The Mask of Zorro (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Looking back from 2003, The Mask of Zorro is probably the last film to demonstrate the star-making power of the American blockbuster. You probably think that Catherine Zeta-Jones is a pretty big star, right? This movie is the reason why. Zeta's indebtedness to her Zorro role is direct. Before Zorro, she was an obscure Welsh actress who had never acted an important part in an important movie. In the four years since Zorro, she's had leads in five major studio releases, is one of the "beautiful people" in Hollywood, and is now the proud possessor of a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Her co-star, Antonio Banderas, had attracted notice for his work in Philadelphia, Desperado, Four Rooms, Interview With a Vampire, and Evita, but it was Zorro that elevated him from "interesting actor" to "leading man and Latin heartthrob". Athough Banderas had demonstrated tremendous versatility in his Spanish films, his previous American films had generally shown only his serious side, jaw set resolutely, forehead furrowed in thought as he looked up under his eyebrows. Zorro allowed him to show off his gift for witty dialogue and nuance. As many times as I see this film, Banderas and Anthony Hopkins never fail to crack me up with this exchange:

Banderas waves his sword around menacingly and energetically

Hopkins: Do you know how to use that thing?

Banderas: Yes! (pause) The pointy end goes into the other man.

It was a pretty good line to begin with, but Banderas handled it just perfectly.

It is surprising that Hollywood really didn't learn much from his success here, and went right back to casting him in too-serious roles like the ones he played in Original Sin and Femme Fatale. Banderas's star has been fading lately, and the major reason is that directors never seem to cast him to do the things he does best.

Zorro was one of their rare films where the people and the critics agreed. It received 89% positive reviews and was also a major international success at the box office. It grossed about a hundred million in the USA, but found an even greater audience outside the U.S. borders. It was a blockbuster in Spain, with more than four million tickets sold in that country - in a country with 1/7 the US population. (The Spanish love their movies. Titanic sold about eleven million tickets there.)


In a swordfight, Catherine Zeta-Jones's right breast is exposed for two frames before she covers herself.

In my opinion, The Mask of Zorro deserved its success. I agree with the critics and the audiences. It is an excellent popcorn flick in the true Zorro tradition, near or at the very top of the line in a legacy which includes more than 50 films. The character was first created in a pulp magazine story called The Curse of Capistrano in 1919, and was almost immediately brought to the screen by the high voltage Doug Fairbanks, who was a studio executive as well as a star. He developed the project personally, as a starring vehicle for himself in 1920's The Mark of Zorro. One could easily picture Doug Fairbanks in Banderas's role in The Mask of Zorro as well. It has heart-tugging honor and heroism, lavish costumes and sets, really evil bad guys, romance between a beautiful couple,  interesting music, flashing swords, and great action sequences.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director Martin Campbell

  • Exclusive documentary: "Unmasking Zorro"

  • Making-of

  • Deleted scenes

  • Marc Anthony and Tina Arena music video: "I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You"

  • Production info, Advertising materials, Publicity photo portraits, Costume designs

  • Full-screen and widescreen anamorphic (2.35) formats

The stunt men were the second best thing about the film and deserved some kind of special Oscars for their swinging around on whips and for the tremendous horseback sequences. (The film was actually nominated only for the sound categories.)

The best thing about the film, at least from my perspective, is that the corny stuff, the romance, heroism and stunts, are all filled with good humor. I recommend the film whole-heartedly if you like the old fashioned Errol Flynn/ Tyrone Power kind of entertainment film.

Only one reservation: it seemed very long to me at 136 minutes. There were some sections where the pace slowed to a crawl, and it must be an hour into the film before Banderas ever dons the black mask.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: more than three stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, BBC 5/5, Entertainment Weekly A-.

  • Two Oscar nominations in the technical categories

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary IMDb voters 6.9/10 (males 6.8, females 7.2). Yahoo voters 4.4/5. No sub-group scored it below 6.7.
  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $95 million for production. It grossed $99 million the the USA, which was disappointing relative to the lavish budget and marketing campaign - they hoped for two hundred million. It went on to be a big hit overseas.
  • Exit interviews: Cinema Score. One of the most popular films ever with female audiences, scoring mostly A plusses. But it was not a chick-flick, scoring A minuses with men.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. Recommended. An excellent entertainment picture with something for everyone. If it were about a half hour shorter, I probably would have rated it even higher.

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