On this day 16 years ago, the world was blessed with the delightful Nicholas Cage romp National Treasure. Since then, the first movie and its sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, have only become more beloved favorites. For over a decade and a half, fans have wondered if we’re ever getting a National Treasure 3, which, in the last few months, has shown more promising signs of happening.
And what’s not to love? It’s The Mummy meets The DaVinci Code, all anchored by some good, old-fashioned Nic Cage chaos energy. Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, treasure hunter and cryptographer. For years, the Gates family has been a laughingstock in the world of historians because of their conviction that a fabled Templar stockpile of ancient treasures and jewels was hidden by the Freemasons during the Revolutionary War. Benjamin’s dad, Patrick (Jon Voight), gave up the quest years ago and is convinced his son is a fool for continuing to believe. But Gates, along with his assistant, Riley (Justin Bartha), discovers that the treasure is real and it requires stealing the Declaration of Independence and deciphering the secret map hidden on the back of it. Along the way, he recruits and eventually falls in love with Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), a clever historian and curator at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, ruthless rival Ian Howe (Sean Bean) is determined to find it first and claim the treasure for himself. And things get even more complicated because FBI Agent Peter Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) is hot on their heels.
To celebrate, here are 16 fun trivia facts, one for each year it’s been around.
1. Diane Kruger did most of her own stunt work in the car chase scene.
A stuntwoman by the name of Lisa Hoyle did a number of Abigail’s stunts, but not for the one action sequence you’d most expect: the car chase scene where Abigail hangs off the back of a van while the vehicles careen down the street. Kruger did most of that sequence herself with the help of some safety harnesses and a good dose of willpower.
2. The movie has a pretty strong tech brand bias.
If you pay attention closely, you’ll notice Benjamin’s team all uses Google and the bad guys all use Yahoo.
3. They had to add digital water – in a pool.
In the scene where Ben and Riley are talking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the water in the pool had to be added in digitally thanks to a bit of bad timing. At the time of shooting, the pool was drained for maintenance reasons.
4. There actually is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but it’s not a treasure map.
Instead, it’s a line that reads “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776” upside down along the bottom edge of the parchment. Early in its life, the Declaration was rolled up for storage (it’s quite large at 29 3/4 in. x 24 1/2 in.) and the notation was likely written on the edge as a label to indicate what the parchment was.
5. The original rough cut was about four hours long.
According to director Jon Turteltaub, the original rough cut clocked in at almost four hours – almost twice as long as the final theatrical cut. It’s not unusual for rough cuts to be much longer than the final version, but still, it just goes to show you how much work goes into getting footage cut down for a theatrical release.
6. The men of the Gates family are all named for Founding Fathers.
Ben, his father, Patrick, and his grandfather, John, are all named for different Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and John Adams.
7. Ian Howe’s name is a nod to the Revolutionary War, too.
Howe is the last name of two real-life brothers who were a British General (William) and an Admiral (Richard) in the Revolutionary War. In essence, William commanded the British Army and Richard the British Navy.
8. The scene in the National Archives is factually correct.
The scene where Benjamin has to sneak in a picture of the Declaration of Independence is right. No cameras are actually allowed in the National Archives due to the age of the documents – the flash from cameras damage them.
9. The Liberty Bell in the movie is made of Styrofoam.
This is thanks to the real Liberty Bell not being moved from its glass pavilion on Independence Mall to the Liberty Bell Center (where it is in the movie) until a few days after they’d finished shooting.
10. It moved from the Touchstone to the Disney banner.
Originally, the movie was produced under the Touchstone banner. But after it was rated PG, it ended up being moved under the banner of Disney proper thanks to it being far more family-friendly than anticipated.
11. Treasure hunting must have been a lucrative business for Benjamin.
In the scene where Ben gives his watch to the cashier in the clothing store as temporary collateral, the watch he’s wearing is a Rolex Submariner Date diver’s watch, which retails for $8,550.
12. There’s an Easter egg about Sean Bean’s favorite football club (soccer team).
When the villain, Ian, is writing out the code from the Charlotte on the yellow piece of paper, you can see at the top of the page two crossed swords with a circle between them. It’s the logo for Bean’s hometown football club, Sheffield United, also known as The Blades.
13. One of Ian’s deductions is factually wrong thanks to real history.
When Ian is deciphering the clue from the Charlotte code, he concludes that the word “Silence” must be a proper noun, because it’s capitalized. However, at the time, grammar was far less standardized than it is today and nouns were often randomly capitalized, not just proper nouns.
14. The nails used in the movie also give away the secret.
This one’s for some real history nerds: If you pay attention to the nails used in the underground church scene, they reveal the anachronistic nature of the scaffolding. First, when the nails start popping out of the scaffolding, you can see they’re manufactured silver nails. Nails of the colonial period were made of dark iron and hand-forged, not mass-manufactured. In another moment, the one where Benjamin almost falls and pulls out one of the boards on the lift to stop his fall, the nail has been painted to look old and rusty – but round heads on nails didn’t exist back then.
15. Diane Kruger’s Abigail was named for another pop culture character.
Kruger’s character, Abigail (Abby) Chase was named for the blonde, treasure hunting protagonist of the Danger Girl comics of the early 90s.
16. Benjamin’s new house is an Easter egg itself.
At the very end of the movie, Ben goes to tell Riley about the history of his new house and Riley cuts him off. If Benjamin had kept talking, he would have revealed the house has some curious historical ties to their adventure: It was once owned by Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Carroll was the same man who had told Benjamin’s ancestor about the secret of the Charlotte in the very beginning of the movie, thus bringing everything full circle.