Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View

All of the Fight and Battle Scenes in Gladiator, Ranked

We’re doing our best Caesar impression by giving Gladiator's major fight and battle scenes a thumbs up or down.

By James Grebey
Maximus (Russell Crowe) fight with Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) who holds a dagger in Gladiator (2000).

It’s unquestionably a good thing that civilization has moved beyond public fights to the death as a form of entertainment. And yet, when you watch Gladiator, which is now streaming on Peacock, you can see the appeal. Luckily no human beings actually died in the arena when Ridley Scott was making his Best Picture-winning historical epic, which means you can enjoy the gladiatorial games without hesitation. 

But which action sequence in the film –– which stars Russel Crowe as a Roman general-turned-slave-turned-defier of an empire –– is the best? With the movie currently streaming (and with Peacock's new gladiator series, Those About to Die, dropping next month), we’re doing our best impression of Caesar and giving the seven major fight or battle scenes in the film a thumbs up or a thumbs down. (In this instance, the best ones would get a thumbs down because, actually, a thumbs down meant the defeated gladiator would live rather than be executed. Counterintuitive to our modern understanding of what a thumbs up and a thumbs down mean, but that’s history for you.)

For More on Gladiators:
Now’s a Perfect Time to Revisit Gladiator
Gladiator Is Still Joaquin Phoenix's Best Bad-Guy Role
Those About to Die Unleashes Lions, Chariot Races, and Gladiators in Trailer for Peacock Series

What Are the Best Fight and Battle Scenes in Ridley Scott's Gladiator?

Maximus (Russell Crowe) sticks two swords in an opponent in Gladiator (2000).

7. The Escape Attempt

Maximus’ attempted escape from captivity with the help of his gladiator friends goes wrong very quickly, leading to his imprisonment and the death of several fighters including the big guy, Hagen. It’s a failed attempt at freedom that leads to slaughter — not exactly the rousing face-off that the other action scenes in Gladiator are. 

6. “Are You Not Entertained?”

Maximus’ second on-screen fight in the North African town where he starts his gladiatorial career, as the slave of former-gladiator-turned-trainer Proximo (Oliver Reed), ends with the ex-general quickly and brutally cutting down all of his opponents single-handedly. Then, after this efficient slaughter, he chucks a spear into the stands and bellows, “Are you not entertained?” He’s right to ask this pointed question. As Proximo will later explain to him, being a popular gladiator isn’t about killing the fastest, it’s about making the crowd love you. While exciting and serving an essential narrative purpose, this quick, one-sided fight lacks the drama that Gladiator’s other battles do. It still rules — there are no bad action scenes in Gladiator — but it’s near the rear of this ranking for a reason. 

5. Maximus vs. Commodus

Narratively, the final confrontation between Maximus and Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) — the man responsible for all of Maximus’ loss and hardship — is thrilling. As a pure fight scene, it’s hampered by the fact that Maximus has been fatally stabbed by that sniveling coward Commodus before the fight even begins. Nevertheless, even as Maximus drifts in and out of Elysium, he puts on an impressive fight, eventually overpowering Commodus. It’s tense and exciting and the climax of the whole movie for a reason, but it’s hard to give this fight a top spot when Maximus isn’t at his full potential.

4. Opening Battle

Gladiator opens with Maximus at his peak, leading the Roman army to victory in their final battle of a long campaign against Germanic tribes. It’s epic and tense and is a different sort of action scene — a proper battle — compared to the rest of Gladiator’s setpieces, which all take place in the arena. Some people say that this battle is not historically accurate to how an actual Roman legion would have behaved in war. Those people need to make like they’re walking through Elysium and touch grass. It’s a great opening, albeit one that’s marred slightly by the decision to play with the frame rate as an aesthetic choice. Still, an action scene that doesn’t feature any gladiators can’t reasonably be one of the top three fights in a movie called Gladiator. Be serious.  

3. The Reenactment of the Battle of Zama (First Colosseum Fight)

Maximus and the rest of Proximo’s slaves weren’t supposed to survive their first bout in the Colosseum. The Carthaginians didn’t actually win the historical Battle of Zama that the match has them emulating. Yet this fight — which expertly showcases how much more grand the Colosseum is than the rinky-dink North African arena where Maximus got his start — shows how Maximus’ experience as a general makes him such an effective gladiator. Plus, there are military formations, chariots, and horse riding to dazzle the audience.

2. Maximus vs. Tigris of Gaul

The exhibition match between Maximus and Tigris of Gaul, the undefeated gladiator who comes out of retirement at Commodus’ request in an attempt to end the threat Maximus poses to the Emperor’s rule, is the Colosseum at its most epic. Sure there are only two fighters in the ring, but the stakes are high and the tigers are ready to lend their claws and teeth to the fray. It’s an incredible one-on-one fight (plus those tigers), and yet the intensity of the action makes the wide open space of the Colosseum and the thousands of watching eyes into a feature, not a bug. 

1. The Chained Battle (Maximus’ First Gladiator Fight)

The first gladiator fight we see in the movie, which has Proximo's untested slaves chained to a partner and set loose in an arena in North Africa, doesn’t have the grandeur or scale of the ones in the Colosseum, but it has a very, very effective sense of immediacy. Much like Maximus and Juba (Djimon Hounsou), who Maximus is chained to, this is the audience’s first experience with gladiatorial combat, and it’s a thrill to see the action suddenly and violently go down. (Granted, it’s more thrilling for the audience; some of the fighters are understandably terrified.) Other than the chains, which serve as an effective bit of characterization for Maximus and Juba and as a pretty good weapon in a pinch, there aren’t any gimmicks in this fight, which puts the violent nature of the core premise of gladiatorial games right up front and center. These are people fighting to the death for your entertainment. And it’s horrible, but darn exciting.

Stream Gladiator on Peacock here — and for even more Roman arena action, save the date for July 18, when Roland Emmerich's gladiator epic Those About to Die lands on the bird app as a Peacock Original Series.