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Film: Cleopatra

"You know, it's possible, Octavian, that when you die... you will die without ever having been alive."
Mark Antony

The film that nearly killed 20th Century Fox, Cleopatra was released in 1963 and starred Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. It chronicles the tale of Cleopatra, Pharaoh of Egypt, and her long reign over her country. In the beginning, she romances Julius Caesar, and tries to gain her place in the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, the Ides of March happen, and Cleopatra's dreams hit a roadblock. So, she turns her attention to Mark Antony, who eventually falls to the army of Octavian.

If you are looking for information about the actual Cleopatra, see UsefulNotes.Cleopatra VII.


Cleopatra features examples of the following tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: In the second part of the movie, there is hardly a scene where Mark Antony is not drinking. This is Harsher in Hindsight given Richard Burton's problems with alcohol.
  • Always Second Best: Mark Antony gets jealous of Caesar after Caesar's death.
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Ancient Rome
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Different from the average one; nobody is allowed to watch Cleopatra during it.
  • Big Entrance: Rides in on a giant stone sphinx pulled by a hundred slaves.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Octavian.
  • Catchphrase: Caesar's is "For the time being."
  • Cool Old Guy: Caesar, Cicero and Sosigenes.
  • Culture Clash: Rome and Egypt.
  • Cultured Warrior: Caesar.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cleopatra and Caesar to a degree. Their exchanges are therefore highly entertaining. Mark Antony, however, is no match for her.
  • Death by Irony: Caesar is stabbed to death at the base of a monument to Pompey, his former arch-rival.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Phoebus, Cleopatra's blind poet.
  • Epic Fail: Mark Antony's "brilliant" decision to branch into naval warfare at Actium.
  • Epic Movie: One of the biggest. It cost $44 million to make, which, adjusted for inflation, would be $310 million in today's dollars. This figure has only been topped (and even then, just barely) by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End — 44 years later. To put it into perspective: it remains the only movie to be the highest-grossing film of its year and still lose money. It would have had to become the third most successful film of all time just to break even.
  • Forgiveness Requires Death: Very literal. The girl who offered Cleopatra a poisoned drink begs her forgiveness. Cleopatra grants it, then makes her drink it. Also a Moment of Awesome.
    • Cleopatra was very probably genuinely offering her forgiveness, when you think about it. I'm sure the quick, relatively painless death from the poison was a gentler way to go than the one the law would reserve for someone who tried to assassinate the Queen.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Caesar. It wouldn't be a stretch to say Rex Harrison plays him as a Roman Professor Higgins.
  • A God Am I: Discussed and lampshaded. Caesar, Cleopatra, Marc Antony and Octavian all claim divinity and discuss the ramifications of being deified.
  • Going Native: Mark Antony likes "almost all things Greek". It become a big problem when the Romans start taking offense.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress
  • Go Through Me: When Octavian demands Antony's head, Cleopatra states he can either have two or none at all.
  • Historical Beauty Update: By all accounts, the real Cleopatra was rather plain-looking (her allure was in her personality).
  • Historical-Domain Character
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Octavian, perhaps the most successful ruler in Roman history, is portrayed as an effeminate wimp with delusions of grandeur.
  • In the Back: One of the most famous examples in history: Brutus killing Caesar.
  • Kick the Dog: Octavian throwing a spear at Cleopatra's old mentor Sosigenes and killing him.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Cleopatra makes Mark Antony kneel when he asks her for a treaty.
    • "I asked it of Julius Caesar - I demand it of you!"
  • Lonely at the Top: Cleopatra insists Caesar does not have to be that anymore.
  • Love Ruins the Realm
  • May-December Romance: Caesar and Cleopatra.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Cleopatra had a necklace made with only coins of Caesar, which she says she always wears. Mark Antony tears it off.
  • Monumental Damage: Cleopatra is furious when Caesar's troops accidentally burn down the famous Alexandrian Library.
    • This includes the baffling part where Sosigenes refers to various books being burned, such as the manuscripts of Aristotle, and the... Testament of the Hebrew god, which he refers to as the Book of Books? When did a Greek philosopher in Egypt convert to Judaism?
  • Nice Hat: It is Ancient Egypt after all.
  • On One Condition: Octavian is willing to leave the Egyptians alone, but requires a small token of faith that Cleopatra delivers him Antony's head.
  • Oscar Bait: No, duh?
  • Reclining Reigner: Cleopatra and Caesar be argued as the Trope Codifiers.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia
  • Royal Brat: Ptolemy.
  • Say My Name: Cleopatra screams Antony's name when she finds out he married Octavia.
  • Shining City: Rome and Alexandria.
  • Shown Their Work: The film, although no stranger to Hollywood History, is remarkably respectful of Classic sources. Many colourful and dramatic episodes (Cleopatra rolled in a carpet, Caesar killed near Pompey's monument, Mark Antony covering Brutus' body with a cloak) are directly lifted from Suetonius, Plutarch, and other ancient writers. Many historical events, place-names and figures are mentioned in the movie, raising its educational value.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Antony and Cleopatra.
  • The Speechless: Flavius, Caesar's loyal manservant.
  • Stealth Insult: A lot. For example, Cicero quips "Finally I've seen the real extent of Egyptian wealth" (implying that Cleopatra has bribed Roman senators to let her into Rome).
  • Straight for the Commander: Mark Antony attempts this in the final sea battle against Octavian. He sails his ship right at Octavian's flagship because even if he loses the battle, killing Octavian will still win him the war. It fails because Octavian is not actually on his flagship and is instead on another ship away from the fighting.
  • Succession Crisis: Who should take up Caesar's name and power, Mark Antony or Octavian?
  • Tag Team Suicide: Antony and Cleopatra, followed by her maids Iras and Charmian.
  • That Man Is Dead: "There is no one here by the name of Mark Antony... alive".
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Taylor wore 65 different costumes in the film.
  • Villain Protagonist: All three main characters (Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Mark Antony) are portrayed as scheming, power-hungry politicians and brutal warlords, caring nothing for the masses under their rule and seeking only personal gain.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Cleopatra
  • Woman Scorned: Averted. Despite all the public acknowledgements Caesar makes of his relationship to Cleopatra, Calpurnia stays dignified.
    • Played straight with Cleopatra after Mark Antony marries Octavia. She humiliates him thoroughly during an audience when he needs a treaty from her.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask
  • World of Ham
  • World of Snark: Entire scenes consist of sarcastic exchanges. Caesar probably takes the cake as the ultimate Deadpan Snarker, but Cleopatra is not far behind.

The Quiet AmericanCreator/Joseph L MankiewiczSleuth
Cheaper by the DozenCreator/ 20 th Century FoxCocoon
The History of Tom Jones, A FoundlingAcademy AwardHow the West Was Won
CharadeFilms of the 1960sColossus and the Headhunters
The Chronicles of NarniaEpic MovieCloud Atlas
The Agony And The EcstasyCreator/Magnetic VideoThe French Connection

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