Caligula is a 1979 Italian–American erotic biographical drama film directed by Tinto Brass, with additional scenes filmed by Giancarlo Lui and Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. The film concerns the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Gaius Iulius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula. It was based on a screenplay by Gore Vidal, co-financed by Penthousemagazine and produced by Guccione and Franco Rossellini. It stars Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud. It was the first major motion picture to feature both eminent film actors and pornographic scenes. It remains one of the most infamous cult films ever made and remains banned in several countries to this day.
Caligula, the young heir to the throne of the syphilis-ridden, half-mad Emperor Tiberius, thinks he has received a bad omen after a blackbird flies into his room early one morning. Shortly afterward, Macro, the head of the Praetorian Guard, appears to tell the Caligula that Tiberus, his great uncle, demands that he report at once to the Island of Capri, where the Emperor has been residing for a number of years with Nerva, his close friend; Claudius, a dim-witted relative; and Caligula's younger stepbrother Gemellus. Fearing assassination, Caligula is afraid to leave, but his beloved sister and lover Drusilla convinces him to go.
At Capri, Caligula finds that Tiberius has become depraved, showing signs of advanced venereal diseases, and embittered with Rome and politics. Tiberius enjoys watching degrading sex shows, often including children and deformed freaks of nature. Caligula observes with a mixture of fascination and horror. Tensions rise when Tiberius jokingly tries to poison Caligula in front of Gemellus, his favorite. After Nerva commits suicide on the prospect of Caligula's rule, the dying Tiberius is at his mercy. However, Macro halts Caligula's action and commits the deed himself, choking Tiberius and thus hastening Caligula's ascent to the throne.
Caligula triumphantly removes the imperial signet from Tiberius's finger and realizes that Gemellus has witnessed the murder. Tiberius is buried with honors and Caligula is proclaimed the new Emperor; he in turn proclaims Drusilla his equal, to the apparent disgust of the Roman Senate. Afterwards, Drusilla, fearful of Macro's influence, convinces Caligula to get rid of him. Caligula obliges by setting up a mock trial in which Gemellus is intimidated into testifying that Macro alone murdered Tiberius. After Macro is executed in a gruesome public game, Caligula appoints Tiberius's former adviser, Longinus, as his right-hand man while pronouncing the docile Senator Chaerea as the new head of the Praetorian Guard.
Drusilla endeavors to find Caligula a wife amongst the priestesses of the goddess Isis, the cult they secretly practice. Caligula only wants to marry Drusilla, but when she insists that they cannot marry because she is his sister, he marries Caesonia, a priestess and notorious courtesan, but only after she bears him an heir. Despite some reluctance, Drusilla supports their marriage. Meanwhile, despite his popularity with the masses, the Senate dislikes Caligula for what initially seem to be light eccentricities. However, darker aspects of Caligula's personality emerge when he rapes a bride and groom on their wedding day in a minor fit of jealousy and orders Gemellus' execution merely to provoke a reaction from Drusilla.
After discovering that Caesonia is pregnant, Caligula suffers severe fever; Drusilla manages to nurse him back to health. Just as he fully recovers, Caesonia bears him a daughter, Julia Drusilla; Caligula marries Caesonia on the spot, but insists on regarding Julia Drusilla as a boy. During the celebration, Drusilla collapses in Caligula's arms from the same fever he'd suffered. Soon afterwards, Caligula receives another ill omen in the guise of another blackbird. Despite his desperate prayers to Isis, Drusilla dies from her fever. Initially unable to accept her death, Caligula suffers a nervous breakdown and rampages through the palace, destroying a statue of Isis while clutching Drusilla's body.
Now in a deep depression, Caligula walks the Roman streets while disguised as a beggar; he causes a disturbance after watching an amateur performance mocking his relationship with Drusilla. After a brief stay in a city jail, Caligula proclaims himself a god and becomes determined to destroy the senatorial class, which he has come to loathe. His reign becomes a series of humiliations against the foundations of Rome – senators' wives are forced to work in the service of the state as prostitutes, estates are confiscated, the old religion is desecrated, and the army is made to embark on an absurd and hopeless invasion of Great Britain. It is obvious to the senators and the military that Caligula must be assassinated, and Longinus conspires with Chaerea to carry out the deed.
Caligula wanders into his bedroom where a nervous Caesonia awaits him. The blackbird makes a final appearance, but only Caesonia is frightened of it. The next morning, after rehearsing an Egyptian play, Caligula and his family are attacked as they leave the stadium in a coup headed by Chaerea. His wife and daughter are brutally murdered and Chaerea himself stabs Caligula in the stomach. With his final breath, he defiantly whimpers "I live!" As Caligula and his family's bodies are thrown down the stadium steps and their blood is washed off the marble floor, Claudius is proclaimed the new Emperor.
- Malcolm McDowell as Gaius Iulius Caesar Augustus Germanicus/Caligula
- John Gielgud as Nerva
- Peter O'Toole as Emperor Tiberius
- Helen Mirren as Caesonia
- Teresa Ann Savoy as Drusilla
- Paolo Bonacelli as Senator Chaerea
- Guido Mannari as Macro
- Giancarlo Badessi as Claudius
- John Steiner as Longinus
- Bruno Brive as Gemellus
- Anneka Di Lorenzo as Messalina