David Lean was considered to direct, but declined. Laurence Olivier was then asked to direct, but he had relinquished the directing assignment, as he felt the dual role of actor-director would prove too demanding.

Stanley Kubrick spent $40,000 on the over-ten-acre gladiator camp set. On the side of the set that bordered the freeway, a 125-foot asbestos curtain was erected in order to film the burning of the camp, which was organized with collaboration from the Los Angeles Fire and Police Departments. Studio press materials state that 5,000 uniforms and seven tons of armor were borrowed from Italian museums, and that every one of Hollywood's 187 stunt men was trained in the gladiatorial rituals of combat to the death. Modern sources note that production utilized approximately 10,500 people.

Stanley Kubrick was brought in as director after Kirk Douglas had a major falling out with the original director, Anthony Mann. According to Peter Ustinov, the salt mines sequence was the only footage shot by Mann.

Stanley Kubrick was not given control of the script, which he felt was full of stupid moralizing. After Spartacus, Kubrick always kept full control over all aspects of his films.

Hedda Hopper and John Wayne, both leaders in Hollywood's powerful right-wing element, publicly condemned the film as "Marxist propaganda" prior to its release. This was partly because the movie marked the first time screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had been credited under his own name (as opposed to a "Front," or a pseudonym) since he had been blacklisted for his membership in the Communist Party USA a decade earlier.

Kirk Douglas had an unhappy time for most of the production. After a major falling out with original director Anthony Mann he asked 'Stanley Kubrick' to direct. However, he had an equally difficult time working with Kubrick. Douglas has often said he regretted having Mann fired from the picture and when he was offered The Heroes of Telemark he agreed to take that role on condition that Anthony Mann be hired as director.

Kirk Douglas wanted to play the titular hero Ben Hur, but the film's director William Wyler wanted Charlton Heston to play the role. Douglas was then offered the antagonist role of Messala, which was eventually given to Stephen Boyd, but refused to play second banana. In the later years, Douglas admitted that he made this film as to show up Wyler and his company of him making a Roman epic that could matched Ben-Hur. He once said, "That was what spurred me to do it in a childish way, the 'I'll show them' sort of thing."

Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov all made rewrites to the script to improve their characters' role. Some were kept in the film, but most were scrapped, to the consternation of the actors who constantly jostled with each other throughout the film.

Kirk Douglas, a passionate Zionist, wanted the history depicted to parallel the story of the Jewish people and clashed with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was more interested in making the film a comment on modern-day politics and the Cold War.

Kirk Douglas, as co-producer of the film (through his company, Bryna Productions), insisted on hiring Hollywood Ten blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to adapt the film. Douglas also hired blacklisted character actor Peter Brocco to play a supporting role.

Laurence Olivier, while researching on the Romans for his role, learnt that the Romans rode without a saddle, so he followed likewise and rode saddleless in his horseback scenes. This proved a great hindrance, as there was no saddle to keep him steady while the horse was in even the slightest motion, and he kept wobbling throughout his horseback scenes. Eventually Kubrick forced Olivier to film his horseback scenes on a ladder.

Ingrid Bergman, Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli and Jean Simmons rejected the role of Varinia. Sabine Bethmann was then cast, but when Stanley Kubrick arrived he fired her and re-offered the part to Simmons, who took it.

Charles Laughton threatened to sue Kirk Douglas many times during filming. These threats never came to fruition, and Douglas felt Laughton was simply being a prima donna.

Tony Curtis split his Achilles' tendon while playing tennis with Kirk Douglas and was placed in a cast from heel to knee. His scenes were then delayed until his leg healed.

A number of scenes featuring Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton were rewritten by Ustinov after Laughton rejected the original script.

According to producer James B. Harris, Stanley Kubrick would repeatedly see Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Laurence Olivier seemingly whispering to each other. Afraid they were gossiping about him, Kubrick leaned in to hear what they were saying and each was just reading the script aloud again and again to themselves.

Although some reviews noted the story's unreliable correlation to history, many of the film's characters were derived from real figures, including Spartacus (d. 71 B.C.), Marcus Licinius Crassus (d. 53 B.C.) and Caius Sempronius Gracchus (d. 121 B.C.). As accurately depicted in the film, Spartacus was a Thracian slave who broke out of a Capuan gladiators' school to lead a revolt that was eventually suppressed by Crassus, who then crucified his captives by the hundreds. Spartacus was killed in battle - not, as stated in the film, captured and then crucified - after which Crassus ruled Rome in a triumvirate with Pompey and Gaius Julius Caesar. Gracchus lived decades earlier, and helped organize a social reform movement that lasted only a few years before its reforms were repealed. He was killed in a series of riots protesting the repeals. General Crassus was reported to have been put to death by the Parthians after losing the battle of Carrhae, by being forced to drink a goblet of molten gold, symbolic of his great wealth.

Cinematographer Russell Metty walked off the set, complaining that Stanley Kubrick, was not letting him do his job. Metty was used to directors allowing him to call his own shots little oversight, while Kubrick was a professional photographer who had shot some of his previous films by himself. Subsequently, Kubrick did the majority of the cinematography work. Metty complained about this up until the release of the film and even, at one point, asked to have his name removed from the credits. However, because his name was in the credits, when the film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, it was given to Metty, although he actually didn't shoot most of it.

Contrary to what the book and film portray, the historical Spartacus was born free in Thrace (a region nowadays divided among modern-day Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey) and may have served in the Thracian army or even the Roman army in Macedonia (Rome often impressed soldiers of armies it had defeated into its own army). It is thought that he was either captured in battle or deserted the army and later captured (depends on what side he fought on) and then sold into slavery.

Draba, played by Woody Strode, is killed in the ring after attacking one of the senators. His body is hung upside down in the gladiators' quarters as a warning. Originally this was going to be a replica of Strode, but when the effect wasn't satisfactory, he himself hung upside-down, ropes tied around his ankles. As the gladiators slowly file past his dangling body, Strode doesn't flinch or twitch. According to his son Kalai Strode, the unused replica hung inside the entrance to Universal Studios' prop room for several years.