‘National Treasure’ Tricked People Into Thinking a Secret Map Really Does Exist

One of Nicolas Cage‘s most crowd-pleasing movies is National Treasure, the popcorn blockbuster that delighted audiences upon its release in 2004. Part of what made the film so entertaining is that it appealed to both movie fans and history buffs. It embraced American history to tell a captivating story. But while the film certainly seems like it was rooted in actual history, it only used history to accentuate the beats of its plots. Despite this, it was so effective that it tricked some filmgoers into thinking a secret map featured in the film actually did exist. Let’s take a closer look at the story of National Treasure and how some fans of the film took it quite literally. 

‘National Treasure’ combined history and fiction for its plot

Diane Kruger and Nicolas Cage during 'National Treasure'
Diane Kruger and Nicolas Cage during ‘National Treasure’ World Premiere. | Amy Graves/WireImage

According to IMDb, National Treasure hit theaters during the winter of 2004. Directed by Jon Turteltaub and executive produced by the legendary Jerry Bruckheimer, it tells the story of an historian named Benjamin Franklin Gates (played by Cage). Gates comes from a family of treasure hunters, though his father doesn’t share his view. Informed by his grandfather about a particularly enticing treasure, he is forced to steal the Declaration of Independence in order to protect it from a rival who is also going after the treasure. In the film, the Declaration has a map on the back of it leading to the treasure. 

The story takes a number of winding turns as Gates and his accomplices (played by Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha) race against time and evildoers to get their hands on the treasure. 

The film was a big hit in theaters, scoring $347 million worldwide against a large budget of $100 million. The movie’s success spawned a sequel. 

Here’s how ‘National Treasure’ tricked people into thinking a secret map really does exist

Many history lovers enjoyed the film because it embraced some classic touchstones of American history, like the Declaration of Independence. This reliance on truth and facts to help tell the story blended what was real and fiction in some cases. Ultimately, the film itself was a complete fabrication, only using historical figures like Ben Franklin and the Founding Fathers as story elements. But not everyone was convinced it was entirely fictional. 

According to a report by The Washington Post, fans who visited the actual Declaration of Independence sometimes asked if there was an actual secret map on the back of it. The Post interviewed security guards at the National Archives, where the historic document is located. Many tourists and museum-goers invoked the name of the film when viewing the Declaration. 

The security guards did provide an answer as to whether there is a secret map contained on the back of the document: definitively, there is not. 

The guards at the National Archives got a lot of questions about ‘National Treasure’

Security guards at the National Archives aren’t technically there to answer questions about the documents on display. Their task is much more simple: protect the documents at all costs. But after a plethora of questions about the movie, they came prepared. 

The first question they often get is whether the movie was filmed at the actual National Archives. One guard said, “Well, no. ‘National Treasure’ was not filmed inside here.” 

In response to being asked about the film on a near daily basis (at least around the time it was at its most popular, back in 2004), one guard stated that, “I call it ‘that movie.’ We get a lot of questions about the filming.”

This is a testament to the film’s effectiveness as a piece of entertainment. It blended history and fabricated story together so well, that many viewers were left fooled. 

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