Tim Gray writes: June 12 marks the anniversary of the 1963 world premiere of “Cleopatra.” It raises the question: Who starred in the most expensive Hollywood movie ever — Johnny Depp or Elizabeth Taylor?
Depp probably wins, because “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” cost $378 million (or slightly more than $400 million if adjusted for inflation). Runner-up is 2007’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” at $300 million.
But if you’re talking about the most scandalously expensive movie ever, “Cleopatra” is the easy winner.
The 1963 Taylor vehicle had a budget of $5 million when filming began on Sept. 28, 1960. Two years later, the film was not yet finished and Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck said the cost was $35 million, though Variety later estimated that the true figure was closer to $44 million.
At that point, MGM’s “Mutiny on the Bounty” was the most expensive movie ever made, at $17 million, according to Variety. “Cleopatra’s” numbers double that, with a cost that translates to $350 million in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the 21st century, a mega-budget film isn’t so startling. But back in 1963, the “Cleopatra” budget was shocking and the public was fascinated, mostly because of the Taylor-Richard Burton romance.
She had become a tabloid sensation in 1959 when she began dating Eddie Fisher, her friend Debbie Reynolds’ husband. When Taylor started her affair with married man Burton in January of 1962, the studio tried to hush it up. But it was too hot to keep under wraps.
Over the years, Hollywood legend says “Cleopatra” forced Fox to sell a huge chunk of its backlot, which became Century City. Movie lore also says the film was a box office disaster … (read more)