Movie genres tend to be cyclical in nature, going through periods of success, failure, success, failure, and so on. Gladiator briefly brought back the swords and sandals epic that had been dead and buried since the likes of Ben Hur in the fifties (although Alexander saw that the revival died out early on).
It is still the high point of the revival and the benchmark that the other films such as Troy and 300 were compared to. It succeeded due to the expert eye and controlled direction of Ridley Scott, who recreated the vast Roman empire, from victory on the battlefields of Germania to the coliseums of Rome (not the colour contrasts between the cold blues of Germania and the warm yellow and golds of Rome).
It also brought Russell Crowe to the attention of Hollywood, with a commanding, Oscar-winning screen presence as Maximus Decimus Merideus, father of a murdered son, husband of a murdered wife, etc, etc, etc. He also has terrific support from Richard Harris and Oliver Reed in his final screen performance, showing what he was capable of when not pissed!
Crowe is totally believable in the role and can easily deliver lines like "what we do in life, echoes in eternity" and "at my signal, unleash hell", whereas people like Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell failed miserably.
However I must point out that I was not really able to enjoy the film properly and it was all down to one man... Hans Zimmer. I haven't seen Gladiator for many years but it occured to me that Zimmer basically copied the score for this when he scored Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, even at some points note for note. Even Jack Sparrow's theme sounds like Maximus's! It totally brought me out of the movie, bad Zimmer!
If you are interested in seeing Gladiator meets Pirates, watch Master And Commander which is fantastic and features Russell as Lucky Jack.