Ridley Scott's Napoleon - Release Date, Cast, Plot, Trailer, And More Info

Movies about the infamous French military commander Napoleon Bonaparte have always been massive undertakings. After all, the wars and battles he unleashed were some of the biggest and deadliest in European military history. You can't exactly be frugal when adapting these battles to the big screen, and since they're such a significant part of Bonaparte's legacy, you shouldn't even think of skipping them. This is partially why Stanley Kubrick's biopic of the commander wound up in development hell and never found its way out during his lifetime.

However, it seems Ridley Scott has finally done what was previously thought to be nearly impossible: He has directed a biographical action epic based on Bonaparte's life, simply titled "Napoleon," and it is coming out later this year. Starring Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix as the commander, it marks the actor's first collaboration with Scott since their acclaimed team-up on 2000's "Gladiator." While Phoenix isn't expected to return in Scott's developing "Gladiator" sequel for obvious character-related reasons, it's more than likely that he'll be in some serious awards conversations once again for "Napoleon." That's seemingly all but ensured, too, given its release date.

When does Napoleon premiere?

"Napoleon" is now officially scheduled to release in theaters on November 22, 2023. Not only is this a coveted Thanksgiving weekend slot, but it also is a prime release target for prospective awards contenders. Given Ridley Scott and Joaquin Phoenix's prestigious reputations, along with the presumably massive scope of the film, it's no wonder its distributors are hoping to win big at the Oscars.

Speaking of its distributors, they're a combination of companies that is sure to shake up both the theatrical and streaming industries. "Napoleon" will be distributed by both Apple Original Films and Sony Pictures as part of a one-off deal. Sony is expected to handle the bulk of the film's theatrical run, while Apple will have streaming exclusivity through Apple TV+.

If this plan works out, then Apple could establish itself as the streamer to beat this upcoming season. If you may recall, they will also help distribute and stream Martin Scorsese's Cannes-bound "Killers of the Flower Moon," of which they'll be teaming up with Paramount Pictures for theatrical distribution. Sure, the concept of a streaming platform having more than one major contender isn't new — Netflix is familiar with the phenomenon thanks to lineups like their 2020 and 2022 nominations. However, it'll be interesting to see play out nonetheless.

What are the plot details of Napoleon?

Of course, there is more to Bonaparte's story than just the wars he waged. His relationship with his wife Joséphine was also the subject of intense speculation and fascination. According to the official "Napoleon" synopsis, this romance will be the focal point of the film:

"The film is an original and personal look at Napoleon's origins and his swift, ruthless climb to emperor, viewed through the prism of his addictive and often volatile relationship with his wife and one true love, Josephine [...]. The film captures Napoleon's famous battles, relentless ambition and astounding strategic mind as an extraordinary military leader and war visionary."

We know from a recent feature story in Empire that the movie will follow Napoleon's marriage through to an emotional divorce, and try its best to pin down what Joaquin Phoenix called the pair's "mercurial, strange" relationship. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has watched Ridley Scott in action over the course of his career. Even if he's a go-for-broke storyteller, he's also kind of a big sap. Watch any of his movies, such as the aforementioned "Gladiator" or "Thelma & Louise," and you'll see how much he focuses on developing both platonic and especially romantic character relationships.

Who is in the cast of Napoleon?

As for who will play Napoleon's one true love, that would be Vanessa Kirby. While her last foray into awards season fare, "The Son," was met with mixed reviews, she has nevertheless proven herself to be a great dramatic actor. It'll be interesting to see her chemistry with Phoenix; their dynamic could make or break "Napoleon," although we have faith in the power of Ridley Scott.

Tahar Rahim ("A Prophet"), Ben Miles ("The Crown"), Youssef Kerkour ("House of Gucci"), Phil Cornwell ("Get Fresh"), Paul Rhys ("A Discovery of Witches"), John Hollingworth ("1917"), Edouard Philipponnat ("House of Gucci"), Ian McNeice ("Doctor Who"), and Gavin Spokes ("House of The Dragon") also star in the film as various politicians, leaders, and military men. Ludivine Sagnier ("Lupin") is set to play a socialite with ties to Napoleon, while Catherine Walker (also "House of Gucci") will be Marie Antoinette. Matthew Needham ("Sanditon") is set to play Napoleon's brother, Lucien, per Vanity Fair.

Who is the director of Napoleon?

As mentioned, Ridley Scott is the mastermind behind "Napoleon." The ambitious and influential filmmaker is now in his 80s, but shows no signs of slowing down, with a "Gladiator" sequel on the way in addition to "Napoleon." Scott has had this movie in the works since 2020, but originally named it "Kitbag" after the saying "There is a general's staff hidden in every soldier's kitbag." Scott later changed the name to the more to-the-point "Napoleon."

Phoenix recently revealed that "Napoleon" will be Scott's impressionistic take on the story of Bonaparte, telling Empire: "If you see this film, it's this experience told through Ridley's eyes. It's just such a complex world...What we were after was something that would capture the feeling of this man." Still, Scott is fantastic at capturing the feeling of a historical figure, as he's already demonstrated with movies like "Gladiator," which is based in part on the story of Marcus Nonius Macrinus.

If you're new to Scott's work, there's pretty much no bad entry point with which to get acquainted with his filmography. His films are wide-ranging and wildly entertaining, from the sci-fi classic "Blade Runner" to the aforementioned road movie "Thelma & Louise" to his crime biopic "American Gangster." "Alien," "Black Hawk Down," "The Martian," and "The Last Duel" are other noteworthy picks, while I've always been a fan of the underrated "Matchstick Men."

Who are the writers and producers on Napoleon?

The behind-the-scenes crew is as intriguing as the cast, to say the least. "Napoleon" was written by David Scarpa, who previously wrote Scott's "All the Money in the World," the 2017 biographical flick that famously replaced actor Kevin Spacey after sexual misconduct allegations against him came to light, reshooting his parts with Christopher Plummer in the role. 

Frequent Scott collaborators Mark Huffam ("The Martian," "Prometheus") and Kevin J. Walsh ("House of Gucci," "The Last Duel") produced the film alongside Scott himself, with Collider also listing Phoenix as a producer. Michael Pruss, Raymond Kirk, and Aidan Elliott are set to executive produce. Meanwhile, Scott's longtime trusted director of photography Dariusz Wolski, who's worked with him nine times over the past decade-plus, served as the cinematographer. Claire Simpson and Sam Restivo, who also frequently work with Scott, are on board as editors.

Though it looks like the majority of the crew has worked with Scott several times before, "Napoleon" marks his first time working with composer Martin Phipps. Phipps is a seven-time Grammy-nominated composer who's worked on projects like "Black Mirror" and "The Crown." He has heaps of experience scoring historical dramas, so I'm interested to see how his sound gels with Scott's version of Napoleon's story.

Is Napoleon an original script or based on a true story?

Speaking of which, how closely should we expect "Napoleon" to hew to history? The film's first trailer (below) includes key moments from his and Josephine's lives – including major battles, their wedding, his ascension to Emperor, and the French Revolution. That being said, it sounds like the film only adheres to history to a point. Phoenix and Kirby spoke at length to Empire about a pivotal "divorce" scene between the pair, into which the actors incorporated a surprising slap that wasn't in the historical records. Still, the script itself apparently pulls directly from accounts of the pair's marriage. "We were using the real words from their divorce in the church," Kirby told the outlet.

"If you want to really understand Napoleon, then you should probably do your own studying and reading," Phoenix explained, noting that the movie is meant to represent Scott's impression of "the feeling of this man" rather than objective truth. While the movie isn't based on any one text about Napoleon's life, Scott did tell Deadline that it will feature six different key battles from the politician and military leader's life.

Has Napoleon released a trailer?

The trailer for "Napoleon" dropped in July, and frankly, it makes a better case for this movie in under 3 minutes than any synopsis or interview has so far. The film looks fantastic: its visuals are gorgeous, its performances intriguing, and its scale seems pretty massive.

The trailer starts in France in 1793, when the revolution was in full swing and heads were quite literally rolling. From there, we see glimpses of Napoleon's victories on the battlefield, and these are impressive scenes with hundreds of extras, live horses, and at one point, an exploding pyramid. We also get a first look at his introduction to Josephine, which seems less like a meet-cute and more like a psychological game. He explains who he is after she asks him about his "costume," then asks him if he's just changed the course of her life. It might not be love at first sight, but it's certainly intrigue at first sight. You can watch the full "Napoleon" trailer above.

What is Napoleon rated?

The MPA has given "Napoleon" an R rating for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and brief language. This shouldn't be too surprising given how much violence and scandal plagued Napoleon and Josephine's real lives – and how rarely Scott makes movies that don't earn an R rating. His last fairly family-friendly film was the Matt Damon sci-fi drama "The Martian," which earned a PG-13 back in 2015.

"Napoleon" will charge into theaters on November 22, 2023. Its streaming release date on Apple TV+ has yet to be announced, though it will likely arrive on the platform by the end of the year.