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Movies & Shows

‘National Treasure’ Fact vs. Fiction — Which Moments from the 2004 Film Were Accurate?

We've questioned the accuracy of key elements of the film and found the answers

With the Fourth of July holiday quickly approaching, you might be revisiting some American movie classics. And if National Treasure (2004) is one of the films you’re rewatching, we’ve pinpointed a few details that aren’t as factual as they seem, along with some moments that were accurately depicted. These National Treasure facts might be ones that you didn’t pick up on the first or second time you watched, but they are definitely worth checking out again.

What is National Treasure about?

Starring Nicolas Cage as historian, cryptographer and treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates, National Treasure is about Gates’ search — along with computer expert Riley Poole and archivist Abigail Chase — for a lost Freemason treasure, which includes a map hidden on the back of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Here we separate the movie’s use of fact and fiction to get the wheels in your brain turning — in the best possible way.

1. Fiction: There’s a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence

One of the main plot points in the film is that there is a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence leading to the “national treasure” that Ben is seeking. But the map is not a real thing — the true document doesn’t have a map on the back, but it did make for an exciting plot point in the film.

2. Fact: There is something written on the back of the Declaration

man holding document; nation treasure facts
Nicolas Cage in ‘National Treasure’ (2004)

While there may not be a map leading to secret treasure inked on the back of the Declaration of Independence, there is something written on it. A notation reads, “Original Declaration of Independence dated 4th July 1776.” Although nobody is quite sure where the notation came from, it does give some insight into the document’s history, much of which saw it rolled up among other documents under the care of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress.

3. Fiction: The cast filmed in Independence Hall

Remember the part of the film where Ben is running through Independence Hall and up to its roof? Well, that wasn’t actually filmed on location. The scene took place at a replica of the building at Knott’s Berry Farm, a theme park in California. There is an actual brick-by-brick replica of the building at the park.

4. Fact: The Declaration of Independence is lowered into an atomic bomb-proof vault

Obviously, it wouldn’t be an easy task to steal the Declaration of Independence (in film or in real life), so the vault that it resides in in the film is pretty accurate. When the document is not on display, it is lowered into an atomic bomb-proof vault, keeping it out of the hands of thieves or treasure hunters like Ben.

The original vault was built by the Mosler Safe Company in 1953, a company that built other highly-protective vaults. But in the early 2000s, the vault was replaced as part of a $110 million renovation.

5. Fact: The Declaration of Independence is protected by thick bullet-proof glass and other high-tech materials

Yes, the Declaration of Independence is actually kept in a helium-filled, bulletproof case. The movie kept these details fairly accurate, as it couldn’t seem too simple to steal the document. The case is also kept at a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a constant humidity of 25 to 30 percent. There are additional high-tech protective materials, such as protection from UV light. These details are important to keep the nearly 300-year-old document safe from natural deterioration as well as potential thefts.

6. Fact: The Declaration is written on material made partly of animal skin

Given how much of the film is focused on the Declaration, they made sure to mention the material it was written on. The movie had it correct in noting that the material was made from animal skin, rather than the formerly-believed hemp.

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