Joan Wilder, a mousy romance novelist, receives a treasure map in the mail from her recently murdered brother-in-law. Meanwhile, her sister Elaine is kidnapped in Colombia and the two criminals responsible demand that she travel to Colombia to exchange the map for her sister. Joan does, and quickly becomes lost in the jungle after being waylayed by Zolo, a vicious and corrupt Colombian cop who will stop at nothing to obtain the map. There, she meets an irreverent soldier-of-fortune named Jack Colton who agrees to bring her back to civilization. Together, they embark upon an adventure that could be straight out of Joan’s novels.
Romancing the Stone is a 1984 American action-adventure romantic comedy. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it stars Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. The film was followed by a 1985 sequel, The Jewel of the Nile.
Romancing the Stone earned over $86,572,238 worldwide in box-office receipts. It also helped launch Turner to stardom, reintroduced Douglas to the public as a capable leading man, started Zemeckis’ frequent collaboration with Alan Silvestri, and gave Zemeckis his first box-office success. Decades later, it retains critical acclaim, with an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
About the Story
Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a lonely romance novelist in New York City, whom her editor believes is waiting for a romantic hero like in one of her books. One day Joan gets a call from her sister, Elaine, who has been kidnapped by antiquities smugglers, cousins Ira (Zack Norman) and Ralph (Danny DeVito).
As Joan leaves her apartment to meet her editor, she is handed a letter containing a map, sent to her by her late brother-in-law. Returning to her apartment, she finds it ransacked and the apartment supervisor dead. On the phone, Elaine tells Joan to go to Colombia with the map she received, it is Elaine’s ransom.
Flying to Colombia, Joan is detoured from the rendezvous point by Colonel Zolo (Manuel Ojeda), the man who killed Elaine’s husband. He tricks her into boarding the wrong bus, heading deep into the interior of the country instead of the coastal city of Cartagena, where Elaine is being held. When Joan asks the bus driver where they are going, she causes the bus to crash.
As the rest of the passengers walk away, Joan is menaced by Zolo but is saved by American exotic bird smuggler Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), whose Jeep is wrecked in the bus crash. For getting her out of the jungle and to a telephone, Joan promises to pay Jack $375 in traveler’s cheques.
Jack and Joan travel the jungle while eluding Zolo, who wants a treasure the map leads to and is chasing them with the military police. After spending a night hiding in a marijuana smuggler’s crashed C-47 aircraft, they encounter a drug lord named Juan (Alfonso Arau), who is a big fan of Joan’s novels and helps them escape from Zolo.
After a night of dancing and passion in town, Jack suggests to Joan that they find the treasure themselves before handing over the map. They follow the clues and locate an enormous emerald called El Corazón (“The Heart”). Unknown to Jack and Joan, they had used Ralph’s car for the last leg of their journey while Ralph was sleeping in the back. Ralph takes the emerald from them at gunpoint. When Zolo appears, Jack steals the jewel back, but Jack and Joan are chased into a river and go over a waterfall. They end up on opposite sides of the raging river; Joan has the map, but Jack has the emerald. Jack directs Joan to Cartagena, promising that he will meet her there.
About the Production
Filming locations for Romancing the Stone included Veracruz, Mexico (Fort of San Juan de Ulúa); and Huasca de Ocampo, Mexico. The scene where Turner and Douglas get separated on opposite banks on a whitewater river, about two-thirds into the movie, was filmed on the Rio Antigua near the town of Jalcomulco, Veracruz.
Upon the release of Romancing the Stone, comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark were inevitable; Time magazine called the film “a distaff Raiders rip-off”. The screenplay for Romancing had actually been written five years earlier by a Malibu waitress named Diane Thomas in what would end up being her only screenplay. She died in a car crash shortly after the film’s release.
Turner later said of the film’s production, “I remember terrible arguments [with Robert Zemeckis] doing Romancing. He’s a film-school grad, fascinated by cameras and effects. I never felt that he knew what I was having to do to adjust my acting to some of his damn cameras – sometimes he puts you in ridiculous postures. I’d say, ‘This is not helping me! This is not the way I like to work, thank you!'” Despite their difficulties on the film, Zemeckis would go on to work with Turner again, casting her as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Studio insiders expected Romancing the Stone to flop (to the point that, after viewing a rough cut of the film, the producers of the then under development Cocoon fired Zemeckis as director of that film), but the film became a surprise hit. It became 20th Century Fox’s “only big hit” of 1984. Zemeckis later stated that the success of Romancing the Stone allowed him to make Back to the Future, which was an even larger success.
The novelization of Romancing the Stone was credited to Joan Wilder though it (and a novelization of the sequel movie, The Jewel of the Nile) was actually written by Catherine Lanigan. Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the role of Jack T. Colton.
Romancing the Stone (1984)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito, Zack Norman, Alfonso Arau, Holland Taylor, Mary Ellen Trainor. Eve Smith, Evita Muñoz ‘Chachita’
Screenplay by: Diane Thomas
Production Design by: Lawrence G. Paull
Cinematography by: Dean Cundey
Film Editing by: Donn Cambern, Frank Morriss
Costume Design by: Marilyn Vance
Set Decoration by: Enrique Estévez
Art Direction by: Agustín Ituarte
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: March 30, 1984