National Treasure is a 2004 American action-adventure film released by Walt Disney Pictures. It was written by Jim Kouf and the Wibberleys, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Jon Turteltaub. It is the first film in the National Treasure film series and stars Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha and Christopher Plummer.
In 1974, John Adams Gates tells his grandson, Benjamin Franklin Gates, a story in which Charles Carroll of Carrollton passed on a secret to their ancestor, Thomas Gates, in 1832 of a fabled treasure taken from ancient empires throughout history that was discovered by the Knights Templar and later protected by the Freemasons. The treasure would eventually be hidden in America by the Founding Fathers. The clue leading to the treasure is the phrase "The secret lies with Charlotte." While Ben is convinced by the story, his skeptical father, Patrick, dismisses it as nonsense.
Thirty years later, Ben has grown to become a historian, cryptologist, and treasure hunter, and leads an expedition with Ian Howe and with Ben’s colleague, Riley Poole, a computer expert, to find the Charlotte, a ship lost in the Arctic, which holds the first clue to finding the treasure. Inside the ship they find a meerschaum pipe, which has a clue in the form of a riddle, implying that the next clue is on the Declaration of Independence. When Ian suggests they steal it, Ben opposes, causing a fight to ensue, resulting in a massive fire fueled by gunpowder, and the group splits in two. Ian and his men escape the ship while Ben and Riley take cover just before the ship explodes.
Ben and Riley return to Washington, DC, and report the potential theft of the Declaration to Homeland Security, the FBI, and Dr. Abigail Chase of the National Archives, but all dismiss their claim. Ben decides to steal the document himself from the Archives' preservation room during a gala event. Obtaining Abigail's fingerprints, Ben successfully steals the Declaration but is spotted by Ian's group just as they break in to steal it. Ben briefly hides in the gift shop but has to pay for the Declaration when the clerk mistakes it for a souvenir copy; with not enough cash, Ben pays with a credit card. Abigail, suspecting something is amiss, pursues Ben and takes back the document. Ian kidnaps her, but Ben and Riley rescue Abigail, tricking Ian by leaving behind a souvenir copy of the Declaration. FBI Agent Sadusky begins tracking Ben down, using Ben's credit card information.
Unable to return to Ben’s lab, the trio go to Patrick's house to lie low. Patrick tries to convince Ben that the treasure is a myth, which Ben dismisses. The trio then studies the Declaration and discovers an Ottendorf cipher written in invisible ink. With the help of lemon juice and some heat from a hair dryer, they find out that the hidden cypher refers to the Silence Dogood letters written by Benjamin Franklin, which Patrick formerly owned but has since donated to the Franklin Institute.
Once in Philadelphia, and using a schoolboy to acquire the letters' key words, Ben, Riley, and Abigail interpret a clue pointing to the bell tower of Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bell once resided. Ian and his men intercept and question the schoolboy and decipher the clue. Ben uses the time on the clock depicted on the back of the $100 bill and locates the point on the exterior of the bell house cast by the steeple’s shadow, where he finds a hidden cache containing a pair of glasses with multiple colored lenses invented by Benjamin Franklin. He and Abigail use the glasses to inspect the back of the Declaration, revealing a clue referencing the location of Trinity Church, which is in New York City.
The group is chased by Ian's associates. Ben is arrested by the FBI, and Abigail and Riley lose the Declaration to Ian. However, Abigail convinces Ian to help them rescue Ben in exchange for the next clue. Ian agrees, arranging a meeting on the flightdeck of the USS Intrepid, where they help Ben escape the FBI’s custody.
Ian returns the Declaration and asks for the next clue, but when Ben remains coy, Ian reveals he has kidnapped Patrick as a hostage. They go inside Trinity Church (along with Patrick, Abigail, and Riley), where they sit and study the back of the Declaration of Independence by using the different lenses, whose next clue leads the party to an underground passage behind and beneath a tomb in the basement. The passage appears to lead to a dead end, lit by a lone lantern. Patrick claims it is a reference to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, pointing Ian to the Old North Church in Boston. Ian and his team leave Ben, Patrick, Abigail, and Riley trapped to die under the church, and head for Boston.
Patrick reveals that his clue was a fake and the group discovers a small, hidden treasure room, but it appears looted. After a heart-to-heart between Ben and Patrick, they find notches that the meerschaum pipe and stem fit into, and they open a large chamber containing the treasure and a secondary exit tunnel. Ben meets with Sadusky and figures him to be a modern Freemason by the signet on his ring, surrendering the Declaration and the treasure's location in exchange for the clemency and credit for discovery for him and his team. Ian and his men are later arrested in Boston when Ben tips off the FBI.
Later, Ben and Abigail have started a relationship. Riley is upset that Ben turned down the 10% finder's fee for the treasure to accept a much smaller amount of only 1%, which still has netted them all significant wealth. In his Ferrari, Riley drives away from Ben and Abigail's newly bought house and Abigail gives Ben a treasure map. When Ben asks her where the map leads, Abigail suggestively replies, "You'll figure it out."