Gladiators Are Back: Hollywood Readies 3 Rival Projects

Do you like movies about gladiators?

Hollywood is betting you do.

There are a trio of sword-and-sandal epics in the works, including a long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning 2000 movie Gladiator and a reboot of Starz’ groundbreaking TV series Spartacus.

The curious surge of Ancient Rome titles in the pipeline seems to be purely coincidental, but it also makes sense given that studios have been searching for the next genre title that might break out — particularly since the end of HBO’s Game of Thrones — and given the revival of another muscular old-time Hollywood genre, the Western, following the explosive popularity of Yellowstone. Each project has roots in a different take on the material, and two of the projects had major casting news within the past week.

The gladiator genre actually has cinema roots dating all the way back to the 1913 silent film The Last Days of Pompeii. The films hit their popularity zenith in the early 1960s when — in the wake of the 1959 blockbuster Ben-Hur and Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film Spartacus — nearly 40 films featuring gladiators were released between 1961-64, according to IMDB. The movies were mostly low-budget efforts, and many were produced in Italy and dubbed for American audiences just like the better-known Spaghetti Western genre.

Here are the three upcoming projects that likewise have “a dream that was Rome”:

Untitled Gladiator Sequel (Paramount)

What it’s about: A follow-up to Ridley Scott’s hit film which chronicled Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), a former general who is forced into being a common gladiator under the rule of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), a patricidal self-appointed emperor of Rome. Reports have suggested the film follows Lucius, the son of Connie Nielsen’s character Lucilla and nephew of Commodus.

Who’s making it: Scott will direct the Paramount film and has been developing the film for many years, trying to figure out how to crack a sequel to his film which (spoiler to follow) killed off its two leads. David Scarpa (The Day the Earth Stood Still) is penning the script.

Who’s in it: The film’s starring role has gone to Irish actor Paul Mescal (Aftersun). Banshees of Inisherin breakout Barry Keoghan has also been cast. Denzel Washington is in talks to re-team with his American Gangster director.

Release date: Nov. 22, 2024.

Those About to Die (Peacock)

What it’s about: The project is based on Daniel Mannix’s nonfiction book which researched the reality of gladiatorial combat. Those About to Die is described as “an epic drama set in the complex and corrupt world of ancient Rome’s spectacle-driven gladiatorial competition.”

Who’s making it: Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) is directing the project along with Marco Kreuzpaintner (Beat). Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) is writing the script. Impressively, the project is shooting at Rome’s historic Cinecittà Studios, where several iconic Ancient Rome epics were shot, such as 1959’s Ben-Hur, 1963’s Cleopatra and 2004’s The Passion of the Christ.

Who’s in it: Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins has been cast as the Emperor of Rome, and Game of Thrones actor Iwan Rheon has been cast as a crime boss. Also cast: Johannes Haukur Johannesson (Vikings), Alicia Edogamhe (Summertime), Liraz Charhi (Tehran), Britain’s Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5), Elite actor Eneko Sagardoy, Gonçalo Almeida (Amor Amor), Kyshan Wilson (Viola) and Pepe Barroso (Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming Gran Turismo). Also announced: Tom Hughes, Sara Martins, Jojo Macari, Gabriella Pession, Dimitri Leonidas, and Moe Hashim.

Release date: Currently in production with no release date, but 2024 seems likely.

Spartacus (Starz)

What it’s about: A follow-up to the ultra-graphic 2010 Starz hit series, which pioneered the use of all-CG backgrounds in television. Spartacus re-told the classic story of the Thracian gladiator who led a slave rebellion in a 300-like visual style. The new version is set in the aftermath of the defeat of Spartacus and promises to “explore uncharted territory and new journeys of the original series’ iconic characters” with a “tale of treachery, deceit, and blood unfolding beneath the foreboding shadow of Rome.”

Who’s making it: Currently the project is in early stages and original series creator Steven S. DeKnight is back on board as showrunner. No casting or release date yet.

This should bring you up to date with the current gladiator-project landscape in Hollywood right now. Are you not entertained?

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