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The Mask of Zorro

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The Mask of Zorro
A dimly-lit figure sporting a rapier, a black costume with a flowing Spanish cape, a flat-brimmed black gaucho hat, and a black cowl sackcloth mask that covers the top of the head from eye level stands with the film's title: THE MASK OF ZORRO in white font. He is silhouetted against a red hue fading to black at the top with the star billing of ANTONIO BANDERAS and ANTHONY HOPKINS.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Campbell
Produced by Doug Claybourne
David Foster
Screenplay by John Eskow
Ted Elliott
Terry Rossio
Story by Ted Elliott
Terry Rossio
Randall Jahnson
Based on Zorro 
by Johnston McCulley
Starring Antonio Banderas
Anthony Hopkins
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Stuart Wilson
Matt Letscher
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Phil Méheux
Edited by Thom Noble
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • July 17, 1998 (1998-07-17)
Running time
136 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $95 million
Box office $250.2 million

The Mask of Zorro is a 1998 American swashbuckler film based on the Zorro character created by Johnston McCulley. It was directed by Martin Campbell and stars Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Stuart Wilson. In the story, the original Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega. played by Hopkins) escapes from prison to find his long-lost daughter (Zeta-Jones) and avenge the death of his wife against the corrupt governor (Wilson). He is aided by his successor (Banderas), who also pursues his own vendetta against the governor's right-hand man while romancing with de la Vega's daughter.

Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment had developed the film for TriStar Pictures with directors Mikael Salomon and Robert Rodriguez before Campbell signed on in 1996. Salomon cast Sean Connery as Don Diego de la Vega, while Rodriguez brought Banderas in the lead role. Connery dropped out and was replaced with Hopkins, and The Mask of Zorro began filming in January 1997 at Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City, Mexico. The film was released in the United States on July 17, 1998 with both financial and critical success. The Legend of Zorro, a sequel also starring Banderas and Zeta-Jones, and directed by Campbell, was released in 2005, but failed to receive the overall positive reception of its predecessor.[1]


In 1821, Don Diego de la Vega, a Spanish nobleman, fights against Spain in the Mexican War of Independence as Zorro, a mysterious avenger defending the Mexican peasants and commoners of Las Californias. Don Rafael Montero, the cruel governor of the region, learns de la Vega's identity. Arresting de la Vega in his home, his wife Esperanza is accidentally killed by one of Montero's soldiers. Montero imprisons de la Vega, and takes his infant daughter, Elena, as his own before leaving for Spain. Twenty years later, Montero returns from exile in Spain with Elena by his side. He is planning to turn California into an independent republic. His reappearance awakens a long-dormant de la Vega, who has spent two decades living in anonymity during his imprisonment. He escapes from prison, and as he plans his revenge on Montero, encounters a thief, Alejandro Murrieta, who along with his brother greatly admired Zorro as a child.

De la Vega takes Alejandro as his protégé. Inspired by the wish for revenge upon Captain Harrison Love, his brother's killer and Montero's right-hand man, Alejandro endures the tough training regimen. After Alejandro steals a black stallion resembling Toronado, Zorro's long-deceased horse, and leaves Zorro's mark at the scene, de la Vega scolds him claiming that Zorro was a servant of the people, not a thief or adventurer. He challenges Alejandro to gain Montero's trust and pose as Don Alejandro del Castillo y García, a visiting nobleman, with de la Vega posing as his servant, Bernardo. Both attend a party at Montero's home, where Alejandro gains Elena's admiration and enough of Montero's trust to be invited to a secret meeting. There, Montero hints at a plan to retake California for the Dons by buying it from General Santa Anna, who needs money to fund his upcoming war with the United States. Alejandro and the Dons are taken to a secret gold mine known as "El Dorado", where peasants and criminals are used for slave labor.

The plan is to buy California from Santa Anna using gold mined from Santa Anna's own land. De la Vega uses this opportunity to become closer to Elena: still posing as Bernardo, he learns that Montero raised her claiming her mother died in childbirth. De la Vega allows Alejandro to become his successor as Zorro, and sending him to steal the map leading to the gold mine: he duels Montero, Captain Love and their guards. As Alejandro escapes, Elena attempts to retrieve Montero's map. She fights him with a sword, but he uses his sword to strip off her clothing and seduces her, leading to a passionate kiss before he flees. Terrified of Santa Anna's retribution, Montero decides to destroy the mine along with all its workers. De la Vega tells Alejandro to release the workers on his own while he reclaims Elena: he corners Montero and reveals his identity, but is captured.

As he is taken away, Elena, inspired by a chance encounter at the market with a woman who was her nanny, asks de la Vega the name of the flower that her mother hung about her crib: when it is de la Vega who tells Elena that it is the Romneya, she realizes he is her father. She releases de la Vega from his cell and they proceed to the mine, which Zorro has infiltrated. De la Vega stops Montero from shooting Zorro and the two duel while Zorro is confronted by Captain Love. Alejandro avenges his brother, impaling Love with his own sword, and de la Vega kills Montero. Elena and Alejandro free the workers before the explosives go off, then attend to the mortally wounded de la Vega. He makes peace with Alejandro before dying, passing the mantle of Zorro to him, and gives his blessings for Alejandro's and Elena's prospective marriage. They re-build the de la Vega home and have a son named Joaquin, honoring Alejandro's brother.


Antonio Banderas portrayed Zorro.
  • Antonio Banderas as Alejandro Murrieta / Zorro: Despite claims made by several media outlets and Antonio Banderas,[2] Banderas is not the first Spanish actor to portray Zorro; Spanish actor José Suárez portrayed Zorro in the 1953 film La montaña sin ley, and in the 1960s-70s Spanish actor Carlos Quiney (aka Charles Quiney) portrayed Zorro in three films: Zorro Il Cavaliere della Vendetta, Zorro Il Dominatore and Zorro la Maschera della Vendetta.[3][4][5] Banderas was paid $5 million for the role. His character in the film is Alejandro Murrieta, the fictional brother of the real-life Joaquin Murrieta, making the character Banderas portrays either Mexican or Chilean.[6] To prepare for his role, Banderas practiced with the Olympic fencing team in Spain for four months, before he studied additional fencing and swordsmanship with Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones.[7] The three were trained by Bob Anderson during pre-production in Mexico, spending 10 hours a day for two months specifically on fight scenes from the film.[8] During interviews for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Anderson rated Banderas the best natural talent he worked with. "We used to call him Grumpy Bob on the set, he was such a perfectionist," director Martin Campbell reflected. "He was incredibly inventive, and also refused to treat any of the actors as stars. They would complain about the intensity of the training, but having worked with him there's nobody I'd rather use."[9]



Robert Rodriguez (pictured) cast Antonio Banderas as Zorro before dropping out as director. He was replaced by Martin Campbell one month later.

In October 1992, TriStar Pictures and Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment were planning to start production on Zorro the following year, and hired Joel Gross to rewrite the script after they were impressed with an adaptation he did with TriStar on The Three Musketeers.[17][18] Spielberg was producing Zorro with the potential to direct.[19] Gross completed his rewrite in March 1993, and TriStar entered pre-production, creating early promotion for the film that same month at the ShoWest trade show.[20][21] By December 1993, Branko Lustig was producing the film with Spielberg, and Mikael Salomon was attached as director.[22] In August 1994, Sean Connery was cast as Don Diego de la Vega, while Salomon assured that the rest of the major cast would be Hispanic and Latino Americans. Pre-production proceeded even further in August when Salomon compiled test footage for a planned April 1995 start date.[23]

Connery and Salomon eventually dropped out, and in September 1995, Robert Rodriguez, fresh from the success of Desperado, signed to direct with Desperado star, Antonio Banderas starring in the title role as Zorro.[24] TriStar and Amblin had been surprised by Rodriguez's low-budget filming techniques for his action films, El Mariachi and Desperado, and shifted away from their initial plans with Salomon to make a big-budget version of Zorro.[25] Spielberg had hoped Rodriguez would start filming in January 1996 for a Christmas release date, but the start date was pushed back to July.[26][27][28] The release date was then moved to Easter 1997.[29] Rodriguez pulled out of Zorro in June 1996 over difficulties coming to terms with TriStar on the budget. The studio projected a range of $35 million, while Rodriguez wanted $45 million. They both attempted to compromise when Rodriguez lowered it to $42 million, but the studio refused and set $41 million as their highest mark.[29] Banderas remained attached, and Martin Campbell signed on later that month, turning down the chance to direct Tomorrow Never Dies.[30] The finished screenplay would be written by John Eskow, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, based on a story by Elliott, Rossio, and Randall Jahnson.[31]


Principal photography started in Mexico on January 27, 1997 on a $60 million budget.[8][16] The Mask of Zorro was mostly shot at Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City.[32] Production stalled for four days in February when the director, Martin Campbell, was hospitalized for bronchitis. Filming resumed in Tlaxcala, three hours east of Mexico City, where the production crew constructed the Montero hacienda and town set pieces.[33] Sony sent David Foster to join the project as a producer; to help fill the void left by Steven Spielberg, Walter F. Parkes, and Laurie MacDonald who were busy running DreamWorks. Foster and David S. Ward, who went uncredited, re-wrote some scenes;[34] the troubled production caused The Mask of Zorro to go $10 million over its budget,[35] which added to $70 million in negative costs.[34] In December, the producers were frustrated by customs agents when some props and other items were held for nine days, Zorro's plastic blade included among them.[32] During post-production, Spielberg and Campbell considered Diego de la Vega's death in the arms of his daughter too depressing.[36] The ending, where Alejandro and Eléna are happily married with their infant son, was added three months after filming had ended.[37]


The Mask of Zorro: Music from the Motion Picture
Film score by James Horner
Released July 7, 1998
Recorded 1997–1998
Length 74:47
Label Sony, Epic Soundtrax
Producer Jim Steinman, Simon Rhodes, Tony Hinnigan, James Horner
James Horner chronology
Deep Impact The Mask of Zorro Back to Titanic
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3/5 stars
Empire 3/5 stars
Filmtracks 5/5 stars
SoundtrackNet 2.5/5 stars

James Horner was hired to compose the film score in September 1997.[38] For his work on The Mask of Zorro, Horner was influenced by Miklós Rózsa's score from El Cid.[39] The soundtrack, released by Sony Classical Records and Epic Soundtrax, was commercially successful and propelled by the rising profile of Latin heartthrob Marc Anthony and Tina Arena. Their duet, "I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You", plays in the closing credits of the film and was released as a single in Europe.[40] The song went #3 on the French singles and #4 on the Dutch singles charts.[41][42]

Historical references[edit]

The Mask of Zorro and its sequel The Legend of Zorro incorporate certain historical events and persons into their narratives. Antonio Banderas' Alejandro is a fictional brother of Joaquin Murrieta, a real Mexican outlaw who was killed by the California State Rangers led by Harry Love (portrayed in the film as Texas Army Captain "Harrison Love") in 1853. The confrontation in the film takes place more than a decade earlier, in 1841. Murrieta's right-hand man Three-Fingered Jack was also defeated by Love as in the film; however, the real person was a Mexican named Manuel Garcia rather than an Anglo-American.[43] As he did in the movie, the actual Harry Love preserved both Murrieta's head and Jack's hand in large, alcohol-filled glass jars.[44] The opening sequence is set during the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, then most of the film plot is set in the earlier years prior to the Mexican–American War. Plus, an original ending on the DVD includes an appearance by Antonio López de Santa Anna, who is only mentioned in the finished film.


The Mask of Zorro was initially set for release on December 19, 1997 before it was changed to March 1998.[45] It was speculated that TriStar did this in an attempt to avoid competition with Titanic, but Zorro encountered production problems that extended its shooting schedule. Even more strategically, Sony Pictures Entertainment, TriStar's parent company, wanted an action film for its first quarter releases of 1998.[35] The release date was once again pushed back, this time to July 1998, when pick-ups were commissioned.[46] The delay from March to July added $3 million in interest costs.[47]

To market Zorro, TriStar purchased a 30-second advertising spot on Super Bowl XXXII for $1.3 million.[47] Sony, who had been known for their low-key presence at the ShoWest trade show, showed clips from the film, while actors Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins presented a panel at the conference on May 10, 1998.[48] The studio also attached Zorro's trailer to prints of Godzilla.[49] Sony launched an official website in June 1998. Internet marketing was an emerging concept in the late-1990s, and Zorro was Sony's first film to use VRML.[50]

The Mask of Zorro caught the attention of European Royalty with the film's foreign premieres. Spain's King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia and Princess Elena attended the first Royal premiere in Madrid in seven years. On December 10, 1998, a Royal Command Performance for Zorro was toplined by Prince Charles and his sons.[51]


Based on 69 reviews counted by Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of the critics enjoyed The Mask of Zorro with an average score of 7.1/10.[52] Metacritic received an average score of 63/100, based on 22 reviews collected.[53]

Richard Schickel of Time magazine praised Zorro as a summer blockbuster that pays tribute to the Classical Hollywood cinema swashbuckler films. "The action in this movie, most of which takes the form of spectacular stunt work performed by real, as opposed to digitized, people," Schickel continued, "is motivated by simple, powerful emotions of an old-fashioned and rather melodramatic nature."[54] Zorro exceeded Roger Ebert's expectations, who was surprised by the screenplay's display of traditional film craftsmanship. "It's a reminder of the time when stunts and special effects were integrated into stories, rather than the other way around."[55] Ebert later called The Mask of Zorro "probably the best Zorro movie ever made."[56]

Despite giving credit to Anthony Hopkins for his masculine portrayal of an older Zorro, Mick LaSalle, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, found the that the actor's "performance presents a slight problem: The film asks us to believe that no one has figured out that Zorro and his real-life persona are the same person, even though they are the only guys in Mexico who talk with a British accent."[57] Todd McCarthy of Variety found the film's length to be "somewhat overlong" and lacking "the snap and concision that would have put it over the top as a bang-up entertainment, but it's closer in spirit to a vintage Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power swashbuckler than anything that's come out of Hollywood in quite some time."[39]

In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Peter Travers criticized the casting choices for the Mexican roles, which included Banderas, a Spaniard, as well as Hopkins and Zeta-Jones, who are both Welsh. Disappointed with the film's entertainment value, Travers also expected the film to be a failure with audiences.[58] Internet reviewer James Berardinelli compared the tone and style of The Mask of Zorro to producer Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. "While The Mask of Zorro isn't on the same level, it's not an altogether ridiculous comparison. Even though Zorro doesn't feature the non-stop cliffhanger adventure of Raiders," Berardinelli continued, "there's still plenty of action, tumult, and derring-do." He was undecided whether the film would be a box office success, and that it would depend on the on-screen chemistry between Banderas and Zeta-Jones.[59]

In one of the film's most popular scenes, Alejandro renders Eléna topless with a flurry of sword slashes. One critic placed it on his list of "Erotic [Film] Scenes in the 90s",[60] and in a 2006 E! television special, both Banderas and Zeta-Jones professed experiencing arousal during its filming; he by her beauty, and she by his character's innovative way of stripping her character.[60][61][62]

Box office[edit]

The Mask of Zorro was released in the United States on July 17, 1998 in 2,515 theaters, earning $22,525,855 in its opening weekend.[63] The film dropped from its number one position in the second week with the releases of Saving Private Ryan and There's Something About Mary.[64] The Mask of Zorro eventually earned $94,095,523 in domestic totals, and $156,193,000 in foreign countries, coming to a worldwide total of $250,288,523.[63] With the commercial success of the film, Sony sold the TV rights of Zorro for $30 million in a joint deal to CBS and Turner Broadcasting System (TBS).[65]


Awarding Body Award Nominee Result
Academy Awards[66][67] Best Sound Editing Dave McMoyler Nominated
Best Sound Mixing Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Pud Cusack Nominated
British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs)[68] Best Costume Design Graciela Mazón Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[69] Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Antonio Banderas Nominated
MTV Movie Awards[70] Best Breakthrough Female Performance Catherine Zeta-Jones Nominated
Best Fight Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones Nominated
Saturn Awards[71] Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film Nominated
Best Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones Nominated
Best Costumes Graciela Mazón Nominated


On January 24, 2001, Sony Pictures Entertainment filed a lawsuit in United States District Court, Central District of California, Western Division, against Fireworks Entertainment Group, the producers of the syndicated television series Queen of Swords. Sony alleged copyright infringement and other claims, saying the series "copied protectable elements from [the] 'Zorro' character and 'Zorro' related works". On April 5, 2001, U.S. District Judge Collins, denied Sony's motion for a preliminary injunction, noting, among other points, "that since the copyrights in [Johnson McCulley's 1919 short story] The Curse of Capistrano and [the 1920 movie] The Mark of Zorro lapsed in 1995 or before, the character Zorro has been in the public domain." As to specific elements of The Mask of Zorro, the judge found that any similarities between the film and the TV series' secondary characters and plot elements were insufficient to warrant an injunction.[72]


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External links[edit]