MovieChat Forums > Spartacus (1960) Discussion > Spartacus is very ahead of it's time. A ...

Spartacus is very ahead of it's time. A liberal epic.

Saw this recently in 70mm and I couldn't help but notice just how unique Spartacus is for the time. A lot of you are going to freak out about these observation and say "oh but there is one or two other movies that do this blah blah blah". And while there are, these are still undeniably uncommon for the 50's and 60's era of fear and irrational judgement.

1. The romantic relationship is very genuine and equal. Spartacus and Varinia both make contributions to the plot, she is not just a prize woman that the hero is rewarded with. Spartacus also respects her and does not simply take her for his own. I believe she is the first one to express love for him as well.

2. Women are shown to be very vital to the group with crafting skills and even fight in battle. Most movies around this time just pretend men did everything and only had one or two women in the cast. Not to mention acknowledging that women have libidos and lust for "the big black one".

3. Art and music is considered respectable and important. Antoninus is teased a bit when first introduced, but Spartacus learns the value of people with talents and requests that he doesn't fight.

4. Homoerotic scenes are present in the film. While it doesn't show the mass orgies that would have happened, the conversation about snails and oysters is extremely taboo for the time and was never included until the 90's.

5. Men express their feelings and emotion. Most films around this time required men to be emotionless (aside from anger) and this film not only features men crying and embracing each other but has a scene where Spartacus is being cradled by Varinia for comfort. Even today men are rarely shown to be this vulnerable and are usually never shot looking up at a woman.

6. This film doesn't try to be religious. A unnecessary and irrelevant voice over was added in the beginning that talks about Christianity but this movie does not focus on religion. Most epics around this time were used to propagate Christianity and this is often why they were given larger budgets. I also love that the T-shaped crosses are period accurate. The common cross associated with Jesus is inaccurate and film makers are always hesitant to stray away from the safe, familiar Western idea of a crucifixion.

7. A downbeat ending. While the ending tries hard to be upbeat and cliche, the film essentially ends with our hero failing at his overall goal and being crucified. That hardly ever happened in classic cinema and it is still uncommon for a protagonist to fail at the end.

8. Blood and violence. Movies around this time simply never showed blood or real life consequences of violence.

9. NO BLACK FACE! Seriously this might be the only epic film from the 50's/60's that actually cast people of color in speaking roles. The fact that Othello, Lawrence of Arabia and Khartoum were all released years after this film makes their use of black/brown face even more despicable. Yeah they are great movies, but it is undeniably racist and embarrassing.

For these reasons and more, Spartacus is my favorite old school epic film. It is not only revolutionary and ahead of it's time, but is just a great tale overall. I applaud Kubrick and Douglas for being pioneers in realistic and honest depictions of men, women and people of color in Hollywood. Something that still gets backlash today.


I can watch the Shinning over and over again. Spartacus was like some cheesy made for TV movie.


Did you see it in widescreen because that makes a difference?


Blood and violence. Movies around this time simply never showed blood or real life consequences of violence.

This is not true, I'm pretty sure Ben Hur had people losing limbs during the sea battle, with bones sticking out. Or another big budget example: Gone with the Wind when Scarlett shoots the Yankee in the face.


It has aged pretty well in that regard. It's more mature than your usual epic. But it does lag compared with similar films and the acting is less showy than like Ben-Hur or Ten Commandments. I like the themes a tad better here but those movies are simply more entertaining and emotionally engaging.


A lot of great points.

1. I LOVE the scene where Spartacus and Varinia meet. He cries out "I am not an animal!" and then she echoes the sentiment, and Spartacus wakes up to a HUGE blind-spot he had a minute ago about who she was and how he was about to victimize her the way his masters victimized him. A GREAT starting point for their romance.

2. I agree, but I don't think the film has a strong female supporting cast. Varinia is the only major role for a woman, although the two rich ladies do have a couple interesting moments. The rest are in the background. That's not a problem with the movie, of course.

5. I'm not sure where you're getting this from. Men expressed their emotions all the time in movies. The Apartment was released in the same year and had lots of emotional expression from Jack Lemmon. Earlier films, too, like Casablanca. Sure, Bogey could be buttoned-down, but he expresses himself plenty in that film. Movies show big displays of emotion all the time, and if the argument is that Spartacus expresses himself where they don't, well, he has plenty of taciturn tough guy scenes as well, so I don't know how much I agree here.

7. I also disagree that the ending tried hard to be upbeat and cliche. I think it gave us the tragedy and sorrow of the ending in all its brutality. I do think the ending has a silver lining in the final moments, but it's hardly upbeat or cliche.

8. Blood maybe, but movies never showed the real life consequences of violence? What?


Olivier playing Othello or an Arab in Khartoum is not "despicable", "racist", or "embarrassing". Woke opinions like those above are actually very deniable.