Gladiator is a 2000 historical epic directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Ralf Moeller, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, John Shrapnel and Richard Harris. Crowe portrays the loyal General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when the Emperor's ambitious son, Commodus, murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murder of his family and his Emperor. Released in the United States on May 5, 2000, it was a box office success, receiving generally positive reviews, and was credited with briefly reviving the historical epic. The film was nominated for and won multiple awards; it won five Academy Awards in the 73rd Academy Awards including Best Picture. Although there have been talks of both a prequel and sequel, as of 2010, no production has begun.
Maximus Decimus Meridius is one of the leading generals in the Roman army. He leads his men to a decisive victory against Germanic barbarians, finally ending a long war on the Roman frontier and earning the esteem of the elderly Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus is dying, and though he has a son, Commodus, the emperor wishes to appoint temporary leadership to Maximus, with a desire to eventually return power to the Senate. When Commodus is told directly by his father that he will not be appointed emperor, he murders Marcus in a fit of rage and claims the throne. Maximus realizes the truth about Commodus' patricide, but he is betrayed by his friend Quintus, who, albeit reluctantly, instructs the Praetorian guards to carry out Commodus' order to execute Maximus. Soldiers are also sent to murder Maximus' wife and son. Maximus manages to escape his assassination, and races home only to find that he was too late to save his wife and son, who have been crucified. After burying them, Maximus is found unconscious by slave traders and taken to Zucchabar, a Roman city in North Africa. There, he is bought by a slave trader named Proximo and forced to fight for his life in arena tournaments. During this time, he meets the Numidian gladiator Juba, and a barbarian from Germania named Hagen. Juba proves to be a great comfort to Maximus, and he speaks to Juba of the afterlife, encouraging him to believe that he will be reunited with his family when he dies. In order to survive as a gladiator, Maximus appeals to the Roman people under the name and title "Spaniard". His power and fame grow until he ultimately reaches the historic Roman Colosseum and comes into contact again with Commodus. In his first event, he skilfully leads a band of other gladiators to defeat an opposing force of chariots and archers, earning the crowd's praise through his heroics in the fighting. Upon being introduced to Commodus in the arena afterward, he reveals his true identity to the stunned emperor, who considers having Maximus executed on the spot. However, the crowd votes for him to live and so Commodus backs down. Maximus later survives an indirect attack on his life when he is forced into a match against Tigris of Gaul, Rome's only undefeated gladiator. Maximus avoids being killed by tigers released into the arena and defeats Tigris. Yet Maximus ultimately refuses to obey Commodus' command to strike the death blow, and he is pronounced "Maximus the Merciful" by the crowd. This furthers Commodus' frustration, as it seems he cannot kill or humiliate Maximus without losing popular support. Following the fight, Maximus meets with his former servant Cicero, who informs him that his army is still loyal to him. Soon thereafter, Maximus forms a plot with Lucilla, Commodus' sister, and the senator Gracchus, to rejoin with his army and topple Commodus by force. Commodus, however, suspects his sister of betrayal and by indirectly threatening her young son manipulates her into revealing the plot. During Maximus' attempted escape, Commodus' guards attack Proximo's gladiator school. Hagen and Proximo are killed in the attack, while Juba and the survivors are imprisoned. Maximus makes it to the city walls, but Cicero, who was waiting for him with horses, is killed by archers and Maximus is arrested by the guards. Now desperate to have Maximus killed, Commodus arranges a duel with him in the arena. Commodus acknowledges Maximus as a superior fighter, and then stabs a restrained Maximus in his side with a stiletto before they enter the arena. In the midst of the fight, Maximus forces Commodus' sword from his hands. When Commodus demands a sword from the surrounding guards, Quintus orders them to sheathe their weapons. Commodus produces the hidden stiletto, but despite his handicap, Maximus defeats Commodus in driving the stiletto into Commodus' neck. With his dying words Maximus carries out Marcus Aurelius's commands, calling for Gracchus to be reinstated, the slaves to be freed, and power in Rome to be transferred to the Senate. Maximus dies in Lucilla's arms and his soul wanders into the afterlife with his family. Lucilla reiterates Maximus' wishes, reminding everyone that Maximus was a soldier of Rome and that his memory should be honored. Some time later, Juba, now free, buries Maximus' two small figurines of his wife and son in the ground where Maximus died, promising to see Maximus in the afterlife.