Elizabeth Taylor Wasn't The First A-List Actress To Play Cleopatra

Actress Elizabeth Taylor dominated the big screen in 1963's historical epic "Cleopatra." Her portrayal of one of ancient Egypt's most famous rulers impressed movie audiences. The film itself was a lush, extravagant production that cost a staggering $44 million to make, according to Vanity Fair. As appealing as this cinematic spectacle was, the move's behind-the-scenes drama also fueled the public's interest. Taylor had fallen for her co-star Richard Burton on set, but they were both married to other people at the time, per the Los Angeles Times.

While she became synonymous with the glamorous monarch, Taylor wasn't the first major film star to tackle the part. Before she took on this legendary role, several other top stars tried their hand at playing one of history's most legendary ladies. Claudette Colbert, Vivien Leigh, and Sophia Loren appeared in different versions of the Cleopatra story, ranging from epic dramas to more light-hearted fare.

Claudette Colbert gave strong performance as Cleopatra

Actress Claudette Colbert played the supposedly sultry monarch in the 1934 Cecil B. DeMille epic "Cleopatra." This was her second time teaming up with the famous filmmaker DeMille, and she had earned much acclaim for their earlier effort, "The Sign of the Cross" (1932), according to the Kennedy Center. Colbert played another regal figure, Empress Poppaea, in that film, which was set in ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero.

In "Cleopatra," Colbert had an opportunity to show off both her dramatic and comedic skills (via The New York Times). She handled both aspects of Cleopatra's character with ease as she played off Warren William's Julius Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon's Marc Antony. Her starring role as Cleopatra may have been eclipsed by one of her other films released that same year. Also in 1934, Colbert shone in the classic comedy "It Happened One Night," starring opposite Clark Gable. She played a spoiled heiress and runaway bride in the film, which earned her an Academy Award in 1935, per IMDb.

Vivien Leigh experienced off-screen heartache as Cleopatra

About a decade later, another popular A-lister decided to take the role of Cleopatra. Vivien Leigh had enjoyed tremendous success a few years earlier with the Civil War epic "Gone with the Wind" (1939), per Town and Country magazine. The film brought her an Academy Award win for her portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern belle. Leigh was also a part of film's most famous and scandalous couples, having begun her relationship with actor Laurence Olivier in secret, since they were both wed to others when they met.

Leigh and Olivier divorced their respective partners and married in February 1940. In 1945, she went to work on the film "Caesar and Cleopatra," starring opposite Claude Rains (via IMDb). George Bernard Shaw wrote the script for this lavish, big-budget production. On screen, Leigh sparkled as the legendary Egyptian queen, but she was struggling behind the scenes. She had taken a fall during the making of the film and suffered a miscarriage. After the loss of her and Olivier's child, Leigh fell into a deep depression (via Town and Country magazine). While her performance as Cleopatra didn't earn her any award nominations, Leigh did pick up her second Academy Award win 12 years later for best actress. She earned the honor for her starring role in the 1951 film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Two nights with Sofia Loren as Cleopatra

Italian actress Sophia Loren played up Cleopatra's reputation as a temptress for her portrayal of the famed Egyptian ruler in 1954's "Two Nights with Cleopatra." This comedic film had Loren playing both Cleopatra and a slave girl who sometimes pretended to be the queen so that Cleopatra could go to see her lover Mark Antony, per Rotten Tomatoes. While Cleopatra's away, her stand-in gets involved with one of the queen's guards. The confusion between the real queen and her imposter is played for laughs.

Loren starred in "Two Nights with Cleopatra" early on in her career, performing alongside Alberto Sordi, a well-known comedic film star, in the project (via IMDb). She earned greater recognition for another movie released that same year, "L'oro di Napoli" (The Gold of Naples), which was directed by Vittorio De Sica, according to Britannica. By the 1960s, Loren had become an international film star and worked with such big names as Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, and William Holden. It was an Italian film, however, that earned her an Academy Award. She starred in the 1960 World War II drama "La Ciociara" (Two Women) directed by De Sica, which brought her an Oscar in 1962. Loren received a lifetime achievement award from the academy in 1991.