The 2007 sword and sandals epic 300 was a groundbreaking film in many ways. Not only did it help launch the career of director Zack Snyder, who would go on to direct blockbuster superhero movies like Justice League, it also helped prove that comic book adaptations - even those without any superheroes in them - could be financially successful, raking in over $450 million at the box office.
300 is an adaptation of a 1998 graphic novel by writer/artist Frank Miller (Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns), based on the famous Battle of Thermopylae. In 300, King Leonidas of Sparta and his 300 most trusted warriors (plus a few thousand non-Spartans who, apparently, are hardly worth mentioning) are tasked with defending a narrow passageway into mainland Greece from an advancing Persian army. As a film based on a graphic novel, 300 had a distinct visual style in honor of its source material.
Like Braveheart and Gladiator, it's gone down in history as a must-watch film for lovers of sanguinary epics that are, shall we say, loosely based on historical events. Here are some behind-the-scenes tidbits from 300.
'This Is Sparta!’ Wasn’t Originally Supposed To Be Yelled
One of the most iconic lines from 300 is when Leonidas responds to a Persian ambassador's threats by shouting "This is Sparta!" and kicking him into a deep well. In both the original graphic novel and the screenplay for 300, Leonidas delivers the line in a firm but normal speaking voice.
Star Gerard Butler tried several takes like that and wasn't satisfied, so he asked Snyder for permission to amp it up. Butler later told The Hollywood Reporter that he screamed so loudly, the actors near him had to cover their mouths for fear of laughing out loud. Butler recalled:
I had done quite a few takes and most of them were ‘This is Sparta.' [said quietly] And it’s part process and part insecurity, maybe. And I go, ‘Can I just try another?'... [Afterward] I go up to Zack and I go, ‘That was too much?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah! But it was awesome!'93812This! Is! Sparta!?
Zack Snyder Wanted To Hire A Cast Of ‘Fit Men’ And Turn Them Into ‘Outrageously Fit Men’
One of 300's most notable details is the way it depicts Spartan warriors. Practically every member of Leonidas's unit of 300 soldiers is in ridiculously good shape. As producer Jeffrey Silver recalled:
When we first started casting this film, Zack said that he wanted to hire a cast of fit men and turn them into outrageously fit men, and that's what we've done. We hired a cast of characters, mostly from the UK, who were generally in good shape, but he wanted to convert them into just animals.
The production hired a Salt Lake City-based trainer who typically trains Navy SEALs to turn the actors into a group that could convincingly portray idealized ancient super-warriors.
It worked out so well that the "300 Workout" became a thing and was featured in Men's Health magazine.59712This! Is! Sparta!?
Xerxes Was Originally Going To Be 10 Feet Tall, But That Looked ‘Ridiculous’
In order to make the Persian King Xerxes more physically imposing, Frank Miller made him tower over King Leonidas. Snyder and his production team attempted to keep Xerxes's height faithful to the graphic novel and constructed a graphical test. In it, Xerxes measured 10 feet in height.
This made Xerxes a giant, which Snyder called "outrageous." In the end, the character was made to appear seven-and-a-half feet tall - still enormously tall, but within the realm of the human. Since actors Gerard Butler (Leonidas) and Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes) were in fact the same height, various camera tricks and post-production effects were used to sustain the illusion.
"I remember Rodrigo asking me, 'what am I going to wear in the movie?'" Snyder recalled. "'I've looked at the graphic novel - I'm not gonna wear that, am I?' And I was like, 'Yeah!' ...I think once he got into costume, he was digging it."53512This! Is! Sparta!?
- Photo: 300/Warner Bros. Pictures4
The 'Tree Of The Dead' Was Inspired By An Actual Incident From The War In Yugoslavia
As the Spartans march to Thermopylae, they find that the Persians have massacred a village and left a disturbing warning: a "Tree of the Dead" made up of the villagers.
The scene came about while rewriting the 300 screenplay when Warner Bros. asked Snyder and co-writer Kurt Johnstad for a scene that showed the impact of the Persian advance on Greece. Johnstad had heard a similar story from the conflict in the Balkans and pitched it to Snyder. Johnstad explained it in the DVD commentary:
It's actually a real story... that somebody re-told me about a village they came across with the entire village in the Balkans - they found all the villagers strung up in a tree. ...I took that and put it in this movie, because it's such a horrific idea.4077This! Is! Sparta!?