Nick Cave’s weird, scrapped Gladiator 2 script still deserves to be made
Let’s take a look back at one of Hollywood’s weirdest abandoned screenplays.
Against all odds, it looks like Gladiator 2 is actually going to happen. Not only is Gladiator director Ridley Scott currently attached to helm the long-awaited sequel, but it was also recently announced that Normal People and Aftersun breakout star Paul Mescal will play the film’s lead character.
All this news comes well over 20 years after Gladiator was originally released. That film went on to become a major financial and critical success, so it’s not hard to see why Scott and co. are interested in returning to its story.
However, this isn’t the first time that Hollywood has attempted to make a Gladiator sequel. As a matter of fact, everyone from Ridley Scott to Russell Crowe has seriously considered making Gladiator 2 at various different times throughout the past 23 years. At one point, Crowe himself talked none other than singer-songwriter Nick Cave into writing a script for a Gladiator sequel, one that brought Crowe’s Maximus back from the dead — literally.
As he revealed during a 2013 appearance on WTF with Marc Maron, Nick Cave was asked directly by Russell Crowe to write a script for a Gladiator sequel following the release of The Proposition, an Australian Western thriller that Cave wrote. Cave admitted that his limited screenwriting experience (he’d only written The Proposition up to that point) made Crowe’s request an undeniably daunting one. In case that wasn’t enough, Crowe also tasked Cave with finding a way to bring his character, Maximus, back from the dead.
Despite these challenges, Cave went ahead and wrote a script for the project anyway. The resulting screenplay, which can be easily found online now, is a truly wild, bonkers piece of writing, one that’s made only moreso by the fact that it was the proposed sequel to a fairly straightforward, grounded film like Gladiator. Unlike that movie, which ultimately cares little for the mythic qualities of most ancient Roman stories, Cave’s sequel was envisioned as a full-blown supernatural fable.
Cave’s script opens with Crowe’s Maximus waking up not in the endlessly flowing, peaceful wheat fields of Elysium, but in the somber, hopeless lands of purgatory. There, Maximus is befriended by an immortal specter named Mordecai, who directs him to a meeting with the Roman gods, all of whom are on the brink of death. During their meeting, the gods offer to reunite Maximus with his wife and son so long as he goes back to Earth for them and kills a Christ-like figure whose teachings about one omnipotent God have seriously weakened the Roman gods’ support and power.
Maximus agrees and is eventually resurrected on Earth through the body of a dying Christian (yes, literally). However, Cave’s Gladiator sequel (which he wanted to call Gladiator 2: Christ Killer) never gives Maximus the same bittersweet, happy ending that its predecessor does. Instead, Cave’s script sees Maximus getting tricked into his killing his own son and ending up cursed to live forever as an immortal soldier. The script’s bonkers closing sequence shows Maximus fighting in various different historical wars, including the Crusades and the Vietnam War, before culminating with a scene that sees the former Roman gladiator working as a high-level official in a modern-day version of the Pentagon.
The script also, notably, pits Crowe’s Maximus against a grown-up version of Lucius, the son of Connie Nielsen’s Lucilla and nephew of Joaquin Phoenix’s corrupt Commodus.
After he wrote the script, Cave says that Crowe didn’t hesitate to tell him that he didn’t like it very much. Ridley Scott, for his part, shared a more positive take on Cave’s script when he was asked about it in 2017. Nonetheless, the script was never produced and it doesn’t sound like the Gladiator sequel that Scott and Mescal are attached to will have much in common with Cave’s screenplay. Mescal is, in fact, currently expected to play a supposedly heroic, grown-up version of Lucius in Gladiator 2. Cave, conversely, imagined Lucius as the primary antagonist of his Gladiator sequel.
The Inverse Analysis — With all this in mind, it’s not hard to see why Cave’s script was never made. If it had been, the film would have ultimately had little in common — tonally or thematically — with the first Gladiator. That said, there is a strange kind of magic present in Cave’s Gladiator 2 script, which is so boldly weird and supernatural that it’s hard not to feel a tinge of regret over the fact that it was abandoned. A finished version of the film would have, at the very least, gone down as one of the most original, divisive, and experimental sequels in Hollywood history.
Regardless of whether or not the film would have actually been good, there are worse reputations for a sequel to have.
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