Gladiator(pronounced: [glaːdiatọɾ] ) is a 2000 historical epic 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 . Crowe portrays the loyal Roman 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,Gladiatorwas a box office success, receiving positive reviews, and was credited with briefly reviving the historical epic. The film was nominated for and won multiple awards, particularly five Academy Awards in the 73rd Academy Awards including Best Picture . Although there have been talks of both a prequel and sequel, as of 2011, no production has begun.
In AD 180, General Maximus Decimus Meridius ( Russell Crowe ) leads the Roman army to a decisive victory against Germanic tribes, ending a long war on the Roman frontier and earning the esteem of the elderly Emperor Marcus Aurelius ( Richard Harris ). Though he has a son, Commodus ( Joaquin Phoenix ), the dying emperor wishes to grant temporary leadership to Maximus hoping eventually to return power to the Roman Senate . After being told by his father that Maximus will be appointed emperor instead of him, Commodus, already bitter that Marcus favors Maximus over him, secretly murders his father in a fit of rage and claims the throne.
Maximus realizes the truth about Commodus' patricide but is betrayed by his friend, General Quintus ( Tomas Arana ), who reluctantly instructs the Praetorian guards to carry out Commodus' order to execute Maximus and his wife ( Giannina Facio ) and son ( Giorgio Cantarini ). Maximus manages to escape, and races home only to find he was too late to save his family. 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 gladiator manager Proximo ( Oliver Reed ), and forced to fight for his life as a gladiator in arena tournaments. During this time, he befriends gladiators Juba ( Djimon Hounsou ), and Hagen ( Ralf Möeller ). Juba encourages Maximus to have faith that he will be reunited with his family in the afterlife .
Maximus gains notoriety through his impressive victories as a gladiator, ultimately reaching the prestigious Roman Colosseum , where his group is contracted to fight in a tribute to the Battle of Carthage . Concealing his identity with a helmet, he skillfully leads a band of gladiators to defeat an opposing chariot and archer force, earning the crowd's praise. Forced to reveal himself to a stunned Commodus in the arena afterward, the crowd votes to spare his life, and Commodus appeases them by doing so. Maximus later manages to win against the undefeated gladiator Tigris, as well as tigers released into the arena, yet refuses to obey Commodus' command to perform the coup de grâce . As a result, he is declared "Maximus the Merciful" by the crowd, increasing his popularity and further frustrating Commodus, who cannot kill him without making him a martyr.
Following the fight, Maximus is told by his former servant Cicero ( Tommy Flanagan ) that his army is still loyal to him. Maximus then conspires with Commodus' sister Lucilla ( Connie Nielsen ) and the senator Gracchus ( Derek Jacobi ) to rejoin with his army and topple Commodus by force. Commodus, however, suspects his sister of betrayal and forces her to reveal the plot using veiled threats against her young son Lucius ( Spencer Treat Clark ). During Maximus's attempted escape, Commodus' guards attack Proximo's gladiator school, killing Hagen and Proximo. Juba and the survivors are imprisoned, but Maximus makes it to the city walls, where Cicero, being held as bait by the guards, is killed and Maximus is captured.
Now desperate to have Maximus killed, Commodus arranges a duel with him in the arena. Unknown to the crowd, Commodus stabs a restrained Maximus with a stiletto before they enter the arena. In the fight, when Maximus manages to disarm Commodus, Quintus disobeys the emperor's demand for a sword from the guards. Commodus then produces the hidden stiletto, but Maximus plunges the blade into Commodus' throat, killing him.
With his dying words, Maximus carries out Marcus Aurelius' wishes, calling for Gracchus to be reinstated, the slaves to be freed, and power to be restored to the Senate. As he sees a vision of himself and his family reuniting in the afterlife, Maximus dies from his wound. Lucilla then reiterates his wishes and honors his memory. Some time later, Juba buries Maximus' two small figurines of his wife and son in the ground where his friend Maximus died, promising to see him in the afterlife, "but not yet".