Critics Consensus

Endlessly perverse and indulgent, Caligula throws in hardcore sex every time the plot threatens to get interesting.



Total Count: 30


Audience Score

User Ratings: 11,238
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Movie Info

This lavish big-budget epic was the pinnacle of a uniquely Italian subgenre, the historical hardcore gore/porn extravaganza. The star-studded cast, perhaps lured by the high-profile involvement of producer Bob Guccione and screenwriter Gore Vidal, includes such luminaries as John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, and Helen Mirren. Director Tinto Brass, whose similar treatment of Nazi Germany in Salon Kitty won him the job, did his best with the mammoth enterprise, but numerous production problems and re-edits took their toll on the finished product. When Caligula works best, it works because of Malcolm McDowell, whose crazed portrayal of the title Emperor is the embodiment of villainous corruption. McDowell raises his performance level to match the gaudy spectacle around him, which led to charges of overacting, but there are moments when he is absolutely riveting. Some of the cast doesn't fare as well, as O'Toole makes a particularly unsubtle Tiberius. The sex is graphic and steamy, particularly a feverish lesbian interlude between Penthouse Pets Lori Wagner and Marjorie Thorsen (using the pseudonym "Anneka di Lorenzo"), and the various carnival freaks used as atmosphere imbue the film with a grotesque, Fellini-like opulence. There are many memorable scenes and a magnificent score by Paul Clemente, but the heady brew of historical epic, hardcore sex, and gory violence proved overwhelming to many viewers. Still, Gore Vidal's script is surprisingly accurate, and manages to be entertainingly vulgar while bringing a rather loathsome slice of human history to vivid life, warts and all. The more explicit scenes were directed by Bob Guccione and Giancarlo Lui, causing both Vidal and Brass to remove their names from the credits. ~ Robert Firsching, Rovi


Critic Reviews for Caligula

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (7) | Rotten (23)

Audience Reviews for Caligula

  • Jul 26, 2016
    The Story: Was a tale of rise and fall of a sadistic Roman Ruler, who destroyed everything he gained with his obsession with death and power. The film features cringe-worthy violence/sexual violence, an incestous love, and also a shakespearean Climax (no pun intended) that haunts. Sidenote: First thing first (understand), between the storyline has a lot of little breaks, featuring HARDCORE porn, [(to be fair this was produced by Penthouse) so who is really trespassing here]. Casting: Malcom McDowell - Caligula - Of course he was amazing. McDowell (young especially) is a artist at portraying an evil character, and does it with so much depth. If you see this film for any reason see it for his performance. Helen Mirren - Cæsonia - A character who is cold, and a temptress. Not necessarily evil, but tons of potential for her own (if it wasn't a bio-pic). Certainly a solid choice in casting. Teresa Savoy - Drusilla - Quietly a great effort, and great casting as the sweet and ignorant weakness to Caligula. She doesn't look like much at first, but as the story progresses, its hard not to get a crush on her yourself. The extra's - They were really into their parts. Great featured roles, that everyone seemed to take to heart as those Randy Romans. Cheers! Would I see this film again - Not really - But it did have some very dark scenes, that do haunt a little bit. Not at all a good movie, but not bad either.
    Drew A Super Reviewer
  • Jun 22, 2016
    Cast members in this film are not wearing clothes more than they are. Even at the very beginning of the film there is nudity. Very odd and graphic scenes throughout the film, beginning with full frontal male and female nudity swimming with the Roman emperor played by Peter O'Toole; Caligula anally fisting a groom after his wedding; a lesbian love scene that could be considered a porn scene; and a 10min long Roman orgy that is very pornographic complete with male and female oral and penetrating sex. Really no true story. Script is terrible and this seemed like an excuse to film lots of nudity and sex and pass it off as a true film.
    Patrick W Super Reviewer
  • Sep 28, 2015
    Caligula is a chore to sit through, to the point where I finally started to fast-forward through scenes to get to the story! I queue'd the film because it was notorious and I wanted to find out want the controversy was about. It is reminiscent of Fellini's Satyricon, with a garishly decadent Rome, but Caligula is a surprisingly poor film, given the names attached. If you are interested to see what it is about, I suggest you first check out the Wikipedia article for details on the production issues. Had I known, I might have saved a queue slot.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 17, 2014
    "A Clockwork Orange II: The Empire Got Back"-I mean, "Strikes Back"! It's all unimaginably indulgent sex, violence, vulgarity and blood riches, so I guess it's safe to say that the rehabilitation of Alex DeLarge didn't exactly pay off. Man, I've heard of classy porn, but this, well, probably can't even be considered all that classy, because it is pretty much the beginning and the pinnacle of the modern cinematic movement to paint Rome like the grimy place of sin that it really was. This film is probably more ambitious than it needs to be, and I say that not because porn should be this pricy (Interesting how Peter O'Toole went from "Laurence of Arabia" to "Tiberius of a...", well, you can finish that rhyme yourself), as much as it should have realized that it's pretty much impossible for a heavily dramatic Roman epic to not be at least a little bit interesting when it's co-financed by Penthouse, and written by some guy who said that most people have the potential to be sexually attracted to virtually anything. Man, Gore Vidal was a little crazy, though not quite as crazy as Caligula, and yet, I feel that the craziest dude associated with this film might very well be Malcolm McDowell, because he loved being involved in censorship boundary-pushers so much that he might not so much have been artistically ambitious, as much as he was just a sex addict. If nothing else reflects that, it's his more recent projects which reflect that he may be a little bit mad from syphilis, because he used to be in some good stuff... in addition to this film. No, flawed though it may be, this film is decent, even if it is short on decency, and maybe a little bit of characterization. Momentum out of the gate is momentarily stunted by limitations in immediate development which come to be compensated for by near-rich gradual exposition, and yet, characterization would be so much more meaty if it didn't get to be manufactured in feel, with types, occasionally of an almost cartoonish nature whose lack of humanity leave the intentionally unlikable character aspects to stand as too disconcerting for the convincing performances to completely make up for. Subtlety issues shake a sense of genuineness to characterization, and they do more than just that, because even though there is arguably a little more subtlety to this film than many are saying, when that subtlety lapses, it tumbles, into cheesily trite scripted dialogue and set pieces, and direction which overemphasizes its atmosphere and, of course, its visuals. The controversies surrounding this film could not be more just, as the violence is unnervingly graphic, and the sexual content - which ranges from simply racy to disturbing, if not out-and-out bizarre - is utterly pornographic, trying to carry some artistic weight which falls flat under a sense of trashiness which, honestly, stands firm throughout the film, - at least in its relatively realized and definitive two-and-a-half-hour-long version - devaluing it, even though it can admittedly be respected for being the most unique thing about this film. Beyond that, this is more of the same as far as gritty, dramatic portraits on the corruption of a great power of Rome are concerned, complete with having its formulaic path outstay its welcome, for the film is so excessive that even its structure drags along, into aimlessness, under the weight of filler, if not meandering material which keeps the film from getting to its point in a punctual manner. Momentum is retarded enough on paper, and Tinto Brass' direction makes matters all the worse, with a directorial, not thoughtfulness, but emptiness which isn't so recurrent that the film rarely compels, at least the patient, but frequent enough to dry the atmosphere up and make the problematic length of the drama all the more palpable, until, of all things, dullness sets in. The film is reasonably entertaining on the whole, whether it be through campiness or through genuine effectiveness that guides the final product further than many say it does, but the more the film drags its feet, the harder it is to ignore how questionable such attempts at compensation as abrasive storytelling and graphic content are. The final product fails to transcend underwhelmingness, but I disagree with those who say that glimpses of a rewarding film are lost, because as messy as the film very much so is, it does, in fact, do plenty of things right, at least stylistically... up to a point, that is. As ambitious as the film is, even its technical value has its flaws, whether it be shoddy sound mixing, or filming so grainy that is sometimes bears resemblance to, well, '70s porn (not that I keep up with that... you know, beyond this film), and yet, the technical shortcomings cannot completely overshadow undeniable artistic value, found within a grand, if formulaic score by Bruno Nicolai - under the alias of Paul Clemente - that the messy sound mixing cannot completely betray, and within often dreamy cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti that the flimsy filming cannot completely betray. Visual style is solid, though not as much as the visuals themselves, and by that, I am not so much referring to the disturbing imagery, but rather to art direction by Danilo Donati which restores both the Roman Empire and Caligula's own flamboyant world, not especially impeccably, but nonetheless handsomely, and immersively. If there is an artistic integrity to this stylish smut fest, then it is supported by a decent deal of money that goes into crafting a unique vision of Rome, in all its beauty and all its grime, and even though technical shortcomings stand, entertainment value is anchored by still-solid aesthetic value, just as it thrives on substance, or at least the concept of the substance. Perhaps the idea behind this film, alone, undercuts some potential within its subject matter by placing more focus into the sleaze and corruption of Gaius Iulius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, rather than the politics and scale which films of this type normally focus on, but the truth is that through all of the grime and histrionics is a genuinely compelling dramatic portrait on corruption which holds the potential of being crafted into a rewarding, if not strong film. The intentional and consequential misguidance of the storytellers hold so much of the drama back, yet the final product would not be as intriguing as it ultimately is without bona fide heights in Tinto Brass' direction, which, for all the attention to graphic content that, honestly, one might mostly blame occasional directors Giancarlo Lui and Bob Guccione for, and for all the dry spells, carries an almost captivatingly surrealist style which holds a sense of taste, punctuated by realized moments in dramatic storytelling which absorb unexpected depths in a drama so unsubtle in so many areas. Of course, Brass does not breathe refreshing effectiveness into this film on his own, because if nothing else sustains your investment, it is Malcolm McDowell, who does more than he probably should in his portrayal of a corrupt lead who is rich with charisma and passion, and equally filled with evil, all of which McDowell captures in a layered, emotionally charged and altogether committed performance. Caligula is written a little thinly, and that holds McDowell back a bit, yet McDowell's film-carrying portrayal of the lead is almost revelatory, and decidedly instrumental in making the final product genuinely engaging as a questionably crafted, but ultimately endearing epic. When it comes time to clear away the grime (Ha-ha, that's a rhyme... and that's another one), thin characterization and other shortcomings in subtlety which range from cheesy melodramatics to exploitatively graphic content trash up a bit of artistic momentum, while dramatic momentum goes further retarded by the tropes, dragging and dry spells which secure the final product as underwhelming, yet don't drive it as far from rewarding as many say, for there is enough inspiration to tasteful score work and cinematography, immersive art direction, engrossing subject matter, often effective direction, and a strong, driving performance by Malcolm McDowell to make Tinto Brass' "Caligula" a serviceably compelling study on the vile mind of one of Rome's most corrupt rulers that is by no means for everyone. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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