Sahara

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  • Directed By: Breck Eisner
  • Written By: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, John C. Richards, James V. Hart
  • Release Date: April 8, 2005
  • Domestic Distributor: Bristol Bay (through Paramount)
  • Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Penélope Cruz, Steve Zahn

Box Office Info:
Budget: $160 millionFinanced by: Bristol Bay
Domestic Gross: $68,671,925Overseas Gross: $50,597,561


This mismanaged disaster began with Philip Anschutz purchasing the book rights to Sahara for an absurd amount of money and after paying $10M for the rights, he also gave author Clive Cussler creative control over the script, the director and the actors.  Sahara was financed by Philip Anschutz’s Bristol Bay, which was formerly Crusader Entertainment and is the sister company to Walden Media.  Sahara was originally planned as a franchise, but instead has spent its post theatrical life in and out of the courts for almost a decade and has since been audited with its staggering losses and numerous instances of bribery in Morocco made public.

Before production began, Summit Entertainment pre-sold overseas territories to numerous distributors and Paramount signed on as US distributor with their first look deal with Bristol Bay.  The production was as fiscally irresponsible as filmmaking gets, with the original $80 million budget doubling to $160 million and distribution costs added $81.1 million to the already out of control spend.  Court documents revealed line items during production as “local bribes” totaling $237,386 in Morocco; $40,688 to stop a river improvement project that would implement a sewage system that would have interrupted filming; $23,250 for “Political/Mayoral support”; after script problems, 10 screenwriters were paid $3.8 million; Matthew McConaughey landed an $8M payday plus $833,923 in “star perks”; a vintage airplane crash scene was cut after filming that cost over $2M, etc.

Bristol Bay gave Paramount a $20.1M distribution fee for the domestic release and use of their resources and Bristol spent a huge $61M on P&A.  Sahara was dated for April 8, 2005 and as the release approached, novelist Clive Cussler sued the producers and attempted to block the movie’s release — claiming he had contractual control over the script, but was not granted it.  Bristol Bay countersued, claiming the author inflated book sales by as much as $50 million to drive up the costs of the rights.  After the film flopped, Bristol Bay sued for $50 million claiming fraud against the publishers and the literary agent to Cussler.  This went in and out of the courts until 2013 when the Colorado Supreme Court threw out the case against the publishers.

Sahara was dated for April 8, 2005 and bowed against the rom-com Fever Pitch and it received generally negative reviews.  It won the weekend with a soft $18,068,372.  Sahara saw a modest 27.7% second weekend decline and continued to post small weekly drops in attendance, but closed its domestic run with a less than blockbuster $68,671,925.  About $37.7M would be returned after theaters take their percentage of the gross.

Overseas, the movie pulled in a weak $50.5 million, across numerous distributors.  Sahara cost Bristol Bay $105 million in losses at the end of 2006 and their write-down of $78.3 million was projected over a 10 year period with continued ancillary sales — and then there was the millions they spent on litigation, which after 8 years went nowhere.

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