• Brian Helgeland’s canceled
    movie would have been a political thriller with elements of assassination and romance.
  • Hollywood has struggled to produce a successful
    film since the costly 1963 version starring Elizabeth Taylor.
  • Various directors and stars have been attached to different
    movie projects, but the fate of Helgeland’s script remains uncertain.

Screenwriter Brian Helgeland reveals plot details for his canceled Cleopatra movie. The story of the Egyptian ruler has been adapted to the screen countless times, most famously (or infamously) in the 1963 Cleopatra film starring Elizabeth Taylor, which experienced a troubled production and lost the studio money. Helgeland, who won an Oscar for 1998’s L.A. Confidential, started writing a new Cleopatra script around 2011 with Angelina Jolie set to play the Egyptian queen and David Fincher attached as director, though the project never got off the ground.

During a recent interview with Inverse, Helgeland opened up about his canceled Cleopatra movie and revealed some intriguing plot details in the process. The screenwriter says it had elements of a political thriller with assassinations and sex,” but was also “an epic that’s divided between her love affairs with Caesar and Marc Antony.” Helgeland went on to explain how his script incorporated a historically accurate moment involving Cleopatra and Julius Caesar’s assassination. Read his full comments below:

I was the very first writer on
when it was being developed for Angelina Jolie to star in, which was almost made. I don’t have anything to do with the current version unless they call me and want to use my draft.

It had elements of a political thriller with assassinations and sex, but it’s an epic that’s divided between her love affairs with Caesar and Marc Antony. Lots of true events surprised me when I was writing it. For example, the day Caesar was assassinated — the Ides of March and all that stuff — she was in Rome. They were leaving for Egypt, and the reason why they had to kill him at that time was because he was headed out of town with her. That’s historically true and featured in the script. She writes Marc Antony’s speech — “friends, Romans, countrymen” — because he doesn’t know what to say, but she tells him what to say. It’s sort of her way of saying “fuck you” to those guys because she’s smart enough and he’s not. I have no idea if that script is being used, but I’ll be very happy if it is.

Every Cleopatra Movie In Development

Gal Gadot sitting on the throne as Cleopatra

For years, Hollywood has struggled to get a new Cleopatra film off the ground after the 1963 movie went so much over budget that it almost financially ruined 20th Century Fox. However, several Cleopatra movies have entered development in recent years, including Helgeland’s with Jolie and Fincher attached. Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins was also developing a Cleopatra movie with Gal Gadot set to star, though the director was replaced by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s Kari Skogland. Ever since, the project has been stuck in development hell, even switching studios from Universal to Paramount.


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The upcoming Cleopatra biopic will star Gal Gadot, whose casting caused controversy and accusations of “whitewashing,” which is harmfully erroneous.

Dune director Denis Villeneuve is also developing a Cleopatra movie. It’s long been an aspiration of the Academy Award-nominated director and, in January, the project received a promising update when 1917 screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns was reportedly hired to write the script. It’s unclear when Villeneuve will start production on Cleopatra since he is developing several other projects, including Dune: Part Three. However, Helgeland is not involved with either version, and he has no idea if his script is being used, but he would be happy if it is.

Based on Helgeland’s description of his Cleopatra script, it sounds like the film would have been a grand historical epic filled with political intrigue, romance, and betrayal. It would have likely focused on the complex power struggles that characterized Ancient Rome and Egypt during Cleopatra’s time, while exploring her relationship with two of the most powerful figures in Roman history, Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, with a fair amount of historical accuracy. Perhaps most importantly, it would have emphasized Cleopatra’s cleverness and political acumen in a male-dominated world.

(1963) is available to rent/buy on Prime Video from $3.59

Source: Inverse


Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Release Date
July 31, 1963

Elizabeth Taylor , Richard Burton , Rex Harrison

3h 12m

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