- 2 hr 35 min
The movie begins with Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris, regretting what he has done in his life as Emperor. He has foregone the fatherly role in a quest to give Rome back to the people and the Senate. He has accomplished some of his dreams. He is now dying. His protege, Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, shall carry on the dream. This upsets Marcus Arelius' son, Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who plans Maximus' downfall. He forces his sister, Lucilla, played by Connie Nielsen, to do his wishes following the death of her husband. He holds her son, Lucius, played by Stephen Treat Clark, as the mortgage on her soul. Maximus is a famed general in Rome's armies. He is a good man with a wife and son living in Spain. He, Lucilla and Commodus grew up together. Maximus and Lucilla wanted each other, but life took them in different directions. Commodus could never measure up to Maximus' character and virtue, which caused hatred. When Commodus learned his father's wishes, he planned an ambush for Maximus and a death sentence for his family. Maximus escaped the ambush and went home, but his family was dead. He wandered, not caring what happened. He was captured by a slave-hunter and forced to participate in Rome's gladiator games. When Lucilla learns of Maximus' fate, she begs her brother for his life. Her brother reminds her that her soul is in pawn and she will do what he wishes. She communicates this to Maximus, who plans to rid her and her son of her brother. He wants is revenge on Commodus for his wife and child, of whom Lucilla has learned. They band together to adjust Commodus' attitude problem. Maximus triumphs in a series of gladiator fights, cheating death miraculously. The crowds love him, which enrages Commodus. Maximus has survived ambush, poison, and tigers. Commodus at last comes up with the perfect end for Maximus, but Maximus draws Commodus in to the fight. Maximus wins the day, but at the cost of his life. Lucilla kneels over him as he is dying and bravely tells him to go to his wife and child, waiting on the other side to welcome Maximus into their love. Maximus takes her up on her offer and dies. This leaves Lucilla standing on the field among her people, who are sad that their champion is gone. As a couple of senators slowly approach her, she tells both the senators and the crowd of her father's dream and invites them to make it so.