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Gladiator: the last of the great Hollywood epics


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Russell Crowe in the last great epic Gladiator

Russell Crowe in the last great epic Gladiator

Ben-Hur was made four times, the 1959 version being by far the best

Ben-Hur was made four times, the 1959 version being by far the best

1964's The Fall of the Roman Empire

1964's The Fall of the Roman Empire

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Russell Crowe in the last great epic Gladiator

Twenty years ago this week, Ridley Scott and DreamWorks unleashed Gladiator on an unsuspecting world. At that point, swords-and-sandals epics had been out of fashion for decades, vast money pits avoided like the plague by studios. Scott and his team, however, thought advances in CGI technology might make epics more affordable and convincing.

It turned out to be not so cheap - $100m was nothing to be sneezed at in 2000 - but Scott's instincts were spot on. A combination of good casting, brilliant recreations of ancient Rome and the Colosseum, and a rousing score by Hans Zimmer made Gladiator a resounding success, the second highest grossing film of that year.

Its reception convinced studios a revival of the epic would follow, but Gladiator's success was a flash in the pan and numerous attempts to build on its success failed. These days, epics still constitute a big financial risk, as the makers of the dire 2016 Ben-Hur remake discovered to their cost.