The plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian "god-King" Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers. As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy. The events are revealed to be a story told by Dilios, the only one of the 300 Spartans to survive the battle.
In 479 BC, one year after the Battle of Thermopylae, Dilios, a hoplite in the Spartan Army, begins his story by depicting the life of Leonidas I from childhood to kingship via Spartan doctrine. Dilios's story continues and Persian messengers arrive at the gates of Sparta demanding "earth and water" as a token of submission to King Xerxes; the Spartans reply by killing and kicking the messengers into a well. Leonidas then visits the Ephors, proposing a strategy to drive back the numerically superior Persians through the Hot Gates; his plan involves building a wall in order to funnel the Persians into a narrow pass between the rocks and the sea. The Ephors consult the Oracle, who decrees that Sparta will not go to war during the Carneia. As Leonidas angrily departs, a messenger from Xerxes appears, rewarding the Ephors for their covert support.
Although the Ephors have denied him permission to mobilize Sparta's army, Leonidas gathers three hundred of his best soldiers in the guise of his personal bodyguard; they are joined along the way by Arcadians. At Thermopylae, they construct the wall made up of stones and slain Persian scouts as mortar, angering the Persian Emissary. Stelios, an elite Spartan soldier, orders him to go back to the Persian lines and warn Xerxes after cutting off his whipping arm. Meanwhile, Leonidas encounters Ephialtes, a deformed Spartan whose parents fled Sparta to spare him certain infanticide. Ephialtes asks to redeem his father's name by joining Leonidas' army, warning him of a secret path the Persians could use to outflank and surround the Spartans. Though sympathetic, Leonidas rejects him since his deformity physically prevents him from holding his shield high enough; potentially compromising the phalanx formation, and Ephialtes is enraged.
The battle begins soon after the Spartans' refusal to lay down their weapons. Using the Hot Gates to their advantage, as well as their superior fighting skills, the Spartans repel wave after wave of the advancing Persian army. During a lull in the battle, Xerxes personally approaches Leonidas to persuade him to surrender, offering him wealth and power in exchange for his allegiance; Leonidas declines and mocks Xerxes for the inferior quality of his fanatical warriors. In response, Xerxes sends in his elite guard, the Immortals, later that night. Despite some Spartans being killed, they heroically defeat the Immortals (with slight help from the Arcadians). On the second day, Xerxes sends in new waves of armies from Asia and other Persian city-states, including war elephants, to crush the Spartans once and for all, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Ephialtes defects to Xerxes to whom he reveals the secret path in exchange for wealth, luxury, and a uniform. The Arcadians retreat upon learning of Ephialtes' betrayal, but the Spartans stay. Leonidas orders an injured but reluctant Dilios to return to Sparta and tell them of what has happened, a "tale of victory".
In Sparta, Queen Gorgo tries to persuade the Spartan Council to send reinforcements to aid the 300. Theron, a corrupt politician, claims that he "owns" the Council and threatens the Queen, who reluctantly submits to his sexual demands in return for his help. When Theron disgraces her in front of the Council, Gorgo kills him out of rage, revealing within his robe a bag of Xerxes' gold. Marking his betrayal, the Council unanimously agrees to send reinforcements. On the third day, the Persians, led by Ephialtes, traverse the secret path, encircling the Spartans. Xerxes' general again demands their surrender. Leonidas seemingly kneels in submission, allowing Stelios to leap over him and kill the general. A furious Xerxes orders his troops to attack. Leonidas rises and throws his spear at Xerxes; barely missing him, the spear cuts across and wounds his face, proving the God-King's mortality. Leonidas and the remaining Spartans fight to the last man until they finally succumb to an arrow barrage.
Dilios, now back at Sparta, concludes his tale before the Council. Inspired by Leonidas' sacrifice, Greece mobilizes. One year later, the Persians face an army of 30,000 free Greeks led by a vanguard of 10,000 Spartans. After one final speech commemorating the 300, Dilios, now head of the Spartan Army, leads them to war, against the Persians across the fields of Plataea.
Producer Gianni Nunnari was not the only person planning a film about the Battle of Thermopylae; director Michael Mann already planned a film of the battle based on the book Gates of Fire. Nunnari discovered Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, which impressed him enough to acquire the film rights. 300 was jointly produced by Nunnari and Mark Canton, and Michael B. Gordon wrote the script. Director Zack Snyder was hired in June 2004 as he had attempted to make a film based on Miller's novel before making his debut with the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Snyder then had screenwriter Kurt Johnstad rewrite Gordon's script for production and Frank Miller was retained as consultant and executive producer. Frank Miller's original graphic novel 300 was inspired by the film The 300 Spartans, which Frank Miller first saw at age 6.
The film is a shot-for-shot adaptation of the comic book, similar to the film adaptation of Sin City. Snyder photocopied panels from the comic book, from which he planned the preceding and succeeding shots. "It was a fun process for me... to have a frame as a goal to get to," he said. Like the comic book, the adaptation also used the character Dilios as a narrator. Snyder used this narrative technique to show the audience that the surreal "Frank Miller world" of 300 was told from a subjective perspective. By using Dilios' gift of storytelling, he was able to introduce fantasy elements into the film, explaining that "Dilios is a guy who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth." Snyder also added the subplot in which Queen Gorgo attempts to rally support for her husband.
Two months of pre-production were required to create hundreds of shields, spears, and swords, some of which were recycled from Troy and Alexander. Creatures were designed by Jordu Schell, and an animatronic wolf and thirteen animatronic horses were created. The actors trained alongside the stuntmen, and even Snyder joined in. Upwards of 600 costumes were created for the film, as well as extensive prosthetics for various characters and the corpses of Persian soldiers. Shaun Smith and Mark Rappaport worked hand in hand with Snyder in pre-production to design the look of the individual characters, and to produce the prosthetic makeup effects, props, weapons and dummy bodies required for the production.
300 entered active production on October 17, 2005, in Montreal, and was shot over the course of sixty days in chronological order with a budget of $60 million. Employing the digital backlot technique, Snyder shot at the now-defunct Icestorm Studios in Montreal using bluescreens. Butler said that while he did not feel constrained by Snyder's direction, fidelity to the comic imposed certain limitations on his performance. Wenham said there were times when Snyder wanted to precisely capture iconic moments from the comic book, and other times when he gave actors freedom "to explore within the world and the confines that had been set." Headey said of her experience with the bluescreens, "It's very odd, and emotionally, there's nothing to connect to apart from another actor." Only one scene, in which horses travel across the countryside, was shot outdoors. The film was an intensely physical production, and Butler pulled an arm tendon and developed foot drop.
Post-production was handled by Montreal's Meteor Studios and Hybride Technologies filled in the bluescreen footage with more than 1,500 visual effects shots. Visual effects supervisor Chris Watts and production designer Jim Bissell created a process dubbed "The Crush," which allowed the Meteor artists to manipulate the colors by increasing the contrast of light and dark. Certain sequences were desaturated and tinted to establish different moods. Ghislain St-Pierre, who led the team of artists, described the effect: "Everything looks realistic, but it has a kind of a gritty illustrative feel." Various computer programs, including Maya, RenderMan and RealFlow, were used to create the "spraying blood." The post-production lasted for a year and was handled by a total of ten special effects companies.
In July 2005, composer Tyler Bates began work on the film, describing the score as having "beautiful themes on the top and large choir," but "tempered with some extreme heaviness." The composer had scored for a test scene that the director wanted to show to Warner Bros. to illustrate the path of the project. Bates said that the score had "a lot of weight and intensity in the low end of the percussion" that Snyder found agreeable to the film. The score was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and features the vocals of Azam Ali. A standard edition and a special edition of the soundtrack containing 25 tracks was released on March 6, 2007, with the special edition containing a 16-page booklet and three two-sided trading cards.
The score has caused some controversy in the film composer community, garnering criticism for its striking similarity to several other recent soundtracks, including James Horner and Gabriel Yared's work for the film Troy. The heaviest borrowings are said to be from Elliot Goldenthal's 1999 score for Titus. "Remember Us," from 300, is identical in parts to the "Finale" from Titus, and "Returns a King" is similar to the cue "Victorius Titus." (see copyright issues.) On August 3, 2007, Warner Bros. Pictures acknowledged in an official statement:
... a number of the music cues for the score of 300 were, without our knowledge or participation, derived from music composed by Academy Award winning composer Elliot Goldenthal for the motion picture Titus. Warner Bros. Pictures has great respect for Elliot, our longtime collaborator, and is pleased to have amicably resolved this matter.
The official 300 website was launched by Warner Bros. in December 2005. The "conceptual art" and Zack Snyder's production blog were the initial attractions of the site. Later, the website added video journals describing production details, including comic-to-screen shots and the creatures of 300. In January 2007, the studio launched a MySpace page for the film. The Art Institutes created a micro-site to promote the film.
At Comic-Con International in July 2006, the 300 panel aired a promotional teaser of the film, which was positively received. Despite stringent security, the trailer was subsequently leaked on the Internet. Warner Bros. released the official trailer for 300 on October 4, 2006, and later on it made its debut on Apple.com where it received considerable exposure. The background music used in the trailers was "Just Like You Imagined" by Nine Inch Nails. A second 300 trailer, which was attached to Apocalypto, was released in theaters on December 8, 2006, and online the day before. On January 22, 2007, an exclusive trailer for the film was broadcast during prime time television. The trailers have been credited with igniting interest in the film and contributing to its box-office success.
In April 2006, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced its intention to make a PlayStation Portable game, 300: March to Glory, based on the film. Collision Studios worked with Warner Bros. to capture the style of the film in the video game, which was released simultaneously with the film in the United States. The National Entertainment Collectibles Association produced a series of action figures based on the film, as well as replicas of weapons and armor.
Warner Bros. promoted 300 by sponsoring the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, who made personal appearances and participated in other promotional activities. The studio also joined with the National Hockey League to produce a 30-second TV spot promoting the film in tandem with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In August 2006, Warner Bros. announced 300's release date as March 16, 2007, but in October the release was moved forward to March 9, 2007. An unfinished cut of 300 was shown at Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival on December 9, 2006. 300 was released on DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and HD DVD on July 31, 2007, in Region 1 territories, in single-disc and two-disc editions. 300 was released in single-disc and steelcase two-disc editions on DVD, BD and HD DVD in Region 2 territories beginning August 2007. On July 21, 2009, Warner Bros. released a new Blu-ray Disc entitled 300: The Complete Experience to coincide with the Blu-ray Disc release of Watchmen. This new Blu-ray Disc is encased in a 40-page Digibook and includes all the extras from the original release as well as some new ones. These features include a Picture-in-Picture feature entitled The Complete 300: A Comprehensive Immersion, which enables the viewer to view the film in three different perspectives. This release also includes a digital copy.
On July 9, 2007, American cable channel TNT bought the rights to broadcast the film from Warner Bros. TNT started airing the film in September 2009. Sources say that the network paid between $17 million and just under $20 million for the broadcasting rights. TNT agreed to a three-year deal instead of the more typical five-year deal.
300 was released in North America on March 9, 2007, in both conventional and IMAX theaters. It grossed $28,106,731 on its opening day and ended its North American opening weekend with $70,885,301, breaking the record held by Ice Age: The Meltdown for the biggest opening weekend in the month of March and for a Spring release. Since then 300's Spring release record was broken by Fast and Furious and 300's March record was broken by Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. 300's opening weekend gross is the 24th highest in box office history, coming slightly below The Lost World: Jurassic Park but higher than Transformers. It was the third biggest opening for an R-rated film ever, behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million) and The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million). The film also set a record for IMAX cinemas with a $3.6 million opening weekend. The film grossed $456,068,181 worldwide.
300 opened two days earlier, on March 7, 2007, in Sparta, and across Greece on March 8. Studio executives were surprised by the showing, which was twice what they had expected. They credited the film's stylized violence, the strong female role of Queen Gorgo which attracted a large number of women, and a MySpace advertising blitz. Producer Mark Canton said, "MySpace had an enormous impact but it has transcended the limitations of the Internet or the graphic novel. Once you make a great movie, word can spread very quickly."
Since its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 14, 2007, in front of 1,700 audience members, 300 has received generally mixed reviews. While it received a standing ovation at the public premiere, it was panned at a press screening hours earlier, where many attendees left during the showing and those who remained booed at the end. Critics are divided on the film. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 60% based 225 reviews, with an average rating of 6.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A simple-minded but visually exciting experience, full of blood, violence, and ready-made movie quotes." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has an average score of 52 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
Some of the most unfavorable reviews came from major American newspapers. A.O. Scott of The New York Times describes 300 as "about as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid," while criticizing its color scheme and suggesting that its plot includes racist undertones; Scott also poked fun at the buffed bodies of the actors portraying the Spartans, declaring that the Persian characters are "pioneers in the art of face-piercing", but that the Spartans had access to "superior health clubs and electrolysis facilities". Kenneth Turan writes in the Los Angeles Times that "unless you love violence as much as a Spartan, Quentin Tarantino or a video-game-playing teenage boy, you will not be endlessly fascinated." Roger Ebert, in his review, gave the film a two-star rating, writing, "300 has one-dimensional caricatures who talk like professional wrestlers plugging their next feud." Some critics employed at Greek newspapers have been particularly critical, such as film critic Robby Eksiel, who said that moviegoers would be dazzled by the "digital action" but irritated by the "pompous interpretations and one-dimensional characters."
Variety's Todd McCarthy describes the film as "visually arresting" although "bombastic" while Kirk Honeycutt, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, praises the "beauty of its topography, colors and forms." Writing in the Chicago Sun Times, Richard Roeper acclaims 300 as "the Citizen Kane of cinematic graphic novels." Empire gave the film 3 out of 5 having a verdict of "Visually stunning, thoroughly belligerent and as shallow as a pygmy's paddling pool, this is a whole heap of style tinged with just a smidgen of substance." 300 was also warmly received by websites focusing on comics and video games. Comic Book Resources' Mark Cronan found the film compelling, leaving him "with a feeling of power, from having been witness to something grand." IGN's Todd Gilchrist acclaimed Zack Snyder as a cinematic visionary and "a possible redeemer of modern moviemaking."
At the MTV Movie Awards 2007, 300 was nominated for Best Movie, Best Performance for Gerard Butler, Best Breakthrough Performance for Lena Headey, Best Villain for Rodrigo Santoro, and Best Fight for Leonidas battling "the Über Immortal", but only won the award for Best Fight. 300 won both the Best Dramatic Film and Best Action Film honors in the 2006–2007 Golden Icon Awards presented by Travolta Family Entertainment. In December 2007, 300 won IGN's Movie of the Year 2007, along with Best Comic Book Adaptation and King Leonidas as Favorite Character. The movie received 10 nominations for the 2008 Saturn Awards, winning the awards for Best Director and Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film. In 2009, National Review magazine ranked 300 number 5 on its 25 Best Conservative Movies of the Last 25 Years list.
Since few records about the actual martial arts used by the Spartans survive aside from accounts of formations and tactics, the fight choreography led by stunt coordinator and fight choreographer Damon Caro, was a synthesis of different weapon arts with Filipino martial arts as the base. This can be seen in the blade work and the signature use of the off hand by Arnis/Kali/Eskrima in the offensive use of the shields. The Spartans' use of the narrow terrain, in those particular circumstances, is a military tactic known as "defeat in detail".
Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History at Cambridge University, advised the filmmakers on the pronunciation of Greek names, and said they "made good use" of his published work on Sparta. He praises the film for its portrayal of "the Spartans' heroic code", and of "the key role played by women in backing up, indeed reinforcing, the male martial code of heroic honour", while expressing reservations about its "'West' (goodies) vs 'East' (baddies) polarization". Cartledge writes that he enjoyed the film, although he found Leonidas' description of the Athenians as "boy lovers" ironic, since the Spartans themselves incorporated institutional pederasty into their educational system.
Ephraim Lytle, assistant professor of Hellenistic History at the University of Toronto, said 300 selectively idealizes Spartan society in a "problematic and disturbing" fashion, as well as portraying the "hundred nations of the Persians" as monsters and non-Spartan Greeks as weak. He suggests that the film's moral universe would have seemed "as bizarre to ancient Greeks as it does to modern historians".
Victor Davis Hanson, National Review columnist and former professor of Classical history at California State University, Fresno, who wrote the foreword to a 2007 re-issue of the graphic novel, said the film demonstrates a specific affinity with the original material of Herodotus in that it captures the martial ethos of ancient Sparta and represents Thermopylae as a "clash of civilizations". He remarks that Simonides, Aeschylus, and Herodotus viewed Thermopylae as a battle against "Eastern centralism and collective serfdom", which opposed "the idea of the free citizen of an autonomous polis". He also said the film portrays the battle in a "surreal" manner, and that the intent was to "entertain and shock first, and instruct second".
Touraj Daryaee, now Baskerville Professor of Iranian History and the Persian World at the University of California, Irvine, criticized the film's use of classical sources, writing:
Some passages from the Classical authors Aeschylus, Diodorus, Herodotus and Plutarch are split over the movie to give it an authentic flavor. Aeschylus becomes a major source when the battle with the "monstrous human herd" of the Persians is narrated in the film. Diodorus' statement about Greek valor to preserve their liberty is inserted in the film, but his mention of Persian valor is omitted. Herodotus' fanciful numbers are used to populate the Persian army, and Plutarch's discussion of Greek women, specifically Spartan women, is inserted wrongly in the dialogue between the "misogynist" Persian ambassador and the Spartan king. Classical sources are certainly used, but exactly in all the wrong places, or quite naively. The Athenians were fighting a sea battle during this.
Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of Encyclopædia Britannica and author of How to Know said the film "is an almost ineffably silly movie. Stills from the film could easily be used to promote Buns of Steel, or AbMaster, or ThighMaster. It's about the romanticizing of the Spartan 'ideal', a process that began even in ancient times, was promoted by the Romans, and has survived over time while less and less resembling the actual historical Sparta."
The director of 300, Zack Snyder, stated in an MTV interview that "the events are 90 percent accurate. It's just in the visualization that it's crazy.... I've shown this movie to world-class historians who have said it's amazing. They can't believe it's as accurate as it is." Nevertheless, he also said the film is "an opera, not a documentary. That's what I say when people say it's historically inaccurate". He was also quoted in a BBC News story as saying that the film is, at its core "a fantasy film". He also describes the film's narrator, Dilios, as "a guy who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth".
In an interview 300 writer Frank Miller said, "The inaccuracies, almost all of them, are intentional. I took those chest plates and leather skirts off of them for a reason. I wanted these guys to move and I wanted 'em to look good. I knocked their helmets off a fair amount, partly so you can recognize who the characters are. Spartans, in full regalia, were almost indistinguishable except at a very close angle. Another liberty I took was, they all had plumes, but I only gave a plume to Leonidas, to make him stand out and identify him as a king. I was looking for more an evocation than a history lesson. The best result I can hope for is that if the movie excites someone, they'll go explore the histories themselves. Because the histories are endlessly fascinating."
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh in a paper entitled "The 300 Movie: Separating Fact from Fiction" notes that the film falsely portrays "the Greco-Persian Wars in binary terms: the democratic, good, rational 'Us' versus the tyrannical, evil and irrational, 'other' of the ever-nebulous (if not exotic) 'Persia'". He highlights three points regarding the contribution of the Achaemenid Empire to the creation of democracy and human rights. "The founder of the Achaemenid Empire, Cyrus the Great, was the world's first world emperor to openly declare and guarantee the sanctity of human rights and individual freedom", "Cyrus was a follower of the teachings of Zoroaster, the founder of one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions", and to put his own words in action "When Cyrus defeated King Nabonidus of Babylon, he officially declared the freedom of the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. This was the first time in history that a world power had guaranteed the survival of the Jewish people, religion, customs and culture."
Before the release of 300, Warner Bros. expressed concerns about the political aspects of the film's theme. Snyder relates that there was "a huge sensitivity about East versus West with the studio." Media speculation about a possible parallel between the Greco-Persian conflict and current events began in an interview with Snyder that was conducted before the Berlin Film Festival. The interviewer remarked that "everyone is sure to be translating this [film] into contemporary politics." Snyder replied that, while he was aware that people would read the film through the lens of current events, no parallels between the film and the modern world were intended.
Outside the current political parallels, some critics have raised more general questions about the film's ideological orientation. The New York Post's Kyle Smith wrote that the film would have pleased "Adolf's boys," and Slate's Dana Stevens compares the film to The Eternal Jew, "as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war." Roger Moore, a critic for the Orlando Sentinel, relates 300 to Susan Sontag's definition of "fascist art." Alleanza Nazionale, an Italian neoconservative political party formed from the collapse of the neo-fascist party MSI, has used imagery from the work within candidate propaganda posters titled: "Defend your values, your civilization, your district".
Newsday critic Gene Seymour, on the other hand, stated that such reactions are misguided, writing that "the movie's just too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing." Snyder himself dismissed ideological readings, suggesting that reviewers who critique "a graphic novel movie about a bunch of guys...stomping the snot out of each other" using words like "'neocon,' 'homophobic,' 'homoerotic' or 'racist'" are "missing the point." Snyder, however, also admitted to fashioning an effeminate villain specifically to play into the homophobia of young straight males. Slovenian critic Slavoj Žižek pointed out that the story represents "a poor, small country (Greece) invaded by the army of a much large[r] state (Persia)," suggesting that the identification of the Spartans with a modern superpower is flawed.
300 writer Frank Miller said: "The Spartans were a paradoxical people. They were the biggest slave owners in Greece. But at the same time, Spartan women had an unusual level of rights. It's a paradox that they were a bunch of people who in many ways were fascist, but they were the bulwark against the fall of democracy. The closest comparison you can draw in terms of our own military today is to think of the red-caped Spartans as being like our special-ops forces. They're these almost superhuman characters with a tremendous warrior ethic, who were unquestionably the best fighters in Greece. I didn't want to render Sparta in overly accurate terms, because ultimately I do want you to root for the Spartans. I couldn't show them being quite as cruel as they were. I made them as cruel as I thought a modern audience could stand."
Ephraim Lytle, assistant professor of Hellenistic history at the University of Toronto, commented: "Ephialtes, who betrays the Greeks, is likewise changed from a local Malian of sound body into a Spartan outcast, a grotesquely disfigured troll who by Spartan custom should have been left exposed as an infant to die. Leonidas points out that his hunched back means Ephialtes cannot lift his shield high enough to fight in the phalanx. This is a transparent defence of Spartan eugenics, and convenient given that infanticide could as easily have been precipitated by an ill-omened birthmark."
Michael M. Chemers, author of "'With Your Shield, or on It': Disability Representation in 300" in the Disability Studies Quarterly, said that the film's portrayal of the hunchback and his story "is not mere ableism: this is anti-disability."
Frank Miller – commenting on areas where he lessened the Spartan cruelty for narrative purposes – said: "I have King Leonidas very gently tell Ephialtes, the hunchback, that they can't use him [as a soldier], because of his deformity. It would be much more classically Spartan if Leonidas laughed and kicked him off the cliff."
From its opening, 300 also attracted controversy over its portrayal of Persians. Officials of the Iranian government denounced the film. Some scenes in the film portray demon-like and other fictional creatures as part of the Persian army, and the fictionalized portrayal of Persian King Xerxes I has been criticized as effeminate. Critics suggested that this was meant to stand in stark contrast to the sheer masculinity of the Spartan army. Steven Rea argued that the film's Persians were a vehicle for an anachronistic cross-section of Western stereotypes of Asian and African cultures.
The film's portrayal of ancient Persians caused a particularly strong reaction in Iran. Various Iranian officials condemned the film. The Iranian Academy of the Arts submitted a formal complaint against the film to UNESCO, labelling it an attack on the historical identity of Iran. The Iranian mission to the U.N. protested the film in a press release, and Iranian embassies protested its screening in France, Thailand, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. The film was banned within Iran as "hurtful American propaganda". Reviewers in the United States and elsewhere "noted the political overtones of the West-against-Iran story line and the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks". With bootleg versions of the film already available in Tehran with the film's international release and news of the film's surprising success at the U.S. box office, it prompted widespread anger in Iran. Azadeh Moaveni of Time reported, "All of Tehran was outraged. Everywhere I went yesterday, the talk vibrated with indignation over the film". Newspapers in Iran featured headlines such as "Hollywood declares war on Iranians" and "300 Against 70 Million" (Iran's population). Ayende-No, an independent Iranian newspaper, said that "[t]he film depicts Iranians as demons, without culture, feeling or humanity, who think of nothing except attacking other nations and killing people". Four Iranian Members of Parliament have called for Muslim countries to ban the film, and a group of Iranian film makers submitted a letter of protest to UNESCO regarding the film's alleged misrepresentation of Iranian history and culture. Iran's cultural advisor to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the film an "American attempt for psychological warfare against Iran".
Moaveni identified two factors which may have contributed to the intensity of Iranian indignation over the film. First, she describes the timing of the film's release, on the eve of Norouz, the Persian New Year, as "inauspicious." Second, Iranians tend to view the era depicted in the film as "a particularly noble page in their history". Moaveni also suggests that "the box office success of 300, compared with the relative flop of Alexander (another spurious period epic dealing with Persians), is cause for considerable alarm, signaling ominous U.S. intentions".
According to The Guardian, Iranian critics of 300, ranging from bloggers to government officials, have described the movie "as a calculated attempt to demonise Iran at a time of intensifying U.S. pressure over the country's nuclear programme". An Iranian government spokesman described the film as "hostile behavior which is the result of cultural and psychological warfare". Moaveni reported that the Iranians she interacted with were "adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran".
Dana Stevens of Slate states, "If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. Since it's a product of the post-ideological, post-Xbox 21st century, 300 will instead be talked about as a technical achievement, the next blip on the increasingly blurry line between movies and video games.
300 has been spoofed in film, television, and other media, and spawned the "This is Sparta!" internet meme. Skits based upon the film have appeared on Saturday Night Live and Robot Chicken, the latter of which mimicked the visual style of 300 in a parody set during the American Revolutionary War, titled "1776". Other parodies include an episode of South Park named "D-Yikes!", and "BOO!" by Mad magazine in its September 2007 issue #481, written by Desmond Devlin and illustrated by Mort Drucker. 20th Century Fox released Meet the Spartans, a spoof directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Universal Pictures was planning a similar parody, titled National Lampoon's 301: The Legend of Awesomest Maximus Wallace Leonidas.
300, particularly its pithy quotations, has been "adopted" by the student body of Michigan State University (whose nickname is the Spartans), with chants of "Spartans, what is your profession?" becoming common at sporting events starting after the film's release, and Michigan State basketball head coach Tom Izzo dressed as Leonidas at one student event. Nate Ebner, a football player with the New England Patriots in the National Football League and formerly with the Ohio State Buckeyes, was nicknamed "Leonidas," after the Greek warrior-king hero of Sparta acted by Gerard Butler in the movie 300, because of his intense workout regimen, and his beard.
In June 2008, producers Mark Canton, Gianni Nunnari and Bernie Goldmann revealed that work had begun on a sequel to 300, 300: Rise of an Empire. Legendary Pictures had announced that Frank Miller started writing the follow-up graphic novel, and Zack Snyder was interested in directing the adaptation, but moved on to develop and direct the Superman reboot Man of Steel. Noam Murro directed instead, while Zack Snyder produced. The film focused on the Athenian admiral, Themistocles, as portrayed by Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton. The sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, was released on March 7, 2014.