What Did It Cost To Make Cleopatra?


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Unpacking the intriguing question of what did it cost to make Cleopatra takes us on a journey back to the golden era of Hollywood.

This colossal historical drama released in 1963 is as famous for its budget overruns as for its Hollywood stars.

From the eye-popping set designs to the glittering costumes every detail added to the skyrocketing costs.

So just how much did it actually cost to bring this legendary epoch of history to life on the silver screen?

Let’s take a closer look at the startling figures behind one of the world’s most expensive films ever made.

What Did It Cost To Make Cleopatra

Table of Contents

Cost Of Cleopatra

While the initial budget for the Hollywood movie “Cleopatra” was set at $5 million the actual cost ascended to a staggering $44 million. This total made it one of the most scandalously expensive films ever produced at that time.

Given the inflation rate the Bureau of Labor Statistics equates the production cost to approximately $350 million in 2017 dollars. This puts “Cleopatra” in an elite category of high-budget films alongside others such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and ‘Titanic’ (1997).

Despite the film’s huge budget and eventual status as a box office hit in 1963 its high production cost resulted in financial loss for several years. The main driving forces behind the film were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who even faced a $50 million lawsuit for breach of contract and depreciation of the movie’s commercial value due to their scandalous conduct.

Distributed by 20th Century-Fox “Cleopatra” was a blockbuster that attracted a large number of viewers due to its cast of thousands including notable names like Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowall but faced critical challenges and setbacks during filming.

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Budget Breakdown

Breaking down the film’s lavish budget it’s clear the cost of filming “Cleopatra” was a significant contributor to the overall expenditure. For instance the film faced various red flags during its production which resulted in increasing filming costs.

The damages awarded due to the lawsuit against Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton alone claimed a major chunk of the budget. Outside these the film brought together a diverse range of talent including directors like Joseph L. Mankiewicz and stars like Pamela Brown which also drove up costs.

Beyond that the film’s ambitious screenplay by Ranald MacDougall Sidney Buchman and Mankiewicz as well as its extravagant set designs contributed significantly towards the escalating costs. The exact breakdown of the multi-million dollar budget remains an interesting insight into Hollywood excess and the film business of the early 1960s.

Film Production

The “Cleopatra” film was an epic historical drama based on the life of Queen of the Nile directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It starred Elizabeth Taylor in the title role with supporting roles played by Richard Burton Rex Harrison and Roddy McDowall.

The production of this movie faced immense challenges from sudden changes in directors to constant screenplay revisions. The film’s production started off with an initial budget of $5 million.

However due to various complications the final production cost went up to $31.1 million making it the costliest film of that time surpassing MGM’s ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ which cost $17 million.

  • Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  • Main Cast: Elizabeth Taylor Richard Burton Rex Harrison Roddy McDowall
  • Initial Budget: $5 million
  • Final Production Cost: $31.1 million
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Box Office Success

Despite its substantial production cost “Cleopatra” was a box office hit in 1963. It earned $57.7 million in the United States and Canada alone making it the highest-grossing film of that year.

Nevertheless because of its astronomical production and marketing costs the film initially ran at a loss.

Later on the film received nine nominations at the 36th Academy Awards and won four including Best Art Direction Best Cinematography Best Visual Effects and Best Costume Design.

In today’s currency the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the cost of “Cleopatra” would be equivalent to approximately $350 million.

  • Box Office Collection in the United States and Canada: $57.7 million
  • Earnings in Today’s Terms: $350 million

Awards And Recognition

Despite the challenges the exorbitant budget and the scandalous conduct of the stars ‘Cleopatra’ was acknowledged by the film industry.

At the 36th Academy Awards ‘Cleopatra’ received nine nominations.

The movie won four awards thus showing that the critics did see excellent elements in the costly production.

These awards included “Best Art Direction” “Best Cinematography” “Best Visual Effects” and “Best Costume Design”.

Renowned cinematographer Leon Shamroy was acknowledged for his work proving that the visual aspects of ‘Cleopatra’ met high standards.

Despite its initial loss due to high production and marketing costs “Cleopatra” eventually became a box office hit.

With box office receipts of $57.7 million in the United States and Canada it was the highest-grossing film of 1963.

While the movie initially operated at a loss it showed that a high cost does not always translate into low commercial value.

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Even though the cast bravely weathered the storm of scandalous conduct allegations ‘Cleopatra”s titular role brought Elizabeth Taylor recognition on the global stage.

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