Russell Crowe in Gladiator

Gladiator and the Representation of Masculinity

Gender Identity

In her analysis of feminist discourse and the media, Liesbet van Zoonen noted masculinity was often defined as “rationality, efficiency, competition, individualism, ruthlessness”. Media producers were influenced by these dominant social values and then reflected the ideology in their texts. The stereotype was so pervasive it seemed “natural”.

This practice essay focuses on how this traditional representation of masculinity continues to appeal to the audience.


Analyse the following film poster in terms of Liesbet van Zoonen’s summary of masculinity.

Gladiator Movie Poster
Gladiator Movie Poster


Winning an impressive five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe, Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” began entertaining audiences back in 2000. The historical drama follows the epic tale of the Roman General, who returns home from battle to find his wife and children have been murdered by the corrupt and duplicitous Emperor. Sold to slavery, the hero if forced to fight as a gladiator in the coliseums. The story is summarised famously by the protagonist: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

This revenge spectacle is full of political intrigue, terrific fight sequences, great costumes and beautiful landscapes, but its representation of masculinity is worthy of closer study.

Points to Consider

The image of the main character is probably the dominant signifier and should be the focus of your analysis. Since van Zoonen argued that masculinity was often represented as competitive and aggressive, you need to comment on the gladiator’s costume, especially the metal armour which would protect the wearer during combat. You should be using media language throughout your response, so you could identify this sign as a dress code.

The sword is most obvious connotation of violent power. Comment on its importance to the representation of the protagonist.

What do the non-verbal codes, such as body language and facial expression, suggest about masculinity?

You should also consider the coliseum background and what the setting suggests about the narrative.

How does the headline “A Hero Will Rise” reinforce the traditional representation of masculinity? You might want to mention Vladimir Propp’s character type and the hero’s sphere of action.

Media Form

In terms of media form, this particular text is a British quadruple crown poster, simply known as a quad. The standard size of 30 x 40 inches and landscape orientation has been a popular format for cinema releases since the 1930s. You will notice there are no block credits and the release date is a clever but vague “Summer 2000 AD”. This is typical of a teaser film poster.

Film Trailer

Try analysing the representation of masculinity in the film trailer to see if it matches the poster’s point of view:

Further Study

David Gauntlett’s fluidity of identity concept neatly summarised how the representation of masculinity was increasingly focused on mental health and emotional intelligence. However, the academic also recognised the media continued to produce more combative representations. It might also be worth looking at the “Gladiator” poster in terms of constructed identity.

We can use Stuart Hall’s reception theory and his decoding positions to develop our understanding of the poster. Since gender identities continue to evolve, how does the social context influence the way gender roles are encoded and received by the audience?

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!