top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Screen Room

Movie Villain Monday: Commodus - Gladiator (2000)

It’s Movie Villain Monday and this week’s movie villain was suggested in the comments on Facebook.

It’s Commodus from Ridley Scott’s Oscar winning epic, Gladiator (2000).

Who is Commodus?

Commodus, played by the insanely talented Joaquin Phoenix is the main antagonist in the Roman “swords and sandals” historical classic.


Commodus is the son of the emperor of Rome (Marcus Aurelius) and on being told by his father that he is unfit to rule and that he wishes his friend and high ranking general Maximus Decimus Meridius to succeed him as regent, Commodus is furious and murders him.

Commodus proclaims himself the new emperor of Rome and asks for Maximus’s loyalty, but he refuses. For this Commodus has him arrested and sentences him and his family to death.

Maximus manages to kill his captors and escape. He races home and finds his family dead on the orders of the new emperor.

After collapsing from wounds he sustained during his escape he’s found by slavers who sell him to a gladiator trainer. This sets in motion events that lead to Maximus and Commodus facing each other in a final gladiatorial battle in the Colosseum.


In the film Commodus is portrayed as a vain, power hungry but cowardly and emotionally charged character.

With the power of becoming Emperor of Rome he’s extremely dangerous because very few dare defy him. He’s cruel, barbaric and ruthless to anyone who is disloyal or who displeases him.

Historical Accuracy:

As much as the movie Gladiator is based on real historical characters and events that occurred within the Roman Empire, it’s only very loosely based on them. In fact it was inspired by a book published in 1958 called “Those About to Die” (formerly titled The Way of the Gladiator) written by Daniel P. Mannix.

Commodus did become Emperor of Rome but not by murdering his father who in fact died of natural causes.

He also wasn’t overly popular with his people and had an infatuation with gladiatorial combat, to the extent of regularly participating in it himself. He was known to spare his opponents in the arena but he enjoyed slaughtering people in practice. He would also have people who were missing limbs through accidents or illness, brought into the arena and tied together before clubbing them to death.

He was eventually strangled in his bath by his trainer and wrestling parter after an attempt to poison him failed.

It’s also a common misconception that a Roman emperor would put his thumb up to signify that a gladiator be spared, and down to signify death. It was actually the opposite way round. The crew were apparently aware of this but since a thumb up these days is considered a good sign, they decided to go with it so as to not confuse us easily confused movie-goers.

(Get me with the history lesson...)


Although Joaquin Phoenix was always director, Ridley Scott’s first choice to play Commodus, Jude Law also screen tested for the part.

I can kind of see him doing a good job but Phoenix brings so much to the character that it’s hard to imagine anyone pulling it off with the same intensity as him.

Gladiator is such a great film and Commodus is a really good shout for a movie villain. He’s definitely one of the most worthy yet.

P.S. Did you know there’s a sequel on the way...?

“Am I not merciful?!”

Who would you like to see featured next week?

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page