A ‘Gladiator’ Sequel Nearly Reincarnated Russell Crowe’s Maximus and Placed Him in the Modern-Day Pentagon

There are some truly ridiculous movies out there that leave viewers wondering how they ever got made. (In fact, there’s even a whole podcast titled How Did This Get Madededicated to the idea). When we look at some of the worst big-budget films to ever make it to the big screen, we have to scratch our heads and wonder just why no one stepped in sooner and shut the whole thing down.

Surely, someone could have foreseen what a disaster Evan Almighty was going to be before spending $175 million. And did we really green light Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill to the tune of $79 million? Still, for every stunningly bad film that actually makes it to production, there are dozens — if not hundreds — of rejected concepts that don’t make it past the pitching stage.

Sequels are notorious for getting to run with a good idea until there’s nothing left, and the success of Russell Crowe‘s performance in Gladiator opened the door to possibilities for more. There were serious conversations about a sequel that would have put Maximus in the modern-day Pentagon. How close did the movie get to being made before getting the ax? 

‘Gladiator’ was an ambitious film 

Russell Crowe facing off against another man in a scene from the film 'Gladiator', 2000.
Russell Crowe facing off against another man in a scene from the film ‘Gladiator’, 2000. | Universal/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than two decades since Gladiator premiered, but the 2000 action flick continues to stand out as a favorite in the genre. The film was star-studded and packed with talent. Writers David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson were already respected and successful. Director Ridley Scott was a well-known success who had both Alien and Thelma & Louise under his belt. 

The cast itself was packed with big names. Crowe, of course, played the titular gladiator Maximus, a powerful Roman general caught in a power struggle when he’s named successor to the Emperor. Joaquin Phoenix was a convincing and chilling villain as Commodus, the cruel Roman emperor who had been passed over by his father and avenges the slight with bloodthirsty rage. Connie Nielsen took on the part of Lucilla, Commodus’ complicated sister who has a romantic past with Maximus. 

The film has it all: betrayal, family drama, heartfelt emotional appeals, and — of course — epic battle scenes all set against the backdrop of Ancient Rome. 

A ‘Gladiator’ sequel could have captured the momentum

Gladiator was, by any measure, a roaring success. The film won an astounding five Oscars and brought in big box office profits. You might think that such a remarkable achievement had to be the result of careful planning, but you’d be wrong. In fact, filming started with only 21 pages of the script written, and Crowe — who owes a lot of his own success to the film — called it “the dumbest possible way to make a film.” 

Despite those struggles, success breeds ambition, and some wanted to try to make the magic work once more with a sequel. 

As Birth. Movies. Death. reports, the plans for a subsequent film actually got pretty far. The big problem, of course, was that Maximus was dead and buried at the film’s end. 

The pitched ‘Gladiator’ sequel involved a supernatural resurrection and time travel

A dead main character is a hurdle, to be sure, but it’s not an obstacle that film creators haven’t overcome before. Some ideas for a subsequent film followed familiar scripts. It could be a prequel that explored Maximus’ earlier life as a general. It could pick up with Maximus’ son and follow along as a family legacy. These might have felt a little trite, but they’d have at least made sense. 

Instead, the pitch for the potential sequel was handed over to Nick Cave, and thing got weird. The script started out with Maximus dead — no surprise there. Soon, though, the no-longer-entirely-dead hero sits up, beckoned by Moredcai, a shadowy figure who “keeps the peace.” What follows is an odyssey of sorts as Maximus is determined to find his family and set things right in an increasingly troubled world of missing gods and subterfuge.

The film gets steadily more complex, and in its final scenes, it flashes forward to show Maximus, having been revived by supernatural means, alive through centuries and showing up in WWII, the Vietnam War, and (finally) the modern-day Pentagon war room. 

Obviously, the film never got made, and that’s probably for the best. Still, we have to wonder what might have been if the project had gone forward. 

RELATED: ‘Gladiator’: Ridley Scott Gave the Production Crew a Day Off in the Middle of Filming Because He Had No Script For Them To Shoot — ‘We Had 21 Pages When We Started Shooting’