In the film, an FBI chemist and a former SAS captain are tasked with stopping a group of rogue US Force Recon Marines who have seized Alcatraz Island, taken hostages, and threatened to launch rockets filled with nerve gas over San Francisco unless they are paid $100 million.
A group of rogue U.S. Force Recon Marines, led by disenchanted Brigadier General Frank Hummel and his second-in-command Major Tom Baxter, storm a heavily guarded Naval Weapons depot where they seize a stockpile of deadly VX gas–armed M55 rockets; Hummel loses one of his own men in the process when one of the VX canisters ruptures. The next day, Hummel and his men seize control of Alcatraz Island and take eighty-one tourists hostage. Hummel threatens to launch the rockets against San Francisco unless the U.S government pays $100 million from a military slush fund, which he will distribute to his men and the families of Recon Marines who died on clandestine missions under his command but whose deaths were not compensated.
The Pentagon and FBI develop a plan to retake the island with a U.S. Navy SEAL team led by Commander Anderson, enlisting the FBI's top chemical weapons specialist, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed. FBI director James Womack is forced to offer a pardon to federal prisoner John Mason, in return for information. John Mason, a 60-year-old British national who has been imprisoned without charges for three decades, is the only Alcatraz inmate ever to escape the island, doing so in 1963 through uncharted underground tunnels. After he learns of Womack's involvement in the deal, Mason flees resulting in a car chase through the streets of San Francisco. Mason seeks out his estranged daughter Jade; Goodspeed arrives with a team to re-arrest him, telling Jade that Mason is aiding the FBI.
Goodspeed, Mason, and the SEALs infiltrate Alcatraz. However, Hummel's rogue Marines are alerted to their presence and ambush them in a shower room. All the SEALs, including Anderson, are killed, leaving only Mason and Goodspeed alive. Mason sees his chance to escape custody and disarms Goodspeed, but Goodspeed convinces him to help defuse the rockets after the Marines use explosive devices to flush them out.
Mason and Goodspeed eliminate several teams of Marines and disable 12 of the 15 rockets by removing their guidance chips. Hummel threatens to execute a hostage if they do not surrender and return the guidance chips. Mason destroys the chips, then surrenders to Hummel, trying to reason with him as well as buy Goodspeed some time. Though Goodspeed disables another rocket, the rogue Marines capture him. With the incursion team lost, the military initiates their backup plan: an airstrike by F/A-18s with thermite plasma, which will neutralize the poison gas but kill everyone on the island.
Mason and Goodspeed escape, and Mason explains why he was held prisoner: he was a British SAS Captain who stole a microfilm containing details of the United States' most closely guarded secrets, refusing to give it up when captured because he knew he would be killed if he did. When the deadline for the transfer of the ransom passes, Hummel and his men fire one of the rockets, but Hummel redirects it to detonate at sea. He then reveals that the mission is over and it was all an elaborate bluff, as he never had any intention of taking innocent lives. When confronted by two of his men, Captains Frye and Darrow, Hummel orders them to exit Alcatraz with a few hostages and the remaining rocket to cover their retreat, while he will assume blame. Realizing they will not be paid their $1 million apiece, Frye and Darrow rebel against Hummel and Baxter, killing the latter and mortally wounding the former.
Darrow and Frye proceed with the plan to fire on San Francisco. While Mason deals with the remaining Marines, Goodspeed seeks out the last rocket, which Hummel reveals the location of with his dying breath. As the jets approach, Goodspeed kills both Darrow and Frye, before disarming the rocket. He signals the jets that the threat is over but not before one jet drops a bomb on the island. Though no hostages are injured, Goodspeed is thrown into the sea by the blast before Mason rescues him.
Goodspeed fakes Mason's death by informing Womack that he was killed in the bomb explosion. Before both men part ways Mason gives Goodspeed the location of the microfilm. Sometime later Goodspeed and Carla steal the microfilm and Goodspeed learns who truly killed John F. Kennedy.
At one point, Arnold Schwarzenegger was to have played the role of Dr. Stanley Goodspeed. Schwarzenegger turned the role down because he did not like the script.
Jonathan Hensleigh participated in writing the script, which became the subject of a dispute with the Writers Guild of America. The spec script (by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook) was reworked by several writers, but other than the original team, Mark Rosner was the only one granted official credit by guild arbitration. The rule is that the credited writing team must contribute 50% of the final script (effectively limiting credits to the screenplay's initial authors, plus one re-write team). Despite their work on the script, neither Hensleigh nor Aaron Sorkin was credited in the film. The director Michael Bay wrote an open letter of protest, in which he criticized the arbitration procedure as a "sham" and a "travesty". He said Hensleigh had worked closely with him on the movie and should have received screen credit. Quentin Tarantino was also an uncredited screenwriter.
L.A.-based British screenwriting team Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were brought in at Connery's request to rewrite his lines, but ended up altering much of the film's dialogue. It was Nicolas Cage's idea that his character would not swear; his euphemisms include "gee whiz." Bay had worked closely with Ed Harris to develop his character as concretely as possible, later adding a sympathetic edge to Hummel.
There were tensions during shooting between director Bay and Walt Disney Studios executives who were supervising the production. On the commentary track for the Criterion Collection DVD, Bay recalls a time when he was preparing to leave the set for a meeting with the executives when he was approached by Sean Connery in golfing attire. Connery, who also produced the film, asked Bay where he was going, and when Bay explained he had a meeting with the executives, Connery asked if he could accompany him. Bay complied and when he arrived in the conference room, the executives' jaws dropped when they saw Connery appear behind him. According to Bay, Connery then stood up for Bay and insisted that he was doing a good job and should be left alone.
The scene in which FBI director Womack is thrown off the balcony was filmed on location at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The filming led to numerous calls to the hotel by people who saw a man dangling from the balcony.
In the scene in which Paxton demands to know from Womack who Mason is, Paxton utters, "Yeah, I know all the cloak and dagger stories". This line was a direct reference to Forsythe's earlier film, Cloak & Dagger.
In the original UK DVD release, the scene in which Connery throws a knife through Scarpetti's throat and says "you must never hesitate" to Cage was cut, although the scene was shown on British television. Consequently, a later scene in which Connery says to Cage, "I'm rather glad you didn't hesitate too long" lost its impact on viewers who had not seen the first scene. Other cuts included the reduction of multiple gunshot impacts into Gamble's feet in the morgue down to a single hit; a close-up of his screaming face as the air conditioner falls onto him; a sound cut to Mason snapping a Marine's neck and two bloody gunshot wounds (to Hummel and Baxter), both near the end of the film.
A scene from the film featuring Connery and Cage was the basis for incorrect and false descriptions of the Iraqi chemical weapons program. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service was led to believe Saddam Hussein was continuing to produce weapons of mass destruction by a false agent who based his reports on the Hollywood action movie, according to the Chilcot Inquiry. In September 2002, MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove said the agency had acquired information from a new source revealing that Iraq was stepping up production of chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents. The source, who was said to have "direct access", claimed senior staff were working seven days a week while the regime was concentrating a great deal of effort on the production of anthrax. Sir Richard told the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), Sir John Scarlett, that they were "on the edge of (a) significant intel breakthrough" which could be the "key to unlock" Iraq's CBW programme.
However, questions were raised about the agent's claims when it was noticed his description bore a striking resemblance to a scene from the movie. "It was pointed out that glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions, and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres," the Chilcot report stated. By February 2003 - a month before the invasion of Iraq - MI6 concluded that their source had been lying "over a period of time" but failed to inform No 10 "or others", even though Tony Blair had been briefed on his intelligence.
The film's co-writer David Weisberg said, "What was so amazing was anybody in the poison gas community would immediately know that this was total bullshit – such obvious bullshit". Weisberg said he was unsurprised a desperate agent might resort to movies for inspiration, but dismayed that authorities "didn't do apparently the most basic fact-checking or vetting of the information. If you'd just asked a chemical weapons expert, it would have been immediately obvious it was ludicrous". Weisberg said he'd had some "funny emails" after Wednesday's report, but he felt "it's not a nice legacy for the film". "It's tragic that we went to war", he concluded.
Produced on a $75 million budget, The Rock was a smash hit, grossing a total of $134 million domestically and $201 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $335 million. Of the year 1996, it was the seventh highest home-grossing film in the U.S., and the fourth highest-grossing U.S. film worldwide.
The film received mildly positive reviews from film critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 66%, based on 64 reviews. The site's consensus says, "For visceral thrills, it can't be beat. Just don't expect The Rock to engage your brain." To date, it is Bay's only film that he directed to have a "fresh" score. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 59 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Todd McCarthy of Variety gave the movie a positive review, commenting "The yarn has its share of gaping holes and jaw-dropping improbabilities, but director Michael Bay sweeps them all aside with his never-take-a-breath pacing." Richard Corliss, writing for the Time expresses favorable opinions towards the film, saying "Slick, brutal and almost human, this is the team-spirit action movie Mission: Impossible should have been."
The Rock won several minor awards, including 'Best On-Screen Duo' for Connery and Cage at the MTV Movie Awards. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Keith A. Wester).
The film was selected for a limited edition DVD release by the Criterion Collection, a distributor of primarily arthouse films it categorizes as "important classic and contemporary films" and "cinema at its finest". In an essay supporting the selection of The Rock, Roger Ebert, who was strongly critical of most of Bay's later films, gave the film a 3 1/2 out of four stars, calling it "an action picture that rises to the top of the genre because of a literate, witty screenplay and skilled craftsmanship in the direction and special effects."
In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors to list their top action films. The Rock was listed at 74th place on the list.
The soundtrack to The Rock was released on June 7, 1996. Nick Glennie-Smith, Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams were the principal composers, with additional music composed by Don Harper and Steven M. Stern. The main theme (Hummell Gets The Rockets) was composed by Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith.Personnel
Credits adapted from FilmScoreMonthly.
In June of 2017, director Michael Bay discussed his idea for a follow-up to The Rock that never developed past the concept that Goodspeed is chased by the government after escaping.