Why ‘National Treasure’ Took so Long to Make

There are movies that stand the test of time because they are truly works of art. The 2004 heist flick National Treasure is probably not one of those films, and yet it endures as a guilty pleasure that audiences stubbornly defend despite its widespread panning by critics. Part of the appeal is certainly wrapped up in Nicolas Cage being — well — Nicolas Cage, and it’s hard to imagine another actor tackling the protagonist role and coming away with the same delightful results. Still, that doesn’t fully explain the film’s long-lasting (and critic-baffling) appeal.

At least some of the credit has to go to the complicated script. While many — including its fans — see the movie as a bit of a joke, the script was taken very seriously, and the long creation process is a testament to just how much work went into it. 

‘National Treasure’ divided critics and fans

'National Treasure' actors pose for a photo
Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, director Jon Turteltaub, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer pose during a photo call for the film ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets.’ | Shaun Curry/AFP via Getty Images

Movies that get a glowing reception from fans while receiving scathing reviews from professional critics are some of the most interesting cultural touchstones. For many films, the overall reception between everyday moviegoers and that of expert reviewers are usually on somewhat similar footing.

For films like National Treasure, however, that’s not the case. As the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score shows, fans have given the film a “fresh” rating with a 76 percent stamp of approval. Critics, meanwhile, have deemed it “rotten” with only 46 percent giving it a thumbs up. What’s with the discrepancy? We can only assume that the audiences are looking for different things, and fans have decided that what the show may lack in accuracy or realism it makes up for in pure, unadulterated fun.

When fans heard that Cage would be reportedly reprising the part of Benjamin Franklin Gates for yet another sequel (there has already been one), they were delighted. We just can’t get enough of the daring adventures that toe the line between parody and legitimate action flick. 

The first ‘National Treasure’ took several years to write

It turns out that, despite its implausibility, it’s not that easy to write a historically-based heist script. While some found real-life parallels to the film in recent news stories, the work of fiction called upon a particular skill set of basing the plot in real artifacts and situations while creating a world of twists and turns that would keep audience members on the edge of their seats. 

As Mental Floss reports, it took multiple writers to get to the final script: “Nine writers were hired between 1999 and 2003 in an attempt to streamline the story, which sees code-breaker Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) pursuing the stash of riches squirreled away by Benjamin Franklin and his Freemason cohorts.” 

The film was initially supposed to release in 2000, but it ended up getting a four-year delay because it took so long to complete the wild and daring story. You read that right: The over-the-top version that made it to your screen was the less extreme one. 

Is more ‘National Treasure’ still coming? 

We know that Cage — who has done some real-life historical sleuthing of his own — was slated to bring back Benjamin Franklin Gates for a third installment in the franchise. The 2007 sequel to the original film was called Book of Secrets and ended with a cliffhanger that certainly kept the door open to continuing the saga. 

It has now been more than a decade, and fans are still left wondering what was on page 47. 

Luckily, there’s still hope that we’ll find out. The third film is still listed as in development, and Jerry Bruckheimer is said to be back in the production seat. Chris Bremner is once again working on the writing, and we can only hope that the long gap is a sign of a plot worthy of the wait. 

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