Romancing the Stone (1984)

PG | 106 mins | Adventure, Romantic comedy | 30 March 1984

Director:

Robert Zemeckis

Writer:

Diane Thomas

Producer:

Michael Douglas

Cinematographer:

Dean Cundey

Production Designer:

Lawrence G. Paull

Production Company:

El Corazon Producciones S.A.
Full page view
HISTORY

As noted in a 24 May 1984 Rolling Stone article, the success of producer-actor Michael Douglas One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, see entry) and The China Syndrome (1979, see entry) prompted Columbia Pictures to negotiate a four-year financing deal with Douglas’ “semi-independent” company, Bigstick Productions, in 1979. Co-producer Jack Brodsky, who was hired to oversee Bigstick, brought writer Diane Thomas’ script for Romancing the Stone to Douglas, and Douglas asked Columbia executives to buy the property just one day after he read it, according to a 31 Aug 1979 DV article that announced the option deal. At the time, Thomas was a waitress at a Malibu Beach, CA, restaurant and had not yet sold a script. DV reported that Douglas intended to produce the picture for Columbia under the Bigstick "banner," but he had not yet committed to a starring role. Various contemporary sources, including a 6 Apr 1984 LAT news item, remarked on Thomas’ success as a first-time screenwriter and stated that Douglas paid $250,000 for the script. Although the film initiated a Hollywood career for Thomas, including work on a Steven Spielberg film, Thomas was killed in a car accident on 21 Oct 1985, according to a 23 Oct 1985 DV obituary.
       According to Rolling Stone, Douglas was tasked by Columbia to recruit A-list actors such as Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds for the lead role and when the stars declined, Columbia lost interest in the project. Douglas understood that there was no future for the film at Columbia, but he honored ... More Less

As noted in a 24 May 1984 Rolling Stone article, the success of producer-actor Michael Douglas One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, see entry) and The China Syndrome (1979, see entry) prompted Columbia Pictures to negotiate a four-year financing deal with Douglas’ “semi-independent” company, Bigstick Productions, in 1979. Co-producer Jack Brodsky, who was hired to oversee Bigstick, brought writer Diane Thomas’ script for Romancing the Stone to Douglas, and Douglas asked Columbia executives to buy the property just one day after he read it, according to a 31 Aug 1979 DV article that announced the option deal. At the time, Thomas was a waitress at a Malibu Beach, CA, restaurant and had not yet sold a script. DV reported that Douglas intended to produce the picture for Columbia under the Bigstick "banner," but he had not yet committed to a starring role. Various contemporary sources, including a 6 Apr 1984 LAT news item, remarked on Thomas’ success as a first-time screenwriter and stated that Douglas paid $250,000 for the script. Although the film initiated a Hollywood career for Thomas, including work on a Steven Spielberg film, Thomas was killed in a car accident on 21 Oct 1985, according to a 23 Oct 1985 DV obituary.
       According to Rolling Stone, Douglas was tasked by Columbia to recruit A-list actors such as Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds for the lead role and when the stars declined, Columbia lost interest in the project. Douglas understood that there was no future for the film at Columbia, but he honored the four-year contract at the studio and did not pursue the production. At the time, Douglas performed in films such as Running (1979, see entry) and It’s My Turn (1980, see entry) that failed at the box-office and undermined his marketability. When Douglas’ deal with Columbia expired in 1983, Romancing the Stone was in “turnaround” status, which allowed the property to be purchased by another studio as long as Columbia’s investment was recouped. Douglas and Brodsky brought the script to Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, who agreed to take on the project in light of the recent success of Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, see entry), which featured a similar adventure-romance story, and Douglas hired Spielberg protégé Robert Zemeckis to direct.
       In an effort to recruit stars for the film, Douglas reportedly courted Debra Winger on the set of Terms of Endearment (1983, see entry), but Winger refused. Although Kathleen Turner had recently received critical acclaim for her roles in Body Heat (1981, see entry) and The Man with Two Brains (1983, see entry), she was not considered for the role of “Joan Wilder” until she stopped by the home of Twentieth Century-Fox president Joe Wizan, according to Rolling Stone. Wizan was impressed by her appearance and suggested her to Douglas at a casting meeting the following day. As noted in a 13 May 1984 LAT article, Douglas had trouble casting a male lead for the character "Jack Colton." Actors who read the script were displeased that the female role was central to the narrative and declined to play a secondary character, provoking Douglas to cast himself in the part.
       A 1 Jul 1983 HR news item announced that the film was set for production by El Corazon Producciones S. A. and principal photography was scheduled to begin 11 Jul 1983 in Mexico. Bigstick is not credited as a production company onscreen. El Corazon was a Mexican independent company that arranged a “negative pickup deal” with Twentieth Century-Fox, according to a 14 Oct 1983 DV article; the studio fixed a purchase price with Twentieth Century-Fox and a completion bond company before the film went into production. Douglas reported that rainy conditions in Mexico resulted in an extended shooting schedule and the filmmakers were forced to withdraw assets from their "10% contingency fund," but the production did not exceed its $10 million budget.
       Principal photography took place at various locations in Mexico, including Veracruz, Xalapa and Mexico City, and in New York City, over fourteen weeks, and the Western sequence at the beginning of the film was shot in St. George, UT, from 24 – 25 Oct 1983. Studio production notes from AMPAS library files added the following Mexican locations: El Arenal, Tonaya, the cliffs in Xico, mountain roads in Barraca Grande, Valle de Silencio and the San Juan de Ulua fortress in Veracruz. Douglas’ brother, co-producer Joel Douglas, remodeled a Mexican television station in Mexico City to shoot interiors.
       Various contemporary sources, including a Feb 1984 issue of Marquee and the 17–24 May 1984 Hollywood Drama-Logue, noted the hazardous conditions of shooting on location in Mexico during the rainy season. According to Marquee, Turner endured several injuries, including a scraped leg from a mud slide that caused her to sue the filmmakers for the cost of plastic surgery. Zemeckis explained the logistics of several of the picture's most notable stunts in Hollywood Drama-Logue, which were complicated by the weather conditions. Zemeckis captured the scene in which Joan and Jack jump from a car as it careens over a seventy-foot waterfall with five cameras during a one-day shoot. The special effects crew, who backpacked equipment to the location, spent an additional five days to set up the shot, building a wood ramp at the "mouth of the waterfall" in an area that was not visible to the camera. A stunt car filled with Styrofoam and inner tubes was released off the waterfall as stuntmen, who were standing outside the vehicle on footrails, jumped in unison. The camera lens compressed the image, conveying the impression that the stuntmen were close to the car while they were actually thirty-feet away. The mudslide scene that portrays Joan and Jack falling down a steep mountain slope was filmed in thirty-yard increments with a custom-built “chute.” Although the stuntmen were propelled through the slide with 150 gallons of water at speeds up to thirty miles per hour, they travelled only short distances in each shot before they landed in cargo nets at the base of the chute. These sequences were later edited together to make the slide appear much longer. As noted in a 7 Mar 1985 DV brief, Mexican animal handler Humberto Gurza nearly lost his hand and injured his leg when wrangling an alligator.
       Rolling Stone stated that Twentieth Century-Fox pressured the filmmakers to complete the production quickly so that it would be released before Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, see entry), fearing that the Raiders of the Lost Ark sequel would sidetrack audiences. Although Twentieth Century-Fox downplayed the romantic element of the film in their marketing campaign, as noted in Hollywood Drama-Logue, the studio teamed with Avon Books to release a novelization of the picture on the same day of the film’s release, according to a 6 Mar 1984 HR news item. One million copies of the romance novel hit the shelves at bookstores nationwide on 30 Mar 1984 and Catherine Lannigan wrote the novel under Joan Wilder’s name, denoting the heroine of Romancing the Stone. A 12 Apr 1984 DV article reported that Twentieth Century-Fox specifically marketed the film to Hispanic audiences and Mexican actor Alfonso Arau toured the U.S. on a promotional campaign.
       The picture made its world premiere on 29 Mar 1984 at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in a celebration marking the center’s twentieth anniversary. A 26 Mar 1984 NYT news item noted that Douglas and actor Danny DeVito were both alums of the theater and the screening was planned as a “reunion” for artists who had previously participated in productions at the O’Neill Center.
       Romancing the Stone received positive reviews and garnered box-office success. The 13 May 1984 LAT article stated that the film grossed $35 million in the first thirty days of its release.
       While a 4 Dec 2008 HR news item announced that Twentieth Century-Fox hired Daniel McDermott to write a feature film remake of Romancing the Stone, a 1 Sep 2011 HR brief reported that the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) picked up a television adaptation of film that had been developed by Shawn Levy and 21 Laps/Adelstein Productions at Twentieth Century-Fox Television. HR stated that NBC contracted Mark Friedman to write a script for the project and Levy was scheduled to direct.
       Romancing the Stone was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Film Editing (Donn Cambern and Frank Morriss).
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1979
p. 1, 6.
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1983
p. 7.
Daily Variety
7 Mar 1985.
---
Daily Variety
12 Apr 1984.
---
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1985.
---
Hollywood Drama-Logue
17-20 May 1984
p. 1, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Mar 1984
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 2008
p. 1, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 2011.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Mar 1984
p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
6 Apr 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 May 1984
Section L, p. 26.
Marquee
Feb 1984
pp. 21-22.
New York Times
26 Mar 1984.
---
New York Times
30 Mar 1984
p. 19.
Rolling Stone
24 May 1984
pp. 23-25, 64.
Variety
28 Mar 1984
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Michael Douglas Production
A Robert Zemeckis Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Unit prod mgr, Mexico
1st asst dir, Mexico
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Co-prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st cam asst
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
Dir of photog, 2d unit
Still photog, U.S.
Still photog, Mexico
ART DIRECTORS
Prod illustrator
Graphic illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master, Mexico
Prop master, U.S.
Greensman
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Asst cost supv
Women`s cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mus res
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord, U.S.
Spec eff coord, Mexico
Spec eff crew
Spec eff crew
Spec eff crew
Spec eff crew
Spec eff crew
Mechanical alligator eff
Opt eff
Opt eff
Title des
Titles and opticals
DANCE
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting, U.S.
Casting, Mexico
Continuity
Unit coord, 2d unit
Continuity, 2d unit
Animal trainer
Prod consultant
Prod coord
Prod coord, New York
Prod secy, Mexico
Prod secy, U.S.
Prod secy, U.S.
Transportation coord
Loc mgr
Extra casting
Asst to the prod
Pub coord
Map des
Auditor, Mexico
Auditor, U.S.
Animal trainer
STAND INS
Stunt coord, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
Stunts, 2d unit
1st unit stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
"Romancing the Stone," written, produced and performed by Eddy Grant, courtesy of Portrait/Ice Records.
PERFORMER
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 March 1984
Premiere Information:
World premiere at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York: 29 March 1984
Los Angeles and New York openings: 30 March 1984
Production Date:
began 11 July in Mexico
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
26 April 1984
Copyright Number:
PA210442
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo® in selected theaters
Color
Color by Deluxe®
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
106
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
Mexico, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27202
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In her New York City apartment, popular romance novelist Joan Wilder finishes her latest Western. The next morning, Joan rushes to meet her publisher, Gloria, but she stops to help an elderly neighbor up the stairs and the old woman gives her a package from the mailman. At lunch, Gloria attempts to find a mate for Joan, but Joan says she is holding out for a man like the hero in her novels. Gloria inquires about Joan’s sister, Elaine, who is in Colombia searching for her recently deceased husband, and Joan reveals that the man sent her a package before he died. Meanwhile, in Colombia, Elaine attempts to escape her apartment, but a boy knocks her out, steals her convertible, and delivers her to an American importer named Ira and his sidekick cousin, Ralph. Back in New York City, Joan discovers her apartment in shambles as Elaine calls from Colombia, where Ralph and Ira hold her at knifepoint. Elaine confirms that the package Joan received contains a treasure map marked “El Corazon” and instructs her sister to deliver it to the Hotel Cartagena. Fearing for Elaine’s life, Joan leaves that night for Colombia, but she is trailed by Zolo, the man who destroyed her apartment searching for the map. At the Colombian airport, Zolo directs Joan onto the wrong bus, and, later, Joan distracts the driver on a remote road, causing the vehicle to collide with a parked jeep. As the locals walk away, Zolo holds Joan at gunpoint and demands the map, but a man appears in the distance and scares Zolo away with gunfire. The mysterious stranger, ... +


In her New York City apartment, popular romance novelist Joan Wilder finishes her latest Western. The next morning, Joan rushes to meet her publisher, Gloria, but she stops to help an elderly neighbor up the stairs and the old woman gives her a package from the mailman. At lunch, Gloria attempts to find a mate for Joan, but Joan says she is holding out for a man like the hero in her novels. Gloria inquires about Joan’s sister, Elaine, who is in Colombia searching for her recently deceased husband, and Joan reveals that the man sent her a package before he died. Meanwhile, in Colombia, Elaine attempts to escape her apartment, but a boy knocks her out, steals her convertible, and delivers her to an American importer named Ira and his sidekick cousin, Ralph. Back in New York City, Joan discovers her apartment in shambles as Elaine calls from Colombia, where Ralph and Ira hold her at knifepoint. Elaine confirms that the package Joan received contains a treasure map marked “El Corazon” and instructs her sister to deliver it to the Hotel Cartagena. Fearing for Elaine’s life, Joan leaves that night for Colombia, but she is trailed by Zolo, the man who destroyed her apartment searching for the map. At the Colombian airport, Zolo directs Joan onto the wrong bus, and, later, Joan distracts the driver on a remote road, causing the vehicle to collide with a parked jeep. As the locals walk away, Zolo holds Joan at gunpoint and demands the map, but a man appears in the distance and scares Zolo away with gunfire. The mysterious stranger, an American adventurer named Jack T. Colton, recovers his belongings from the jeep, informs Joan that she is on the wrong road to Cartagena and agrees to lead her to the nearest payphone for $375 in traveler’s checks. Stuck in a rainstorm, Jack and Joan plummet down a mudslide and Jack lands with his head in Joan’s crotch. Meanwhile, Zolo encounters Ralph and demands a ride to the police station. Afraid of being identified as an outlaw, Ralph secretly calls Ira for assistance, but Ira is unsympathetic and tells Elaine that Zolo, the head of Colombia’s secret police, killed her husband. Sometime later, Zolo’s militia pursues Jack and Joan through the jungle, forcing Joan to creep across a dilapidated bridge. She loses her footing, but swings across the ravine on a rope as Jack follows. Although the pair escapes, they become stuck in another monsoon; however, Joan uncovers a crashed airplane filled with marijuana. Inside, Joan explains that she is in Colombia to comfort her widowed sister, but Jack is skeptical and looks through Joan’s satchel to find the map. Tossing kilos of marijuana onto the fire, Jack inhales deeply and Joan confesses that the map is Elaine’s ransom. Jack suggests that they go after the treasure themselves and use it as collateral, but Joan complains that Jack is untrustworthy. As Joan pontificates her grievances, Jack wields his machete at her shoulder, slicing an enormous snake in half and reporting that bushmasters are deadly but delicious. After their meal, Jack explains his dream of sailing around the world and Joan keels over, intoxicated. The next morning, Jack and Joan wander into a town of outlaws as Zolo’s soldiers watch from afar. Although the pair is held at gunpoint at the home of a drug lord named Juan, Jack calls Joan by her full name and Juan recognizes her as his favorite writer. After warmly welcoming the pair into his oasis, Juan speeds them away in his armored Ford Bronco as Zolo and his men give chase. The comrades escape when the Bronco catapults over a river on Juan’s remote controlled ramp and they stop in a meadow to celebrate. There, Jack recognizes a tree that matches the “devil’s fork” indicated on the map, but he urges the team to proceed to town. When they arrive, Joan calls Ira as Jack checks into a hotel and secretly creates a Xerox copy of the map. Joan makes good on her promise of $375 and prepares to part with Jack, but Jack asks her to dinner. That evening, the couple make love and Jack promises to take Joan on his sailboat adventure. Reflecting that they saw the “devil’s fork” that day, Joan wonders why Jack has not stolen her map and agrees to pursue the treasure with him. In the morning, the couple narrowly escape Zolo and steal Ralph’s car, unaware that Ralph is in the backseat. They follow the map only to discover a cheap porcelain figurine, but Joan prompts Jack to break it open and inside they find an enormous, heart-shaped emerald called “El Corazon.” Just then, Ralph holds the couple at gunpoint, demanding the jewel and accusing Jack of “romancing the stone” from Joan. As Zolo’s army closes in, Ralph runs off with El Corazon, but Joan and Jack give chase and regain possession of it. However, their car careens into a river and plummets over a waterfall, leaving Joan and Jack separated. Calling to each other across the river, Joan is irate that Jack has the jewel and suspects him of thievery, but Jack promises to meet her at Hotel Cartagena. Sometime later, Joan arrives in Cartagena and calls Ira, who does not yet know that El Corazon was discovered. Following orders, Joan brings the map to an abandoned seaside fortress and Elaine is released, but the sisters’ reunion is interrupted by Jack, who is held hostage by Zolo’s henchmen. As Ralph appears at the scene, Zolo lights the map on fire and orders Joan to hand over El Corazon, but Joan claims ignorance of the stone’s whereabouts. When Zolo cuts Joan’s hand and holds it over a swamp of crocodiles, Jack shimmies El Corazon down his pant leg and kicks it into the air. Zolo catches the stone, but his arm extends over the swamp and a crocodile bites off his hand as a gunfight ensues. Jack follows the crocodile, holding off his adversaries with a machine gun, while Ira gets away by boat and promises Ralph that he will return. Jack catches the crocodile by its tail, but he sees Joan in a confrontation with Zolo and releases the animal to grab his gun. Realizing his weapon is out of ammunition, Jack propels up a tower as Joan overcomes Zolo by burning him with his cigar and pushing him onto a gas lamp. With his back ablaze, Zolo charges toward Joan, but he falls through a wood grate into the crocodile pit as Jack runs to Joan’s side. The two embrace and attend to Elaine, who has passed out, but when Jack hears police in the distance, he kisses Joan goodbye and dives into the ocean. Sometime later, back in New York City, Joan delivers her latest novel to Gloria; the story recounts her adventures with Jack. Walking home, Joan is surprised to find a sailboat parked in front of her apartment and admires Jack’s new crocodile boots. Joan and Jack kiss as the boat is towed down the city boulevard. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.