In what might be the strangest film that was never made, the now-iconic Australian leader of the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave, came very close to creating the sequel to Ridley Scott’s historical drama epic Gladiator.
The first film, originally written by David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson, famously starred the likes of Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix and became a major commercial and critical success. Having claimed a remarkable haul of five Oscars at the 73rd Academy Awards, a second film has been heavily speculated ever since Douglas Wick claimed a Gladiator prequel was in development way back in 2001. However, one year later, Wick changed the proposed follow-up plans which would change the direction to a sequel set fifteen years after the initial film.
Ridley Scott expressed an interest in once again directing the follow-up, as did Crowe who would have reprised his role as Maximus as long as the plot followed on previous events and, in doing so, the actor researched Roman beliefs about the afterlife in order to appropriately continue the story.
Given the fact that the original Gladiator sees Maximus killed as its final act, and considering that the film leaves no questions unanswered, the premise of a sequel seemed a daunting one for any willing writer. While the possibilities seemed open to interpretation, both Scott and Crowe surprisingly turned to Bad Seeds frontman Nick Cave as the man they wanted to helm the project. At the time of their meeting, Cave had written just one screenplay; John Hillcoat’s Ghosts… of the Civil Dead, a 1980 Australian drama which struggled for international recognition.
After being offered the job by Crowe, Cave recalled: “He, eventually, rang me up and asked if I wanted to write Gladiator 2 and for someone who had only written one film script, it was quite an ask,” Cave said.
“Well, that’s where it all went wrong,” Cave said while laughing at the struggles he faced. “‘Hey Russell, didn’t you die in Gladiator 1?” he asked, somewhat confusingly. “Yeah, you sort that out,” Crowe replied.
Explaining his idea for Gladiator 2 in more detail, Cave said: “So, he goes down to purgatory and is sent down by the gods, who are dying in heaven because there’s this one god, there’s this Christ character, down on Earth who is gaining popularity and so the many gods are dying so they send Gladiator back to kill Christ and his followers.”
Cave, burrowing away for months on end to create a script for Crowe and Scott, completed his challenge and did so with immense satisfaction: “I wanted to call it Christ Killer and in the end, you find out that the main guy was his son so he has to kill his son and he was tricked by the gods,” he added. “He becomes this eternal warrior and it ends with this 20-minute war scene which follows all the wars in history, right up to Vietnam and all that sort of stuff and it was wild. It was a stone-cold masterpiece.”
Submitting the work back to Crowe, readying himself for the actor’s plans to go full steam ahead, Crowe reacted: “Don’t like it mate,” to Cave’s dismay.
“What about the end?’ he asked. “Don’t like it mate,” Crowe replied.
Ridley Scott would go on to explain that despite Crowe’s initial reluctance, he did attempt to make Cave’s script work. “We tried [to go with Cave’s script]. Russell didn’t want to let it go, obviously, because it worked very well. When I say ‘worked very well’, I don’t refer to success,” the director said in an interview with UGO. “I mean, as a piece it works very well. Storytelling, [it] works brilliantly. I think [Cave] enjoyed doing it, and I think it was one of those things that he thought, ‘Well, maybe there’s a sequel where we can adjust the fantasy and bring [Maximus] back from the dead’.”
Cave, it would seem, concurred: “I enjoyed writing it very much because I knew on every level that it was never going to get made. Let’s call it a popcorn dropper.”
With the script remaining shelved, Scott teamed up with novelist Peter Craig for the sequel which will be set 30 years after the original. “We’re working with Ridley Scott, that’s one we wouldn’t touch unless we felt in a way to do it was legitimate,” Craig previously said. “We’re working with an amazing writer as well, Peter Craig. It picks up the story 30 years later.”