7 best movies and shows about the Roman Empire

Do you ever wonder about the Roman Empire? There is a popular online trend where women ask their partners to share how often they think about Ancient Rome. This query has generated amusing answers on various social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Even Ryan Reynolds joined in on the fun by joking about the trend on his Instagram account.

If the Roman Empire piques your interest, there are various movies and shows that take place during this historical era. These productions provide insight into the empire’s culture, environment, and societal dynamics, offering a glimpse of what life might have been like centuries ago. Be sure to explore these seven recommended movies and shows centered around the Roman Empire.

Gladiator

Following his triumph over numerous adversaries in the arena, Maximus Decimus Meridius, portrayed by Russell Crowe, addresses the spectators with a passionate question: “Are you not entertained?” Gladiator captivates its audience for a duration of 155 minutes, primarily due to the magnetic performance of Crowe and the intricately choreographed fight sequences within the arena. The storyline is set in AD 180 and revolves around Maximus, a highly decorated war general within the Roman army and a devoted servant to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, played by Richard Harris. Marcus favorably regards Maximus as his potential successor for the imperial throne, rather than his mentally unstable son, Commodus, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix.

In an act of rage, Commodus kills his father Marcus after learning of his decision. He also orders the execution of Maximus and his family. As a result, Maximus is sold into slavery and undergoes training to become a gladiator. Driven by his thirst for revenge, Maximus dedicates himself to climbing the ranks in the gladiatorial arena and seeking justice for his loved ones. Gladiator, an epic historical blockbuster, received 12 Oscar nominations and emerged victorious in four categories, including Best Picture—an exceptional achievement recognized by the Academy.

Spartacus

Kirk Douglas takes on the role of the main character in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, a historical drama released in 1960 that is based on Howard Fast’s novel from 1951. The story is set during the Roman Republic in the first century BC and revolves around Spartacus, a Thracian slave who is purchased by Batiatus (played by Peter Ustinov) to become a gladiator. However, Spartacus decides to liberate his fellow gladiators and leads a rebellion of enslaved individuals against Rome, famously known as the Third Servile War.

With each passing day, Spartacus’ army is growing in numbers as more people join their cause. Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman senator played by Laurence Olivier, has been assigned the duty of eliminating the Thracian leader and putting an end to the rebellion. This epic sword-and-sandal film showcases outstanding performances from Douglas, Ustinov, and Olivier, and it also served as a turning point in Kubrick’s career as a filmmaker. Despite winning four Oscars, one of the most memorable aspects of this movie is the climatic scene where the famous phrase “I’m Spartacus” is chanted.

Rome

Rome, HBO’s historical drama series, delves into the transformation from the Roman Republic to a formidable empire. Taking place in the first century BC, the show revolves around the experiences of two soldiers named Lucius Vorenus (played by Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (played by Ray Stevenson).

Throughout the series, the pair encounters significant events from Roman history, such as Caesar’s period of dictatorship and subsequent assassination, Marc Antony’s endeavor to gain control of Rome after Caesar’s death, and Octavian’s rapid ascent to power, ultimately leading to his becoming the first Emperor of Rome known as Augustus. While Rome does take some artistic license in its portrayal of these historical events, it successfully presents a grandiose and impactful depiction of the Roman Empire across two seasons.

 

Julius Caesar

The 1953 film Julius Caesar brought William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of the well-known Roman Emperor to the screen. Under the direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the movie tells the story of Julius Caesar (played by Louis Calhern) and his ultimate betrayal and assassination, which subsequently leads to a civil war in Rome. Similar to Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar places less emphasis on the central character and instead focuses more on his followers, particularly Brutus (played by James Mason) and Cassius (played by John Gielgud), who conspire to kill him.

Julius Caesar is most remembered for the notable appearance of Marlon Brando, who played Caesar’s most trusted companion, Mark Antony. When the film was released, Brando had primarily focused on stage acting for the past ten years and had only three film credits to his name. Nonetheless, Brando’s exceptional performance, which earned him an Academy Award nomination, served as a catalyst for his successful film career, ultimately establishing him as one of the greatest actors in the history of cinema.

 

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur, which was released in 1959, remains a remarkable portrayal of Ancient Rome. The film is set in AD 26 and tells the story of Judah Ben-Hur (played by Charlton Heston), a wealthy Jewish prince from Jerusalem. Judah is a devout man who desires the liberation of his people, which creates a conflict with his friend Messala, an officer in the Roman army. Messala betrays Judah by sending him into slavery and imprisoning his family. After enduring years as a slave, Judah returns to Jerusalem to rescue his family and exact vengeance upon Messala.

The film Ben-Hur showcases an extraordinary chariot race that is of grand proportions. This nine-minute sequence, which is filled with excitement, is considered a remarkable accomplishment in action filmmaking. It was filmed on the largest set ever constructed during that period. The intricate camera movements and intricate choreography are still impressive even today. In terms of accolades, Ben-Hur holds the distinction of winning 11 Academy Awards, which is a feat only equaled by Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Plebs

Unlike most television shows about the Roman Empire that focus on violent battles, cutthroat politics, and exotic locations, Plebs offers a refreshing twist. This British sitcom centers around three men – Marcus (played by Tom Rosenthal), Stylax (played by Joel Fry), and Grumio (played by Ryan Sampson) – as they make the transition from the suburbs to the city in Ancient Rome. Marcus and Stylax are commoners known as “plebs,” while Grumio is a slave.

Plebs, a series that appeals to fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Inbetweeners, centers around the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The show delves into the frustrating challenges such as disputes with landlords, navigating the dating scene, holding down a job, and striving to improve one’s social status. With its unique style and humorous approach, Plebs offers an enjoyable viewing experience.

Life of Brian

Monty Python is renowned for creating a religious and political satire that accurately depicts life in a Roman state. The film, Life of Brian, directed by Terry Jones, features Graham Chapman as the protagonist Brian Cohen. Brian, who was born on Christmas day in the stable adjacent to Jesus, grows up in Judea under Roman occupation, fostering a deep resentment towards the Roman Empire.

In an attempt to win the favor of Judith (Sue Jones-Davies), Brian becomes involved with a rebellious independent movement against the Roman authorities. As a result of some peculiar occurrences, Brian is mistakenly identified as their Messiah, immediately positioning him as an adversary of Rome. While initially facing criticism from various religious groups, Life of Brian has since gained immense appreciation as an innovative comedy that is essential viewing for any fan of Monty Python.

Bottom Line

The Roman Empire has long fascinated audiences with its rich history and captivating stories. From epic battles to political intrigues, the Roman Empire provides an endless source of inspiration for filmmakers and storytellers. In this blog, we have explored seven of the best movies and shows that bring the glory and grandeur of ancient Rome to life. Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for some entertainment, these recommendations are sure to transport you back in time. So grab some popcorn, sit back, and immerse yourself in the world of the Roman Empire. Lights, camera, action!

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