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Gladiator II: Everything We Know About the Ridley Scott Sequel (Opening a week earlier outside North America)

Gladiator II: Everything We Know About the Ridley Scott Sequel (Opening a week earlier outside North America)

Back in 2000, director Ridley Scott (and screenwriters David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson) took us back to 180 AD for Gladiator, which told the story of Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe), who is favored by Emperor Marcus Aurelius to be his successor because his own son, Commodus, is unfit to rule. Commodus disagrees, so he murders his father, has Maximus arrested, and has Maximus’s wife and son killed. While Commodus establishes himself as the new emperor, Maximus escapes from captivity – only to be captured again, this time by slavers who sell him off to become a gladiator. Soon he’s fighting in front of Commodus in Rome’s Colosseum… and it all builds up to Commodus challenging Maximus to a duel. Gladiator was a major box office success and racked up multiple Academy Award wins, including Best Picture. So there was already talk of a sequel in 2001, but it ended up taking more than twenty years to get a sequel into production. Gladiator II is now ready to reach theatres, courtesy of Paramount Pictures (domestic) on November 22, 2024 and Universal Pictures (international) on November 15th – so we have put together a list of everything we know about this sequel.

DIRECTOR AND SCRIPT

Ridley Scott always planned to return to the helm for Gladiator II. The hold-up was the script. Since Maximus died at the end of Gladiator, screenwriters found it very difficult to figure out how to continue the story, especially since the initial idea was that Russell Crowe would return as Maximus in some capacity. The first writers to be involved were David Franzoni and John Logan, who crafted a story that would pick up fifteen years after the events of the first movie and center on the Lucius character, who was a child played by Spencer Treat Clark in Gladiator. While the Praetorian Guards rule Rome, Lucius would be trying to find out the truth of his parentage because the idea was always that, even though his mother (Commodus’s sister Lucilla, played by Connie Nielsen) would say that his father was the late Lucius Verus, it was actually Maximus. This story would have allowed for some prequel elements, but would have also seen Maximus being resurrected… somehow. According to Crowe, there was a time when they were just going to have Maximus rise from the dead like Jesus Christ.

Musician Nick Cave was hired to write his own version of the script, and this one has gotten a lot of attention because how over-the-top and insane it was. Cave’s title of choice was Christ Killer, and would have (as Cave explained on Marc Maron’s podcast) “found Maximus in purgatory as he’s sent down by the gods, who are dying in Heaven because there’s this one god, there’s this Christ character, down on Earth who is gaining popularity and so the many gods are dying so they send Gladiator back to kill Christ and his followers. Maximus was tricked by the gods, as the Christ character that they’ve sent him to kill was his own son, the one who died in the first movie. The end of the film would have found Maximus living forever, fighting battles throughout history, such as the Crusades, World War II, and Vietnam, before ending up as a General in the modern-day Pentagon.”

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Things got quiet for a decade after Cave turned in his script, but in 2017 Scott started pushing the sequel forward again while swearing that he had found a way to bring Maximus back that would make sense. The Town and Top Gun: Maverick writer Peter Craig was hired to write a new script that would again center on Lucius, this time 25 to 30 years after the events of Gladiator. Craig found the idea tough to crack, so then Scott brought on his Napoleon writer David Scarpa. And it’s Scarpa who wrote the script that finally went into production in 2023.

Paul Mescal
Gladiator II: Everything We Know About the Ridley Scott Sequel (Opening a week earlier outside North America)

CAST

The long-awaited sequel stars Paul Mescal (Normal People), playing the adult Lucius. One report let us know, “Before he died, Maximus rescued Lucius and his mother from the clutches of the young man’s uncle, Commodus. The event left an impression on Lucius, who aspires to be as formidable as Maximus as he braves a harsh world.” Mescal is joined in the cast by Fred Hechinger (The White Lotus) as Emperor Geta (replacing Barry Keoghan in the role, as he had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts), Joseph Quinn (Stranger Things) as Emperor Caracalla, and – in roles that weren’t specified when their involvement was announced – Pedro Pascal (The Last of Us), Lior Raz (The Crowded Room), Peter Mensah (Spartacus), and Matt Lucas (Wonka).

May Calamawy (Moon Knight) is in there as well, and while we don’t know who she’s playing, it was said that her character is quite important to the story, so Scott did a “thorough search” before Calamawy earned the role over the course of multiple auditions.

Gladiator cast member Derek Jacobi is reprising the role of Senator Gracchus and Connie Nielsen is back as Lucius’s mother Lucilla. Scott made sure to involve Nielsen as much as possible during the development of the story.

Denzel Washington (American Gangster) is playing someone Scott described to Deadline as being a character who is parallel to Lucius. “The owner of a business that supplied weapons for the Romans, who supplied the oil when they traveled, who supplied the wine they drink. They wouldn’t drink water, they drank wine. When they traveled, who would supply wagons and horses and tack? There had to be the arms dealers of the period; here is a man who already rich from supplying the weapons, the catapults. His hobby is like a racing stable except it’s gladiators. He’s got a stable of 30 or 40 gladiators. He likes to actually see them fight and it evolves that that’s where he came from. He was captured in North Africa, and evolved into a free man because he was a good gladiator. But he hides that because also he’s now realizing the potential of his actual power. He’s wealthier than most senators, so already has thoughts and designs of the possible idea of taking power from these two crazy princes.”

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Absent from the cast is Russell Crowe, as Maximus remains in his grave after all. Crowe doesn’t seem pleased that people keep asking him about the sequel – during an appearance at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, he said, “They should be f*cking paying me for the amount of questions I get asked about the f*cking film that I am not even in.” – but he has also said that he thinks it will be “absolutely spectacular” and he’s jealous of the experiences Mescal got to have on set. In an interview with Kyle Meredith, Crowe did indicate that he has issues with the story being told in the sequel. “I’m slightly uncomfortable with the fact they’re making another one — because, of course, I’m dead and I have no say in what gets done. But a couple of the things I’ve heard I’m like, ‘No, no, no, that’s not in the moral journey of that particular character’. But I can’t say anything, it’s not my place, I’m six foot under. So we’ll see what that is like.

gladiator connie nielsen russell crowe
Gladiator II: Everything We Know About the Ridley Scott Sequel (Opening a week earlier outside North America)

PRODUCTION

Gladiator II started filming in May of 2023 – and the production wasn’t an easy ride. A month into filming, six crew members were left with non-life-threatening burn injuries when they were accidentally caught in a large explosion that went off during the filming of a stunt sequence. A studio spokesperson assured The Sun that “The safety and full medical services teams on-site were able to act quickly so that those who were impacted immediately received necessary care. They are all in stable condition and continue to receive treatment.”

Two months into filming, production had to shut down due to the Screen Actors Guild strike. The strike went on from July into November, with Scott using that time to edit together 90 minutes of footage (and possibly film some more footage with non-SAG extras). Before filming could resume in December, the deteriorating sets had to be repaired. A massive recreation of ancient Rome, including a life-size Colosseum, had been built for the production, and these open-air sets had to be left sitting there for four months while the strike played out. So it took some time to fix them up before the cast and crew could get back to work.

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The strike helped the budget get out of hand. The movie was supposed to cost $165 million, but The Hollywood Reporter revealed that costs had ballooned to somewhere in the $250 million to $310 million range. For this project alone, the studio lost $600,000 a week during the strike.

There were also rumblings from PETA about the mistreatment of horses and monkeys on the set, but crew members refuted those claims, saying the Humane Society was always on set to oversee the treatment of the animals.

Filming wrapped in January after taking place in England, Morocco, and Malta. By filming in Malta (which was also a filming location for the first movie), the production earned a €46.7 million rebate, which is over $50 million in USD. So that brings some relief, despite the budget being out of control.

CINEMACON TRAILER

A five-minute trailer, which was preceded by a video introduction in which Scott said Gladiator II is “more spectacular than the original,” was screened at the CinemaCon event in early April. JoBlo’s own Chris Bumbray was in attendance and reported that the trailer was incredible. He wrote in, “Paul Mescal looks a lot like Russell Crowe, with the same beard. Lucius is a gladiator trained by Denzel Washington’s character. Meanwhile, Pedro Pascal is a Roman general trying to lead a revolt against the sadistic emperor (Joseph Quinn). At some point, Quinn and Mescal meet in the gladiator ring for a battle. The games are more sadistic this time, with the gladiators fighting wild baboons unarmed and a rhino. You also see lots of Connie Nielsen, who seems to be in cahoots with Denzel and opposes the emperor. Gladiator II has a ton of action and intrigue. Mescal and Pascal look like they handle the action side, with no shots of Denzel fighting.”

Not mentioned in that write-up was the fact that the trailer features “a scene where they flood the Colosseum and have the gladiators fight sharks.” Which might sound over-the-top and ridiculous to some, but in the early days of the Colosseum, the place would occasionally be flooded so it could be used to host staged ship battles called naumachia… and yes, apparently they would release sharks and other sea creatures into the flooded structure as well. So there is a reflection of reality in this insanity.

Footage from Gladiator II was also shown at the 2024 CineEurope trade show, where Paramount President of International Theatrical Distribution Mark Viane said the sequel has some of the “biggest action sequences ever put on film.”

That’s everything we know about Gladiator II right now, but with the release date just seven months away, we should be learning more about the film very soon.

Gladiator II
Gladiator II: Everything We Know About the Ridley Scott Sequel (Opening a week earlier outside North America)

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