The film was theatrically released on 12 July 2002 in the U.S. by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which used a crocodile in place of the usual Leo the Lion for its title credit logo sequence. The film earned $33.4 million on a $12 million budget.
In outer space, a United States-owned satellite blows up and one of the last remaining pieces, a beacon, is sent hurdling towards Earth where it lands in Australia, only to be swallowed by a crocodile. Back at the CIA, Agent Buckwhiler and Deputy Director Reynolds reveal that, in the wrong hands, the beacon can change the axis of power in the world, so they send two agents, Robert Wheeler and Vaughn Archer, down to Australia to retrieve the beacon. Department Director Ansell also secretly hires an operative of his own, Jo Buckley, to go and retrieve the beacon before Wheeler and Archer, so Ansell can take Reynolds' job.
In Australia, the crocodile that swallowed the beacon lives in a river next to the house of Brozzie Drewitt, an obnoxious cattle station owner who is taking it in her own hands to kill the crocodile for preying on her cattle. Because of this, the Department of Fauna and Fisheries send one of its workers, Sam Flynn, to Drewitt's house. Sam attempts to convince Brozzie to hire some professionals to relocate the animal, instead of having her kill it, which is illegal. Despite Flynn's words, Brozzie attempts to kill the crocodile later that night, only to fail.
Meanwhile, the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and his wife Terri are filming a documentary about the "less-lovable of Australia's wildlife" when they are hired by Flynn to relocate the crocodile that has been bothering Brozzie. Steve successfully gets the crocodile in his boat. Wheeler and Archer are nearby using GPS technology to track the beacon. When the two agents see Steve and Terri zoom past them in their boat with the crocodile who swallowed the beacon on board, they are convinced that the Irwins have the beacon. They call up the CIA, who believe the Irwins plan to use the beacon to pay for a multimillion-dollar expansion to Australia Zoo. Steve and Terri board up the crocodile in a crate and put it in the back of the truck to drive to a new river system. Wheeler and Archer follow them from behind in a Land Rover, and when Wheeler hops on the top of the Irwins' truck, Steve believes them to be poachers who are after the crocodile. Steve climbs up on the roof and, after a brief fistfight, manages to knock Wheeler off the truck. When the Irwins reach the river, Steve opens the crocodile's crate and discovers that the crocodile had defecated. In the poop, Steve sees a shiny metal object (the beacon) which he mistakes to be a misproperly discarded children's spinning top toy. Steve and Terri successfully get the crocodile in the river, but Wheeler and Archer show up again in a boat, determined to get the beacon. Jo Buckley shows up in an ultralight and throws sticks of dynamite down on Wheeler and Archer's boat, destroying it and knocking the two agents in the river. Steve believes that he and Terri are caught up in the middle of a "poacher war" and, not wanting the dynamite to hurt the newly relocated crocodile, gets a rope out of the boat and lassoes the aircraft, causing it to crash in the river and seemingly kill Buckley. It turns out Buckley did survive and she swims to shore to inform Ansell via a phone call that she failed to retrieve the beacon. Ansell informs Buckley that he is on the run from the CIA and the police for hiring her for the mission. He is found by police and is arrested for his crimes, ending the phone call.
Due to Wheeler and Archer's failure to retrieve the beacon, the CIA decides that it is time for drastic measures and they call up U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House to request permission to use military helicopters to fly to Australia and get the beacon.
Steve is ending his documentary by throwing the beacon in the air, when the military helicopters arrive. Steve hands them the beacon revealing that the whole predicament was a misunderstanding, and, in return, the CIA send Wheeler and Archer to work at the zoo as volunteers. Brozzie becomes a volunteer for the Department of Fauna and Fisheries.Steve Irwin as Himself/The Crocodile Hunter
Terri Irwin as Herself
Baby Bindi Irwin as Herself (at the end credits.)
Sui Irwin (Steve and Terri's Statffordshire Bull Terrier) as Herself
Magda Szubanski as Brozzie Drewitt
David Wenham as Sam Flynn
Aden Young as Ron Buckwhiler
Steve Bastoni as Deputy Director Reynolds
Lachy Hulme as Robert Wheeler
Kenneth Ransom as Vaughn Archer
Steve Vidler as Department Director Ansell
Kate Beahan as Jo Buckley
Robert Coleby as Dr. Weinberger
Timothy Bottoms as U.S. President George W. Bush
Due to the series' immense popularity, director/producer Stainton had developed an idea for a feature-length Crocodile Hunter film in 1999 while shooting a documentary in Africa. He wanted to make a good film, but, at the same time, make it easy for Steve who was not used to acting, believing that Irwin should only play himself. It was Stainton's idea to film Steve and Terri doing a traditional nature documentary in the Australian Outback and film these scenes in a 1:85 screen ratio. In fact, nothing for the "documentary" scenes were ever scripted, and when the actors (from the scripted dramatic scenes that use a 2:40 screen ratio) entered the Irwins' world for a few brief scenes, Steve (who did not know anything about the script or plot) was informed by Stainton what was about to happen so Irwin could prepare and ad-lib as much as he wanted or needed. Cheyenne Enterprises, a film and television production company owned by Bruce Willis and producer Arnold Rifkin showed interest in producing and helping finance the project. MGM then showed interest in distributing the film worldwide and principal photography began in November 2001, after having filmed the non-scripted documentary segments for well over a year. The Irwins came across hundreds of animals for the filming of the documentary scenes, but only a few, the kangaroo, the perentie, the bird eating spider, and two snakes made it into the film. The animals they encountered were re-written into the script by Holly Golberg-Sloan for the dramatic scenes when Wheeler and Archer encounter the Irwins' truck.
Collision Course was shot in two film aspect ratios, 1.85:1 for the scenes with Steve and Terri and 2.35:1 for the plot about the Australian farmer and the CIA and their efforts to find the tracking drone. In theaters and on DVD, the 1.85:1 image appears with pillar boxing, a format usually reserved for 1.33:1 ratio content appearing within 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 frames. On the Fullscreen versions, the windowboxing (mostly in the scenes with Steve and Terri and the finale) is not present due to the fullscreen process cropping the widescreen image to the 1.33:1 ratio, causing the windowboxing borders not to be shown, even when shown on a widescreen television if the image is stretched as per fullscreen programs usually are.
The film holds a 53% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 88 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, stating "You see a couple of likable people journeying through the outback, encountering dangerous critters and getting too close for comfort, while lecturing us on their habits and dangers and almost being killed by them." Robert K. Elder of the Chicago Tribune said, "Irwin and his director never come up with an adequate reason why we should pay money for what we can get on television for free."
The film made $28.4 million at the American box office, with a worldwide gross of $33.4 million, which against the production budget of $12 million, makes the film a considerable box office success.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course was released to VHS and DVD in the United States on 17 December 2002.