Romancing the Stone (1984) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Joan Wilder, a mousy romance novelist, receives a treasure map in the mail from her recently murdered brother-in-law. Meanwhile, her sister Elaine is kidnapped in Colombia and the two criminals responsible demand that she travel to Colombia to exchange the map for her sister. Joan does, and quickly becomes lost in the jungle after being waylayed by Zolo, a vicious and corrupt Colombian cop who will stop at nothing to obtain the map. There, she meets an irreverent soldier-of-fortune named Jack Colton who agrees to bring her back to civilization. Together, they embark upon an adventure that could be straight out of Joan's novels.

  • New York City based Joan Wilder is a highly successful author of adventure romance novels. She is the polar opposite of Angelina, the heroine in many of her novels. Angelina is a strong, confident woman who uses her sexuality to her advantage and who is swept off her feet by the stories' hero, a man named Jessie. Joan, on the other hand, is afraid of life. She lives vicariously through her stories, and hopes that there is a real life Jessie who will someday sweep her off her feet. Joan's world is turned upside down when she receives news from her sister Elaine in Cartegena, Colombia that she has been kidnapped, the ransom being a treasure map which Elaine's now murdered husband, Eduardo, has since sent to Joan. Unprepared to leave the safety of her New York City apartment, Joan nonetheless travels to Colombia with treasure map in hand to save Elaine. In Colombia, Joan is thrown into the middle of something akin to the adventure part of her novels, not primarily through Cartegena, but inadvertently through the jungles of Colombia. She not only has to face the dangers of the jungle, but Elaine's captors - American illegal treasure hunters, cousins named Ira and Ralph - a Colombian military policeman named Zolo who, with his private army, is also after the treasure, and a bunch of drug runners who are solely trying to protect their way of life. To Joan's rescue - for a fee - is Jack Colton, an American in Colombia who has always taken the "fast and easy" way to what he wants in life, which is now enough money to buy a luxury sailboat in which to sail around the world. After Jack learns of the treasure map, he too becomes focused on whatever the unknown treasure - something the cryptic map calls El Corazon - to achieve his goal. Will Jack do whatever he can to get the treasure, even if it ultimately harms Joan and Elaine, or could Jack be Joan's real life Jessie?

  • The writer of romantic novels Joan Wilder travels to south America to look for and rescue her kidnapped sister. She finds herself stranded in the jungles and finds help in the form of the soldier of fortune Jack Colton. The two go through a number of adventures, deal with the bad villains Ralph and company, and end up falling in love.

  • Joan Wilder is a mousey writer of romance novels. She finds a package from her sister mailed from Colombia in her mailbox. A call from her sister tells her that she has been kidnapped and that bringing the package to Colombia is necessary for her safety and release. Being fairly clueless, she leaves for Colombia to rescue her sister. She is lost within hours of her arrival. She is nearly murdered by one of the men searching for the package when Jack Colton, a fairly low life American rescues her. They begin a journey through the jungle with bullets flying nearby. Is Joan up to all of this? What a way to find out.

  • A romance writer sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a New-York based writer of cheap romance novels. She's a bit clumsy in real life, although in her novels she writes about strong-minded heroines and sexy male adventurers falling in love passionately. One day, she finds her condo, where she lives with only the company of a cat, in a mess. Right away she has a frightening call: her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) has been kidnapped in South America. She decides to go there to save her. There is a map which leads to a huge treasure which is the price which the kidnappers ask for to free Elaine.

    She has to take a bus to Cartagena, in Colombia, but she has trouble with the language spoken there, Spanish. She gets on a coach, but she is afraid she has taken the wrong one, so she asks the driver (Camilo García) while en route. The driver gets distracted because he can't understand her and has an accident. The bus is wrecked.

    Joan asks adventurer Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), to take her to the place in the map. He accepts because he wants the money to buy a ship. They are followed by some mysterious Latin men and soldiers, commanded by corrupt policeman Zolo (Manuel Ojeda). Ralph, (Danny DeVito) is organizing their capture from far away, because he wants the map as well. He is even less equipped to life in a poor Latin American country than Joan is.

    Joan and Jack fall down a spring, they have to cross a wide river, and eventually they get lost. They find a crashed airplane with boxes of marijuana, and they spend the night there, because outside it's pouring down with rain. When they leave the next morning, after Jack has saved Joan from being bitten by a poisonous snake, they arrive at a small village. They ask for a phone or a car there, but several dangerous-looking men tell them there is not any. Asking at a mansion, they are helped because Juan (renowned film director Alfonso Arau) recognises Joan. Juan calls her Juanita Wilder, and says that he always reads her novels aloud to the thugs. He invites Joan and Jack, and inside, the town cottage looks like a hacienda mansion with all the amenities of a luxurious manor house. Juan lends them his 4x4. That way they ran away.

    Ralph will find Joan and Jack eventually, dressed up in Colombina-like outfits for the party. Zolo also pursuits them. They fight each other, they run after one another, and there is the suspicion that Jack is going to betray Joan at any moment because of the treasure. They are about to be eaten by crocodiles all the time, which is a funny moment in the film. All the main characters are about to fall in the crocodile pond while fighting and going back and forth in pursuit of the treasured green diamond.

    Finally, Joan and Elaine are together again. Soldier of fortune Jack and Joan must face their mutual attraction, although they are completely opposites in many respects.

    A true modern classic!


    The movie opens in the middle of a Western cowboy story where a beautiful blonde woman is confronted by an evil man named Drogan. Drogan has come for a treasure of considerable value and demands it and sex from the woman. As she prepares to undress, she throws a hidden knife at her foe, killing him, proclaiming that Drogan had killed her dog, raped and murdered her sister and stole her Bible. After she's dressed, she packs up her horse and rides out, only to stop at the sight of Drogan's men on horseback. Suddenly her hero, Jesse, shown only in shadow, appears and shoots all the men dead. Jesse and the woman embrace and she says they'll be together forever.

    The scene shifts to Joan Wilder, an author of bestselling romance novels, crying as she types out the scene she'd just narrated. It's the finale to her latest book. Joan is happy that she's completed what could be her biggest selling novel yet. In her kitchen, she hears a noise behind her and greets someone she calls "Sweetheart" -- it's her cat, Romeo. She gives him a can of Bumblebee tuna to eat and celebrates with him. She looks up at a poster on her wall of Jesse from the cover of one of her books and hopes aloud that she'll one day find a man like the one she's created.

    Joan leaves her apartment, late for a meeting with her editor. On the way, she meets an elderly neighbor who gives her a package that the mail carrier couldn't fit in her box. The package is from her brother-in-law and has arrived from Colombia. At the meeting with her editor, Joan presents the manuscript. Her editor has had them meet in a bar thinking that it'll be good for Joan to see single men in a social setting. Joan remains reluctant because none of them can match her vision of Jesse. Joan also mentions to her editor that she'd gotten a package from her brother-in-law, Eduardo, who'd recently been found dead and mutilated in Colombia.

    In Cartagena Joan's sister, Elaine, is leaving her apartment in a hurry. Outside, a boy is playing with a bola and as Elaine drives her car out of her garage, the boy throws the bola at her, knocking her unconscious. The boy drives Elaine in her car to a nearby fortress where Ralph, a small-time crook, sees him arrive. He talks to his cousin, Ira, telling him that they should leave Colombia because things have gotten too dangerous. Ira tells Ralph that they have one more treasure hunt to go on & they'll leave.

    Joan arrives home to find that her apartment has been ransacked. Earlier, a shady character had been standing at Joan's front door and had killed the building's janitor. Joan finds her cat safe and suddenly gets an unexpected call from her sister Elaine. Elaine sounds upset and asks Joan if she'd gotten the package from Eduardo. Joan finds a treasure map inside. Elaine tells Joan to bring the map to Cartagena. Joan is reluctant, thinking that Colombia is too dangerous. Elaine is able to convince Joan to come. Joan packs up and leaves her cat with her editor, who tries to talk her out of going.

    Joan arrives in Colombia and looks for a bus that'll take her to Cartagena. The shady character that ransacked her apartment, Colonel Zolo, tells her that the bus, which is really going to a remote town in the mountains, will take her to Cartagena and joins her on the bus. Ralph also happens to be at the airport and spots Joan on the wrong bus just as it leaves.

    Joan wakes up on the bus, which is winding it's way through a mountain pass surrounded by rainforest. When she asks the driver when they'll arrive, the driver is distracted and crashes into a parked Land Rover. The bus is wrecked and the passengers continue on foot. Zolo tells Joan she can wait for another bus & soon draws a pistol on her, demanding her purse. Just then a man appears at the top of a ridge. Zolo fires a warning shot at the man, who raises his hands and suddenly grabs a shotgun from a scabbard on his back. The two men shoot at each other until Zolo runs out of ammo and retreats. Joan, hiding under the bus, hears the mystery man cursing in English about the wrecked Land Rover and losing a bunch of birds. He eventually finds her hiding under the bus. Still angry about losing his vehicle and the birds he'd been collecting, he acts very callously toward Joan, who asks him to take her to a town with a phone. The man demands $500 & Joan talks him down to $375 in American Express traveler's checks. He also refuses to carry Joan's suitcase.

    In the meantime, Zolo is picked up by Ralph, who had been following the bus. The two go to the nearest police station where Zolo orders the chief to assemble his men. Ralph calls Ira & tells him where he is, also spotting a police notice with his picture on it. He tears it down just as Ira tells him to get the map Joan is carrying.

    Joan and her rescuer continue on foot through the mountains. The man asks Joan if she has anything truly important in her suitcase and throws it into a ravine so they can move faster. Joan is furious and about to berate him when the ground beneath her gives way and she falls into the ravine. The man watches her for a moment, irritated, and the ground collapses under him as well. The two end up sliding down the side of the hill until they land in a marsh. Soaking wet, the man seems to have enjoyed the ride while Joan sits whimpering. He asks her what her name is and gives her a hearty welcome to Colombia.

    After they are able to clean themselves up, the man uses his machete to chop the heels off Joan's pumps so she can walk more easily. Suddenly, they are shot at by Zolo and the small police force he's gathered. They take off through the jungle, finally stopping at a deep ravine. There's a bridge across but it's too dilapidated to use. The man plans to fight, while Joan tries desperately to cross the bridge. Halfway across, a plank gives way and, grabbing a large creeper vine, swings across, landing safely on the other side. The man manages to do the same, narrowly escaping shots from Zolo.

    The two continue through the jungle, with the man giving Joan the opportunity to learn how to use his machete. She's startled when she finds a wrecked cargo plane with the rotted body of a pilot sticking out of a cockpit window. The two take refuge in the fuselage which is filled with hundreds of pounds of marijuana. Near the dead pilots they find a small bag with food and a bottle of tequila. The man, wanting to build a fire, looks in Joan's purse for matches & finds the map. Also in the pilot's bag is a fairly recent copy of Rolling Stone magazine -- the man is exasperated to find out that the Doobie Brothers had broken up. Joan is curious & man tells her that he'd come to Colombia as a mate on a boat but decided to go into catching and selling exotic birds. The man also tells Joan that her sister's life doesn't depend on the map itself -- that the treasure it leads to is more important. The treasure, whatever it is, is called "El Corazón" Spanish for "The Heart." He also tells her that it's located in Cordoba province, which they are in the middle of. Joan is angry with him for suggesting that they should greedily get the treasure first. When he appears not to be listening, she begins another tirade and he suddenly kills a large snake near her shoulder with his machete. Frightened out of her wits, she asks him if the snake is poisonous. He says it is, but it also makes a tasty meal.

    Later, while the man explains his business, collecting and selling exotic birds, Joan asks him his name. He tells her it's Jack T. Colton. When she asks him what the T stands for, he tells her "trustworthy", one of the characteristics she looks for in a man.

    The next morning, Joan & Jack arrive in a tiny village. The locals regard them with caution and hostility. At one point they seem ready for a confrontation when Joan politely asks them if there's a car in the village. One of the men tells her that a man named Juan, the bell maker, has a car. Jack and Joan go to his house and find the man just as unfriendly as the others. When he points a gun at them both and they find themselves also facing the villagers, Jack lets Joan's full name slip and Juan recognizes her -- she's his favorite author and he reads her books to the local men each week. He invites them both inside where they find he has an elaborate and luxurious home. When they ask him about his car, he's amused saying the vehicle is his "little mule, Pepe."

    Just then, Zolo and his men arrive looking for Joan and Jack. Suddenly, Jack, Joan and Juan all burst out of Juan's garage -- "Pepe" is actually Juan's rugged sport Ford pickup truck. The trio roar out of town with Zolo right behind. They charge through several fields until they head directly for a nearby stream. Juan has set up a ramp that carries them across the stream which he activates with a remote. After they've crossed, he rigs the ramp so that Zolo's men crash into it and are unable to follow them. Some time later, in a field overlooking a nearby town, Jack spots a tree that looks like a pitchfork. It's one of the markers on the map called "El Tenedor del Diablo", the Devil's Fork. When they arrive in town, Jack checks them into a hotel and buys some clothes for Joan. He also plans to steal the map and make a copy of it for himself. Also in the town is Ralph, who spots Jack and Joan, and calls his cousin to tell him.

    At a town festival, Jack & Joan have dinner together and dance. Ralph tries to steal Joan's purse, only to be beaten up by a large woman who thinks he's trying to molest her. Jack and Joan go back to their room and spend the night together in bed. Jack tells Joan he'd like to take her around the world on the sailboat he dreams of buying. Joan suggests they use the map to find the treasure -- Joan is convinced that finding the treasure will give her more leverage to free her sister from Ralph and Ira. They both agree to do it and split the take from the treasure 50/50.

    In the morning, sneaking out of the hotel ahead of Zolo, they steal the very car that belongs to Ralph, not knowing he's sleeping the back seat. They follow the map back into the countryside. After finding another of the landmarks they continue only to stop when the road seems to run out. Joan listens for a bit & hears falling water. She also discovers that the map has a hidden clue: when folded, it shows the waterfall she heard and an X marking the resting place of the treasure. The two find the waterfall & a cave under it. In the cave is a final clue, a marker saying "Leche de la Madre", "Mother's milk". Jack spots a small pool under a few white stalactites that drip white-colored water. They dig in that spot for a few minutes & right after Joan tells Jack that she's enjoyed the adventure they've gone on, they find a bundle. In the bundle is a cheap ceramic bunny statue. Jack is frustrated until Joan remembers that in her 1st book the treasure was hidden inside the statue. They break it open and find El Corazon, a large green emerald. Jack quips that they're "in a lot of trouble" and Ralph suddenly appears and demands the emerald at gunpoint. Outside the cave, he accuses Jack of sweet-talking Joan into finding the jewel when he really wanted it for himself. Ralph tells them he's going to steal it for himself and tries to leave, only to find that Zolo and his men have found them all. Ralph runs off, but Jack and Joan easily catch him in their car and take the jewel back. They wind up in the river and tumble over a large waterfall. Both of them surface, but on different sides of the river, which is uncrossable. Joan is upset but, as Jack tells her, she still has the map & can still trade it for her sister. He tells her to head for the setting sun & she'll reach Cartagena and that he'll meet her there.

    Joan arrives in the city & goes to the hotel. She calls Ira, who tells her to meet her at the fort across the bay. Joan goes there and is met by Ira and his men. After seeing that her sister is alive, she hands Ira the map. He looks it over, sees that it's genuine and frees Elaine. As they walk away, a burst from a machine gun stops them. Jack steps out of the shadows; he's been captured by Zolo. Zolo tells Ira that the map is worthless since they have the stone -- among his captives is Ralph, who's been beaten and has likely told Zolo about the emerald being found. Zolo takes Joan to a nearby marsh where Ira had been keeping crocodiles. He slashes her hand and threatens to let her be eaten alive if they don't hand over the emerald. Jack tells them its in a safe place and when he keeps silent on the location, one of Zolo's men hits him in the crotch with his rifle butt. Jack then slides the emerald out of it's "hiding place" and kicks it to Zolo, hoping he'll choke on it. Zolo catches it over the water in the marsh, thanks Jack and loses the jewel when a crocodile suddenly bursts up and closes it's jaws on his hand.

    Jack grabs a machine gun from a guard and opens fire. Ira's men show up and a large gunfight ensues. Ira escapes, leaving Ralph behind. Jack chases after the croc that swallowed the jewel, eventually holding it by the tail over a drop into the bay. Joan and Elaine are pursued by Zolo until Joan, having stolen Zolo's stiletto, throws it at him. He blocks the blow with a board. Eventually, she is able to throw him off and when he lunges for her, he falls through a wooden grating and into another crocodile pit. Jack, unable to stop the croc from diving into the water, had tried to scale one of the fortress' walls and finally catches up to her. He tells her to go to the American consulate & tell them the whole story -- the Cartagena police are approaching and he doesn't want to be arrested. He dives off the wall after the croc.

    Some time later, back in New York, Joan is meeting with her editor. She's written another novel about her experiences and her editor is ecstatic. Joan is a changed woman, much more confident and longs to be with Jack again. Outside her apartment building, she sees a large sailboat. Jack is aboard and wearing boots made from the croc that ate the emerald. He and Joan share a kiss as the boat is pulled on a trailer up Joan's street.

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