A full five decades after its debut, Spartacus is no longer a mere movie.
Instead, the strange, flawed, enthralling sword-and-sandal epic long ago entered that thorny realm where unclassifiable cinematic touchstones (Vertigo, Night of the Hunter, Brazil, et al.) reside. Directed by a 32-year-old with only two feature films under his belt, produced by and starring mid-century superstar Kirk Douglas and featuring a galaxy of acting luminaries, the 1960 blockbuster has been exalted, imitated and parodied; honored, derided and dissected; and after all these years, it still achieves what most three-hour, big-budget historical dramas can only dream of: it’s entertaining as hell.
Here, on the anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s death — March 7, 1999, at the age of 70 — LIFE.com presents rare and unpublished photos from the Spartacus set by LIFE’s J.R. Eyerman, who, along with writer David Zeitlin, spent time chronicling behind-the-scenes action on the massive, $12 million production.