Movies about gladiators have always been extremely entertaining and attractive to the audience, especially the ones seeking for action and fights, but also an insight into the history of the Roman Empire, its rulers and all the individuals who were somehow connected to them. And gladiators played a great role in this part of history.
From 1914 to the 2000s, gladiator movies and tv series never stopped bringing excitement and tension to the audience and there will always be material to film more and more. This is the list of the 15 best gladiator movies and tv shows, ranked by their popularity, relevance and connection to the gladiator topic and the overall impression they made on the viewers.
15. Empire (2005, TV mini-series)
The story of the life and rise of Julius Caesar’s successor, Octavius, Marc Anthony’s opponent and future Roman emperor, Augustus. It is set in 44 B. C. just after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavius is 17 and certain he is to become heir since Caesar named him one before his death.
But he gets challenged by Marc Anthony which will lead to numerous wars and finally end in a battle between these two powerful and influential individuals. Even though this tv series hasn’t been as popular as some with a similar topic, it is still a series worth watching, due to its interesting story and breathtaking sights.
14. Rome (2005 – 2007, TV series)
This extremely popular and beloved tv series is set in the last days of the Roman Republic where we follow the lives of ordinary Romans. Featuring prominent tv actors such as Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson, it has gained numerous Primetime Emmys and international acclaim.
The story is shown from two perspectives, the aristocratic viewpoint of Julius Caesar, his family and political allies and opponents and a few common Romans, the soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. It depicts the transition from the Roman Republic to the autocratic empire and all the changes it brought.
13. The Eagle (2011)
Another movie dealing with Romans, but this time set on British soil, which is under Roman rule. It is a story of a young Roman soldier Marcus, the centurion who comes from Rome searching for answers regarding his father’s disappearance, together with his entire Ninth Legion.
Marcus is accompanied only by one person, his British slave Esca who follows him to the mysterious highlands of Caledonia where he is to face its wild tribes, all to come to terms with his father’s destiny and retrieve the legion’s lost emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth.
12. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
This famous adventure drama follows the adventures of one of the most famous Greek heroes, Jason, who leads a league of brave and strong soldiers (among which is Hercules, as well) on a quest for the legendary Golden Fleece. Protected by Hera, they embark on a journey across the sea, full of unforgettable battles and encounters.
Jason and his sailing crew will have to fight herpes, a giant bronze Talos, a hydra and an animated skeleton army. This is one of the most famous and beloved Greek myths and it is still a great classic we like to watch and rewatch.
11. Kengan Ashura (2019 – , TV series)
This inventive and original anime series tells the story of an ordinary 56-year-old man Kauzo Yamashita who is one day summoned by his company’s director and hired as a gladiator’s manager. Yamashita knows nothing about these gladiators but soon finds out that they engage in battles called “Kengan Matches” where they fight to protect the rights of the businesses they represent in their companies.
Kazuo’s gladiator is a mysterious and skilled man named Ohma Tojita who has many plans and ambitions for himself in the company. Very praised anime series, one of the best in the last few years, whose action crime is a must-watch for someone who wants to have a somewhat different insight into the gladiator games.
10. Centurion (2010)
Firstly an action movie and then a historical drama, Centurion is a fast-paced movie starring Michael Fassbender and Dominic West in leading roles. It is a story of a group of Roman soldiers who have to fight for their lives behind enemy lines after their legion is wiped out in a guerilla attack.
Quintus Dias is the only survivor of a Pictish raid and he is marching North together with General Virilus Ninth Legion in order to defeat the Picts and kill their leader Gorlacon.
9. Cabiria (1914)
One of the first movies about the Romans is this adventure drama about Cabiria, a Roman child who is sold to Carthage after her home is destroyed by a volcano. She is sent there to be sacrificed in a temple but is saved by a Roman spy and noble Fulvio and his slave Maciste.
But the war between Carthage and Rome is approaching and the trio will have to find a solution for their situation. Maciste will be captured immediately after confiding Cabiria to Sophinisbe and Fulvio will manage to escape Carthage. But they will have to face many more challenges before being able to return to Carthage.
8. Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
This full blooded gladiator movie tells the story of a Christian slave Demetrius who is sent to fight in a gladiatorial arena. It begins where the movie The Robe ended and Christ’s robe is now given to Pete’s for safekeeping. But the emperor Caligula needs to have it become since he believes in its magical powers and hopes to benefit from them.
Demetrius will try to prevent it and during his attempts, he will fall in love with Messalina, Caligula’s uncle Claudius’ wife. Tempted by her charms, he will end up in the arena where he will have to question his beliefs and convictions.
7. Barabbas (1961)
Anthony Quinn stars in this interesting biographical drama about Brabbas, the criminal who is released from captivity, even though being dangerous and notorious. The people have decided to release him instead of Jesus, after Pontius Pilate gave them a choice to choose.
Barabbas finds himself now on a spiritual journey while travelling to Sicily where he will have to deal with his conscience and question all the things he’s done, being completely aware of the injustice made on Jesus.
6. The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness and Stephen Boyd star in this classic tale about Commodes, Marcus Aurelius’ son who is ready to do anything to prove his worth as the successor of his deceased father, since his father didn’t choose him to be one, due to his corruptive nature and unappealing personality.
This unpleasant decision leads to Aurelius’ death by poisoning and ends in a completely different way of ruling the Roman Empire, now full of oppression and endless machinations. Commodus is getting more and more delusional and even declares himself a god, making everyone afraid of the possible fall of the Roman Empire.
5. Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011, TV mini-series)
Prequel to one of the most unforgettable and famous gladiator series of all time, Spartacus, this brilliant tv show is set in the time before Spartacus where we learn more about the beginning and rise of the House of Batiatus. We meet members of its household and the most famous and important gladiators of the time, Gannicus and Crixus.
It is a great depiction of gladiator fights in the arena before Spartacus’ time when everything was even more ruthless and the only honour was to enter this giant stadium and show yourself in front of the town’s people.
4. Spartacus (2010 – 2013, tv series)
Even though equally brilliant, educational and interesting as its prequel Gods of the Arena, Spartacus is a more famous story about the greatest gladiator of all time. Played by the late Andy Whitfield who gave an unforgettable performance as Spartacus, this excellent series follows his journey from a calm Thracian to the greatest fighter who led a slave uprising against the Roman Empire.
Spartacus is captured by a Roman Glaber and sentenced to a life in the arena, condemned to death as a gladiator but soon proves to be a great fighter and the crowd’s favourite. He will have to get used to a completely different life and through his wins and defeats, he will, together with us, learn the Roman ways, face their lies and deceits and start planning a heroic quest for vengeance.
3. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben-Hur is a story of a Jewish nobleman and his adopted Roman brother Messala who become best friends despite their origin. Ben Hur falls in love with Esther who he is not allowed to marry, especially after her father finds out about their feelings.
She is to marry a Roman, but when Ben Hur hears about it, he takes her as his wife. Three years later, Messala returns as a Roman officer and suddenly finds himself on the opposite side of Ben Hur, since it is the time of the Zealots’ uprising and Ben Hur is one of the Jewish protesters.
2. Gladiator (2000)
One of the best and most quoted and discussed gladiator movie is Gladiator which tells the story of a former Roman General who decides to seek revenge against the corrupt emperor who killed his family and sent him into slavery.
Directed by the remarkable Ridley Scott, with Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix in the leading roles, this excellent historical drama gives us all the details about the fights in the arena, brilliantly depicts the differences between slaves and their owners and all the cruelty these men had to endure in order to satisfy someone’s primal drives.
The Bible of all the gladiator movies, the influence for numerous movies and tv series in the future, this excellent historical drama brings us the story of Spartacus, the greatest gladiator of all time. Kirk Douglas excels as Spartacus, a Thracian slave who becomes the leader of one of the greatest uprisings ever.
He decides to fight all the mighty who tortured him and his fellow fighters, setting out to defeat the decadent Roman Republic and at the same time having to battle Crassus, who is determined to gain power by crushing his rebellion.