wife sold to slavery. Despite all this, he manages to turn the odds against him on the day of his execution: by defeating all four of the gladiators that were supposed to execute him. This wins him the adoration of the Colosseum's fans as well as the attention of other political players of Rome. Most importantly, he earns a new name: Spartacus.
Blood and Sand follows most of Spartacus' plight to survive the gladiator training, reunite with his wife, and find a way to turn his life around. He is accompanied in the story by other gladiators, each with their own unique skills, abilities, and personal motivations. In this season, he discovers the true allegiances of the people around him as he fights for himself and his fellow slaves.
Fans of the previous series will be surprised that Spartacus is no longer played by actor Andy Whitfield -this is due to the fact that he passed away after season 1. The role would pass on to Liam McIntyre.
The story of Vengeace is pretty straightforward and lacks much of the political maneuvering and posturing that was present in the first season. Here, Spartacus struggles with the responsibility of leadership. After a bloody confrontation at the end of Blood and Sand, Spartacus has become the de facto head of the gladiator rebellion, and is now leading an army of former slaves against Batiatus' forces. Much of the conflict in the series revolves around chasing after Batiatus as well as Spartacus figuring out the logistics of running an entire army.
Spartacus: War of the Damned
The third and final season of Spartacus (there's also a mini-series, set before the time of Blood and Sand) shows the slave army in full force facing threats from all fronts. Spartacus has failed to take over Rome completely, and while his army is strong they are without a home. And each day in the open leaves them vulnerable and slowly weakening. To make matters worse, there are a plenty of internal issues ranging from personal drama to insurgents. While Spartacus aims to charge towards the Alps, they are beset by the growing forces of Crassus. Behind them, the scattered forces of the Roman Legions (which they have routed in the previous season) are beginning to recuperate and are an inevitable threat.
For a final act, War of the Damned gives a solid closure to the entire series and many of the characters involved in the story. Still, some parts feel a little rushed and scrapped together, but at least the show was given a chance to close properly instead of being cancelled abruptly (which is a much better fate than many other shows have had).
Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed by his former friend, his family arrested and he made into a galley rower, he swears to take revenge on the upstart tribune. A few years pass and Ben-Hur has been able to earn the respect of various powerful officials who have elevated him from a mere rower into a gladiator and charioteer. Soon enough, he is back on the very path that will allow him to bring vengeance upon the very man who took his everything from him.
Starring Charlton Heston, this classic 1950's film is often cited when it comes to movies about Roman Gladiators. At its time, Ben-Hur was a high budget movie with an impressive production in terms of both visual effects and casting. The film has plenty of religious undertones to it, often focusing on the lead character's Jewish faith in the face of Roman persecution.
Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story
Also known as "Colosseum: Rome's Arena of Death", this early 2000's BBC docu-drama is an interesting tale surrounding the exploits of a Gladiator known as Verus. Like many Gladiators, he fits in the pits, and manages to survive and overcome many of the struggles that come with being a Gladiator. He earns the mutual respect of Priscus, another gladiator. Unlike other Gladiator movies where the protagonist is eventually caught up in the politics, Verus leads a pretty straightforward life -only encountering problems and issues akin to being a gladiator.
While many of the characters and the situations are completely fictional, the details of the story and the depiction of the gladiator culture that grew popular in Rome were done with impressive accuracy. This is particularly true of their lifestyle -with details such as how much they earn (quite a lot), how fatal the sport can be (not as fatal as Hollywood says, but still dangerous in terms of injuries), and how they are treated (and mistreated) like famous celebreties.
Wrap Up: Give it a Thumbs Up
If you truly want to learn more about gladiators, you are better off reading historical books instead of watching movies. But if you want some impressive storytelling mixed with a little bit of action, then these films are certainly worth putting on your queue. It is easy to take for granted the fact that Roman gladiator themed films are more common now, but these movies all provide a unique perspective into the way our society perceives the culture of these once mighty warriors.