101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

Gladiator uses a huge canvas to tell a small story. “It is about a man just trying to get home,” David Franzoni said in 2020. For protagonist Maximus, however, getting home is complicated. Initially, he’s a revered soldier serving a noble emperor—but after a cycle of betrayals and murders, Maximus finds himself adrift, ostensibly lusting for vengeance but truly searching for a way to spend eternity with loved ones he lost. Franzoni, who first lit on the subject matter decades before becoming a professional screenwriter, pitched a historically accurate gladiator story to Steven Spielberg, who set up the project at DreamWorks. The concept enticed Ridley Scott to direct, at which point John Logan performed rewrites that moved deeper into fictionalization. William Nicholson then worked on the script during preproduction and filming. Issuing from this painstaking process was a script that imbues history with visceral immediacy.