One Of Gladiator's Most Famous Shots Was Improvised On The Spot  

Sir Ridley Scott's 2000 historical epic "Gladiator" remains one of the best films the acclaimed filmmaker has ever made. The film is based very, very loosely on the real history of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. It follows a fictional military commander with a badass name, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), and his attempt to gain vengeance on those who wronged him and turned him into a fighter in gladiatorial arenas. 

Even over 20 years later, the film remains a thrilling, epic cinematic experience, with a rousing score by Hans Zimmer, an incredible performance by Russell Crowe, and some of the most iconic and gorgeous shots ever put to screen. Key among these is the end of the film, the image of Maximus touching the field of wheat as he crosses over to the afterlife. It's become such an indelible shot, one so intrinsically connected to the legacy of "Gladiator" that just the very idea of running your hand on a wheat field has become a bit of a meme and a trend online. 

It might be surprising to learn that Russell Crowe is not actually in that shot, which was a rather improvised and spur-of-the-moment idea. Speaking with Deadline, Ridley Scott talked about the shot of the hand being the very last shot of principal photography. According to Scott, Crowe wasn't on location in Italy when they shot that scene, but instead, his double was there, smoking while out in the field. "I go, get out of the field, are you joking? It was mid-summer, dry," Scott recalled. "He says, 'Oh, sorry man.' He walked out [off the field], and did that thing with the hand. I said, 'Stop right there. Get the Steadicam.'" That spur-of-the-moment decision? Movie magic.

'Put out that cigarette and get the Steadicam'

"We followed the hand, no kidding," Scott continued. "It became the catalyst for immortality, or heaven if you like, right there. It was discovered the last day, spontaneously." There's a human touch to the scene, one that could only exist through the vision of someone like Scott. "I consider spontaneity to be essential to what I do, you've always got to be watching. That's not on paper. And so suddenly that becomes the editing room and then the theme happens. The theme is magic, and the hand is magic," he concluded. So, yes. To summarize, Russell Crowe was in Italy when the scene was shot, and it was his double. According to Scott, the actor even teased him that he'd never use the shot. As he explained:

"I said, 'I will.' When he saw the scene, he groaned. I said, 'Too late, It's shot. I got it, mate.' It was, put out that cigarette and get the Steadicam. And don't walk on the wheat."

While this is arguably the most famous shot of the film, it is not the only time Scott decided to just go ahead and shoot something on the spot because he thought it might be cool. While speaking with Howard Stern, Russell Crowe talked about how the director asked him to do an exercise all about looking at a bird and thinking of things. It was not part of the script — which Crowe initially had a lot of strong feelings about — and yet the shot did make it into the film.

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