Sahara (2005 film)

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Sahara poster.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBreck Eisner
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onSahara
by Clive Cussler
Music byClint Mansell
CinematographySeamus McGarvey
Edited byAndrew MacRitchie
Distributed by
Release date
  • April 4, 2005 (2005-04-04) (Hollywood)
  • April 8, 2005 (2005-04-08) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$160 million[3]
Box office$119.2 million[2]

Sahara is a 2005 action-adventure film directed by Breck Eisner based on the best-selling 1992 novel of the same name by Clive Cussler. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn and Penélope Cruz, and follows a treasure hunter who partners with a WHO doctor to find a lost Civil War Ironclad Warship in the Sahara Desert.

The film was shot in 2003 on-location in Africa as well as in the United Kingdom. It became notable for its many production issues, including doubling its production budget from $80 million to $160 million, lawsuits among the crew, and being accused of several violations of international law. Sahara grossed $119 million worldwide at the box-office, ultimately failing to recoup all of its costs and is often listed among the biggest box-office failures of all-time.


At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the city of Richmond, Virginia is in ruins after being bombarded by Union artillery. The ironclad CSS Texas, captained by Mason Tombs, is loaded with the last of the Confederacy's treasury gold in a final effort to prevent it from being captured by Union forces. The CSS Texas then makes a desperate attempt to run the Union naval blockade under heavy attack and disappears into the darkness, leaving its fate unknown.

In present day Mali, a civil war is being fought between dictator General Kazim and Tuareg people. World Health Organization doctors Eva Rojas and Frank Hopper investigate a disease spreading across Mali. Assassins accompanied by a corrupt Tuareg named Zakara attempt to murder Eva, but she is rescued by Dirk Pitt, who is from the National Underwater and Marine Agency and was diving nearby.

Dirk's contact in Nigeria sells him a gold Confederate coin found in the Niger River. Believing this to be a clue to the long-lost Texas, Dirk borrows his boss Sandecker's yacht to search for the Texas. Accompanying Dirk are his partner Al Giordino and Rudi Gunn from NUMA. They give Eva and Hopper a ride so that they can continue their investigation of the disease before dropping them off as they continue up the Niger River.

Businessman Yves Massarde and dictator General Kazim try to stop the doctors from discovering the source of the disease. Kazim sends men to attack the yacht. Dirk, Al, and Rudi survive the attack, but the yacht is destroyed. Rudi tries to leave the country to get help while Dirk and Al go to rescue the doctors whom General Kazim was originally looking for.

After rescuing Eva, they try to leave Mali but are captured by the Tuareg. The Tuareg leader, Modibo, shows Eva his people dying from the same disease she was investigating. After analyzing the water sample, Eva finds out that the water is contaminated with toxins, and there is no treatment available for the sick people. Al stumbles into a cave with a painting showing the ironclad Texas. Dirk believes that the Texas became stranded when the river dried up after a storm and that the same river that carried the ship now runs underground.

They follow the dry river bed and work their way to the border. On the way, they stumble upon a solar detoxification plant owned by Massarde, which is the source of the contamination. They discover that the contamination is being carried to the ocean, where, once reached, it will expand rapidly due to the presence of salt water and, if not stopped in time, will kill all ocean life worldwide. In addition, they cannot get their government to intervene during a civil war in a sovereign country. Massarde captures the group, keeps Eva and sends Dirk and Al to Kazim. The duo escapes but gets stranded in the middle of the desert. They find the wreck of a plane and rebuild it into a land yacht, which they use to reach civilization.

Dirk and Al enlist Modibo's aid to return to the plant. To cover up the existence of the plant, Massarde decides to destroy it with explosives. Fearing the plant's destruction would make it impossible to stop the contamination, Al goes to remove the explosives while Dirk tries to stop Massarde. He rescues Eva and kills Zakara after a vicious fight, but Massarde escapes via helicopter. Al successfully neutralizes the explosive, much to Massarde's anger.

The three leave the plant on an Avions Voisin C-28, but Kazim pursues them in a helicopter gunship, while his army follows. A series of explosions along the dry river bed reveals the wreckage of the Texas. The trio boards the ship, and uses its cannons to destroy Kazim's helicopter, killing the dictator. Modibo arrives with Tuareg reinforcements and forces Kazim's army to surrender, ending the civil war.

The plant is shut down, stopping the source of toxic waste, while the rest is dealt with. Sandecker agrees to do covert work for the government, who in exchange would fund NUMA. The Texas gold, which technically belongs to the Confederate States of America, is left with Modibo's people. It is implied that Massarde is poisoned by Carl, an undercover US agent, while Dirk and Eva start a relationship.



Principal photography began in November 2003, with the film being shot primarily on-location in Morocco, with portions in England (Hampshire and Shepperton Studios)[4] and in Spain. One 46-second action sequence cost $2 million to film but ended up not making the final cut. McConaughey was paid $8 million, Penélope Cruz was paid $1.6 million, and Rainn Wilson was paid $45,000. A total of 10 screenwriters were used to polish the script, with four eventually receiving credit, which added $3.8 million to the film's budget; David S. Ward made $500,000 for his uncredited work. Initially green-lit with a production budget of $80 million, costs rose to $100 million by the time shooting started and had ballooned to $160 million by the time production wrapped.[3]


To promote the film, actor Matthew McConaughey drove his own 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.[5] 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.[citation needed]

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 plans for a sequel.[citation needed]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 38% based on 175 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "A mindless adventure flick with a preposterous plot."[6] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 41 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[8]

Box office[edit]

The film opened at number one in the US box office, taking $18 million on its first weekend and ultimately grossed $69 million. It earned a further $50 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $119 million.[2]

Produced on a $160 million budget with a further $61 million in distribution expenses, its box-office take amounted to barely half of its overall expenses.[3] The film lost approximately $105 million according to a financial executive assigned to the movie; however, Hollywood accounting methods assign losses at $78.3 million, taking into account projected revenue.[3] According to Hollywood accounting, the film has a projected revenue of $202.9 million against expenses of $281.2 million.[9]

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 been leaked 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.[3][10]

In 2014, the Los Angeles Times listed the film as one of the most expensive flops of all time.[11]


Award Category Recipients Result
BMI Film & TV Awards Film Music Award Clint Mansell Won[12]
Irish Film & Television Awards Best Cinematography Award Seamus McGarvey Won[13]
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actor: Action/Thriller Matthew McConaughey Nominated[14]
Choice Movie Actress: Action/Thriller Penélope Cruz Nominated[14]
Choice Movie: Liplock Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz Nominated[15]

Legal action[edit]

For almost a decade Cussler was involved in a lengthy legal action suit against the film's producer, Philip Anschutz, and his film entertainment company, Crusader Entertainment LLC (now part of the Anschutz Entertainment Group). It began in February 2005 when Cussler sued Anschutz and Crusader for $100 million for failing to consult him on the script. The writer also claimed breach of contract because Crusader had failed to take up the option of a second book, Anschutz counter-sued for "alleged blackmail and sabotage attempts against the film prior to its 2005 release."[16] Cussler claimed he had been assured "absolute control" over the book's film adaptation but when this didn't happen, he believed this contributed to its failure at the box office. He said in statement, "They deceived me right from the beginning. They kept lying to me... and I just got fed up with it."[16] But Anschutz's company counter sued claiming it had been the behavior of Cussler that contributed to the film's problems.[16] They claimed Cussler did have certain approval rights regarding the script and selection of actors and directors, but he had been an obstructive presence, rejecting many screenplay revisions and attacking the film in the media before it was even released.[17] On May 15, 2007, a jury found in Anschutz's favor and awarded him $5 million in damages. On January 8, 2008, Judge John Shook decided that Crusader Entertainment was not required to pay Cussler $8.5 million for rights to the second book. On March 10, 2009, the same judge ordered Clive Cussler to pay $13.9 million in legal fees to the production company.[18]

A year later, in March 2010, the California Court of Appeals overturned Judge Shook's decision to award Anschutz and Crusader $5 million in damages and nearly $14 million in legal fees.[19] Cussler then attempted to restart legal proceedings in July 2010 by filing a new lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court claiming the appeals court gave him back the right to recover the $8.5 million he believed Crusader owed him on a second book. In response, the production company's lawyer said, "They're trying to pretend this wasn't already litigated. Cussler has never been able to accept the fact that he lost this case. He didn't accept the jury verdict, then for a year they tried to get the trial court judge to say the jury determined (Cussler was) entitled to $8.5 million and the court said absolutely not. They then sought an appeal and it didn't work. Then they appealed to the California Supreme Court and they didn't take the case. So, despite having had multiple courts say no, they are trying all over again."[20]

There were no further developments in the case for almost three years until December 2012 when both parties were back in court to hear which side was responsible for paying the case's $20 million legal bill. However, the Second Appellate District for California's Appeals Court declared that "there was no prevailing party for purposes of attorney fees." It concluded that "after years of litigation both sides recovered nothing -- not one dime of damages and no declaratory relief."[21][22]


  1. ^ "Film #23823: Sahara". Lumiere. Retrieved May 9, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c d "Sahara (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bunting, Glenn (15 April 2007). "$78 million of red ink?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 7 May 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Sahara (2005) - IMDb" – via IMDb.
  5. ^ Snipes, Stephanie (April 14, 2005). "McConaughey's elusive quest: Actor attempts to grab box-office glory with 'Sahara'". CNN.
  6. ^ "Sahara". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  7. ^ "Sahara". Metacritic. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  8. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Sahara" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  9. ^ Glenn F. Bunting (March 5, 2007). "Jurors hear tales of studio maneuvering". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on December 24, 2008. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  10. ^ "Sahara: Budget melts in the desert". Los Angeles Times. April 15, 2007. Archived from the original on April 21, 2007.
  11. ^ Eller, Claudia,"The costliest box office flops of all time, Los Angeles Times (January 15, 2014)
  12. ^ "BMI Film & Television Awards Salute Composers of Top Movie, TV, Cable Music". May 17, 2006. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  13. ^ "WINNERS OF THE 3RD ANNUAL IRISH FILM & TELEVISION AWARDS". Irish & Film Television Academy. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  14. ^ a b "FOX Announces Nominees for "The 2005 Teen Choice Awards"". The June 1, 2005. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  15. ^ "Story Notes for Sahara". AMC Blog. AMC Networks. Archived from the original on December 24, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  16. ^ a b c Bunting, Glenn F. (2006-12-08). "Don't give him rewrite". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-06-21.
  17. ^ "Trial Set in Legal Dustup Over 'Sahara'". The Washington Post. February 1, 2007.
  18. ^ "Clive Cussler loses another Sahara battle, ordered to pay $13.9M". CBC News. March 10, 2009.
  19. ^ "Judgement against author Cussler overturned in Anschutz/'Sahara' dispute". Denver Business Journal. 4 March 2010.
  20. ^ Belloni, Matt (December 21, 2014). "More 'Sahara' litigation! Cussler sues Anschutz all over again!". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, CA, USA. Archived from the original on January 7, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  21. ^ "An appellate court decides there is "no prevailing party" and no reason to award more than $20 million in attorney fees over the 2005 box office flop". The Hollywood Reporter. January 2, 2013.
  22. ^ "Defendant Crusader Entertainment, LLC, now known as Bristol Bay Productions(Crusader) VS plaintiffs Clive Cussler". December 21, 2012.

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