Dozens of people from Copiapó, Chile, work in the San José mine. The owner ignores the warnings of the failing stability of the mine, which collapses a short time later. The only path inside the mine is completely blocked, and the thirty-three miners manage to get to the rescue chamber. They discover that the radio is useless, the medical kit is empty, the ventilation shafts lack the required ladders, and there is very little stored food. Mario Sepúlveda becomes the leader of the miners, dividing the foods rations and stopping the outbursts of violence and despair. The mine company does not attempt any rescue, and the relatives of the miners gather around the gates.
The government of Chile decides on active intervention, and orders the use of drills to reach the chamber. The first exploratory boreholes move off-target, but a later one reaches the required destination. The miners attach a note to the drill bit to announce their survival. They receive new food and clothing, and television communication with the surface. A second, bigger, drill system is prepared to retrieve the miners one by one.
The film is based on the events of the 2010 Copiapó mining accident, also known as the "Chilean mining accident". It is directed by Patricia Riggen and written by Mikko Alanne and José Rivera. Producer Mike Medavoy, who also produced Apocalypse Now, worked with the miners, their families, and those involved to put the film together. On 13 August 2014, it was announced that The 33 would be the first film to receive the Colombian Film Commission's incentive, which includes 40% for film services and 20% for film logistics services of the amount spent in the country.
Antonio Banderas, who portrays "Super" Mario Sepúlveda, is the public face for the miners who sent videos to the rescuers to update them on the miners' condition. The actual Sepúlveda expressed his enthusiasm and approval towards having Banderas in the role. Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro plays Laurence Golborne, Minister of Mining. On 17 June 2013, it was announced that Jennifer Lopez had joined to lead the cast of the film, but later left due to scheduling conflicts with American Idol. She was replaced in the strong female central role by Juliette Binoche.
On 10 January 2014, Cote de Pablo joined the cast of the film; she plays the wife of one of the trapped miners. On 27 January 2014, Gabriel Byrne joined the cast of the film, to play the role of Andre Sougarret, the engineering genius who masterminded the miraculous rescue of the 33 trapped miners. Next day on 28 January, Bob Gunton joined the cast of the Chilean miner filming, then shooting in Colombia; he plays the role of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera.
Principal photography began in December 2013 in Colombia. Before shooting began, Riggen interviewed each of the miners and their families. After the shooting wrapped up in Nemocón, Colombia in January, crews started filming again in Copiapó, Chile on 5 February 2014, which was the actual place of the incident. On 18 February 2014, news told that more than half of the filming was done in the salt mine of Nemocón, Colombia, and rescue scenes were being filmed in Tierra Amarilla, Chile. Filming wrapped up on 20 February 2014.
In October 2014, James Horner was hired to compose the music for the film. It was the second of two scores he had completed in 2015, before his death on June 22 of that year.
The 33 was released across Latin America through 20th Century Fox starting from 6 August 2015 in Chile. It debuted in Colombia on 20 August 2015, along with the rest of Central America. Brazil was the last, where the film was released on 29 October 2015. Its United States and Canada theatrical releases were handled by Warner Bros. on 13 November 2015. The premiere in Santiago was attended by most of the leading cast, in addition to several of the miners, former President Sebastián Piñera and former minister Laurence Golborne.
On 28 April 2015, Alcon Entertainment acquired North American and the majority of international distribution rights to The 33, with Warner Bros. to distribute it. On the same day, Warner Bros, where Alcon has its output deal, set the film's release date for 13 November 2015.
As of 3 December 2015, the film has grossed $12.2 million in North America and $12.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $24.9 million, which did not cover the initial budget of $26 million.
In North America, The 33 opened alongside Love the Coopers and My All American on 13 November 2015 with a very poor performance. In its opening weekend, the film was projected to gross $7–8 million from 2,452 theaters. The film grossed $1.8 million on its opening day and $5.8 million in its opening weekend, finishing below studio projections.
In Chile, the film grossed $1.6 million on its opening weekend, 6 August 2015, showing on 140 screens. This is the second biggest opening for a Chilean film (5% behind Stefan v/s Kramer), despite coinciding with a severe storm that caused flooding in Santiago and other parts of the country and also marked the sixth-highest opening for Fox International Productions. It topped the box office there for five consecutive weekends and became the second highest-grossing Chilean film. The film grossed a total of $4.9 million in Chile.
In Mexico it opened at No. 3 with $1.3 million, but ended up grossing only a total of $3 million there after three weeks in release.
The 33 has received mostly below-average reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 43%, based on 124 reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The 33 offers an appropriately inspirational account of real-life heroism, but its stirring story and solid performances are undermined by a flawed focus and an overreliance on formula." On Metacritic, the film has received a weighted average score of 55 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". On CinemaScore, audiences gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
Scott Tobias of Variety said, "The 33 aims for a comprehensive survey of efforts above ground and below, but winds up looking less like a sober docudrama than a ginned-up Irwin Allen disaster movie."
Chilean critics had mixed reviews. Ana Josefa Silva gave a mildly positive review, saying that the movie "excites and entertains", but that the good rhythm of the first half becomes stalled. She praised the acting, but criticized the use of many clichés, like the heroic young character (Golborne), the "inhumane" politician (Piñera) or the brave, "badass" Latina woman (Segovia). Las Últimas Noticias stated that "while the epic of the rescue is observed thanks to the effective recreation, the agony of the rescued remains in debt in the staging", and also noted the "young and handsome" hero stereotype. La Segunda described it as "a catastrophe film with a life message and sentimental vocation that is not willing to give up to truisms associated with the image that Hollywood has of Hispanic America". El Mercurio gave a negative review, criticizing the absence of people responsible for the precarious working conditions of the miners, although praising the recreation of the mine and the catastrophe.
Among the differences between the film and the real life story, Alex Vega was not the first man to be rescued, but Florencio Ávalos. Also, Vega's wife was not pregnant at the time. In the film, the Fénix capsule arrives empty at the rescue chamber, but actually there was a rescuer inside of it. The movie also incorrectly shows that Yonni Barrios's wife and his mistress knew each other before the incident. The capsule did not get stuck with a miner inside; André Sougarret did not order the end of the rescue works before the contact with the miners; and María Segovia never slapped Laurence Golborne in the face.