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14 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From ‘Gladiator’

Updated September 23, 2021 8.2k votes 1.4k voters 97.9k views14 items

List RulesVote up the most interesting 'Gladiator' making-of stories.

Gladiator won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2001. If you've seen the film, it makes sense. From the time of its release, the movie was critically acclaimed and embraced by audiences. Once you know some of the things that went on behind the scenes, that Oscar win seems less likely. It's nothing short of a miracle that this Ridley Scott-directed historical epic turned out as good as it did. The production was beset with problems that, by all measures, should have derailed it.

Of course, all movies have challenges, but this one had massive challenges. The script was barely written when filming commenced, star Russell Crowe nearly got mauled by a tiger, and, worst of all, one actor passed away mid-production. Somehow, cast and crew rallied together, overcoming these hurdles to create something that would continue to resonate two decades later (although, if you're looking for a truly accurate representation of ancient Roman life, you might want to look elsewhere). 

Which of the following Gladiator behind-the-scenes stories will continue to echo in eternity? You get to decide with your votes. 

  • 1

    Proximo Was Meant To Survive, But This Changed When Actor Oliver Reed Suddenly Passed

    The makers of Gladiator had to face a challenge no one wants when one of their main actors passed during production. Oliver Reed's sudden demise was sad because he was a talented actor who worked hard on the film, but it also presented a rather large obstacle that needed to be addressed - he hadn't finished filming all his scenes.

    His character, Proximo, was meant to survive. The script was rewritten to change that, having Proximo sacrifice himself to the Praetorian Guard. To complete the necessary sequences allowing them to get to that new ending, Ridley Scott had a stand-in replace Reed, then filmed the stand-in from behind so his face would be obscured. He then digitally edited and inserted unused footage of Reed into the scene when he needed to be seen head-on. 

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  • 2

    Russell Crowe Described His Real Home In The Scene With Marcus Aurelius

    Given that the script was in a constant state of flux, the cast of Gladiator sometimes had to memorize new scenes at the last minute. Other times, they just flat-out improvised. For example, in the scene between Maximus and Marcus Aurelius in which the former describes the farm he came from, Russell Crowe drew from personal experience.

    The actor simply described his own home back in Australia. Perhaps because he was utilizing something so personal, it gave the sequence a touching sense of authenticity.

    "Very simple place. Pink stones that warm in the sun. A kitchen garden that smells of herbs in the day, jasmine in the evening. Through the gate is a giant poplar. Figs, apples, pears. The soil, Marcus, black, black like my wife’s hair. Grapes on the south slopes, olives on the north, wild ponies playing in my house."

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  • 3

    Joaquin Phoenix Was Nervous, So Crowe And Richard Harris Calmed Him With Booze

    Although Joaquin Phoenix was an established actor when he made Gladiator, acting in a period epic of this sort was outside his wheelhouse. As such, he was very nervous about taking on the role of Commodus. In the DVD's behind-the-scenes featurette, Phoenix recalled thinking, "how do I do this, who am I kidding, I’m from Florida... walk out and wave?"

    One day, he asked Russell Crowe to punch him before they filmed a scene, in order to help him focus. Disturbed by this request, Crowe consulted with co-star Richard Harris, who suggested they get Phoenix drunk to calm his nerves. They took him for a few drinks, and it worked to soothe his anxiety. 

    Phoenix was later nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. 

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  • 4

    Russell Crowe Was On Set With Real Tigers

    If the element of danger sometimes feels real in Gladiator, that's because it was. Russell Crowe, for instance, was on set with real tigers at times. And one of them nearly mauled him.

    Director Ridley Scott explained to Variety that the tiger was "a big boy from tail to nose, 11 feet. You've got two guys on a chain with a ring in the floor to control it. Russell said, 'OK, release them,' and when Russell would fall back, the tiger would come out of the hole and Russell would roll out of the way and he said, 'F*** me, that was close.'"

    Crowe seemingly took it in stride, reflecting on the close encounter by saying, "It's so beautiful, it's so regal, and you'd love to be able to just pet them and cuddle them, but obviously that comes with inherent risk."

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