Scott’s lavish throwback to the heyday of Roman epics drew generally mixed-to-positive notices: While Variety‘s Todd McCarthy hailed it as “a truly transporting trip back nearly 2,000 years,” Roger Ebert dismissed it as “Spartacus Lite.” When it won the Oscar for best picture (the only Scott-directed film to do so), it felt like a concession to mainstream might over even better-reviewed pictures such as “Traffic” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” More than a decade later, “Gladiator” remains highly regarded; listing his favorite films of the 2000s, Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman wrote, “In Hollywood, they really don’t make ’em like they used to. Except that this one time, they did.”
What Variety said: A muscular and bloody combat picture, a compelling revenge drama and a truly transporting trip back nearly 2,000 years, Ridley Scott’s bold epic of imperial intrigue and heroism brings new luster and excitement to a tarnished and often derided genre that nonetheless provided at least one generation of moviegoers with some of its most cherished youthful memories. But risky as this undertaking was at a budget well north of $100 million, the unfamiliarity of its trappings look likely to work in its favor with modern audiences, who should flock to this exciting entertainment in large numbers. Overseas haul promises to be even bigger than the domestic take for a picture that will have the incidental effect of making Russell Crowe a major star.