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Lost Scenes: Marcus Aurelius’ pre-battle speech from ‘Gladiator’

15 September 2010
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator"

Richard Harris played Marcus Aurelius in "Gladiator" © Dreamworks

Even ancient Rome had “Win one for the Gipper” pre-game speeches.  At least, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius did in the first draft of the Gladiator screenplay by David Franzoni.

The final film’s screenplay is credited to Franzoni and John Logan and William Nicholson, with story credit to Franzoni.  It opened with Russell Crowe’s Maximus (Narcissus in the original version), and I always thought it was a particularly nice touch for a period epic to open on its hero.

By contrast, the original script’s opening pages brought in all the major players prior to the battle, and even introduced Commodus first (a scene that comes after the battle in the film).  Narcissus/Maximus is practically just a face in the crowd in these pages.  Yes, it’s still the same battle against a Germanic horde, but by giving Marcus Aurelius an extended monologue to rouse his soldiers, it painted a larger picture and underscored that this is as much a story of Rome as it is of one of its generals.

In comparison to the film that was eventually produced, was it too much?  Marcus Aurelius is, of course, the one who sparked the plot — his disdain for his own son precipitated his murder and kick-started Maximus’ journey into the gladiatorial arena.  So, the question is: how much real estate should be devoted to a character who is essentially a plot point?  The film went with less for the emperor, and more for the star.

For what its worth, it’s a nifty monologue.

Excerpt from the first draft of the "Gladiator" film script

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