Sahara (2005 film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Breck Eisner
Produced by Stephanie Austin
Howard Baldwin
Karen Baldwin
Mace Neufeld
Screenplay by James V. Hart
Thomas Dean Donnelly
Joshua Oppenheimer

John C. Richards
Based on Sahara
by Clive Cussler
Starring Matthew McConaughey
Steve Zahn
Penélope Cruz
Lambert Wilson
William H. Macy
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Seamus McGarvey
Edited by Andrew MacRitchie
Bristol Bay Productions
Baldwin Entertainment Group
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 4, 2005 (2005-04-04) (premiere)
  • April 8, 2005 (2005-04-08) (wide)
Running time
124 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $130 million[1]
Box office $119.3 million[1]

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

It opened at number one in the US box office, grossing $18 million on its first weekend. From a financial perspective, Sahara was unusual because it performed reasonably well, generating $119 million in gross box-office sales.[2] However, due to its huge budget—including $130 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 Mason Tombs runs a Union blockade.

The film then moves to the present day, where World Health Organization doctors Eva Rojas and Frank Hopper are investigating a disease that is spreading across Mali, Africa. Assassins, accompanied by a corrupt Tuareg named Zakara, attempt to murder Eva, but she is rescued by Dirk Pitt, from National Underwater and Marine Agency, who was diving 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, take Sandecker's yacht, the Calliope, up the Niger River to search for the Texas. 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 the "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, but the Calliope is destroyed in the process. 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 against Kazim. The Tuaregs’ leader, Modibo, shows Eva his people, who are dying from the same disease she was investigating at the beginning. After taking samples and analyzing them, Eva is horrified to find that their water is contaminated with toxins, and there is no treatment available for the people who have drunk the contaminated water.

By accident, Al stumbles into a cave with a painting showing the ironclad Texas. After studying the paintings inside the cave, Dirk believes that the Texas became stranded when the river 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 a solar detoxification plant owned by Massarde, and realize that it is the source of the contamination. Rudi and Sandecker analyze their samples and to their horror, they discover that the contamination is being carried by the Niger River to the ocean and, if they don't stop it in time, the toxins will reach the ocean and kill everything in it. Not only that, they can't get any government help to intervene during a civil war in a sovereign country.

Massarde captures Dirk and Al, and keeps Eva while sending Dirk and Al to Kazim. They successfully escape but end up 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 find civilization and contact Sandecker, who warns them that Kazim and his troops are after them. Dirk and Al enlist Modibo'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 for good, making it almost impossible to stop the contamination. Al goes to remove the bombs while Dirk tries to stop Massarde. After a fierce battle with Zakara, in which he is killed, Dirk manages to save Eva while Massarde escapes. After removing the bombs, which are bundles of dynamite from the incineration chamber, Massarde remotely activates the incinerator from his helicopter. Al narrowly escapes being incinerated alive as the incinerator is activated by Massarde and fires, destroying the barrels of toxic waste. Al successfully botches Massarde's frantic attempt to destroy the plant, much to his displeasure. Al Dirk, Eva, and Al get away from the plant in a 1936 Avions Voisin C-28, but they are attacked by Kazim in a helicopter gunship. A series of explosions along the dry river bed reveals the wreckage of the Texas, right where the cave painting showed it to be. They take cover inside thinking the ironclad's armor will protect them but Kazim's armor-piercing ammunition penetrates the rusted ironclad's armor with ease. They manage to fight back with one of the Texas's cannons and destroy Kazim's gunship, just as Modibo arrives with Tuareg reinforcements which forces Kazim's army to surrender and end the civil war.

In the end the contamination is stopped, and Sandecker is offered a deal to do some covert work, while the government serendipitously funds NUMA, which he accepts, tentatively. It is heavily implied that Massarde is poisoned by his waiter, actually an undercover agent from the US government, while eating with his lawyer. The Texas gold, which technically did not belong to the United States but to the CSA, is left with Modibo's people. At the end of the film, Al is seen playing football with the local children. The cave, once empty, is now full of the gold. Later, while Al, Rudi, Sandecker are busy, Dirk and Eva are at the beach at her house on the bay in Monterey with Kazim's newly repaired car.



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. 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.

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." Cussler claimed that his initial brief of "absolute control" 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 said, "They deceived me right from the beginning. They kept lying to me... and I just got fed up with it."[5] Anschutz countered that Cussler's behavior played a big role in the film's financial woes. Anschutz's lawyer said, "It is the height of arrogance for Cussler to take $10 million to make a movie and then torpedo the franchise."[5]

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 Anschutz.[7]

Despite the March appellate court ruling in the long-running litigation between author Clive Cussler and Philip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment, Cussler attempted to reignite the dispute in July 2010. He filed a new lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that the appeals court opened a window for him to recover $8.5 million owed on a contract with Crusader. Cussler is asking a judge to declare that his claim is valid and he is entitled to the money.

"They're trying to pretend this wasn't already litigated", Crusader attorney Marvin Putnam replied. "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."[8]


Critical response

Sahara received mixed reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 39% based on reviews from 171 critics, with the consensus: "A mindless adventure flick with a preposterous plot."[9] At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 41 based on 33 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[10]

Box office

The film grossed $68,671,925 in the USA, plus $50,597,561 outside the USA, for a combined gross of $119,269,486, making it a box office bomb.[1] In 2014, the Los Angeles Times listed the film as one of the most expensive flops of all time.[11]


Award Category Recipient(s) 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]


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Sahara (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Bunting, Glenn (15 April 2007). "$78 million of red ink?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  3. 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. Archived April 21, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. 1 2 3 Bunting, Glenn F. (2006-12-08). "Don't give him rewrite". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-06-21.
  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.
  8. Belloni, Matt (December 21, 2014). "More 'Sahara' litigation! Cussler sues Anschutz all over again!". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, CA, USA. Retrieved March 26, 2015.
  9. "Sahara". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  10. "Sahara". Metacritic. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  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. 1 2 "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. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
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