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Caligula (1979)

Caligola (original title)
Unrated | | Drama, History | 15 February 1980 (USA)
Details the graphic and shocking but undeniably tragic story of Rome's most infamous Caesar, Gaius Germanicus Caligula.


Tinto Brass


Gore Vidal (adapted from an original screenplay by), Masolino D'Amico
635 ( 23)
2 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Malcolm McDowell ... Caligula
Teresa Ann Savoy ... Drusilla
Guido Mannari ... Macro
John Gielgud ... Nerva
Peter O'Toole ... Tiberius
Giancarlo Badessi Giancarlo Badessi ... Claudius
Bruno Brive Bruno Brive ... Gemellus
Adriana Asti ... Ennia
Leopoldo Trieste ... Charicles
Paolo Bonacelli ... Chaerea
John Steiner ... Longinus
Mirella D'Angelo ... Livia (as Mirella Dangelo)
Helen Mirren ... Caesonia
Rick Parets Rick Parets ... Mnester (as Richard Parets)
Paula Mitchell Paula Mitchell ... Subura Singer


The rise and fall of the notorious Roman Emperor Caligula, showing the violent methods that he employs to gain the throne, and the subsequent insanity of his reign. He gives his horse political office and humiliates and executes anyone who even slightly displeases him. He also sleeps with his sister Drusilla, organizes elaborate orgies, and embarks on a fruitless invasion of Britain before meeting an appropriate end. There are various versions of this movie, ranging from the heavily-truncated 90-minute version to the legendary 2-hour-40-minute hardcore version which leaves nothing to the imagination--though the hardcore scenes were inserted later and did not involve the main cast members. Written by Michael Brooke <michael@everyman.demon.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


What would you have done if you had been given absolute power of life and death over everybody else in the whole world? See more »


Drama | History


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


At one point, Peter Firth was considered for the title role. See more »


Caligula squeezes a lemon over a captured slave. Lemons did not reach Europe until the 2nd century, at least 100 years after Caligula's death. See more »


[first lines]
Caligula: I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the night. Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and therefore I am a God.
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Crazy Credits

Due to numerous pending lawsuits and settlements at the time of the film's release, no one is technically fully credited for writing and directing the finished film. See more »

Alternate Versions

In 1984, Franco Rosselini hired the editor Enzo Micarelli to re-edit a longer, pre-release version of the film for release in Italy, which he re-titled "Io, Caligola." This version ran 133 minutes until the censors forced Rossellini to cut it down, first to 87 minutes, then back to 123 minutes. The ten minutes worth of cuts may explain some of the abrupt changes in music during the most explicit scenes. It contains some alternate angles and a few additional bits not found in the better-known 156 minute "uncut" version. As well, some of the music has been replaced with a new score by Renzo Rossellini. This version contains the following differences with the 156 minute version:
  • The entire film is re-dubbed into Italian.
  • The prologue of Caligula and Drusilla in the forest is deleted.
  • The opening credits appear not over the "bleeding eye" logo, but over a still from the scene of Tiberius's funeral. The "Montagues and Capulets" music in the original has been replaced with a new (more epic-sounding) main theme by Renzo Rossellini.
  • The opening scene of Caligula awakening in bed with Drusilla, then being scared by a black bird is in its proper place(it appeared about twenty minutes too late in the "uncut" version). However, it is missing a couple of lines of dialogue ("Shh. You're safe. You're with me." "He's going to kill us. Just the way he killed our father, our mother, and our brothers."). There are a few additional shots when the bird enters the room (not to mention an amusing new sound effect of the bird crowing), and the entire first part of the scene (up until Caligula gets off the bed) is from an alternate angle/take. After the bird is gone, there is additional dialogue between Caligula and Drusilla where they laugh about it (and Drusilla telling Caligula that "it's only a bird" is a different take). Once they're on the bed again, their conversation about Marcellus is gone (causing a jump cut from Caligula fondling her hair to the two of them making out).
  • A new establishing shot (which appears to have been lensed by Franco Rossellini himself) of the island of Capri is inserted between the scene in Caligula's room and the scene of Caligula being taken to the palace. Therefore, the dissolve between the two scenes is deleted (save a few frames at the end of the first scene that are just barely noticable).
  • The scene by Tiberius's pool is altered in several places. When he first appears, Tiberius calls out "Caligula!" not once (like in the 156 minute version), but twice. During Caligula's dance, the shot of the musicians playing by the pool and the closeup of a boy's ass going underwater are both gone, both without regard for the music track. Part of Claudius's laugh is overdubbed by the Italian actor who dubbed his voice, but part of it sounds like Giancarlo Badessi's original. A shot that depicted one of Tiberius's "little fishies" genitals as he kneels is awkwardly cut-it removes the kneeling only, causing a jump cut. Tiberius's dialogue on how he "protects their innocence" is cut, meaning that the scene abruptly cuts from him saying "My little fishies love me" to the boy and the girl standing beside him jumping into the pool. Some redundant dialogue is cut toward the middle of the scene, so Tiberius now says "Heaven help Rome when I'm gone! I'm old. All the others, struck down by fate!", removing the specific references to his remaining choice of heir. The beginning of the shot of Caligula hugging Tiberius is trimmed, so the shot begins with Tiberius patting Caligula on the back.
  • The grotto scene is also greatly changed. The scene of the drunk soldier being tortured with more wine is cut, as is his subsequent execution. The end of the first cutaway in the 3-story sex building is trimmed, removing the shot of a woman's ass coming forward on a swing. The next cutaway, of a man being masturbated by a woman as reflected through a distorting mirror, is trimmed to remove the display of male genitalia. The closeup of the nymph is gone, but she's still visible and her line of dialogue ("Britain, lord") is intact. The two ends of the scene come together well enough that the resulting jump cut is hardly noticeable. The dialogue involving Tiberius asking Caligula whether he prefers "nymphs to satyrs" is deleted. The "More Conviction!" bit is deleted, and as a result, the exchange between Caligula and Tiberius becomes: Tiberius-"Rome is a republic, and you and I are plain citizens." Caligula-"Oh, but they love you, lord." Tiberius-"Oh, no. They fear me, and that is much better." The closeup of a woman rubbing her genitals is gone, as is Caligula's reaction shot. (It's interesting to note that the long shot of the whole building remains intact here, even though it still shows the soldier being tortured). Some dialogue is cut when Tiberius and Caligula are on the bottom floor, so Tiberius's speech becomes "We were frugal, good, disciplined and DIGNIFIED! Oh, yes, I am a true moralist. And stern as any cato. Fate chose me to govern swine, and in my old age, I've become a swineherd." This also eliminates most of the shots of the freaks on display. The long shot of Gemellus coming down the stairs is deleted, and thus, so is Tiberius's line "-the setting sun, and the rising moon..." As Tiberius and Gemellus exit the room, it cuts from Tiberius's line "...unless he is dead before I am!" to the cutaway showing the 3-story sex building. This eliminates a line of dialogue from Tiberius, a long shot of the stairs, and Caligula walking over to the podium where Tiberius stamps documents.
  • The first half of Nerva's suicide is probably the most changed portion of the film. As opposed to the 156 minute version, where Baragli's score filled the soundtrack, the scene is completely without music here. First, the shot of Macro and Ennia coming up to Caligula's room is longer-it shows their shadows against the curtains as they walk towards the entrance. As well, Caligula plays with Ennia's scarf for a few seconds once she is in the room. The beginning of Tiberius's discovery of Nerva's condition is missing-it begins with the long shot of Tiberius saying "Bind his wrists! Bind his wrists!" Once Caligula comes over to find out what the commotion is about, a group of guards run across the room. Tiberius's pleading for Nerva to live is both shortened and at an alternate angle. After Nerva says that he hates his life, Ennia and Macro appear, finding Tiberius and Caligula looking on as Nerva dies. There is an exchange of glances, and then Tiberius tells the two senators looking on to leave (a different angle/take), and Caligula chases out Macro and Ennia. The rest of the scene is unchanged (the shot of Caligula entering the room in the 156 minute version is actually the shot of him coming back in after telling Macro and Ennia to leave).
  • The "morning at Capri" scene only shows the guards sleeping, the men waking up on the floor of the grotto, a naked woman in the grotto lying down, and the servants cleaning the walkway. The cuts interrupt the music and sound effects in this scene as well.
  • Caligula discussing Tiberius's condition begins with Caligula halfway down the stairs.
  • The scene where Caligula takes the ring from Tiberius's finger has different, almost spaghetti western-sounding music.
  • During the coronation, there are a few additional reaction shots during the beginning of Caligula's speech of Macro, the priests, Claudius, Gemellus, and Drusilla listening. However, the part where Caligula sniffs an onion to make himself cry is deleted.
  • The scene where Caligula finds two young guards performing fellatio behind the moonface is reduced to a medium shot of the act, and it goes on for less than two seconds.
  • The scene where Caligula "judges" a land dispute is gone.
  • All closeups of slaves jerking off for Ennia to use as skin cream are gone, but less than two seconds of a medium shot of the act remains. Caligula's urinating is gone. The cuts disrupt the music in this scene.
  • The Temple of Isis has been edited quite a bit, and contains completely different music (also, the previous scene ends early, removing Caligula's line "I wonder what I should wear"). The scene begins with the main shot of the priestesses rather than the closeups found in the 156 minute version. Almost all shots of the orgy in the pool are gone. Drusilla's line "Not your style" immediately cuts to the first closeup of Caesonia. A rotating, overhead shot of the pool is added at the end.
  • The scene where Caligula and Caesonia have sex for the first time is trimmed. It goes from Caligula turning her on her hands and knees to Caesonia's remark "You're very convincing as a priestess, Caesar" (resulting in a jump cut). After Caligula gives his reply, it cuts to the pan away at the end of the scene, only with Caesonia's moan dubbed over it.
  • The killing machine opens not with the closeup of a man being decapitated, as in the 156 minute version, but with the overhead shot of the blades as the machine moved along. The only shot of decapitation retained is that of the second prisoner. Macro's decapitation is completely left to the imagination. It shows people throwing fruit at him, then suddenly, Caligula says his famous "just one neck" comment. Interestingly, one remark from the crowd ("What's it feel like now, Macro?") is left in English. What follows is a scene deleted entirely from the 156 minute version-As Caligula begins to talk to Longinus about Proculus, it suddenly cuts to a long shot of the imperial box, then it shows the guards going over to Proculus's seat and throwing him into the stadium with the killing machine. Proculus kills all the guards on the killing machine until he gets to the top. Once he's there, Caligula salutes him as a Roman hero, sending him a crown of flowers.
  • The wedding scene is trimmed both to pick up the pace, and to make the film less graphic. Caligula asking Proculus if Livia is a virgin is gone, as is him throwing his clothes over her and commenting on how she's lucky to lose her virginity to a descendant of Venus. Caligula's noticing the blood from her genitals, saying that she really was a virgin, and asking Proculus if he is one is all cut, covered by the use of a shot of Livia laying on her side, which was actually used later in the scene in the 156 minute version (causing a jump cut). Caligula does ask Proculus to take off his clothes, but once he gets him on the table, it suddenly cuts to him saying "My blessing to you both", and putting the flower in his ass.
  • The scene where Caligula, Drusilla, and Caesonia make love is almost completely different in tone. All of Bob Guccione's inserts depicting two lesbian models making love are gone, but the shots of the moon face that segue into them are intact. The scene now begins with the ladies-in-waiting sitting down, then cutting to Caligula and Drusilla kissing, then Caligula fondling her breasts, then it cuts to the shot of Caesonia and Drusilla kissing, then panning down. The scene ends there, and it contains an entirely different, and decidedly more ominous music score.
  • The beginning of the scene in Incitatus's stable is missing.
  • The scene where Caligula is ill is simplified-when Caligula asks for Drusilla, she comes, and THEN they have their conversation about how they quarrel. All the dialogue dealing with the conspirators planning for Caligula's death, as well as Caligula making out his will, is gone.
  • Proculus's death is intact up to the point where he is urinated on, that is cut. Caligula tells Longinus to cut off Proculus's genitals, and then he walks away. End of scene.
  • The birth of Julia Drusilla is edited to remove the actual shots of a woman giving birth.
  • Drusilla's death is edited. Instead of Caligula licking her corpse, it shows him licking her feet, and then jump cuts to him coming back up after licking her whole body. The final shot of the scene is completely different-the 156 minute version shows Caligula walking around the palace screaming "NO!". "Io, Caligola" shows a red-tinted scene of him carrying her corpse on the veranda.
  • The scene of Caesonia asking Longinus where Caligula is is deleted here.
  • The scene in the jail begins with Caligula coming down the chute. The scene of the giant doing a coin trick with a woman's vagina is deleted.
  • The imperial bordello scene is almost unrecognizable. The shots of the senators wives looking scared are deleted. Bits and pieces of Guccione's inserts are presented at seemingly random points, all with a nearly completely different music score (the piece from Cinderella is still intact, but it carries over to the next scene).
  • The scene of Caligula walking around the palace at night has two inserts of the moon that are not present in the 156 minute version.
  • The film ends with a still of Incitatus running away, rather than the closeup of Caligula's dead face. The new theme runs over the credits.
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Referenced in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) See more »


(Cinderella) (uncredited)
Written by Sergei Prokofiev
Conducted by Bruno Nicolai
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User Reviews

A masterpiece of costume and actuality
19 November 1999 | by novaeonSee all my reviews

I watched this movie the first time the night-before last.. and watched it again last night and again tonight.

This movie is far from pornography... only a few scenes are hardcore, and only a couple of these are even barely erotic. It does not exactly function as an historical epic, either.

The film quality and lighting would make it appear to date from the 1960s.

The script is mediocre. More drama could be added, however we do have to bear in mind that the Romans followed the school of Stoicism.

The acting (including Malcolm McDowell's) is nothing outstanding, with the exception of Peter O'Toole's Tiberius Caesar. He displays tragedy and lunacy, evoking reactions of disgust, sympathy, pity, and compassion. I found myself much more intrigued by his character and wishing the movie was about his decline from wisdom to near-madness, rather than Caligula. It also caused me to desire to learn more and research the actual life of Tiberius.

The film neither condemns, nor condones. That is probably how it should be.

Where this film succeeds monumentally is the costuming and unabridged realism. This is the first film I've seen to have a character wearing a toga like the one Caligula's sister (a design many Roman women actually wore) wears in the opening scene. The depiction of slaves and the acts of love and brutality are well-done. It is not erotic, it is not horrifying. With the hardcore scenes excised (the version i saw was the complete version), I believe this movie should be shown in every high school World History class. For centuries, Western culture has censored and toned-down representations of its Pagan past. The filmmakers must be applauded for attempting to make an honest epic.

I've become very hard to please when it comes to movies. The last movie I actually liked to a strong degree was Amadeus, which I saw two years ago. Despite its flaws, with its sheer amount of action and atmosphere, I believe this movie deserves a 10.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Italy | USA



Release Date:

15 February 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Caligula See more »


Box Office


$17,500,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (R-rated) | (recut) | (re-release) | (original)

Sound Mix:

Mono (original release)


Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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