Scott’s thrilling epic of ancient Rome can stand shoulder to shoulder with Ben-Hur and Spartacus among the cinema’s greatest depictions of the period. In the first of his five collaborations with the director, Russell Crowe gives an impassioned performance as Maximus Decimus Meridius, a victorious General in the army of the dying Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). When Aurelius confides that he wants Maximus to temporarily assume the throne in a bid to restore power to the Roman Senate, the Emperor’s Machiavellian son Commodus (a deliciously wicked Joaquin Phoenix) murders the old man, as well as Maximus’ wife and young son. Escaping into North Africa, where he is sold into slavery, Maximus proves to be a star combatant in the gladiatorial arena, and begins working his way back to hoped-for victory in Rome. A critical and commercial smash that set new standards for the use of digital visual effects in period films, established Crowe as a bankable box-office star and restored dignity to the long-mocked “sword and sandal” genre, Gladiator was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture, Actor (Crowe), Costume Design and Visual Effects.