Run time: 164 mins
This is the big one – just as Fellowship of the Ring revitalised the fantasy epic a year later – swords and sandals got a huge boost with Ridley Scott’s sprawling, enthralling Roman orgy of blood, passion, betrayal and revenge.
A career best for Russell Crowe, Maximus’ troubles begin after he has conquered the rebellious tribes of Germania and learns that Caesar (Richard Harris) has chosen him as his successor. When Caesar’s son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) the cowardly, sly runt of the family; finds out, he grabs power overnight with breathtaking brutality. Maximus escapes but is sold into slavery, ending up in the gladiatorial arena pits of Ancient Rome.
It’s Spartacus on steroids; with the tools of modern filmmaking at his disposal (unparalleled cinematography, digital crowds, a resurrected Colosseum and a dead Oliver Reed, during filming 1999) Scott unleashes hell.
It is monumental, big-screen movie-making: visually thrilling, technically astonishing, and emotionally engaging. And, most people seem to forget, actually bagged the best picture award, a rarity for such a crowd pleaser. "Are you not entertained?” yes, Russell, we are. (research Jack Whiting) Must be seen once on the big Rex screen in August. So come.