For twenty years a sequel to the Best Picture-winning Gladiator has been tossed around off and on. On the surface, it makes sense to make a sequel to an extremely popular film that won Best Picture (and has just been reissued with a brand new 4K disc). But, then again (spoiler alert), the fact Russell Crowe’s Maximus doesn’t survive the movie is kind of a problem. But it appears producer Douglas Wick and director Ridley Scott have maybe figured something out.
For Gladiator‘s 20th anniversary, I spoke to producer Douglas Wick who takes us through the ups and downs of trying to get this movie made (it was never easy). And, as it turns out, on the day we spoke Wick had just gotten off the phone with Scott about that sequel, and when I asked what he feels the odds are of it happening, he says it’s “more than 50 percent.”
I was watching your Oscar speech again. Do you wish you would have done a James Cameron and just went, “Are you not entertained?,” and just walked off? People would have remembered that.
The only problem with that is, they would remember you as just such a self-absorbed asshole. So, you’re working against that from the start.
It would be on every highlight reel though. You’d have to admit that.
It’s true though. You’re right.
Rewatching Gladiator, I found myself enjoying it more than I even thought I would, but also thinking this kind of movie wouldn’t win Best Picture today.
I mean, when you’re trying to guess on the Academy Awards, it’s always uphill. Occasionally movies that excel in a lot of different areas have a little bit of a shot. You know what I mean? If you’re in the music, production, design, costume, you start to get a little bit of a shot. If you were just a betting person, there’s a little bit of a thing where if you excel in all of those, because it’s a team sport: And when each member of the team does some of their best work, the team effort gets recognized.
While making it, did you think an Oscar was possible?
No, no. It was always one calamity after another, that, in retrospect, you either turned each of those disasters into an opportunity or each one was a nail in your coffin. And, so, as I’m sure you’ve read, there were challenges with a script along the way.
By the way, the thing that’s not true is that there was ever just a 25-page draft. There were many, many, many drafts. But there were challenges. Like, at a certain point, fairly deep into the progress the discussion of, “Can you kill the leading man? And can that be part of a movie that’s this expensive?” So, as you’re racing towards the starting line, half-dressed, you’re worrying about all of those issues. You’re worrying about parts of the story that aren’t adding up. And so, no. You’re mostly hoping to survive.
Of all the movies you’ve done, is this the one that maybe caused the most stress during your life?
Well, in different ways. I mean, each has its challenges. On Stuart Little, I got a note in my office saying that the cat’s asshole had fallen off, and we had to shut down. With the stress, there’s a stress ailment called protruding asshole.
Yeah. Stress-induced, and it was the only cat working that day, so we had to shut down. Gladiator had very specific challenges by the way the script was always evolving. When you’re working with Ridley Scott, who from fairly early on is sketching scenes, because he’s basically a painter, you’re seeing those, and you’re seeing what it could be. He very early on visualizes the whole movie. And then even when you say you can kill him, you have to have a Ridley who said, “Well, actually, I can deliver the afterlife. So it won’t be cheating. It will work.” So, there’s a million decisions all along the way that you’re struggling to make and not lose sight of the overview. And it’s only in retrospect that you kind of understand that at each one of those challenges, the movie got better instead of worse.
So how does the plan work to campaign for Best Picture? Gladiator came out on May. Do you go back to the studio and say, “I think we can make a run at this?”
The plan was, first, we’re going to try and find an audience for it.
And then everyone knew it was a big disadvantage for awards to open in May, but it was also an audience movie as much as it was an awards movie. I remember we were going to visit theaters that first Friday night. And as we pulled up, all the lines were guys dressed up in black leather jackets who were there to see a fight movie. And we were concerned. But the great life of the movie would be that it would rise as a drama. And interestingly, by Saturday night, when we visited theaters, there were suddenly equal parts women in line, which meant that the word was out that it was also a great drama. So that’s when you start to say, “Okay, this could really have a great life.”
Yeah I have friends who were too young to see this in theaters who think it’s just a bloody fight movie.
And by the way, a bunch of movies failed after Gladiator because they just did incredibly expensive dramas without the action. So it’s a very difficult balance to get.
A sequel has been talked about for 20 years. Take me through this. Is this still a thing?
It’s funny. I had, literally, two hours ago, a conversation with Ridley about the sequel, which we’re working on. And where we all feel Gladiator is a really unique movie. I mean, the main character of the movie is dead. So, when you start a new movie, it’s not like you say, “Oh, I’ve got a return role for these movie stars.” And also, everyone has such respect for the movie, that there’s just real clarity that unless we get it on paper, we’re not going to do it. No one wants some cynical shadow to make some bucks.
I read there was a script where Maximus traveled through time, showing up at different points in history like in Vietnam.
This was maybe ten years ago or so?
Oh, there was a Nick Cave script that Russell developed…
Yes, was that real?
Well, it was only real in that it was written. And it was basically about him trying to rejoin his family in the afterlife.
So was it was ever seriously considered?
No. That was, I think, too difficult and too kind of off-topic.
You said you spoke to Ridley Scott earlier today. What do you think the odds of this sequel happening is?
I’d certainly say more than 50 percent.
Those are good odds.
It’s also an honest answer.
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