The 10 Best Movies About Gladiators, Ranked

When it comes to swordfighters, gladiators are uniquely captivating. These movies feature the best gladiators in cinema.
The 10 Best Movies About Gladiators, Ranked

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The sword-and-sandal genre was a classic of Golden Age Hollywood, credited with revitalizing the public's interest in going to theaters after home television was introduced to the masses.

In fact, without epic movies like Ben-Hur bringing audiences back to the big screen, it's anyone's guess as to where cinema might be today.

The sword-and-sandal genre finds its greatest protagonist in the gladiator: a man who's thrust into the giant Colosseum, a death trap without exits. The only way out is by the sword in his hand up against whatever man, animal, or beast is put before him.

Over the years, many great movies of this kind have been made. Here are my picks for the best movies about gladiators.

10. The Robe (1953)

Trailer for The Robe (1953)

The Robe follows Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), a Roman military tribune who's responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

However, on the way there, he stumbles across a gladiator auction and meets Demetrius (Victor Mature), a runaway Greek gladiator.

While it may not have impressed critics of the time, The Robe certainly impressed audiences and inspired several imitators.

9. Barabbas (1961)

Trailer for Barabbas (1961)

As the title suggests, Barabbas follows the life of Barabbas (Anthony Quinn), the infamous criminal who was pardoned by Pontius Pilate (Arthur Kennedy) in exchange for Jesus's crucifixion.

It's a compelling piece that finds him become one of many gladiators trained to fight in front of Emperor Nero. It's a redemption story in some ways, with a handful of gladiator fights thrown in for good measure.

8. The Eagle (2011)

Trailer for The Eagle (2011)

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum) had a father who was Senior Centurion of the Ninth Legion, a famous band of Roman military that got lost in the area of Northern Britain and never returned.

In The Eagle, Marcus takes on the task of locating the Eagle Standard in the North with the help of his slave Esca (Jamie Bell).

There are plenty of fantastic battle scenes, chases sequences, and all kinds of fist-pumping action in The Eagle that you'd want in a gladiator epic—just that none of it happens in the Colosseum.

7. Centurion (2010)

Trailer for Centurion (2010)

Does anyone remember Centurion? It was a solid film featuring Michael Fassbender at the beginning of a burgeoning career, but perhaps overshadowed by the greats that came before it.

In Centurion, Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the son of a famous gladiator and he finds himself behind enemy lines. In order to honor his infamous father, he takes it upon his shoulders to lead his men back to salvation—and along the way, swords will be swung.

6. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Trailer for Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

The classic historical epic Jason and the Argonauts that took great risks and successfully expanded the scope of the genre.

The plot follows Jason (Todd Armstrong), a man prophesied to overthrow the despotic ruler Pelias (Douglas Wilmer). However, Pelias is aware of this prophesy, so he seeks to have him killed.

He does this by encouraging Jason to find the Golden Fleece and return it to him, praying that he dies on the adventure.

Unfortunately for Pelias, Jason is accompanied on his mission by a squad of competent gladiators and warriors. With the help of his champions (and the goddess Hera), Jason sets off on his quest.

5. Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)

Trailer for Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)

In this sequel to the aforementioned The Robe, we get a film that's much-improved on the original.

Demetrius and the Gladiators follows the story of Demetrius (Victor Mature), a devout Christian who takes it upon himself to hide the Robe of Christ, only to be thrust into the Colosseum to fight for his freedom.

A massive box office success, Demetrius and the Gladiators made it clear that sword-and-sandal movies were worth investing in.

4. The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Trailer for The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

The Fall of the Roman Empire follows the decadence and arrogance of the ancient Roman aristocracy, which precipitated the empire's eventual downfall due to negligence and corruption.

This classic film features all of the classic Roman tropes, including grapes, gladiators, and luxurious robes. Starring cinema greats like Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness, and Christopher Plummer, The Fall of the Roman Empire was bound to be an incredible success.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans. It was such a massive flop that it made people think twice about making expensive gladiator movies.

3. Ben-Hur (1959)

Trailer for Ben-Hur (1959)

Here we have yet another Biblical gladiator film. And why not? Ben-Hur was the film that proved how mixing Bible stories with historical empires could be a fun and potent combination.

The film follows Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), a Jewish prince who's sold into slavery. In order to win back his freedom, he must now compete as a gladiator.

Ben-Hur was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time. Fortunately, it received all the critical and public adulation it needed to vindicate those costs. To this day, Ben-Hur is tied for the most Oscar wins in Hollywood history (with 11 wins).

Not only was it an extravagant production, Ben-Hur set the benchmark for gladiator movies to come with its immaculate set design and impressive action sequences.

2. Gladiator (2000)

Trailer for Gladiator (2000)

"Are you not entertained?!" How could we not be when Gladiator is playing? This is the quintessential gladiator movie, after all!

Gladiator follows Maximus (Russell Crowe), a Roman general who wants to leave his military position so he can return to his family. However, the treacherous actions of the Roman emperor's son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) prevent him from doing that.

Sold into slavery, Maximus becomes a gladiator who must fight for his freedom. Unfortunately for his opponents, he's really good at it.

In modernizing the sword-and-sandal genre for modern audiences, Ridley Scott showed the world that he can make great movies no matter the genre. Gladiator remains one of his best.

As one of the best gladiator movies ever made, it unsurprisingly inspired several lame copycats—but it also inspired some good ones, which we've explored earlier in this list.

1. Spartacus (1960)

Trailer for Spartacus (1960)

It isn't as well-known as Ridley Scott's Gladiator, but Spartacus was certainly one of the biggest inspirations behind that film.

The story follows the slave Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), who's made to fight as a gladiator for the entertainment of his owners. However, after Spartacus leads a revolt, he ends up sparking a full-fledged revolution—and he finds himself at the helm of it.

With Spartacus, Stanley Kubrick crafted one of the most impressive historical epics of his day. He brought a humanism to the film that Ben-Hur lacked, resulting in a resoundingly impactful film.

Despite monumental creative differences between Kubrick and Douglas (who was both producer and main star), they didn't affect the film's quality. It remains the all-time best movie about gladiators.