Name Occurs Before Title
Print Viewed By AFI
World premiere in New York: 22 Sep 1960; Chicago, IL opening; 13 Oct 1960; Los Angeles opening: 19 Oct 1960; Boston, MA opening: 27 Oct 1960
27 Jan--4 Aug 1959; addl scenes shot 10 Nov--early Dec 1959 in Spain; addl scenes shot mid-Jan--mid-Mar 1960
Duration (in mins):
190 or 195
Print this page
Display Movie Summary
([Marcus Licinius] Crassus)
Harold J. Stone
Robert J. Wilke
Lynda Lee Williams
Harry Harvey, Jr.
Dale Van Sickel
Ronnie Rondell, Jr.
Ted de Corsia
Terence de Marney
(Woman selling chestnuts)
(Boy chicken seller)
Shari Lee Bernath
Wayne Van Horn
Boyd Red Morgan
During the last century of the Roman Republic, thousands are born enslaved to either the privileged class known as patricians or the wealthiest of the commoners, known as plebeians. One exceptionally strong slave in the rock mines of Libya, Spartacus, is regularly whipped for displaying his intelligence and pride. One day, Batiatus, who trains slaves to become gladiators, purchases Spartacus and several other slaves for his training camp in Capua. There, Batiatus announces that each man will be taught to fight to the death strategically, for the pleasure of patricians who enjoy the “sport.” Training proves as dehumanizing as the mines; each slave is branded, mercilessly instructed by head trainer Marcellus, and kept in cells. Spartacus tries to befriend Ethopian gladiator Draba, but soon learns that the men refuse to ally, knowing that they may be forced to kill each other. One night, Spartacus is presented the slave woman Varinia. Batiatus and Marcellus, knowing that Spartacus has never had a woman, watch from a grate above his cell as Varinia stoically undresses. Their laughter disgusts Spartacus, and after he refuses to mistreat the young woman, Batiatus takes her away as punishment for not acting as “a man.” Over the next weeks, Spartacus excels at gladiatorial skills and falls further in love with Varinia. Marcellus attempts to derail their attraction, but the couple manages to exchange furtive touches. One day, Marcus Licinius Crassus, a patrician in competition with the plebeian Gracchus for control of the Roman Senate, arrives at Capua along with his wife Lady Helena, sister-in-law Claudia and her fiancé, Marcus Glabrus. To celebrate the betrothal, Crassus insists that a gladiatorial match be arranged, ignoring Batiatus’ concern that forcing the slaves to fight to the death in their own camp could cause an uprising. Helena and Claudia choose four slaves, including Spartacus and Draba, to fight, and order them to be scantily clad. As the matches begin, the patricians banter happily, undisturbed by the desperation of the fighting men. Spartacus listens from the holding cell as a friend is killed, then enters into battle against Draba. Draba overcomes Spartacus, but, unwilling to kill his compatriot, instead attacks Crassus and is immediately killed by a guard. When Spartacus later hears that Crassus has bought Varinia, he can no longer control his rage, and attacks Marcellus. Emboldened, the other slaves follow suit and escape, forming an “army” that travels across the countryside, looting landowners and freeing slaves, who then join the swelling ranks. Word soon spreads to Rome of the slave rebellion, causing outrage in the senate. While Crassus is away, Gracchus cannily challenges Glabrus, now head of the Roman garrison, to lead some of the troops against the slaves, leaving Julius Caesar as temporary chief of the remaining garrison. When Crassus returns, he comprehends immediately that Gracchus plots to keep Glabrus out of Rome, leaving Crassus more vulnerable to attack. Meanwhile, Spartacus inspires his troops to form a united front that can sweep across the country and escape over the sea to their homelands. In one town, Spartacus is elated to find Varinia, who has escaped and now confesses her love. Back in Rome, while Crassus admires his new “body slave,” Antoninus, Gracchus schemes with Batiatus, who blames Crassus for Spartacus’ rebellion. Soon, Spartacus’ army settles at Mt. Vesuvius, where an escaped Antoninus impresses Spartacus, who longs for an education, with his songs. One day, Tigranes, a representative of Salician pirates, visits to offer the slaves support. Spartacus trades the army’s riches for 500 ships, to await the army on the east coast of Italy. Tigranes agrees to the trade, and when he wonders aloud why Spartacus believes he can defeat the mighty Roman garrison, the former slave replies that, unlike soldiers, his men are not afraid to die, since even death is preferable to a life in chains. Soon after, Glabrus arrives and, underestimating the intelligence of the slaves, fails to prepare his troops adequately. Spartacus is able to destroy the garrison and capture Glabrus, whom he sends back to the senate with the message that the army will not be stopped. Crassus is forced to banish Glabrus and retire in shame. Throughout the winter, Spartacus’ ever-growing group crosses the country, many dying along the way. In the spring, Spartacus is overjoyed to learn that Varinia is pregnant. Meanwhile, Gracchus convinces the senate to name Caesar as commander of the garrison and to send two legions to destroy Spartacus. When no one volunteers to lead the legions against Spartacus, Gracchus is forced to ask Crassus, who is delighted to head the campaign to "restore order" to Rome. Later, Gracchus reveals to Caesar that he has maneuvered the sale of the Salician ships to Spartacus, knowing that Spartacus’ triumph will spell defeat for Crassus. Although Spartacus celebrates upon reaching an encampment a mere twenty miles away from the Salician ships, Tigranes soon arrives, with the news that Pompey and Crassus have conspired to surround Spartacus’ army, necessitating the withdrawal of the ships. Spartacus realizes that Crassus is forcing him to attack Rome, which will allow the patrician to use all the troops at his disposal against them. Dismissing Tigranes’ offer to smuggle Spartacus and Antoninus, now his closest aide, to freedom, Spartacus instead stirs his troops to march against Rome. At the same time, the Romans elect Crassus as head consul and leader of the legions, and he vows to destroy Spartacus and restore order to the empire. The armies soon come within fighting distance of each other, and Crassus, single-minded in his fear of and hatred for Spartacus, pays Batiatus to identify the former slave on the battleground. Just before the battle, Spartacus tells Varinia that his only prayer is for his son to be born free and to learn about his father’s cause. Within hours, Crassus’ trained troops have overcome the slave army, and Crassus announces to the survivors that they will be spared crucifixion if they identify Spartacus. Spartacus stands to speak, but before he can sacrifice himself, Antoninus stands and declares, “I am Spartacus.” One by one, each slave follows suit, choosing death over betraying the man who brought him freedom. Enraged, Crassus orders them all to be crucified during a long march, lining the road to Rome with their bodies. He also finds Varinia, clutching Spartacus’ newborn son, and sends her to his estate. Along the march, Crassus recognizes Antoninus and then, upon spotting Spartacus, guesses he may be his enemy, and orders the two men be kept alive until they reach his estate. There, he banishes Gracchus to the country, intending to use him in the future for his popularity with the “rabble.” Soon after, Batiatus experiences what Gracchus terms “a bad case of dignity” and refuses to identify Spartacus, and instead plots with Gracchus to steal Varinia from the estate in order to irritate Crassus. Crassus dotes on Varinia, whose love he believes will prove his superiority over Spartacus but she vows never to stop loving Spartacus. Meanwhile, Spartacus mourns Varinia and his son, who he assumes have died. When Crassus confronts Spartacus, the slave spits in his face, spurring the dictator to order him to fight Antoninus to death, with the winner to be crucified. Spartacus and Antoninus fight valiantly, each trying to save the other from a more painful death, and Spartacus soon triumphs. After murmuring that he loved Spartacus like a father, Antoninus dies, and Spartacus proclaims that “he will come back, and he will be millions.” Crassus, fearful even in his victory, orders Spartacus crucified at the gates to Rome. Meanwhile, Batiatus brings Varinia and the boy to Gracchus, who presents them with falsified papers that will allow them freedom, then kills himself. As Varinia leaves Rome, she catches sight of Spartacus on the cross. In his last moments of life, Spartacus sees Varinia lift his son and hears her declare that the boy, now free, will never forget his father.
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Bryna Productions, Inc.
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
(Dir of Libyan slave camp scenes)
(2d unit dir)
(Dir of photog)
(Addl scenes photog)
(Asst to the film ed)
(Asst to the film ed)
Russell A. Gausman
(Miss Simmons' cost)
(Mus comp and cond)
Waldon O. Watson
(Main titles and des consultant)
Vittorio Nino Novarese
(Historical and tech adv)
(Unit prod mgr)
(Exec coord of sales and advertising)
Based on the novel
by Howard Fast (New York, 1951).
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. & Bryna Productions, Inc.
Westrex Recording System
lenses by Panavision
Caesar, Gaius Julius, 100-14 B.C.
Fathers and sons
The film begins with a voice-over narration stating that before Christianity, the Roman Republic ruled as the center of the civilized world, but remained stricken with the disease of slavery. Although some reviews noted the story’s unreliable correlation to history, many of the film’s characters were derived from real figures, including Spartacus (d. 71 B.C.), Marcus Licinius Crassus (d. 53 B.C.) and Caius Sempronius Gracchus (d. 121 B.C.). As depicted in the film, Spartacus was a Thracian slave who broke out of a Capuan gladiators’ school to lead a revolt that was eventually suppressed by Crassus, who then crucified his captives by the hundreds. In contrast to the film, Spartacus was killed in battle, after which Crassus ruled Rome in a triumvirate with Pompey and Julius Caesar. Gracchus lived decades earlier, and helped organize a social reform movement that lasted only a few years before being repealed. He was killed in a series of riots protesting the repeal.
On 19 Mar 1958, Kirk Douglas’ company, Bryna Productions, announced a production deal with Universal that would begin with the studio providing co-financing and distribution services for a film to be based on the 1951 Howard Fast novel
. The film’s proposed budget at that time was $4,000,000. In Aug 1958, Alciona Productions planned to produce a film entitled
Spartacus and the Gladiators
(not based on Fast's book) with Yul Brynner as star, Martin Ritt as director and United Artists as distributor. Bryna protested the use of the title, but on 21 Aug 1958,
announced that the MPAA had awarded Alciona sole use of the name. Bryna then appealed the decision, and according to Douglas’ autobiography, after a brief competition, United Artists conceded the rights to the name in Oct 1958.
According to a modern source, David Lean was considered to direct
, but declined. Laurence Olivier was then asked to direct, but
reported in Oct 1958 that he had “relinquished” the directing assignment, as he felt the dual role of actor-director would prove too demanding. Anthony Mann took over as director, but was fired by Douglas after two weeks of shooting. Douglas stated in his autobiography that he considered Mann “too docile,” especially for the powerful actors dominating the cast. The scenes that Mann shot, consisting mainly of the opening sequence depicting slaves working in the mines, remain in the final film. Douglas then hired Stanley Kubrick, who began shooting on 16 Feb 1959.
Modern sources refer to numerous disputes between Kubrick and various cast and crew members, most notably Douglas and writer Dalton Trumbo. At the time that Douglas hired Trumbo to adapt Fast’s novel, Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, was still blacklisted because of his refusal to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Douglas related the following in his autobiography: Trumbo was forced to work in secret, often using either producer Edward Lewis as a front, or the pen name of “Sam Jackson.” When the final writing credit needed to be decided, Kubrick suggested using his own name, which so offended Douglas that he insisted Trumbo receive onscreen credit in his own name. Despite the ensuing opposition from the American Legion and such personalities as Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, this credit constituted, as a 26 Apr 1991
article described it, “a giant step toward ending the Hollywood blacklist.” (Some modern sources dispute this status, pointing out that Trumbo also received credit for the United Artists film
, which was not released until Dec 1960 but may have set its credit list earlier.)
Sabina Bethmann was originally hired to play “Varinia,” but on 20 Feb 1959 the “Rambling Reporter” column in
noted that she had been paid $3,000 to leave the production. According to studio press materials, technical director Vittorio Nino Novarese was a professor of history, costume and décor at the Italian State School for Cinematographical Studies. Modern sources state that Richard Farnsworth, who played a gladiator in the film, also served as Douglas' stand-in.
Many injuries occurred during the long production. According to a 22 May 1959
news item, Tony Curtis split his Achilles' tendon while playing tennis with Douglas and was placed in a cast from heel to knee. His scenes were then delayed until his leg healed. The following month, as reported in
, Douglas contracted the flu, causing production to halt for five days. In addition, longtime Universal art director Eric Orbom died of a heart attack during production, in May 1959.
After principal photography was completed in Los Angeles in early Aug 1959, Kubrick and photographer Clifford Stine traveled to Spain to shoot battle scenes. According to an Oct 1959
news item, 8,800 Spanish army troops were photographed for the sequence.
reported on 15 Oct 1959 that the crowd noises used in the sequence were to be recorded at the upcoming football game between Notre Dame and Michigan State. According to a 22 Mar 1959 article in
, “upwards of 50,000 [extras] took part” in the battle sequences, which were supplemented by dummies and painted backdrops. In addition to scenes shot on location in Spain and Los Angeles, news items and reviews add that some scenes were shot in St. George, UT, Arizona, Italy and in California at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Death Valley and Chatsworth.
was shot in Super Technirama-70, a widescreen process based on VistaVision. Technirama used 35mm film spooled through the camera horizontally, allowing for a frame twice the size of the normal 35mm negative.
reported on 24 Jul 1959 that Kubrick spent $40,000 on the over-ten-acre gladiator camp set. On the side of the set that bordered the freeway, a 125-foot asbestos curtain was erected in order to film the burning of the camp, which was organized with collaboration from the Los Angeles Fire and Police Departments. Studio press materials state that 5,000 uniforms and seven tons of armor were borrowed from Italian museums, and that “every one of Hollywood’s 187 stunt men was trained in the gladiatorial rituals of combat to the death.” Modern sources note that production utilized approximately 10,500 people. In Jul 1959,
announced that the budget had “spiraled” from $5,000,000 to $9,000,000, and according to studio press materials, the final budget was $12,000,000. Some sources stated that the massive production was the most expensive in film history to that point; however, the budget for the 1959 M-G-M epic
(see above) exceeded $15,000,000. The Apr 1991
article points out that this amount equaled more than Universal was worth at the time of the film’s production, when the studio was purchased by MCA for $11,250,000.
Although sources conflict about running times, contemporary reviews following press screenings state a range from 190 to 195 minutes. An Apr 1991
article states that the National Catholic Legion of Decency demanded that five minutes of objectionable material be cut from the film, including graphic battle scenes and what is commonly referred to by modern sources as the “snails and oysters” scene. In the scene, during which the bi-sexual “Crassus,” is in his bath, he obliquely questions “Antoninus” about his sexual orientation through a metaphorical discussion of his own preference for snails sometimes and oysters at other times.
Universal’s advertising campaign, which began in Dec 1959, declared that “1960 is the year of
.” The film's world premiere was held on 22 Sep 1960 at the DeMille Theatre in New York. The contract between the theater and Universal included a $1,000,000 film rental minimum, the highest ever for a motion picture. According to a 7 Apr 1960
article, the theater installed a new screen and projectors for the premiere. The picture was shown with a fifteen-minute intermission. To coincide with the film’s release, Bantam published a paperback version of
containing a sixteen-page illustrated booklet of material from the film, including drawings, credits and a summary.
Modern sources add the following names to the crew credits:
Claude Gillingwater and Johnny Peacock;
Stunt double for Kirk Douglas
Loren Janes; and
Sol Goras. The
“magnificent,” “monumental” and “a splendid achievement.” The picture received the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Picture and Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov), Art Direction, Cinematography and Costume Design.
was ranked 81st on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, ranked 62nd on the
AFI 100 Years...100 Thrills
list, and the character of Spartacus was ranked 22 in the
AFI 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains
In 1990, Universal launched a restoration of
, done by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. The new version included previously excised material, including the “snails and oysters” scene. Because Olivier had died by the time of the restoration, Harris hired Anthony Hopkins to dub Crassus’ dialogue. The restored version, in 70mm and six-track Dolby sound, had its premiere on 21 Apr 1991 in New York at a benefit for the American Film Institute. On 24 Apr 2001, the Criterion Collection released a special-edition
DVD that included commentary by Douglas, Lewis, Fast, Ustinov and Harris.
Other film versions of the Spartacus story include a 1909 Italian film entitled
, as well as 1963's
and the 1965 picture
Revenge of the Gladiators
, both of which were Italian productions. In 2004, the USA Network broadcast a television miniseries of
, directed by Robert Dornhelm and starring Goran Visnjic. Many reviewers of the Oscar-winning 2001 film
noted the similarities between it and
was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Russell Crowe (see above).
10 Oct 60
17 Oct 1960.
21 Aug 1958.
7 Oct 60
9 Apr 1991.
7 Oct 60
19 May 1958
21 Aug 1958
25 Aug 1958
6 Oct 1958
20 Feb 1959
10 Mar 1959
22 May 1959
26 May 1959
8 Jun 1959
18 Jun 1959
24 Jun 1959
29 Jun 1959
9 Jul 1959
24 Jul 1959
3 Aug 1959
9 Oct 1959
15 Oct 1959
15 Dec 1959
16 Dec 1959
28 Jan 1960
22 Feb 1960
8 Mar 1960
10 Mar 1960
7 Apr 1960
29 Apr 1960
10 May 1960
13 Jun 1960
27 Jun 1960
11 Jul 1960
7 Oct 60
30 Apr 1991
Los Angeles Times
23 May 2003
Calendar section, p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
15 Oct 60
New York Times
22 Mar 1959.
New York Times
7 Oct 60
New York Times
26 Apr 1991.
12 Oct 60
23 Apr 2001.
Display Movie Summary
© 2016 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.