How often do you think about the Roman Empire? The viral trend sweeping the Internet involves women asking their boyfriends or husbands to reveal how frequently they ponder Ancient Rome. The question has garnered humorous responses all over Instagram and TikTok. Even Ryan Reynolds poked fun at the trend on his Instagram.
If you are interested in the Roman Empire, there are numerous movies and shows set during this era. From the style and landscape to the people and politics, these productions instill a sense of what the empire may have been like centuries ago. Check out these seven movies and shows to watch about the Roman Empire.
After defeating multiple opponents in the arena, Russell Crowe's Maximus Decimus Meridius turns to the crowd and screams, "Are you not entertained?" For the audience, Gladiator provides 155 minutes of entertainment thanks to Crowe's magnetic performance and the elaborate fight sequences in the arena. Set in AD 180, Maximus is a decorated war general in the Roman army and a loyal servant to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Marcus prefers Maximus to succeed him as emperor instead of his sociopathic son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix).
When Marcus reveals his decision to his son, an enraged Commodus kills his father and orders the death of Maximus and his family. After the murders of his wife and son, Maximus is sold into slavery and trained as a gladiator. Hellbent on vengeance, Maximus makes it his mission to rise through the gladiatorial ranks and avenge his family. It's one of the rare times when the Academy rewards an epic historical blockbuster as Gladiator received 12 Oscar nominations and won four, including Best Picture.
Watch on Netflix
Kirk Douglas stars as the titular character in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, the 1960 historical drama based on Howard Fast's 1951 novel. Set during the Roman Republic in the first century BC, the Thracian slave Spartacus is sold to Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) to become a gladiator. However, Spartacus frees his fellow gladiators and leads a slave rebellion against Rome, known as the Third Servile War.
As Spartacus' army gains more followers by the day, Roman senator Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Olivier) is tasked with killing the Thracian and ending the rebellion. The sword-and-sandal epic features stellar performances from Douglas, Ustinov, and Olivier, and it launched Kubrick to new heights as a filmmaker. For a film that won four Oscars, its lasting memory might be the famous two words chanted during the climatic scene: "I'm Spartacus."
The dissolution of the Roman Republic and the subsequent rise of a powerful empire is the subject of Rome, HBO's historical drama series. Set during the first century BC, Rome focuses on the lives of two soldiers: Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson).
The duo experiences some of the most seminal moments in Roman history, including Caesar's dictatorship and eventual assassination, Marc Antony's attempt to control Rome post-Caesar, and the meteoric rise of Octavian, who would go on to become the first Emperor of Rome as Augustus. Rome takes creative liberties in some of its depictions of these historical events, but the result is a two-season epic that captures the sheer size, scale, and importance of the Roman Empire.
Stream on Max
William Shakespeare's tragedy about the famed Roman Emperor came to life in 1953's Julius Caesar. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film chronicles the betrayal and assassination of Julius Caesar (Louis Calhern) and the events after his death that led to a Roman civil war. Like Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar focuses less on the titular character and more on his supporters, including the two men who plotted his murder, Brutus (James Mason) and Cassius (John Gielgud).
The lasting memory of Julius Caesar is the presence of a young Marlon Brando as Caesar's closest ally, Mark Antony. At the time of the film's release, Brando had only three film credits, having worked predominantly on stage the decade prior. However, Brando's Academy Award-nominated performance would kickstart his film career, eventually becoming one of the greatest actors in cinematic history.
Although released in 1959, Ben-Hur is still one of the best depictions of Ancient Rome. Set in AD 26, it follows the life of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), an affluent Jewish prince from Jerusalem. Judah is a man of faith who yearns for the freedom of his people, a sentiment that leads to a dispute with his friend Messala, a commander in the Roman army. Messala betrays Judah by condemning him to slavery and imprisoning his family. After spending years as a slave, Judah returns to Jerusalem to free his family and seek revenge against Messala.
Ben-Hur includes a chariot race of epic proportions. The thrilling nine-minute sequence remains an achievement in action filmmaking conducted on the largest set ever built at the time. The elaborate camera movements and high-level choreography still hold up to this day. Ben-Hur won 11 Academy Awards, a record only matched by Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Watch on Hulu
Most television shows about the Roman Empire feature violent battles, cutthroat politics, and exotic locations. Plebs is a refreshing changeup from the formula. The British sitcom follows three men — Marcus (Tom Rosenthal), Stylax (Joel Fry), and Grumio (Ryan Sampson) — transitioning from the suburbs to the city in Ancient Rome. Marcus and Stylax are commoners of the city known as "plebs," while Grumio is a slave.
The series focuses on everyday life and the annoying problems that come with it. Arguing with landlords, picking up women, maintaining a job, and climbing the social ladder are all topical issues that come up daily. Fans of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Inbetweeners will appreciate the style and humor of Plebs.
Watch on Prime Video
Life of Brian
Leave it to Monty Python to construct a religious and political satire that also realistically portrays life under a Roman state. Directed by Terry Jones, Life of Brian stars Graham Chapman as Brian Cohen, a young man born on Christmas day in the stable next door to Jesus. Brian grows up in Roman-occupied Judea, which leads him to resent the Roman Empire.
While trying to impress a girl named Judith (Sue Jones-Davies), Brian joins an independent movement to rebel against Roman authorities. After a series of strange events, the people mistakenly declare Brian as their Messiah, instantly making him an enemy of Rome. Initially criticized by many religious organizations, Life of Brian is now revered as a cutting-edge comedy and necessary viewing for any Monty Python fan.
Watch on Netflix