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Russell Crowe Had No Idea About His ‘Gladiator’ Death Scene Until Middle of Filming

Would the ending of "Gladiator" have been such an emotional knockout if Maximus beat Commodus and lived to tell the tale?



Jaap Buitendijk/Dreamworks/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

The ending of Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic “Gladiator” has tugged at the heartstrings for the last 20 years thanks to the death of Maximus (Russell Crowe) during his climactic duel in the Colosseum against Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). However, throughout the majority of production the protagonist was supposed to live through the end credits of the movie. In a recent interview with Empire magazine, Crowe looks back at the moment Scott changed his mind about Maximus’ fate while filming was already underway. Crowe said it was a decision that felt right, especially because the character’s “my name is Maximus” speech was “basically a suicide note” from the start.

“I remember [director] Ridley [Scott] coming up to me on set saying, ‘Look, the way this is shaping up, I don’t see how you live. This character is about one act of pure vengeance for his wife and child, and, once he’s accomplished that, what does he do?’ Crowe said. “And my joke used to be, ‘Yeah, what does Maximus do? Does he end up running a fucking pizzeria by the Colosseum?’ He has a singular purpose, which is to meet his wife in the afterlife and apologize for not being there for her. And that’s it.”

By changing Maximus’ fate and killing the character off after the final duel, his climactic speech becomes even more emotionally-charged. Crowe said filming the speech turned out to be riddled with annoyance because his helmet kept making his hair look funny when it called in the script to take the protective gear off.

“That helmet was full of static electricity and every time I took it off the hairs on the top of my head stood up,” Crowe said. “I tried doing it slowly, I tried doing it fast, but every time two hairs stand up like I’m a fucking Teletubby. So, [director Ridley Scott] solves it by going into a massive close-up, when I turn to face Commodus – it’s just forehead and chin and out of frame you can’t see the Teletubby hair wiggling in the wind.”

“Gladiator,” released in May 2000, was a box office blockbuster with $460 million worldwide. The epic won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crowe. Scott is currently developing a sequel to the movie that is set two decades after Maximus’s death. The story centers on the now-adult Lucius, Commodus’ nephew and the son of Connie Nielsen’s character Lucilla from Scott’s original film.

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