"Are you not entertained?" Ridley Scott declared to the summer movie audience of 2000. The enthusiastic response was worthy of the ancient gladiatorial arenas. Scott’s epic historical drama was a sensational smash hit, and became one of the rare films that impressed both professional film critics and the general public. A resounding critical and financial success, "Gladiator" was one of the few "summer blockbusters" that actually won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Russell Crowe also took home the top Best Actor prize for his powerful portrayal of the spurned Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius. Maximus’ bravery in combat earned him the respect of the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). The aging leader has grown to realize that Maximus will serve as a much better leader of Rome than his own son, Commundus (Joaquin Phoenix). This sparks rage with Commundus, who betrays Maximus by having his family killed, and banishes him into slavery.
"Gladiator" ends on a pretty definitive note, but apparently, Scott plans to return for an ambitious "Gladiator" sequel after wrapping up his commitments to another historical epic: "Napoleon." If you’re anxiously awaiting what a "Gladiator 2" will look like, then these are 15 movies like "Gladiator" that you should check out.
You don’t win eleven Academy Awards without impressing somebody. Some older films feature special effects and stunt work that were impressive at the time, but now looks laughable compared to today’s films; "Ben-Hur" is not one of the movies. Yes, the electrifying chariot racing sequence is perhaps what it is best known for, but the entire film is packed with spectacle. Like Scott, director William Wyler knew that audiences needed to see something that felt realistic: The gorgeous recreations of Roman architecture, weaponry, and vehicles lend the film a sense of authenticity.
"Ben-Hur" tells the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a prideful Jewish prince who, like Maximus, is betrayed and sentenced to slavery. While "Gladiator" focuses on the paternal bond between Maximus and Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the central relationship in "Ben-Hur" is a fraternal one. Ben-Hur has come to consider his childhood friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), to be like a brother, making the betrayal even more devastating. In fact, some contemporary film scholars have interpreted their relationship to be a romantic one.
Like "Gladiator," "Ben-Hur" is a long film that clocks in at over three hours when including the intermission and overture. That doesn’t mean there is a moment wasted: Ben-Hur’s quest to return home and confront his former friend would not have been nearly as satisfying if Wyler had tried to cut any corners.
A film of "Gladiator’s" scope required the best of the best to direct it. Just look at disastrous Roman and Greek movies like "Pompeii," "The Legend of Hercules," or "300: Rise of an Empire" if you want to see what happens when you don’t get the very best talent available.
The 1960 classic "Spartacus" certainly didn’t have to worry about its creative team. The film combined two of the greatest minds of the Old Hollywood era. Legendary auteur Stanley Kubrick stepped in to direct a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, a socialist screenwriter who was blacklisted from Hollywood. If you want to learn more about how Trumbo intertwined his own political views within the story of "Spartacus," you should also check out the excellent 2015 biopic "Trumbo," which starred Bryan Cranston in the titular role.
"Spartacus" and "Gladiator" both tell stories about the power of slaves to resist and overthrow their masters. The rebel leader Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) inspires his fellow captives to revolt against their oppressors. In the film’s climactic sequence, Spartacus’ men declare "I’m Spartacus!" in order to mask their leader’s identity. They are equals, and are committed to sharing the same fate, for better or worse.
Chimes at Midnight (1965)
"Gladiator" is one of the rare films where "it feels like Shakespeare" doesn’t feel like an overstatement. Of course, if you want an adaptation of the actual work of The Bard, you can’t go wrong with anything directed by Orson Welles. Who could bring the words of the world’s most famous playwright to the screen better than one of the greatest filmmakers in history? Welles directed and starred in several Shakespearean adaptations, including "Othello" and "Macbeth," but his 1957 film "Chimes at Midnight" is the best and most personal.
"Chimes at Midnight" tells the story of the character Falstaff, who appeared in Shakespeare’s "Henry IV: Part I", "Henry IV: Part II," and "Henry V." Welles took on the role of the idiosyncratic, boastful warrior for himself. Seeing these well-known stories through Falstaff’s perspective made them more interesting; Welles focuses on the father-son dynamics that drive the events of the stories. Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) is caught between his loyalties to both Falstaff and his father (John Gielgud).
As author Simon Callow noted in his biography "Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu," Welles had a personal connection to the story. He had a troubled relationship with his own father, and was able to deal with his feelings by telling the story of Prince Hal. These paternal themes are also present in "Gladiator;" Commundus feels betrayed, as his father has always been closer with Maximus.
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Maximus is defined by his bravery, humility, and honor — these traits are all absent from the titular protagonist in "Barry Lyndon." "Barry Lyndon" and "Gladiator" would make for an interesting double feature because they present two completely different ways to tell a historical epic. "Gladiator" is a rousing story of hope and revenge, while Stanley Kubrick’s "Barry Lyndon" features one of the most unlikeable protagonists in screen history.
Ryan O’Neal stars as the titular character, an Irish rogue who flees his home country after committing murder. Barry seeks to return home to win the heart of his older cousin, Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton). During his trek, Barry becomes involved in various conflicts throughout Europe. He cares very little about what side he is involved with; the only person Barry cares about is himself. His selfish cruelty rivals Commundus’ behavior in "Gladiator."
Also like "Gladiator," "Barry Lyndon" is a film that justifies its long running time. Although it surpasses the three hour limit, "Barry Lyndon" is divided into two different sections. The first section focuses on Barry’s escape from Ireland and romantic troubles, while the second half follows his relationship with his son and heir. Kubrick had proved with "Spartacus" that he could create epic battle sequences that were worthy of what Scott did in "Gladiator." "Barry Lyndon" is just as visually appealing; Kubrick used natural lighting to create the film’s period aesthetics.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
There are very few films that rival "Gladiator" in terms of its sheer scope and vision. Although some older films tried to recreate older eras, they were held back by the budgetary constraints of their time. However, "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" is a very different type of war film. Unlike "Gladiator," which is a maximalist work, Werner Herzog’s 1972 historical drama utilizes a minimalist approach to storytelling. At just over 90 minutes, it’s far shorter than "Gladiator," but just as exciting.
"Aguirre, The Wrath of God" follows the Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), who leads his men in a search for the lost city of gold, El Dorado, in the Amazon rainforest of South America. Aguirre grows rash and aggressive, and his soldiers begin to doubt his sanity. As Aguirre grows increasingly insane, Herzog utilizes hallucinatory filmmaking techniques to show his perspective. The result is a terrifying yet captivating depiction of how obsession and greed can undo even the bravest of men.
There are many similarities between Maximus’ story in "Gladiator" and Arthurian legend; both are epic tales of bravery, chivalry, love, and ultimately, tragedy. King Arthur’s story has been adapted to the screen many times, but they all pale in comparison to John Boorman’s 1981 epic "Excalibur."
Boorman latches onto the religious symbolism in the Arthurian story to tell a fantastical, yet satisfying medieval adventure. Like "Gladiator," "Excalibur" is not for the faint of heart, as it contains shocking moments of violence in its depiction of the banality of war. Uther Pendragon’s (Gabriel Byrne) encounter with the Lady of the Lake (Helen Mirren) in the film’s opening moments show just how unflinching Boorman was willing to get with the violence in his action scenes. Both Boorman and Scott understood the difficulty of bringing these stories to life; both films highlight the bravery of the men who are fighting, but they do not lionize war itself.
Both "Gladiator" and "Excalibur" rest on the shoulders of a brilliant leading performance, and Nigel Terry’s definitive portrayal of King Arthur in "Excalibur" rivals the work that Crowe did in "Gladiator." Terry does not shy away from showing the faults and darker aspects of the hero of legend.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
"Gladiator" is an epic period drama, and although it’s largely loved for those intense combat sequences, there are still elements of romance in the story. Lucilla (Connie Nielson) used to be in love with Maximus, and she defies her very disturbed brother, Commundus, in order to help the former legatus. Still, this is romance from a masculine perspective — like Michael Mann’s "The Last of the Mohicans."
Mann is best known for his work within the neo-noir genre. This made his 1992 film "The Last of the Mohicans" stand out amidst his filmography. Although there have been many adaptations of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel of the same name, Mann’s film is the definitive cinematic version.
Like "Gladiator," "The Last of the Mohicans" mixes in moments of romance and empathy within its epic war story. The film follows Nathaniel "Hawkeye" Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis), a white man who was adopted and raised by a Mohawk tribe. When his people find themselves caught between the British conflict with the French and their Huron allies, Hawkeye agrees to help transport the wealthy English woman Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) to safety — but of course, things don’t go to plan. The film’s depiction of indigenous culture has been debated and analyzed, but as an action epic, it completely delivers.
Rob Roy (1995)
If you’re looking for an epic period revenge film worthy of "Gladiator," you can’t go wrong with this Scottish classic. Based on a true story, "Rob Roy" stars Liam Neeson as the titular Chief of Clan MacGregor. Like Maximus, Rob is a good and noble leader. However, he struggles to feed his people due to the cruelty of the aristocrat Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) and the oppression of the English crown.
Cunningham’s wickedness would make even Commundus wince; he brutalizes Roy’s people and assaults his wife, Mary (Jessica Lange). Roy swears revenge, and decides to face off against Cunningham in a duel in front of the Duke of Argyll (Andrew Keir). Although Neeson and Roths’ duel doesn’t take place in a massive location like the one in "Gladiator," it’s just as exciting. Neeson has an obvious physical advantage, but Roth shows that Cunningham is both calculating and precise with his swordplay. The end is immensely satisfying.
An epic story of a man spurned by the death of his family. A rebellion against the cruelty of an oppressive dictatorial government. A showcase for some of the most incredible action sequences ever shot. A messianic hero who dies in a sequence filled with overt religious symbolism. A massive studio blockbuster that also won the Academy Award for best picture. Are we describing "Gladiator’?" Yes, but all of those descriptions are also accurate of Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic "Braveheart."
The film tells the story of William Wallace (Gibson), a Scottish man who witnesses the brutality of the English Longsharks during his youth. Wallace is spurred into action when his childhood friend and lover, Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack), is executed by British soldiers. Wallace swears that he will have his revenge, and begins a merciless war against the English government. The Scots are absolutely vicious; there are moments of brutality in "Braveheart" that are so extreme that even "Gladiator" fans may wince a little bit!
Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (2003)
"Gladiator" may be Russell Crowe’s most famous role, but he actually gave the best performance of his career as Jack Aubrey in Peter Weir’s 2003 naval epic "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World." Aubrey isn’t dissimilar from Maximus; both characters are brave military leaders who inspire those who follow them. You can never doubt Crowe’s ability to give a rousing speech before a major battle.
Based on the first three installments in Patrick O’Brian’s novel series, "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World" chronicles the adventures of Aubrey and the crew of his vessel "Surprise" as they track down an elusive French privateer. Like Scott, Weir understood the necessity of scope. "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World" shows the nuance, discipline, and intelligence required of Aubrey’s crew. This detail-oriented approach makes the epic naval battles even more riveting.
"Gladiator" may have inspired a greater interest in Roman history, but Wolfgang Peterson’s 2004 epic "Troy" takes things back even further to the stories of Homer’s "Iliad." The ancient Greek poem is one of the most influential and extensive works of literature ever written, and even at 163 minutes, "Troy" is a condensed version of that story. However, Peterson latches on to the same crowd pleasing elements that made "Gladiator" so successful: audiences wanted to see exciting, larger-than-life characters.
Those who say that superhero movies are "modern mythology" might be pleased to see that "Troy" treats its characters like comic-book heroes. You may have paid closer attention to "Illiad" in school if you had the image of Brad Pitt as the hero Achilles in your head! Pitt’s star-powered performance is terrific, but it’s Brian Cox’s hammy turn as King Agamemnon that steals the entire film. Sean Bean is so good in his few scenes as Odysseus that it will make you wish that Peterson had also done a version of "The Odyssey" as well!
King Arthur (2004)
Amidst the many adaptations of the Arthurian legend, Antonie Fuqua’s 2004 film (simply titled "King Arthur") tried to distinguish itself by claiming to be a "demystified" version of the story that took into account the actual historical events that inspired the larger mythology. "King Arthur" is certainly not lacking in entertainment value; while Fuqua can’t compete with Scott’s epic scope in "Gladiator," he does show the same appreciation for the role that strategy plays in the epic historical conflicts. Yes, Arthur is renowned for his skills as a swordsman, but he’s also a cunning tactical genius.
The film follows the half-British Roman commander Artorius Castus (Clive Owen) as he turns into the King Arthur that we all know. Arthur puts together the remnants of his legion to form an early version of the Knights of the Round Table; Lancelot (Ioan Gruffud), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Bors (Ray Winstone), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) all join him in his quest to stop the advances of the Saxons.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley Scott fans that went to the theater to see "Kingdom of Heaven" expecting the next "Gladiator" probably left disappointed. While "Gladiator" is an emotional, character-driven epic that delivers on the promise of its premise, the theatrical cut of "Kingdom of Heaven" is confusing, emotionally stilted, and completely dull. It felt like Scott had failed to top his previous accomplishment. However, the extended version of "Kingdom of Heaven" that was released in December of 2005 is an improvement in every single way.
The extra running time allowed Scott to deliver a film worthy of "Gladiator." "Kingdom of Heaven” chronicles the epic quest of the French blacksmith Balian, who sets out on a critical mission to fulfill his father’s (Liam Neeson) destiny by defending the holy city of Jerusalem. The extended version spent more time exploring how Balian’s relationship with his father drives his journey; although they only spend a brief amount of time together, it changes the course of Balian’s destiny.
Robin Hood (2010)
Crowe worked with Scott on several projects, and while "Robin Hood" can’t compare with what they accomplished in "Gladiator," it’s a better film than it is given credit for. There have been many versions of the Robin Hood story that have graced the silver screen, but Scott and Crowe weren’t interested in replicating Errol Flynn. Their take on the famous outlaw was much grittier, and it’s certainly more entertaining than the 2018 film of the same name that starred Taron Egerton.
The demystified version of the story imagines Robin Longstride (Crowe) as a veteran of King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) crusades. After the King is killed, Robin and his comrades Allan A’Dayle (Alan Doyle), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), and Little John (Kevin Durand) abandon the army. Similar to "Gladiator," "Robin Hood" deals with the nature of destiny; Robin ventures to Nottingham after making a promise to a dying knight (Douglas Hodge).
The Lost City of Z (2016)
"Gladiator" is a quest movie that deals with the nature of obsession. Although Maximus is devastated by his family’s death, the tragedy gives him purpose. Maximus grows to despise Commundus, and sets out to restore Rome to the days of Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ leadership. James Gray’s underrated 2017 film "The Lost City of Z" is a similar story of an obsessive protagonist, and boasts a spectacle that is worthy of "Gladiator."
Inspired by a true story, "The Lost City of Z" chronicles the explorer Percy Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) fascination with a mythic ancient city that is rumored to be deep within the Amazon. This interest in finding a lost treasure dominates his life, and he makes several trips out into the highly dangerous rainforest. Like "Gladiator," "The Lost City of Z" has strong paternal themes: Fawcett returns later in life in search of the city with his son, Jack (Tom Holland).