To claim that the Gladiator is a historically accurate film would be jumping the gun. Sure, they producers hired a few expert historians to provide input during the movie's development. But most of them either backed out or asked to not be credited. What this movie is however, is iconic. Russell Crowe's work as Maximus has defined the concept of the big strong gladiator type that it even shows in the movie adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. It further strengthens the visual imagery of the Roman coliseum and of course, and Ridley Scott's penchant for the delivering straight up action complements the movie in its' entirety.
The Basic Plot
Maximus, the hero of the story, is the general of the Roman army. When the emperor decides to turn Maximus into a regent (with marching orders to transform Rome into a republic), the original heir to the throne, Commodus, decides to kill his own father in order to maintain his position. This clearly shows that the emperor has very little sense of foresight or is just too old. After all, telling his power-hungry son that he will be stripping away the leadership benefits is a seriously bad idea in any book.
So aside from killing his own father, Commodus also decides to take out Maximus (who is able to escape). But when Maximus finally gets home, he realizes that his wife and child have also been executed. It's a strong source of character motivation -which was added in the film since Ridley Scott felt like fulfilling the wishes of a now-dead-emperor doesn't seem like a strong enough driving force.
One thing leads to another and eventually Maximus ends up as a gladiator (apparently, in that time, fainting in shock in the middle of the hills is likely to get you turned into a slave). Here, his previous military background gives him the upper edge against his opponents. So much that his skills and prowess in the arena allows him to reach the main fights in the coliseum; and along the way, he also ends up earning the trust, friendship, and loyalty of his fellow fighters.
So while Maximus has been fighting his way back to Rome, Commodus has managed to get himself seated as the new emperor. And like any good story, as the film draws to the climax, the protagonist and antagonist once again cross paths.
Now we won't spoil the events of the ending for you guys (in case you managed to not have seen this iconic film), but to sum it up, the ending pretty much wrote itself. Complete with all the fanfare that a coliseum duel brings.
From the cinematography, to the musical score, to the quality of acting, Gladiator set a pretty high benchmark in terms of story delivery. It is pretty much impossible to learn about the sword and sandals genre without coming across this movie -it is just that good.
As we mentioned, historical accuracy is pretty much thrown out the window in terms of events -particularly that bit about Commodus killing the emperor, his father. In reality, the emperor simply passed down the title to Commodus, and he was never murdered, he died of the plague. It is also said that several facts about ancient Rome were omitted in order to film that was closer to the public opinion of the setting (as opposed to being accurate).
Decade Old Classic
With more than a decade having passed since the release of the film, it is surprising how well it actually holds up to today's standards. While it was not shot in native high definition, the filmwork is vastly impressive and still provides a good viewing experience to people who are used to newer movies. Russell Crowe would eventually move on to many other iconic role, but his work in Gladiator will always remain to be one of the best ones he ever did. As for Ridley Scott, it will be pretty hard to knock off the Aliens franchise as his main defining work. But what he did with Gladiator was so defining that Hollywood did not have another great sword and sandals movie until the release of 300.