The film was theatrically released in the United States on November 26, 2003 and is Disney's fourth film based on an attraction at one of its theme parks, following the television film Tower of Terror (1997), The Country Bears (2002), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). The film grossed $182.3 million worldwide on a $90 million budget and received negative reviews from critics, citing lack of scares and humor.
Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) is a workaholic realtor whose continuous pursuit for new deals leaves very little time with his family. He misses his wedding anniversary with his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), but to make amends, he suggests going on vacation to a nearby lake. Beforehand, Sara is contacted by the occupants of Gracey Manor, located in the Louisiana bayou. Eager to make a deal, Jim drags Sara and his children, impatient Megan (Aree Davis) and arachnophobic Michael (Marc John Jefferies) to the mansion. They meet its owner Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), his stern butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp), and other staff members Emma (Dina Waters) and Ezra (Wallace Shawn). When a storm floods the nearby river, Gracey allows the Evers family to stay the night; though everyone is safe, Jim is unhappy with the idea. Ramsley takes Jim down to the mansion's library to have a talk with Gracey, but while he waits, Jim gets trapped in a secret passage.
Megan and Michael encounter a spectral orb and follow it up to the attic, where they find a portrait of a woman resembling Sara. There they converse with Emma and Ezra; the former identifying the woman as "Elizabeth". Sara talks with Gracey in the library, who explains his grandfather hanged himself out of despair after his lover, a multiracial woman named Elizabeth Henshaw poisoned herself despite their plans to wed. Jim meets Madame Leota, a Romani woman's ghost whose head is encased in a crystal ball, but she scares him away. Jim runs into his children, Emma and Ezra, and returns to Madame Leota for answers about Elizabeth's likeness to Sara. It is revealed that everyone in the mansion are ghosts, cursed a century ago by Gracey and Elizabeth's suicides and can only go to Heaven when they are reunited, and Gracey believes Sara is Elizabeth's reincarnation. Madame Leota sends the Evers off to the mansion's expansive cemetery to find a key that will reveal the truth behind Elizabeth's unusual death. Jim and Megan venture into a crypt where they find the key, but inadvertently disturb its undead residents. They escape with help from Michael, who overcomes his arachnophobia. Madame Leota then instructs them to find a trunk in the attic, Jim unlocking it to find a letter written by Elizabeth to Gracey, revealing she truly loved him and wanted to marry him, leading them to conclude that she was murdered. Ramsley suddenly appears, revealing he murdered Elizabeth to prevent Gracey from abandoning his heritage, believing their relationship was unacceptable. To hide the truth, he traps the children in a trunk and throws Jim out of the house, enchanting the house so Jim cannot break in and stop him.
As Gracey and Sara rendezvous in the ballroom, the former asks Sara if she can recognize him which confuses her. Desperate, he insists to Sara that she is his beloved Elizabeth. The room fills with dancing ghosts of the past which causes Sara to flee. As she runs up the stairs, Gracey reveals his true ghost-self to Sara begging her to understand and that they can finally be together. She shouts that she is not Elizabeth. Gracey begins to have second thoughts. But Ramsley insists that it is her and in time she will remember. Ramsley tells Sara to get ready for her wedding to Gracey. Sara refuses but Ramsley blackmails her into marrying Gracey in return for her children's safety. Encouraged by Madame Leota, Jim drives his car through the mansion's conservatory, rescues his children, and stops Sara and Gracey's wedding ceremony where he gives Elizabeth's letter to Gracey, revealing to him the truth about Elizabeth's death and that Ramsley had lied to him about it all those years. Gracey confronts Ramsley, who rages at his master's apparent selfishness for loving Elizabeth, and summons wraiths to kill the group for revenge. However, a fiery dragon emerges from the ballroom fireplace and drags Ramsley down to Hell for eternal damnation. Sara suddenly collapses, having been poisoned by Ramsley during the wedding, only for the spectral orb encountered by the children to appear and possess Sara, revealed to be Elizabeth's ghost. Elizabeth and Gracey reunite, and Sara is revived. With the curse lifted, Gracey gives the Evers the mansion's deed and departs to Heaven with Elizabeth, Emma, Ezra, and the other ghosts.
The Evers drive across the Seven Mile Bridge for a proper vacation, accompanied by Madame Leota, and four singing busts strapped to the back of their car. In a post-credits scene, Madame Leota bids farewell to the audience, inviting them to join the dead using dialogue from the Disneyland attraction.Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, a workaholic real estate agent who is often late for family gatherings, but tries his best to make up for it.
Terence Stamp as Ramsley, the mysterious butler of Gracey Manor who serves as a fatherly figure to Master Gracey. He is later revealed to be Elizabeth's murderer.
Nathaniel Parker as Master Edward Gracey, the owner of Gracey Manor. He is a polite and friendly man who longs for his lost love Elizabeth to return to him after her apparent suicide.
Marsha Thomason as Sara Evers, Jim's supporting wife. Thomason also portrays Elizabeth Henshaw, Master Gracey's mixed-race lover.
Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota, a gypsy woman whose spirit is encased in a crystal ball as a head shrouded by green mist. She speaks in cryptic riddles.
Wallace Shawn as Ezra, a ghost of a bumbling footman who worries about getting into trouble.
Dina Waters as Emma, a ghost of a nervous but helpful maid who seems terrified of Ramsley.
Marc John Jefferies as Michael Evers, Jim and Sara's 10-year-old son who is very arachnophobic.
Aree Davis as Megan Evers, Jim and Sara's 13-year-old daughter who is impatient and stroppy.
The Dapper Dans as The Singing Busts.
Deep Roy, Jeremy Howard as the Hitchhiking Ghosts.
Corey Burton as The Ghost Host (voice)
The mansion scenes were filmed at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, California. The main building was constructed over a period of weeks while the cupola and chimneys on the top of the mansion were computer-generated. The rest of film was shot in new Orleans and surrounding areas. The paperboy in the opening scene is the nephew of the director, Rob Minkoff. A Hidden Mickey is briefly seen when Ramsley pours the poison in the goblet of wine during the wedding. Upon leaving the mansion via ghost carriage to find the mausoleum, Ezra exclaims "there's always my way," a pivotal line of dialogue from the pre-show from the Disney theme park ride.
The costume and special effects designers wanted the ghost characters to become "more dead" the farther they were from the mansion. While Ezra and Emma look human in the house, their leaving it causes them to become blue and transparent. The zombies in the mausoleum are the "deadest," as they are farthest away.
This was the first film to air on Disney Channel to contain any profanity besides "hell" or "damn". It also contained the phrase "Big ass termites!", uttered by Murphy.
The design of the mansion is loosely based on Disneyland's version of The Haunted Mansion while the iron/glass conservatory was based on Walt Disney World's version of the ride.
In the opening scene of the film, Nathaniel Parker had great difficulty trying to carry Elizabeth up the staircase, which is shown on the expressions of his face. This was due to her slippery silk dress.
According to Box Office Mojo, The Haunted Mansion grossed $24,278,410 on its opening weekend with an average of $7,776 per theatre in the United States. With the domestic gross at $75,847,266, the film gained more than a quarter of the earnings of its theme-ride predecessor Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film achieved better in foreign markets, with an overseas total of $106,443,000.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 13% based on 137 reviews with an average rating of 4.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Neither scary nor funny, The Haunted Mansion is as lifeless as the ghosts in the movie." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 34 out of 100 based on 34 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale. Jeremy Wheeler of allmovie gave the film his lower star rating and described it as a terribly flawed fantastical comedy that neither entertains nor creeps.
The DVD Video release came with several special features, including a behind-the-scenes look at the film's production, describing how the zombies were created, and how certain visual effects were performed or produced; a scene anatomy of the graveyard; a virtual interactive ride of the film's Haunted Mansion with Emma and Ezra as hosts; a single deleted scene; an outtake reel; and a minute and a half long video about the attractions.
It was announced on July 22, 2010 at San Diego Comic-Con International that a new film based on Disney's The Haunted Mansion was in development with Guillermo del Toro writing and producing. Del Toro saw the 2003 film with his daughters; when asked about his involvement in the new project, he said, "The thing I want to do is remake it." Elaborating, he commented, "The movie I see in my head of Haunted Mansion is not, I believe, what everyone is imagining it to be. It's not just a regular world with a haunted mansion plopped in the middle. I really am thinking of a movie that has a heightened reality." Del Toro said that Hatbox Ghost would be the main haunting and added, "We are not making it a comedy. We are making it scary and fun at the same time, but the scary will be scary." It is to be filmed in live-action 3D. To help make a respectful adaptation, del Toro has contacted Walt Disney World Imagineer Jason Surrell, author of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, to act as a possible consultant for the film. Del Toro has also announced he is aiming for a PG-13 rating for The Haunted Mansion. On August 7, 2012, Del Toro mentioned in an interview with Collider.com that he had submitted his final draft to Disney, and that "they like the screenplay" because "their reaction to the draft was good". Del Toro revealed that he will co-write the film, but will not direct it. On April 9, 2015, Variety reported that Ryan Gosling is in talks to star in the film and D.V. DeVincentis will work on the film's script.
In July 2014 it was announced that a separate film project, a cartoon special based on the attraction and animated by Gris Grimly, was being developed in honor of the 45th anniversary. It is to be aired on the Disney Channel and Disney XD.