Face-Off: Braveheart vs. Gladiator

In our previous Face-Off, we visited the world of female-driven high school comedies in HEATHERS vs. MEAN GIRLS, with the latter coming out on top. Half of you agreed with the verdict and half of you dissented, which at the very least means it wasn't a lopsided match up! This week, we're changing gears ever so slightly from shoulder padded blazers and fetch pink tops...

I don't remember anyone asking for another BEN-HUR movie, but we're getting one anyway. The Timur Bekmambetov-directed epic hits theaters this weekend, and while it likely won't be one of the great historical action films of our generation, it affords us the opportunity to look back at some of the modern classics. BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR are quite different films to be sure, but both retell historical scenes through the eyes of a protagonist seeking revenge for his slain family and rebelling against the powers that be in order to bring justice to the land he calls home. They're also both even longer than that summary. Which film will remain standing one the dust settles, though? Let's unleash hell, take lives, and find out.
Mel Gibson brings his A game to William Wallace. We get to see a character who is charming, boyish, grief-stricken, ingenious, maniacal, enraged, tortured, and finally at peace, all of which Gibson delivers beautifully. As for the accent, it's mostly passable to American audiences, but most Scots dismiss it as a noble attempt at best.
If we're talking acting alone, Russell Crowe's Oscar winning performance would take this one down, but we don't see a great deal of range from Maximus throughout the two and a half hour film. Besides a heartbreaking scene wherein Maximus finds his family slain, the character mostly transitions between stages of stoicism and defiance.
Sophie Marceau as Princess Isabella of France
Patrick McGoohan as King Edward Longshanks
Angus Macfadyen as Robert the Bruce
Catherine McCormack as Murron MacClannough
Brendan Gleeson as Hamish
Brian Cox as Argyle Wallace
Peter Hanly as Prince Edward
James Cosmo as Campbell
Tommy Flanagan as Morrison

BRAVEHEART boasts an impressive cast to be sure, but most of them don't get a ton of screen time or much of an arc. The Longshanks/Prince Edward/Princess Isabella scenes are certainly fun to watch, though.
Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus
Connie Nielsen as Lucilla
Oliver Reed as Antonius Proximo
Djimon Honsou as Juba
Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus
David Schofield as Senator Falco
John Shrapnel as Senator Gaius
Spencer Treat Clark as Lucius Verus
Tommy Flanagan as Cicero

GLADIATOR spends much more time with its supporting cast, allowing more depth to the characters. Joaquin Phoenix's accent isn't much to speak of, but his turn as the deceitful, spoiled Commodus earned the actor a great deal of well-deserved attention.
13th century Scotland and England
2nd century Rome

Nothing against the setting here, but the earthy, primitive quality of BRAVEHEART gives the film a more distinct and memorable identity.
After his land is invaded and his wife killed by the English, William Wallace raises an army to seek revenge and secure freedom for Scotland.

Giving BRAVEHEART the point here due to how personal the story feels. We spend enough time with William, Murron, and the oppressed Scots to feel a genuine affinity for them, which in turn brings a bit more intimacy and urgency to the story than GLADIATOR.
After being sent to die and finding his wife and son slain, General Maximus Decimus Meridius is forced into slavery. Rising in the ranks as a gladiator, "the Spaniard" seeks revenge against the Emperor and to restore peace to Rome.

"I love you. Always have."

"Go back to England and tell them there that Scotland's daughters and her sons are yours no more. Tell them Scotland is free."

"Every man dies, not every man really lives."

"Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it."

"Sons of Scotland! I am William Wallace."
"William Wallace is seven feet tall!"
"Yes, I've heard. Kills men by the hundreds. And if he were here, he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse. I am William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You've come to fight as free men... and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?"
"Fight? Against that? No! We will run. And we will live."
"Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!"

"The Almighty tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he's pretty sure you're f*cked."

"Not the archers. My scouts tell me their archers are miles away and no threat to us. Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing."

"We all end up dead, it's just a question of how and why."

"I know you can fight. But it's our wits that make us men."

"Bring me Wallace. Alive if possible, dead... just as good."

"I don't want to wake. I want to stay here with you."

"Give me the strength to die well."

"The prisoner wishes to say a word."

"Death comes to us all. But before it comes to you, know this: your blood dies with you. A child who is not of your line grows in my belly. Your son will not sit long on the throne. I swear it."

"You have bled with Wallace, now bleed with me."

"In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland - starving and outnumbered - charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom."
"Strength and honor."

"If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!"

"What we do in life echoes in eternity."

"At my signal, unleash hell."

"Have I missed it? Have I missed the battle?"
"You have missed the war."

"There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile."

"Won't you accept this great honor that I have offered you?"
"With all my heart, no."
"Maximus, that is why it must be you."

"Nothing happens to anyone that he is not fitted by nature to bear."

"Ultimately, we're all dead men. Sadly, we cannot choose how but, what we can decide is how we meet that end, in order that we are remembered, as men."

"Are you not entertained?!"

"We who are about to die, salute you!"

"My name is Gladiator."

"The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate; it's the sand of the coliseum. He'll bring them death, and they will love him for it."

"Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome."

"The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end... Highness."

"I will kill Commodus. The fate of Rome, I leave to you."


"Shadows and dust."

"Ancestors, I ask you for your guidance. Blessed mother, come to me with the Gods' desire for my future. Blessed father, watch over my wife and son with a ready sword. Whisper to them that I live only to hold them again, for all else is dust and air. Ancestors, I honor you and will try to live with the dignity that you have taught me."

"The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor."

"And now we are free. I will see you again, but not yet. Not yet..."
For being one of his first times behind the camera, Mel Gibson directs the hell out of BRAVEHEART. The film suffers from the occasional mid-90's choppiness, but the production design, action, and overall presentation give the film a classic quality worthy of Gibson's Oscar win for Best Director.
Having already directed a dozen or so films, Ridley Scott brings his master craftsmanship to GLADIATOR. At times the action is frenetically edited, with the odd strobe and slo-mo shots feeling a bit out of place, but overall the film is a beautifully shot and stunningly crafted masterwork.
James Horner delivers a haunting soundtrack rich with emotion and alive with the spirit of Scotland. Without ever being overly sentimental or intrusive, Horner's work adds a layer of warmth to a passionate film.
Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard's score blends a traditionally orchestral score with ethereal vocals and instruments of a forgotten era. The music ranges from delicate to grand, with a stirring swell of hope at the end.
IMDB: 8.4 (Top 250: #76)
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% (Audience Score: 85%)
Metacritic: 68 (User Score: 8.6)
Domestic Total Gross: $75,609,945

Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing, Best Makeup, and five nominations, including Writing and Score

Golden Globes: Best Director and three nominations

BAFTA Awards: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and three nominations
IMDB: 8.5 (Top 250: #46)
Rotten Tomatoes: 76% (Audience Score: 87%)
Metacritic: 64 (User Score: 8.8)
Domestic Total Gross: $187,705,427

Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Effects, Visual Effects, and seven nominations, including Supporting Actor, Director, Writing, and Score

Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Score, and three nominations

BAFTA Awards: Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Editing, Audience Award, and ten nominations
Another tough one. If you told me I could only watch one of these movies again for as long as I live, it would be BRAVEHEART, but that may just because I saw it when I was younger and more impressionable (to say nothing of my soft spot for Celtic and Gaelic culture). GLADIATOR comes out on top by being more polished and impressive all around, even though BRAVEHEART arguably tells a more poignant, heartfelt story. For two movies only five years apart, BRAVEHEART certainly feels like a classic, but GLADIATOR was ahead of its time and still feels like it could have been made yesterday. Am I not merciful? Let me know your thoughts as well as your favorite historical epic down below!

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].



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