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Egor Fedoseev
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The Rise and Fall of Tommy Riley: The Hero of Gladiator 1992

Gladiator 1992: A Review of the Sports Drama Film

Gladiator is a 1992 American film directed by Rowdy Herrington and starring Cuba Gooding Jr., James Marshall, Brian Dennehy, and Robert Loggia. The film tells the story of two teenagers trapped in the world of illegal underground boxing. One is fighting to pay off gambling debts accumulated by his father. The second is fighting for the money to get out of the ghetto. While being exploited by a boxing promoter, the two teens become friends.

In this article, I will review the film's plot, characters, themes, and reception. I will also answer some frequently asked questions about the film.

gladiator 1992

Plot Summary

The film begins with Tommy Riley (James Marshall) and his father moving to Chicago from a "nice place". Tommy's father has a gambling problem and owes a lot of money to some shady people. Tommy tries to fit in at school, but he gets into trouble with some gang members. He also falls in love with Dawn (Cara Buono), the daughter of a diner owner.

One day, Tommy gets into a street fight and attracts the attention of Pappy Jack (Robert Loggia), a local boxing promoter who works for Jimmy Horn (Brian Dennehy), a ruthless and corrupt businessman. Jack offers Tommy a chance to fight in an illegal underground boxing operation, where punches can kill. Tommy agrees, hoping to earn enough money to pay off his father's debts and start a new life.

Tommy meets Abraham "Lincoln" Haines (Cuba Gooding Jr.), another boxer who is fighting to get out of the ghetto. Lincoln becomes Tommy's mentor and friend. They also meet Romano (Jon Seda), a young fighter who is eager to prove himself.

Tommy wins his first fight against Black Death (Tab Baker), a brutal opponent who fights dirty. However, he soon realizes that Horn is not a fair man. He forces Tommy to fight more often than he should, and he cheats him out of his money. He also arranges for Romano to fight against Short Cut (Lance Slaughter), another dirty fighter who blinds Romano with a fluid hidden in his gloves. Romano suffers severe brain damage and ends up in a coma.

Tommy is devastated by Romano's fate and wants to quit fighting. However, Horn threatens him and his father if he does not continue. He also blackmails Dawn into working for him as a waitress at his club.

Meanwhile, Lincoln shows signs of possible brain damage as well. He is told by a doctor that he needs to stop fighting for at least 60 days or else he will suffer permanent damage. However, Horn ignores the doctor's advice and sets up a match between Lincoln and Tommy.

Tommy and Lincoln are reluctant to fight each other, but they have no choice. They enter the ring and exchange blows until they are both exhausted and bruised. They decide to stop fighting and walk away from Horn's operation. However, Horn is furious and orders his men to kill them.

Tommy and Lincoln manage to escape with the help of Jack, who has had enough of Horn's cruelty. They also rescue Dawn from Horn's club. They drive away in Jack's car, leaving Horn behind.

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Tommy Riley

Tommy Riley is the main protagonist of the film. He is a 17-year-old boy who loves boxing but hates violence. He is loyal to his father, even though he disapproves of his gambling habit. He is also kind and compassionate to his friends, especially Lincoln and Romano. He dreams of leaving Chicago and starting over somewhere else.

Abraham "Lincoln" Haines

Abraham "Lincoln" Haines is Tommy's best friend and mentor in the film. He is an 18-year-old boxer who has been fighting since he was 12. He is smart, witty, and charismatic. He calls himself Lincoln because he admires Abraham Lincoln and hopes to free himself from the oppression of the ghetto. He cares deeply for Tommy and tries to protect him from Horn's exploitation.

Jimmy Horn

Jimmy Horn is the main antagonist of the film. He is a greedy and ruthless businessman who runs an illegal underground boxing operation. He exploits young fighters and puts them in dangerous situations for his own profit. He is also violent and cruel to anyone who crosses him or tries to escape from his control. He has no regard for human life or dignity.

Pappy Jack

Pappy Jack is a secondary character in the film. He is a former boxer who works as a scout and trainer for Horn. He is the one who recruits Tommy and Lincoln to fight for Horn. He initially seems to be loyal to Horn, but he later reveals that he hates him and his methods. He helps Tommy and Lincoln escape from Horn's clutches at the end of the film.


Dawn is Tommy's love interest in the film. She is the daughter of a diner owner who befriends Tommy when he moves to Chicago. She is sweet, innocent, and supportive of Tommy's dreams. She also becomes a victim of Horn's blackmail when he forces her to work as a waitress at his club. She is rescued by Tommy and Lincoln at the end of the film.



One of the main themes of the film is friendship. The film shows how Tommy and Lincoln develop a strong bond of friendship through their shared passion for boxing and their common struggle against Horn's oppression. They support each other, teach each other, and protect each other from harm. They also form friendships with other fighters, such as Romano, who they try to help when he is injured.


Another theme of the film is exploitation. The film exposes how Horn exploits young fighters for his own gain, without caring about their health, safety, or future. He pays them little money, makes them fight more often than they should, and cheats them out of their winnings. He also uses threats, violence, and blackmail to keep them under his control. He treats them as disposable commodities rather than human beings.


A third theme of the film is escape. The film portrays how Tommy and Lincoln want to escape from their harsh realities and start anew somewhere else. They see boxing as a way to earn money and freedom, but they soon realize that it is a trap that keeps them in a cycle of violence and poverty. They decide to escape from Horn's operation and pursue their dreams elsewhere.


The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences when it was released in 1992. Some praised the film for its realistic depiction of underground boxing and its social commentary on urban poverty and corruption. Others criticized the film for its clichéd plot, stereotypical characters, and excessive violence.

The film has a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 16 reviews. The consensus reads: "Gladiator has some decent performances, but its hackneyed plot and brutal violence make it hard to watch." The film has a 6.4/10 rating on IMDb based on 8,462 votes. The film has a 46% rating on Metacritic based on 13 reviews. The film has a 3/5 rating on Letterboxd based on 1,787 ratings.

Table: Gladiator 1992 Ratings


Rotten Tomatoes25%





In conclusion, Gladiator 1992 is a sports drama film that tells the story of two teenagers trapped in the world of illegal underground boxing. The film explores themes such as friendship, exploitation, and escape through its plot, characters, and setting. The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences for its realism, social commentary, clichés, stereotypes, and violence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Gladiator 1992 based on a true story?

No, Gladiator 1992 is not based on a true story. It is a fictional story created by screenwriters Djordje Milicevic, Robert Mark Kamen, and Lyle Kessler.

Who played Tommy Riley in Gladiator 1992?

Tommy Riley was played by James Marshall, an American actor who also appeared in films such as Twin Peaks, A Few Good Men, and Alive.

Who played Abraham "Lincoln" Haines in Gladiator 1992?

Abraham "Lincoln" Haines was played by Cuba Gooding Jr., an American actor who won an Academy Award for his role in Jerry Maguire. He also appeared in films such as Boyz n the Hood, As Good as It Gets, and The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

Who played Jimmy Horn in Gladiator 1992?

Jimmy Horn was played by Brian Dennehy, an American actor who won two Tony Awards for his roles in Death of a Salesman and Long Day's Journey into Night. He also appeared in films such as First Blood, Cocoon, and Tommy Boy.

Is there a sequel to Gladiator 1992?

No, there is no sequel to Gladiator 1992. The film ends with Tommy and Lincoln escaping from Horn's operation and driving away with Dawn.


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