1. Adjusted for inflation, Cleopatra is one of the most expensive movies ever made. Originally the film had a modest budget of $2 million, but it eventually ballooned to an estimated $44 million — that’s the equivalent of $334 million in 2013.
2. The film is probably best remembered for the affair between Elizabeth and Richard Burton, but it was not where the two first meet. They first met in 1953, and she reportedly found him to be “vulgar.”
3. The movie was orignally intended to be two movies, Cesar and Cleopatra followed by Antony and Cleopatra. The film was cut down into one because the studio wanted to capitalize on the publicity of the Taylor-Burton affair.
4. Elizabeth Taylor was the first actor ever to be paid $1 million for a film, which was then an unheard-of sum.
She ultimately made $7 million (equivalent to about $51 million in 2013), however, because of a stipulation in her contract that guaranteed her $50,000 a week if production ran over 16 weeks (which it did), plus 10% of the film’s gross.
5. Before the role was offered to Elizabeth, actresses who were considered included Sophia Loren, Joan Collins, and Dorothy Dandridge.
6. Early into filming, Elizabeth almost died of pneumonia; a tracheotomy had to be performed in order to save her life. Production had to then be moved from London to Rome, as the English weather did not help with her recovery.
7. To keep Elizabeth happy, 20th Century Fox regularly had chili from the Beverly Hills restaurant Chasen’s air-freighted to Rome for her.
8. The film was a massive undertaking: It required over 26,000 costumes and 79 sets. Reportedly, the construction of the large sets caused a shortage of building materials in Italy.
9. Elizabeth had 65 costume changes, a then-record for a movie.
The budget for her costumes alone was $194,800, which would be equivalent to almost $1,500,000 in 2013.
10. The spectacular scene of Cleopatra’s entry into Rome, which required thousands of extras, had to be reshot because an extra could be seen on camera selling gelato.
11. Elizabeth was barred from entering Egypt to complete location shots because she was Jewish.
Elizabeth had converted to Judaism in 1959, shortly before her marriage to Eddie Fisher.
12. The movie was very influential in terms of style; it popularized snake bracelets, geometric haircuts, one-shouldered gowns, and the “Cleopatra Eye” makeup trend.
13. An error made by 20th Century Fox caused Roddy McDowall a missed opportunity for an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, for his role as Caesar Augustus Octavian.
The studio published an open letter in the trades, apologizing to Roddy:
“We feel that it is important that the industry realize that your electric performance as Octavian in ‘Cleopatra,’ which was unanimously singled out by the critics as one of the best supporting performances by an actor this year, is not eligible for an Academy Award nomination in that category … due to a regrettable error on the part of 20th Century-Fox.”
14. Even though Cleopatra was the highest-grossing movie of 1963, its huge budget made it a box-office bomb.
The film did eventually make all its money back, but it took several years.