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Cleopatra and the Actresses who have Played her

Updated on July 1, 2017

Depictions of The Egyptian Queen

Cleopatra has captured the imagination of many artists, musicians, authors and film markers. She is the source of much drama, romance and tragedy that few can resist imagining what she was really like and in doing so they put their own spin on her story and her legend.

This page is dedicated to those actresses who over the years have brought her to life in film.

Theda Bara as Ceopatra
Theda Bara as Ceopatra

Theda Bara

1917

One of the earliest film depiction of Cleopatra was made in 1917 and starred Theda Bara as Cleopatra. It also started Fritz Leiber, Sr as Caesar and Thurston Hall as Mark Antony. It was directed by J. Gordon Edwards.

It was based off a combination of H. Rider Haggard's novel, the plays Cleopatre by Emile Moreau and Victorien Sardou and on William Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra.

At the time this film was made it was the most expensive film to be made. It cost the studio $500,000 (approximately $8.3 million in 2009). This was due to the films opulent sets and costumes. However dues to some of the costumes the Hay Movie Codes deemed the film risque.

The film is partially lost as the last known prints were burnt by a fire that happened at Fox Studios and Museum of Modern Art in New York. However a few fragments of the film survived.

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra
Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra

Claudette Colbert

1934

The next major film version of Cleopatra was made in 1934 by Cecil B. DeMille. It starred Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, Warren William as Julius Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon as Marc Antony. Colbert's Cleopatra uses both her smarts and her sultry methods to get want she needs.

The film has a very Art Deco feel to it, as evident by the costumes and sets. Because the Hay Movie Codes were put into to practice just as this film was coming out, DeMille managed to get away with more provocative costumes. The film was nominated for several academy awards including best picture and it won Best Cinematography

Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra
Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra

Vivien Leigh

1945

The 1945 film directed by Gabriel Pascal based on the 1901 play by George Bernard Shaw. It starred Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra and Claude Rains as Caesar. This is the first colorized film of Cleopatra. Unlike most other versions of Cleopatra, this version is a romantic comedy that wasn't meant to be historically accurate in anyway. Leigh's Cleopatra is girlish and coquettish. This version is the only version to have a coming of age aspect to it.

This version didn't do well at the Box office and ended Gabriel Pascal's career. Although the film did poorly it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.

Leigh's Cleopatra

Sophia Loren as Cleopatra
Sophia Loren as Cleopatra

Sophia Loren

1953

In 1953 Italian movie, "Two Nights with Cleopatra" stared Sophia Loren in a double role. One was Cleopatra and the other was a slave girl named Nisca.

In this comedy version Nisca takes the place of Cleoptra and wooed by a guard who thinks Nisca is Cleopatra. Loren's Cleopatra is seductive which Nisca foils. has a The film is regarded as fun and one of the great versions of Cleopatra.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Elizabeth Taylor

1963

The 1963 version of Cleopatra is very highly regarded and is the most popular version of the Egyptian Queen's life. It stared Elizabeth Taylor is her greatest role as Cleopatra. It also stared Rex Harrison as Caesar and Richard Burton as Marc Antony. Taylor's Cleopatra was sophisticated and cool as well as sultry.

This nearly bankrupted Fox studios as it cost $44 million (in 2010 this would be $320 million). It remains the third most costly movie ever produces. The film for all it's lavishness was not received by critic and it was the affair between Taylor and Burton that helped this movie.

At one point the film held the record for most costume changes for a film. Taylor had 65 costume changes in this movie. This record was broken in the 1968 movie "Star" where Julie Andrews had over 125 costume changes. It also won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume and Best Visual Effects and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound Mixing.

Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra

Leonor Varela as Cleopatra
Leonor Varela as Cleopatra

Leonor Varela

1999

The 1999 TV Mini series is based on the book Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George. It stared Leonor Varela as Cleopatra as well as Timothy Dalton as Caesar and Billy Zane as Marc Antony. It was directed by Frank Roddan

Varela's Cleopatra is fiery, ambitious and sometimes very vulnerable. She has great chemistry with Dalton and Zane. Zane and Varela were also engaged for a while after the fell in love of this project. Trevor Jones' score for the version is very well done as well as the sets and costume. Overall it's a very enjoyable telling of Cleopatra.

Leonor Varela's Cleopatra

Leonor Varela's Cleopatra

Monica Bellucci as Cleopatra
Monica Bellucci as Cleopatra

Monica Bellucci

2002

In the 2002 French movie "Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra," Cleopatra is played by Monica Bellucci and the film was directed by Alain Chabat. This movie takes a different approach to the Queen of the Nile. For one this it’s an action/adventure comedy that is fun for all ages. This movie was based on the comic book Asterix et Cleopatre by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo and it was a sequel for the 1999 movie Asterix & Obelix Take On Caesar.

The film is about Cleopatra wanting to build a great palace for Caesar and none of her architects will do it. Getafix from Gaul, a druid, goes to Egypt to help his friend who has been made to build the palace. Asterix and Obelix goes with Getafix on his Journey to Egypt. The movie is both funny is an intelligent and modern way though it loses something in translation.

Monica Bellucci's Cleopatra

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie

(upcoming?)

Angelina Jolie is rumored to play Cleopatra in an upcoming movie about Cleopatra. So far no word on any other casting or crew of any kind though Ang Lee wants to direct. The only thing that is attached to this project is Jolie.

Jolie playing the Egyptian Queen is very polarizing for people. Stacy Schiff author of "Cleopatra: A Life" thinks she is a great choice. Other people think a Women of color should play her while others think that Jolie does not have the Grecian looks that Cleopatra would have had being of Macedonian decent. And there are other people who feel Jolie is too old for the role, as Cleopatra was 18 when she took the throne and 38 when she died.

Personally, I’m no great fan of Jolie as an actress. I think there is probably a better choice for Cleopatra in myriad of actresses. But I do hope she doesn’t use a fake British accent like in Alexander.

A Poll for the Queen of Egypt

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Who do you think makes the best Cleopatra?

See results

Are You a Fan of Cleopatra Movies?

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    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 5 years ago

      I love Cleopatra movies. How unfortunate that the 1917 version with Theda Bara was destroyed. I would love to see it.

    • profile image

      SophieMac10 22 months ago

      All the great actresses have played an egyptian woman at some point, yet they were all white. It is a slap in the face when you pay to see a biopic and find that a Hispanic woman is being portrayed by a white woman such as in the movie A Beautiful Mind. It's one thing to not be historically accurate in a story line, it is another thing when casting is ignorantly color blind.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 10 months ago from London England

      Many of the silent movie era filmstock has been destroyed or lost. We can only hope that some of it emerges again.

    • profile image

      amahsnsnmskjsvs 6 months ago

      Cleopatra should have always been played by a black woman. A white Egyptian? Or white ethiopian? What an oxymoron!

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