Originally released as a 124-minute feature. After the Hays Code was instituted, some of the more "sinful" scenes were cut for the film's re-release in 1944. At this time a newly filmed prologue and epilogue were added, so that the film's running time remained more or less the same as the original release.
The play was first performed in the United States as part of a theatrical tour which started in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1895, but became a sensation when it opened in London, England, UK on 27 May 1895.
When the movie opened nationally on 10 February 1933, there was a "bank holiday" because of the Depression. With all the banks closed, theater managers accepted IOUs from patrons wishing to see the movie, and Cecil B. DeMille reported most of those were eventually redeemed.
Cecil B. DeMille was pressured to drop Ancaria's seductive dance in the orgy scene by Will H. Hays of the Hays Office, but DeMille adamantly refused. Still, censors often cut out gruesome parts of the film, particularly, the cart carrying dead bodies out of the arena, a gorilla dancing around a semi-nude girl, elephants stomping Christians and picking them up with their tusks, crocodiles about to eat a bound girl, etc. These scenes are all in the restored version.
One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by MCA ever since. The 1944 re-release version was chosen for this television package and was not replaced with the original uncut version until the 1990's.
Since Cecil B. DeMille's previous few films had been box office failures, he agreed to work on this project at a drastically lowered personal rate, and with a tighter budget than seemed reasonable at the time. Mitchell Leisen and production manager Roy Burns were the only frequent collaborators DeMille was allowed to keep on, and they also worked at reduced salaries. Paramount assigned Alexander Hall to edit the film, but DeMille was able to get him replaced by his regular editor, Anne Bauchens.
Reportedly, when Cecil B. DeMille heard the booming voice of John Carradine, he chased him down the boulevard until he caught up with the unemployed actor, who wound up doing 5 features for the famed director.
Cecil B. DeMille deliberately cast Claudette Colbert against type as Poppaea. Until then, Colbert had been playing innocent ingénue roles, and this was her first 'wicked' role, which she relished playing.
Fredric March was approached by Charles Laughton (a known homosexual) during the filming of "Sign of the Cross", and as March recalled to Lawrence Quirk, Laughton always made him very nervous and uncomfortable, especially when he used to try to look up his toga.