Sahara (2005 film)

Sahara (2005 film)

Promotional poster
Directed by Breck Eisner
Produced by Stephanie Austin
Howard Baldwin
Karen Baldwin
Mace Neufeld
Written by James V. Hart
Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer
John C. Richards
Clive Cussler (novel)
Starring Matthew McConaughey
Steve Zahn
Penélope Cruz
William H. Macy
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Seamus McGarvey
Editing by Andrew MacRitchie
Studio Bristol Bay Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) April 6, 2005 (2005-04-06)
United Kingdom
April 8, 2005 (2005-04-08)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $160 million
Box office $122 million

Sahara is a 2005 action-comedy adventure film directed by Breck Eisner and based on the best-selling book of the same name by Clive Cussler. It stars Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

Though it opened at number one in the US box office, grossing $18 million on its first weekend, Sahara is considered to be one of the biggest financial failures in Hollywood history[1][2][3] since Ishtar. From a financial perspective, Sahara was unusual because it performed reasonably well, generating $122 million in gross box-office sales.[2] However, due to its huge budget--including $160 million in production costs and $81.1 million in distribution expenses--its box-office take amounted to barely half of its expenses.[2] The film lost approximately $105 million according to a financial executive assigned to the movie;[3] however, Hollywood accounting methods assign losses at $78.3 million, taking into account projected revenue.[2] According to Hollywood accounting, the film has a projected revenue of $202.9 million against expenses of $281.2 million.[2]

The Los Angeles Times presented an extensive special report on April 15 2007, dissecting the budget of Sahara as an example of how Hollywood movies can cost so much to produce and fail. Many of the often closely held documents had become public domain after a lawsuit involving the film. Among some of the items in the budget were bribes to the Moroccan government, some of which may have been legally questionable under American law.[2][4]



The film begins with a prologue set in Richmond, Virginia in 1865, showing the ironclad CSS Texas, carrying the last of the Confederacy’s treasury, as Captain Adrian Tombs tries to run a Union blockade.

The film then moves to the present day, circa 1990s, where World Health Organization doctors Eva Rojas and Frank Hopper are investigating a disease that is spreading across Mali, Africa. Assassins attempt to murder Eva, but she is rescued by Dirk Pitt, from National Underwater and Marine Agency, who was working nearby.

Dirk gets a call from a dealer in Nigeria. He sells Dirk a gold Confederate States of America coin, one of supposedly only five in existence, which was found in the Niger River. Dirk believes that this is a clue to the long-lost Texas. He convinces his boss, James Sandecker, to let him, Al Giordino, and Rudi Gunn, from NUMA, go to Mali to search. They give Eva and Hopper a ride, so that they can continue their investigation, for the WHO.

Businessman Yves Massarde and dictator General Kazim, who controls half of civil-war torn Mali, try to stop the doctors from discovering the source of "plague". Kazim sends men to kill them and the NUMA team, not realizing their CIA and Navy background. Dirk, Al and Rudi survive the attack. Rudi tries to get out of the country to get help while Dirk and Al go to rescue the doctors. They save Eva, and then the three try to get across the border, but are captured by Tuareg, who are fighting the civil war. The Tuaregs’ leader, Madibo, shows Eva his people, who are dying from the same disease she was investigating at the beginning. After taking samples, Eva finds that their water is contaminated.

By accident, Al stumbles into a cave with a painting showing the ironclad Texas. Dirk believes that the Texas became stranded when the river water dried up after a storm and that the same river that carried the Texas now runs underground, spreading the contamination. They start to follow the dry river bed and work their way to the border. Dirk still hopes to find the ironclad along the way. Their plans are interrupted when they stumble upon the solar detoxification plant owned by Massarde, and realize that it is the source of the contamination. Rudi and Sandecker analyze their samples and find that the contamination is heading down the Niger River to the ocean, but they can't get any government help to intervene during a civil war in a sovereign country.

Massarde captures Dirk and the others. He keeps Eva but sends Dirk and Al to Kazim. They escape and contact Sandecker, who warns them that Kazim and his troops are after them. Dirk and Al enlist Madibo’s aid to return to the plant and rescue Eva. He helps them infiltrate the plant and rescue his people who are working there as slaves. Rather than risk discovery, Massarde plans to destroy the plant, making it almost impossible to stop the contamination. Al goes to defuse the bombs while Dirk tries to head off Massarde. After a battle with a corrupt Tuareg, Dirk manages to save Eva while Massarde escapes. Dirk, Eva, and Al get away from the plant, but are strafed by Kazim in a helicopter gunship. A series of explosions along the dry river bed reveals the Texas, right where the cave painting showed it to be. They take cover inside but Kazim’s ammunition is too much for the old ironclad's armor. They manage to fight back with the old cannon and destroy Kazim's gunship, just as Madibo arrives with Tuareg reinforcements.

In the end the contamination is dealt with, and Sandecker is offered a deal to do some covert work, while the government serendipitously funds NUMA, which he accepts, tentatively. Massarde, busy eating with a businessman, does not notice that the waiter who serves him water (which he drinks) served only him and disappeared with the rest of the bottle. The Texas gold, which belongs to the CSA - Confederate States of America, is left with Madibo’s people. Later, while Al, Rudi, Sandecker are busy, Dirk and Eva are at the beach at her house on the bay in Monterey.



To promote the film, actor Matthew McConaughey drove his own personal Airstream trailer (painted with a large Sahara movie poster on each side) across America, stopping at military bases and many events, such as the Daytona 500 (to Grand Marshal the race), premiering the movie to fans, signing autographs, and doing interviews at each stop. The trip's highlights were shown on an E! channel special to coincide with the film's release. McConaughey also kept a running blog of his trip on MTV's entertainment website. Both MTV and the film's distributor, Paramount Pictures, are owned by Viacom.

According to McConaughey, this film was intended to be the first in a franchise based on Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels (much like the James Bond one), but the poor box-office performance has stalled any plans for a sequel.

Legal problems

In February 2005, Cussler took legal action against Philip Anschutz, the producer, for failing to consult him on the script.[5]

Cussler sued the film's makers for breach of contract and producer Anschutz counter-sued Cussler for "alleged blackmail and sabotage attempts against the film prior to its 2005 release."[citation needed] Cussler claims that his initial brief of "absolute control"[citation needed] over the book's adaptation to the big screen was compromised and this contributed to it becoming a box office failure. In a statement to a Los Angeles court, Cussler says, "They deceived me right from the beginning. They kept lying to me... and I just got fed up with it."[citation needed] Anschutz countered that Cussler's behavior played a big role in the film's financial woes. His lawyer said "It is the height of arrogance for Cussler to take $10 million to make a movie and then torpedo the franchise."[citation needed]

Anschutz prevailed. On May 15, 2007, the jury awarded him $5 million, leaving it to the judge to separately determine whether or not Anschutz should have to pay $8.5 million to Cussler for rights to a second book. In a decision on January 8, 2008, Judge John Shook denied Cussler's claim for the $8.5 million.

On March 10, 2009, Judge John P. Shook ordered Clive Cussler to pay $13.9 million in legal fees to the production company.[6]

A March 2010 decision by the California Court of Appeals has since overturned the earlier awardings of both the $5 million in damages and nearly $14 million in legal fees to Cussler[7].


Sahara has been given mixed reviews. It holds a 39% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and with a score of 41 out of a 100 on Metacritic. It ranked 34th by U.S. box-office sales among titles released in 2005, at $68.6 million.

Historical accuracy

The real CSS Texas was unfinished when Richmond fell. It was captured intact by Union forces, but never used.


  1. ^ Biggest Box-Office Bombs of All Time
  2. ^ a b c d e f Glenn F. Bunting, $78 million of red ink?, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Glenn F. Bunting, Jurors hear tales of studio maneuvering, Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2007
  4. ^ Sahara: Budget melts in the desert, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2007.
  5. ^ "Don't give him rewrite." - LA, December 8th 2006
  6. ^ "Clive Cussler loses another Sahara battle, ordered to pay $13.9M". CBC News. March 10, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Judgement against author Cussler overturned in Anschutz/'Sahara' dispute." Denver Business Journal. 4 March 2010.

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