Screenwriter Rose Bosch got the idea for the project when she discovered millions of untranslated parchments while researching an article on Columbus. After joining forces with a French film executive, she finally found an interested director in Ridley Scott, who had always wanted to make a movie about Columbus. Scott agreed to direct the film on one condition: Columbus must be played by Gérard Depardieu. Depardieu was contacted, and eager to take the part.
The replicas of Columbus' ships used in the film were built in Spain between 1990 and 1992. In 1992 they sailed the route of Columbus' first voyage to commemorate to 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. Today they are exhibited in Palos de la Frontera, Spain, and they are visited by approximately 200.000 people each year.
The film was released in France on October 12, 1992, 500 years to the day after Christopher Columbus' expedition made landfall in the Caribbean and landed on the island of Guanahani. This was the first land in the New World sighted and visited by Columbus.
Sigourney Weaver was always Ridley Scott's first choice to play Queen Isabella. However, when re-shoots for Alien³ (1992) were taking longer than expected, Anjelica Huston was considered for the role. Weaver became available only at the last minute.