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 (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. Producer Steven Spielberg 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 encountered scheduling problems when Campbell was hospitalized for bronchitis, resulting in Zorro going over $10 million in its production budget. 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, Zeta-Jones, and directed by Campbell, was released in 2005, but failed to receive the overall positive reception of its predecessor.
In 1821, Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) fights against Spain in the Mexican War of Independence as Zorro, a mysterious avenger who defends the Mexican peasants and commoners of Las Californias. Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson), the cruel governor of the region, learns de la Vega's identity and orchestrates the death of de la Vega's beloved wife (Julieta Rosen). Montero then imprisons his enemy and takes de la Vega's infant daughter, Elena, as his daughter, and leaves for Spain. Twenty years later, Montero returns from exile in Spain with Elena (Catherine Zeta Jones), who has grown into a beautiful woman, by his side. He is planning to turn California into an independent republic. However, his reappearance also 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, De la Vega encounters a thief, Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas), who along with his brother greatly admired Zorro as a child and even had a small hand in the hero's last great exploit. After a brief period of deliberation, de la Vega decides to take Alejandro as his protégé. Inspired by the wish for revenge upon Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher), his brother's killer and Montero's right hand man, he endures the tough training regimen brilliantly. After stealing a black stallion resembling Toronado, Zorro's long deceased horse, and leaving 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 hacienda, where he 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. Meanwhile, de la Vega uses this opportunity to become closer to Elena: still posing as Bernardo, he learns that Montero raised her telling her that her mother died in childbirth. De la Vega sends Alejandro, as Zorro, to steal the map leading to the gold mine: he duels Montero, Love, and their guards at the hacienda. When Alejandro escapes, Elena attempts to retrieve Montero's map, but he seduces her, leading to a passionate kiss before he flees. Terrified of Santa Anna's retribution if he discovers that he is being paid with his own gold, Montero decides to destroy the mine, along with all its workers, to better hide all evidence. De la Vega tells Alejandro to release the workers on his own so that he can reclaim Elena: he corners Montero at his hacienda and reveals his identity, but is captured. As he is taken away, Elena, inspired by a chance encounter with a woman who had been her nanny at the market, asks Montero the name of the flower that her mother had hung about her crib: when it is De la Vega who tells Elena its name, she realizes he is her father. She releases de la Vega from his cell and they proceed to the mine, where they battle alongside Zorro. In the end, Alejandro avenges his brother by impaling Love with his own sword, and de la Vega sends Montero to his death by dragging him off a cliff behind a gold laden cart which crushes Love. Elena and Alejandro free the workers before the explosives go off, where they attend to the mortally injured 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 house and have a son named Joaquin, honoring Alejandro's brother.