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Alexander (2004 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byOliver Stone
Screenplay by
Based onAlexander the Great
by Robin Lane Fox
Produced by
CinematographyRodrigo Prieto
Edited by
  • Thomas J. Nordberg
  • Yann Hervé
  • Alex Marquez
Music byVangelis
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 16 November 2004 (2004-11-16) (Hollywood)
  • 24 November 2004 (2004-11-24) (United States)
  • 23 December 2004 (2004-12-23) (Germany/Netherlands)
  • 5 January 2005 (2005-01-05) (France)
  • 14 January 2005 (2005-01-14) (Italy)
Running time
175 minutes[1]
  • Germany
  • France
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • United States[2]
Budget$155 million[3]
Box office$167.3 million[3]

Alexander is a 2004 epic historical drama film based on the life of the ancient Macedonian general and king Alexander the Great.[4] It was co-written and directed by Oliver Stone and starred Colin Farrell. The film's original screenplay was derived in part from the book Alexander the Great, published in 1973 by the University of Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox. After release, while it performed well in Europe, the American critical reaction was negative. It grossed $167 million worldwide against a $155 million budget, thus making it a commercial failure.

Four versions of the film exist, the initial theatrical cut and three home video director's cuts: the "Director's Cut" in 2005, the "Final Cut" in 2007, and the "Ultimate Cut" in 2014. The two earlier DVD versions of Alexander ("director's cut" version and the theatrical version) sold over 3.5 million copies in the United States.[5] Oliver Stone's third version, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2007), sold nearly a million copies and became one of the highest-selling catalog items from Warner Bros (as of 2012).[6]



Around 285 BC, Ptolemy I Soter, basileus and pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt, narrates the life of Alexander.[4] Alexander grows up with his mother Olympias and his tutor Aristotle, where he finds interest in love, honor, music, exploration, poetry and military combat. His relationship with his father, Philip II of Macedon, is destroyed when Philip marries Attalus's niece, Eurydice. Alexander insults Philip after disowning Attalus as his kinsman, which results in Alexander's banishment from Philip's palace.

After Philip is assassinated, Alexander becomes King of Macedonia. Ptolemy mentions Alexander's punitive campaign in which he razes Thebes, also referring to the later burning of Persepolis, then gives an overview of Alexander's west-Persian campaign, including his declaration as the son of Zeus by the Oracle of Amun at Siwa Oasis, his great battle against the Persian Emperor Darius III in the Battle of Gaugamela, and his eight-year campaign across Asia.

Alexander's most private relationships are these with his childhood friend Hephaestion, Bagoas, and later his wife, Roxana. Hephaestion compares Alexander to Achilles, to which Alexander replies that Hephaestion must be his Patroclus (Achilles's lover). When Hephaestion mentions that Patroclus died first, Alexander pledges that, if Hephaestion should die first, he will follow him into the afterlife (as Achilles had done for Patroclus). Hephaestion shows extensive jealousy when Alexander marries Roxana, going so far as to attempt to keep her away from him after Alexander murders Cleitus the Black in India during a drunken rage.

After initial objection from his soldiers, Alexander convinces them to join him in his final and bloodiest battle, the Battle of Hydaspes. He is severely injured with an arrow but survives and is celebrated. Later on, Hephaestion succumbs to typhus carried with him from India, and dies, deeply saddening Alexander. During a symposium in Babylon, Alexander falls unconscious after downing a large bowl of wine. On his deathbed, Bagoas grieves as Alexander's generals begin to split up his kingdom and fight over the ownership of his body.

In 285 BC, Ptolemy admits to his scribe that he, along with all the other officers, had indeed poisoned Alexander just to spare themselves from any future conquests or consequences. However, he has it recorded that Alexander died due to illness compounding his overall weakened condition. He then goes on to end his memoirs with praise to Alexander.

Ptolemy's memoirs of Alexander were eventually burned, lost forever with other scrolls of the Library of Alexandria by the end of the Roman Empire.





A group of 25 Greek lawyers initially threatened to file a lawsuit against both Stone and the Warner Bros film studio for what they claimed was an inaccurate portrayal of history. "We are not saying that we are against gays," said Yannis Varnakos, "but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander". After an advance screening of the film, the lawyers announced that they would not pursue such a course of action.[7]

At the British premiere of the film, Stone blamed "raging fundamentalism in morality" for the film's failure at the US box office.[8] He argued that American critics and audiences had blown the issue of Alexander's sexuality out of proportion.[9] The criticism prompted him to make significant changes to the film for its DVD release, whose cover characterizes them as making it "faster paced, more action-packed".

Historical accuracy


In the making of Alexander, Oliver Stone had consulted the Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox, as well as his colleagues and other British experts.[10] Stone also consulted CUNY Queens College historian John Maxwell O'Brien (in part from his book Alexander the Great: The Invisible Enemy: A Biography) though he remains uncredited in the film.[citation needed]

The movie has attracted both praise as well as criticism from numerous ancient historians. The general opinion has been that while the movie shows remarkable historical accuracy in several aspects, it is above all a dramatization and includes both stylistic changes as well as some inaccuracies, particularly regarding the depiction of Persians and eastern peoples in general.

Historical praise


Particularly praiseworthy has been its depiction of the battle of Gaugamela.[11] Eugene N. Borza, a professor emeritus focusing on Ancient Macedon has said: "The re-enactment of the enormously complex battle of Gaugamela is impressive, not only reproducing several of the main events of the conflict, but indicating how difficult it was for large armies to operate on a desert plain made opaque by dust and chaotic by the clash of arms," and praised its depiction of the Macedonian phalanx.[10] Roel Konijnendijk, a Dutch historian of Ancient Greek warfare, called it, despite some of the minor inaccuracies, "in terms of ancient warfare [...] the most accurate depiction that you will find anywhere."[12]

Eugene N. Borza had also praised the detailed setpieces depicting the Achaemenid Babylon as "spectacular," such as the interior and exterior designs and noting how the trinkets and jewelry were based on actual recent archaeological findings.[10]

The early-Greek-history ethnographer/analyst Angelos Chaniotis, of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study — in summarizing the first three versions of the film as "a dramatisation, [rather than] a documentary" — insists that, despite its imperfections, historians and history students "have a lot to learn" by "studying and reflecting upon" Stone's film. He concludes that, as a motion picture that "captures the Zeitgeist" (spirit of the times) of the "ancient Greek" era, "no film... can rival Oliver Stone's Alexander."[13]

Historical criticism


According to Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Professor of Ancient History at Cardiff University: "Oliver Stone's movie Alexander (2004) displays all the familiar Orientalist notions about the inferiority and picturesqueness of Eastern societies. So much so, indeed, that in terms of its portrayal of East–West relationships, Alexander has to be seen as a stale cultural statement and a worn-out reflection of the continuing Western preoccupation with an imaginary exotic Orient."[14]

Persian history expert Kaveh Farrokh questioned the omission of the burning of Persepolis by Alexander and observed that, in the film, "Greek forces are typically shown as very organised, disciplined, and so on, and what's very disturbing is, when the so-called Persians are shown confronting the Macedonians, you see them turbaned. Turbans are not even a Persian item [...] Their armies are totally disorganized. What is not known is that the Persians actually had uniforms. They marched in discipline [sic], and music was actually used..."[15]

Stone has, in his various commentaries in the film's DVD,[citation needed] defended the most glaring historical issues in regard to Persian and Indian history, by saying he had no resources to portray accurately a multitude of battles at the expense of storytelling. He described in detail explaining how he merged all the major aspects of the Battle of the Granicus and Battle of Issus into the Battle of Gaugamela, as well as heavily simplifying the Battle of the Hydaspes into a straightforward clash, while merging the near-death of Alexander with the siege of Malli. In a taped discussion at the Oxford Union, Stone stated about his presentation of the Battle of Gaugamela: "I've been told by many historians that the battle is as accurate as they've ever seen in any movie, ever, to what they think happened at the battle".[16]



Box office


Alexander was released in 2,445 venues on 24 November 2004 and earned $13.7 million in its opening weekend, ranking sixth in the North American box office and second among the week's new releases.[17] Upon closing on 1 February 2005, the film grossed $34.3 million domestically and $133 million overseas for a worldwide total of $167.3 million.[3] Based on a $155 million production budget, as well as additional marketing costs, the film was a box-office bomb, with projected losses of as much as $71 million.[18][19][20]

Critical reception


On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 16% based on 206 reviews, with an average rating of 4.00/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Even at nearly three hours long, this ponderous, talky, and emotionally distant biopic fails to illuminate Alexander's life."[21] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 40 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[22] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.[23]

One of the principal complaints among American film critics was that Alexander resembled less an action-drama film than a history documentary. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, giving the film two out of four stars, wrote in his review, "[W]e welcome the scenes of battle, pomp and circumstance because at least for a time we are free of the endless narration of Ptolemy the historian."[24]

Faint praise came from Todd McCarthy of Variety who wrote, "Oliver Stone's Alexander is at best an honorable failure, an intelligent and ambitious picture that crucially lacks dramatic flair and emotional involvement. Dry and academic where Troy (2004) was vulgar and willfully ahistorical".[25]

Keith Uhlich of The A.V. Club named Alexander: The Ultimate Cut the tenth-best film of 2014.[26]



The film was nominated in six categories at the Golden Raspberry Awards in 2005: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Colin Farrell), Worst Actress (Angelina Jolie) and Worst Director (Oliver Stone), Worst Supporting Actor (Val Kilmer) and Worst Screenplay, thereby becoming the second-most-nominated potential "Razzie" film of 2004; however, it won no awards.

At the 2004 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, it received nine nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Director (Stone), Worst Actor (Farrell), Worst Supporting Actress (both Jolie and Dawson), Worst Screenplay, Most Intrusive Musical Score, Worst Female Fake Accent (Dawson and Jolie, lumped into one nomination), and Least "Special" Special Effects. Its only wins were for Most Intrusive Musical Score and Worst Female Fake Accent.[27]



Several versions of the film have been released, and these have generally been seen as improvements on the initial release version.[28][29] Critic Peter Sobczynski said "The various expansions and rejiggerings have improved it immeasurably, and what was once a head-scratching mess has reformed into an undeniably fascinating example of epic cinema."[30]

Theatrical cut (2004)


This is the film as it was originally released in theaters, with a running time of 175 minutes. It was released on DVD and is also available on Blu-ray in some territories.

Director's cut (2005)


Stone's director's cut was re-edited before the DVD release later in 2005. Stone removed seventeen minutes of footage and added nine. This shortened the running time from 175 minutes to 167.

Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut (2007)


Stone also made an extended version of Alexander. "I'm doing a third version on DVD, not theatrical", he said, in an interview with Rope of Silicon. "I'm going to do a Cecil B. DeMille three-hour-45-minute thing; I'm going to go all out, put everything I like in the movie. He [Alexander] was a complicated man, it was a complicated story, and it doesn't hurt to make it longer and let people who loved the film [...] see it more and understand it more."

The extended version was released under the title of Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut on 27 February 2007. The two-disc set featured a new introduction by Stone. "Over the last two years," he said, "I have been able to sort out some of the unanswered questions about this highly complicated and passionate monarch – questions I failed to answer dramatically enough. This film represents my complete and last version, as it will contain all the essential footage we shot. I don't know how many film-makers have managed to make three versions of the same film, but I have been fortunate to have the opportunity because of the success of video and DVD sales in the world, and I felt, if I didn't do it now, with the energy and memory I still have for the subject, it would never quite be the same again. For me, this is the complete Alexander, the clearest interpretation I can offer."[31]

The film is restructured into two acts with an intermission. Alexander: Revisited takes a more in-depth look at Alexander's life and his relationships with Olympias, Philip, Hephaestion, Roxana, and Ptolemy. The film has a running time of three hours and 34 minutes (214 minutes, about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut and almost 50 minutes longer than the first director's cut) and is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. Beyond the new introduction with Stone, there are no other extras on the DVD except for a free coupon to the movie 300.[32] The Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases both feature a variety of special features however, including two audio commentaries and a new featurette.[33]

For seven years, it was the only version of the film available on Blu-ray, until the release of the Ultimate Cut, which also includes the Theatrical Cut.

Alexander: The Ultimate Cut (2014)


In November 2012, Stone revealed that he was working on a fourth cut of the film at Warner's request, and that this time around he would remove material, as he felt he had added in too much in the "Final Cut".[34] The version, which is 206 minutes long, premiered on 3 July 2013 at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival[35] and Stone swears that no more versions will follow.[36] 'Alexander: The Ultimate Cut (Tenth Anniversary Edition)' was released in the United States on 3 June 2014.[37]



See also



  1. ^ "Alexander (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 November 2004. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Alexander". American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "Alexander (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. 1 February 2005. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b Carver, Terrell (Spring 2005). "Oliver Stone's Alexander". Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies. 35 (2). Center for the Study of Film & History: 83–84. doi:10.1353/flm.2005.0033. eISSN 1548-9922. ISSN 0360-3695. S2CID 191432461.
  5. ^ Retrieved from Videobusiness.com
  6. ^ "Words from Oliver Stone: Thank you very... - Alexander: Revisited". Facebook. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  7. ^ "Greek lawyers halt Alexander case". BBC News. 3 December 2004. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  8. ^ "Stone blames 'moral fundamentalism' for US box office flop" (Thursday 6 January 2005)
  9. ^ "Stone says Alexander is too complex for 'conventional minds'" (Friday, 10 December 2004)
  10. ^ a b c Bozra, Eugene N. "Movie Commentary: Alexander" (PDF).
  11. ^ "Alexander (opened 24 November 2004) Oliver Stone's Costly History Lesson" Archived 7 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine By Cathy Schultz, PhD in Dayton Daily News, 24 November 2004. (Also in Joliet Herald News, 28 November 2004; Bend Bulletin, 28 November 2004; Providence Journal, 26 November 2004.)
  12. ^ "Ancient Warfare Expert Rates 10 Battle Tactics In Movies And TV How Real Is It?". YouTube.
  13. ^ "Making Alexander Fit for the Twenty-first Century: Oliver Stone's Alexander" in Hellas on Screen: Cinematic Receptions of Ancient Literature, Myth and History (I. Berti and M. García Morillo, editors), Stuttgart: Steiner 2008, 185-201, retrieved 5 February 2020.
  14. ^ Llewellyn-Jones, Lloyd (2017). "The Achaemenid Empire". In Daryaee, Touraj (ed.). King of the Seven Climes: A History of the Ancient Iranian World (3000 BCE - 651 CE). Irvine, CA: UCI Jordan Center for Persian Studies. p. 64. ISBN 978-0692864401.
  15. ^ Esfandiari, Golnaz. "World: Oliver Stone's 'Alexander' Stirs Up Controversy". Radiofreeeurope/Radioliberty. Rferl.org. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  16. ^ "Oliver Stone | Full Q&A | Oxford Union". YouTube.
  17. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 26–28, 2004". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. 30 November 2004. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  18. ^ Waxman, S., 2004. Breaking Ground With a Gay Movie Hero. The New York Times, [internet] 20 November. Available at NYtimes.com. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  19. ^ Bowles, S., 2004. Alas, fortune did not favor 'Alexander'. USA Today, [internet] 28 November. Available at USAtoday.com, Accessed 5 January 2010. Archived at Webcitation.org
  20. ^ Zoë Ettinger (15 June 2020). "20 films no one expected to lose money at the box office". Insider Inc. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  21. ^ "Alexander (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  22. ^ Alexander at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  23. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Alexander" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (23 November 2004). "Alexander". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  25. ^ McCarthy, Todd (21 November 2004). "Alexander". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  26. ^ "2014 Favorites With Keith Uhlich (Part 1)". The Cinephiliacs. 4 January 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  27. ^ "Stinkers Bad Movie Awards - 2004". The Stinkers. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  28. ^ Elley, Derek (18 April 2007). "Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut".
  29. ^ "Alexander: the final, final cut". The Guardian. 9 August 2007.
  30. ^ Sobczynski, Peter. "A Reappraisal of Oliver Stone's "Alexander: The Ultimate Cut" | TV/Streaming | Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com/.
  31. ^ "Oliver Stone's Alexander Gets Another DVD Release The final, final cut is now confirmed..." Archived 10 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine By Brad Brevet (Monday, 18 December 2006)
  32. ^ "Warner Bros. Online: DVD Shop Browsing". Whv.warnerbros.com. Archived from the original on 3 March 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  33. ^ "The Digital Fix: Home Cinema – Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (HD) in September – EXTRAS!!". Homecinema.thedigitalfix.co.uk. 19 August 2007. Archived from the original on 22 July 2010. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  34. ^ Hugh Armitage (8 November 2012). "Oliver Stone plans fourth 'Alexander' cut". Digital Spy.
  35. ^ "Alexander: The Ultimate Cut". Karlovy Vary International Film. Archived from the original on 10 July 2013.
  36. ^ Iain Blair (27 June 2012). "Oliver Stone Insists Latest Cut of 'Alexander' Is the 'Ultimate Version'". Variety.
  37. ^ "10th Anniversary Edition of Oliver Stone's Sweeping Epic "Alexander: The Ultimate Cut" on Blu-ray June 3 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment - Press Releases". WarnerBros.com. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2021.