The film Cleopatra (1963), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and produced by Walter Wanger, is one of the most expensive films produced ever, at a production cost of $44 million in 1963.
Though Spider-Man 3 produced at a cost of $258 million holds the official record for the most expensive film, some reports suggest that James Cameron’s Avatar, with a speculated cost of $280 million, is the most expensive film ever made.
Inflation pushes up film production costs and dollar value changes over the years based on consumer price index also changes the actual costs. So $44 million spent in 1963 for Cleopatra works out to over $300 million as of September 2010, making it the most expensive film ever produced in the world.
The movie has another dubious record as it was initially estimated to cost only $2 million, but it canned up at $44 million making 20th Century Fox nearly bankrupt. The lead actress Elizabeth Taylor was awarded a record-setting contract of $1 million, which escalated to $7 million (due to production delays), which is equivalent to over $47 million today.
The cost-budgeting of the film perhaps overlooked the cost of recreating elaborate ancient world sets and costumes. Further the enormous complicated sets and props had to be constructed twice initially in London, and then in Rome, escalating the cost of film production further.
Though Cleopatra was a ‘critical failure’, it was the highest grossing film of 1963 hitting $26 million at the box office ($57,777,778 domestic total earnings till today), making another record as ‘the only highest grossing film of the year to run at a loss ever. Cleopatra won four Academy Awards, out of 9 nominations.
Cleopatra has one of the most impressive star casts including Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra), Rex Harrison (Julius Caesar), Richard Burton (Marc Antony), Roddy McDowall (Octavian), Martin Landau (Rufio), Hume Cronyn (Sosigenes), George Cole (Flavius), Carroll O’Connor (Servilius Casca alias Augustus), Andrew Keir (Agrippa), Kenneth Haigh (Brutus), Pamela Brown (The High Priestess), Cesare Danova (Apollodorus), Francesca Annis (Eiras), Richard O’Sullivan (Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra’s younger brother and husband – an incestuous relationship), Gregoire Aslan (Pothinus), and Martin Benson (Ramos).
The film Cleopatra chronicles the struggles of young Cleopatra VII, the last Pharaoh of Egypt and the last ruler of the Ptolemy dynasty of Greek origin that ruled Egypt, to resist the imperialist ambitions of Ancient Rome.