Here is my personal list, one at a time, of the top ten movie characters ever. However, feel free to agree or offer better choices and argument. SPOILER CAUTION! The content below may give away some of the plot of the film(s) concerned.
#3 – MAXIMUS DECIMUS MERIDIUS
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next. “
“What we do in life echoes in eternity … At my signal, unleash hell.”
‘The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.’
A warrior, a leader and a man of honour, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) is the hero of Ridley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator. A very successful General in the Roman Army and loyal servant and friend to the ageing emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), Maximus has his world destroyed when Aurelius is murdered by his own son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) who is upset that his father has chosen Maximus rather than he to succeed him. When Maximus refuses to pledge allegiance to Commodus, he is ordered to be executed along with his wife and child.
He manages to escape, but not in time to save his family. Having lost everything, dehydrated and suffering from has an untreated wound to the arm, he passes out and is captured and sold as a slave to Proximo (Oliver Reed) to fight for his life as a gladiator. He has suffered as much as any man and so no longer values his life and refuses to partake in the gladiator training.
All this changes when he enters the gladiator arena. Fighting allows him to unleash the anger inside but also gains the respect of his fellow gladiators and his boss and former gladiator himself, Proximo. He does not disclose who he is, just known as ‘the Spaniard’, but his leadership abilities cannot help but come to the fore. To win favour with the mob in Rome, the new emperor Commodus puts on gladiator shows and Proximo and his slaves are invited to participate.
“Listen to me. Learn from me. I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom”, Proximo
He also knows that if he is a champion gladiator he may get the chance to come face to face with Commodus which may offer a chance for revenge, but he also knows if someone recognises him before then he may be killed.
Maximus’s own struggle is at time when many fear for the future of Rome under Commodus’s leadership. At the beginning of the film Marcus Aurelius tells Maximus of his vision for Rome, to be a republic again ruled by the senate, and that he wants Maximus to take over from him to see that it happens. Marcus believes that Maximus will be able to save Rome and restore it to its former glory.
Marcus Aurelius: Won’t you accept this great honour that I have offered you?
Maximus: With all my heart, no.
Marcus Aurelius: Maximus, that is why it must be you.
Maximus does not think he is the right man for the job as he not a politician and misses his family, but that is exactly why Marcus thinks he is perfect for the job.
Marcus Aurelius: When was the last time you were home?
Maximus: Two years, two hundred and sixty-four days and this morning.
Although Maximus wants to go home desperately, he knows Marcus would not ask and push him to do this if he did not think it was very important and so he reluctantly agrees. When Commodus hears from his father of this news he is distraught and suffocates him, claiming he died during his sleep. Maximus can see what has happened and wants nothing to do with Commodus and as a result his family is murdered.
As the gladiator games begin, Maximus shows, using his abilities as a General, how if the other gladiators work with him when fighting in the coliseum, they have a much better chance of surviving. Wearing a mask that disguises his identity, he demonstrates this is to be true in their first fight and the other gladiators begin to believe in him. The reputation of ‘the Spaniard’ grows and Commodus wants to meet him in the arena. Although surrounded by guards, Maximus sees this as an opportunity to get revenge. Unfortunately, Commodus’s young nephew, Lucius (the son of former flame Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), Commodus’s sister) joins him and so he cannot risk the move.
Commodus praises his skill in the arena and asks his name. He replies “My name is Gladiator” and he turns his back on the emperor, who is outraged, and is forced to reveal himself. Commodus is aghast and has the opportunity to kill or save him, showing his mercy by raising his thumb up or lowering it to condemn him. The whole coliseum is chanting to save Maximus and Commodus is forced to do as they wish to keep them on side. This event sets the politicking of Rome into overdrive, with republicans seeing an opportunity to replace Commodus.
“Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.” Lucilla
Lucilla plots with Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) to free Maximus and help overthrow Commodus who is trying to find a way to kill Maximus without making a martyr of him. The plot fails and Maximus is captured and to try and re-establish his position Commodus sets up a fight with him in the coliseum. They meet before just entering the arena.
Maximus: I knew a man once who said, “Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.”
Commodus: I wonder, did your friend smile at his own death?
Maximus: You must know. He was your father.
Commodus: You loved my father, I know. But so did I. That makes us brothers, doesn’t it? Smile for me now, brother.
[Commodus stabs Maximus]
Despite being mortally wounded and barely conscious, Maximus kills Commodus before collapsing on the ground and giving his final order. He can now join his family.
“Quintus! Release my men. Senator Gracchus is to be reinstated. There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.”
Maximus fully deserves his place here in my top ten as a courageous man full of honour and virtue. Every man walks a little taller after seeing the film. We all want to be as tough as Maximus.