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With the exception of the production company names, the film opens with only the title and the following prologue: "At the height of its power the Roman empire was vast, stretching from the deserts of Africa to the borders of Northern England. Over one quarter of the world's population lived and died under the rule of the caesars. In the winter of 180 A.D., Emperor Marcus Aurelius' twelve-year campaign against the barbarian tribes in Germania was drawing to an end. Just one final stronghold stands in the way of Roman victory and the promise of peace throughout the empire." All other credits appear at the end of the film. Russell Crowe's character is named Maximus in the film's end credits, however the full name is spoken as "Maximus Decimus Meridias" within the film. The correct spelling of this full name is unconfirmed as the Final Shooting Script dated May 5, 1999 lists the name as "Caius Fabius Maximus" (p. 74).
The character of Maximus is fictional, however, the characters of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and Lucilla are based on actual persons. Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.) was adopted by the emperor Antoninus Pius and succeeded him. He initially shared power with his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, but was the sole emperor after 169 A.D. Although he was also known as a philosopher and humanitarian, there is no historical evidence that he enjoined his successor to return ruling power to the Senate. His death is documented as having been caused by illness. In 164 A.D., then seventeen-year-old Lucilla, the daughter of Marcus Aurelius, was married to Lucius Verus. After his death, she became the wife of Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus of Antioch. Historical sources note that Commodus (161-192 A.D.) served as joint emperor with his father for three years before the death of Marcus Aurelius. After Commodus' succession, he founded peace with Germania and returned to Rome. History records that Commodus was indeed out of favor with the Senate but popular with the people. He fought in gladiatorial games, always the victor, and his reign was marked by his frequently staged tributes to himself. Commodus was eventually murdered at the order of his own advisers.
A Time magazine article dated May 8, 2000 noted that actor Jude Law was tested for the role of "Commodus." According to a May 2000 article in Talk, writer David Franzoni first conceived the story in May 1996, and director Ridley Scott indicated that his first choice for the role of "Maximus" was Mel Gibson. Gibson, who had just finished the film The Patriot, turned down the role. According to an article dated May 25, 2001 in Los Angeles Times's "Calendar" section, producer Douglas Wick first offered the project to his own studio, Sony Pictures, but they passed on it.
Numerous news items note that the nineteenth-century painting "Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down)" by Jean-Lon Grme inspired Ridley Scott's vision of the film. According to a April 27, 2000 article in The Times (London), Scott first considered a forest in Bratislava for the opening battle scene, however, he later arranged with the British Forestry Commission to use a British forest that was already scheduled for de-forestation. The area was known as the Bourne Woods, near Farnham, England. The film's presskit notes the following about the production: Ouarzazate, Morocco was the location for scenes including the marketplace, "Proximo's" school and the small arena. The Moroccan army aided the production by constructing a bridge across a river that afforded transport to another location. Malta was the site for the reconstruction of Rome and the Coliseum. The production crew built a model of one-third of the Coliseum and used special effects to complete the rest of the structure as seen in the film. Numerous news items add that additional sets were built around Fort Ricasoli, an eighteenth-century fort in Malta.
Gladiator marked the final feature appearance of British actor Oliver Reed, who died of a heart attack while off the set on May 2, 1999. The end credits for Gladiator include the following dedication: "To our friend Oliver Reed." According to the presskit, in the original screenplay the character "Proximo" survives the Praetorian assault. After Reed's death, the script was revised to include "Proximo's" release of the slaves and his death at the hands of the Praetorian guards. A body double and special effects were employed to make it appear that Reed performed the entirety of this scene.
The production cost of the film was estimated at $105 million by various news sources. DreamWorks handled the domestic distribution, and Universal handled the foreign distribution. The May 10, 2000 issue of Hollywood Reporter reported that the film grossed $34.8 million domestic box-office on its opening weekend. According to Variety, the film grossed $415 million box-office worldwide by July 27, 2000. The film was re-released on November 22, 2000 in IMAX theatres around the U.S. as promotional support for the release of the DVD version, according to a November 24, 2000 article in Screen International. Hollywood Reporter noted on August 11, 2000 that the film received the Gold Australian Box Office Achievement Award for "the highest grossing film in the market over the [previous] twelve months." The award was sponsored by Hoyt Cinemas.
In addition to being selected as one of AFI's top ten films of 2000, Gladiator was nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Actor in a Leading Role, Drama (Russell Crowe), Actor in a Supporting Role (Joaquin Phoenix) and Director (Ridley Scott), and won Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture, Drama and Original Score (Lisa Gerrard, Hans Zimmer). The film was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Performance by an actor in a supporting role (Joaquin Phoenix), Achievement in art direction (Art direction Arthur Max, Set decoration Crispian Sallis), Achievement in cinematography (John Mathieson), Achievement in directing (Ridley Scott), Achievement in film editing (Pietro Scalia), Achievement in music (original score) (Hans Zimmer), Screenplay written directly for the screen (David Franzoni and John Logan and William Nicholson). The film won Academy Awards in the following categories: Performance by an actor in a leading role (Russell Crowe), Achievement in costume design (Janty Yates), Achievement in sound (Scott Millan, Bob Beemer and Ken Weston), Achievement in visual effects (John Nelson, Neil Corbould, Tim Burke and Rob Harvey) and Best Picture (A Douglas Wick in association with Scott Free Production, Douglas Wick, David Franzoni and Branko Lustig, Producers).
On May 16, 2006, a musical version of Gladiator, with book and lyrics by Roger Hyams and music by Gavin Greenaway, based on themes from the film written by Hans Zimmer, opened in North Hollywood, CA. The Workshop presentation was produced by Brian Eastman and directed by James Robinson.