The big problem that stands in the way of a movie like Gladiator building an organic, easy-to-write sequel is that when you kill your protagonist, you need to figure out how to either bring them back or move on without them. It sounds like the recent round of development for director Ridley Scott’s potential Gladiator 2 is taking that latter route, but there was a time when some really wanted to keep Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the game. As per usual, the methodology involved was downright biblical.
It’s a conversation that took place as far back as when Gladiator became a box office and awards season hit in 2000, as the strength and honor of Maximus Decimus Meridius leaving this earth has led to some rather wild plans to bring him back for Gladiator 2. Russell Crowe revealed this most recent one during an interview with ScreenRant, in which he mentions the following pitch from Gladiator producer Douglas Wick:
I haven't talked to Doug in a long, long time. Last time I talked to Doug, he said he had this great idea where Maximus gets carried from the stadium and they pull back this big rock and he gets put into this cave and then the rock closes over and he's anointed with oils. And then the rock opens up and he comes out. And I said, ‘Doug, I don't think we have the rights to that story.’ But that was a long, long time ago and I don't think he appreciated my sense of humor at the time.
Keep in mind, Gladiator 2 has seen itself go through everything from the very serious path of Nick Cave’s draft showing Maximus wandering through several reincarnations, to the suggestion Russell Crowe’s agent gave to Douglas Wick that Maximus being revealed as still alive after Gladiator’s climactic fight, as part of a plot to fake his own death. But having this iconic warrior of modern cinema go the full Jesus route was something that even Crowe himself had to poke fun at, whether or not it landed with his audience at the time.
Making another Gladiator movie is hard enough even when you’re trying to make a clone of that experience in another story or era. The movie that Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Douglas Wick helped deliver to audiences was a unique combination of talent and chance that comes along less often than you’d think. With movement on a Gladiator 2 that will see a couple decades separating the past and the present in the news, we’ll have to wait and see what this newer version of the follow-up to Maximus’ great sacrifice will entail.
But one thing’s for sure: you won’t need to hang a portrait of Russell Crowe on your wall in time for Sunday mass. Though you might be able to see him in a theater near you this weekend, as Unhinged opens in theaters on Friday.