The film has the same title as the video game Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and is primarily based on it. Elements from Prince of Persia: Warrior Within and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the two other titles from the Sands of Time trilogy of the Prince of Persia video game franchise, are also incorporated.
Two Brothers ruled over the ancient kingdom of Persia, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) and his advisor, Nizam (Ben Kingsley). While the King had two sons, Tus and Garsiv, he took pity on a young orphan boy, Dastan, who impressed the King with his bravery while protecting a friend from a violent guard. The King saves Dastan from getting his hand chopped off and decides to adopt him because he felt that Dastan had the spirit of a Prince.
Years later, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) lead their father’s forces to war against the Kosh. A spy informs Nizam that the Holy City of Alamut has been providing the Kosh with weapons. Nizam convinces Tus, the leader of the army, to go into the city and crush it, despite King Sharaman’s desire for it to be left in peace. Dastan protests, but Garsiv and Tus listen to their uncle Nizam instead. Dastan wants to lead the attack but Garsiv claims that he wants the first blood. Tus tells Dastan that he is not ready to lead the attack. The group begins firing catapults of flaming rocks toward the city.
Dastan disregards Tus’s orders and leads his own gang of warriors through the East gate of the city. Bis (Reece Ritchie) and Dastan’s other troops shoot arrows above Dastan so that he can climb into the city. Dastan opens the East Gate and takes on the “Impossible Gate” by climbing up a tower and entering from above. He notices Alamutian soldiers charging towards his men, so he knocks over a large bowl of boiling oil and ignites it to create a barrier of flames.
In the high temple of Alamut, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) wraps up a dagger and hands it to a messenger, telling him to bring it to a secret temple outside of the city. The messenger runs into the battle raging in the city but crosses paths with Dastan. The two duel in the city square and Dastan knocks the messenger out by slamming him into a wall. He finds the dagger and takes it as his own prize.
Tus and Garsiv are impressed by Dastan’s daring. They decide to confront the Princess and Tus declares his intention to marry her to keep the peace between Persia and the people of Alamut. Tamina sees that Dastan has the dagger and is immediately alarmed. She is escorted out by Persian guards.
Dastan and Bis get drunk with their men when Tus comes riding on horseback. Tus tells Dastan that their father is riding in and asks where Dastan’s gift is. Dastan has misplaced his in his drunken stupor, so Tus gives Dastan the robes of the high regent of Alamut to present to their father. Tus tells Dastan that if their father doesn’t agree to have Tamina marry Tus, Dastan must kill her. He notices Dastan’s dagger and asks Dastan for it, but Nizam arrives and reminds Tus that Dastan delivered him that entire city. Tus goes and meets with Nizam and King Sharaman but King Sharaman is outraged that Tus attacked the holy city. King Sharaman tells Tus that he is not ready to be king, despite how much he’d like to be. Nizam watches the conversation unfold before the trio head into the banquet in their honor.
In the banquet, Dastan presents his father with the robes of the regent. His father tells him that he is proud of him but that Dastan hasn’t learned that a real leader does what he has to in order to defend what he knows is right. Dastan asks his father to allow Tus to marry Tamina, but King Sharaman points out that Tus has many wives. Since Dastan has none, King Sharaman gives Tamina to Dastan as his first wife. Dastan is shocked and can barely speak before his father starts screaming. The robes of the high regent were covered in poisonous acid which eat away at the king. Garsiv tries to rip them off while Dastan screams for help but Dastan appears to be a murderer. His father’s guards move to capture him, but Bis jumps to his aid and fights them. Bis is quickly killed but Tamina leads Dastan out of the palace. They escape the city on horseback with Garsiv in pursuit.
Once outside the city, Dastan tries to make sense of what happened. He tells Tamina that Tus gave him the robe and decides that he needs to get to his uncle Nizam. Tamina then tries to stab Dastan but he accidentally activates the knife, travelling back 1 minute into the past. He’s caught off guard and when Tamina makes her move to stab him again, she slashes him across the chest. He activates the dagger again and disarms her, telling her that if she goes for that sword one more time he’ll break her arms. She’s alarmed that he’s used the dagger and then sees that he’s used up all the sand. Dastan looks over the dagger and fills it with normal sand, but Tamina points out that only special sand can power the dagger: The Sands of Time. Dastan throws her onto the horse and the two travel into the desert. He realizes that Alamut had no weapons, just the dagger and that with the dagger, Tus would be the most powerful king in the world. Dastan hopes to find his uncle at the king’s funeral and they will travel into the Valley of the Slaves as a short cut, hopefully avoiding the murderous robbers who inhabit it.
Upon entering the Valley of the Slaves, Dastan and Tamina are greeted by skeletons stuck on wooden pikes to mark the entrance. While walking, Tamina faints due to lack of dehydration. When Dastan goes to help her, she knocks him out using a nearby bone. When he comes to, she and the dagger are gone. He walks around for a bit, only to be found by Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina) and his henchmen. His knife thrower, Seso (Steve Toussaint), throws a knife just shy of Dastan’s penis and Amar tells Dastan that he better give him something good if he wants to stay alive. A few minutes later, Tamina is captured by the Sheik and Dastan, who used her as a bartering chip, steals back the dagger.
The Valley of the Slaves turns out to be an elaborate lie. The Sheik, who hates paying taxes, created the horrible infamy associated with the Valley to keep the Persians away (since the Sheik hates paying taxes). He makes Tamina serve the gamblers near his Ostrich races and talks to Dastan with Seso. He points out that Dastan looks a lot like the man who killed the king and that Tus is offering a very large reward for Dastan’s capture. Dastan avoids Seso’s knives and steals back the dagger when Tamina causes a distraction on the ostrich track. Dastan opens up a gate and the two narrowly escape, pausing just long enough to mock the Sheik.
Dastan and Tamina make it to the city holding the king’s funeral. Dastan uses Tamina to smuggle himself into the event and then hide’s on his father’s funeral casket (which houses his coffin behind shrouds). He writes a meeting place on a piece of parchment and slips it into his uncle’s coat before leaving. Tamina is impressed by Dastan’s success but steals the dagger when he isn’t looking. Nizam and Dastan meet but it quickly becomes apparent that Dastan has been set up. He sees burn marks on Nizam’s hands, proving that Nizam poisoned the robes. Dastan escapes the city but is forced to fight Garsiv to do so. He insists his innocence and leaves Garsiv on his back.
Dastan catches up to Tamina just as a sand storm begins. They set up a tent and wait it out. Tamina tells him the story of the dagger: The gods waged a war of elements against the people of the planet until one young girl was willing to give her life to stop them. The Gods gave her a gift: the dagger of time which allowed the user to turn back. She removed the dagger from a mountain wall and a temple was built around it. Alamut was built over the Hour Glass, which houses the sands of Time. Dastan realizes that Nizam wants to break the seal on the Hour Glass in order to change history and go back to a specific day: When Nizam and Sharaman were children, they went hunting and Nizam saved Sharaman from a lioness. Dastan postulates that Nizam will go back to that time and not act, resulting in Sharaman’s death and erasing the future. Tamina warns him that if the dagger is misused, its raw energy will destroy Alamut and then go on to destroy the world.
Nizam talks to Tus and Garsiv about what should be done with Dastan. Tus wants to put him on trial, but Nizam tells him that Dastan should be killed and not allowed to return; otherwise his accusations could destabilize the region. Garsiv is suspicious of Nizam’s desire to have Dastan killed but says nothing. Tus tells him that Dastan will be put on trail and ends the discussion. Nizam visits an outpost of the Hassansins, an elite group of killers. He pays their leader, a former monk of Alamut, to hunt down and kill Dastan and Tamina. The leader uses asps as his main weapon and leads his men out to hunt them down.
As Dastan and Tamina continue on to their temple, the Sheik catches up to them. He ties up Dastan and Tamina and scolds them for their actions, which resulted in the destruction of the Sheik’s gambling den and death of most of his ostriches. Tamina convinces the Sheik to take them to the Temple and promises him more gold than his horses can carry. That night, several asps attack the camp and kill the Sheik and his men, but Dastan convinces Seso to give him the dagger, and turns back time enough to locate and kill all of the asps as they surface. The Leader of the Hassansins sees this and decides that their best chance is to kill everyone in the temple before Dastan and Tamina can get there. The Sheik is impressed with Dastan’s actions, so he frees him.
The group arrives at the temple two days later and finds the village around it has been completely slaughtered. Garsiv and his men arrive and he takes Dastan in doors. Dastan makes his case and tells him that Nizam is the one who killed their father. Garsiv tells Dastan what Nizam told them, confirming that he believes Dastan. However, the Hassansins arrive and attack the Sheik’s men. In the onslaught, Tamina is knocked out and the dagger is taken, Garsiv is killed and the surviving Hassansins escape.
Dastan convinces the Sheik and Seso to help him stop Nizam. They bury Garsiv and return to Alamut. Nizam puts the dagger in the high temple of Alamut and has a Hassansin specialized in throwing spikes guard the tower. Since Seso is the only one who can match the Hassansin, he volunteers to fight him. While Nizam oversees the excavation of the tunnel to the Hour Glass, Dastan and company penetrate the tower’s defenses and allow Seso access to the tower. Seso and the Hassansin engage in a tense throwing duel which ends in Seso stabbing the Hassansin through the heart with his throwing axe, but at the cost of his own life. Having been pierced by four arrows to the heart, he throws the dagger out of a window which Dastan and the Sheik retrieve. The Sheik grieves for his friend and pretends to be Dastan in order to drawn the guards away from the palace. Tamina and Dastan sneak into the King’s chamber to speak with Tus.
Dastan takes Tus hostage in order to speak to him in private. He tells him that it Nizam’s plot to kill their father, not his. He then explains the dagger’s powers but can tell that Tus doesn’t believe him. With Tamina watching, he stabs himself through the heart with the dagger as Tus cries out in shock. Nizam enters and tells Tus that Dastan took the coward’s way out. However, Tus picks up the dagger and goes back in time and prevents Dastan’s death. Dastan is relieved that Tus used the dagger (having gambled it all on the fact that he would), but Nizam enters and immediately slits Tus’s throat. Tamina helps Dastan escape and the two decide that they need to get to the Hour Glass before Nizam.
Tamina and Dastan enter into the secret catacombs and Tamina tells Dastan to only step where she steps. Unfortunately, a stray rock causes the ground to collapse into sand. Dastan maneuvers on debris as he falls and winds up separated from Tamina in a passage way. He walks through until he sees the Hour Glass. Unfortunately, the lead Hassansin attacks and the two fight to a stalemate. Tamina arrives just as the leader’s asp is about to bite Dastan and she shoves the asp into the leader’s face. Dastan stabs the leader and he falls into the chasm below. With a moment to themselves before everything turns to hell, Tamina and Dastan share a kiss as Nizam gains access to the Hour Glass cavern from above.
Nizam arrives at the Hour Glass with scaffolding and ready to plunge the knife into the hour glass. Dastan and Tamina climb up to the base of the Hour Glass and fight Nizam. Nizam stabs Dastan in the shoulder and kicks him off. Tamina tries to stop Nizam but Nizam kicks her off the edge as well. Dastan catches her but she forces him to let go so that he can stop Nizam. She tells him that she wished they could have been together. Dastan climbs up and attacks Nizam as he unleashes the Sands of Time. As Time flows through the hour glass, scenes of his past appear as echoes in the glass. Nizam struggles to maintain his hold on the dagger, but Dastan forces the dagger to deactivate and he thrown back in time.
Dastan finds himself at the point where he first procured the dagger. Bis runs up to him to announce the conquering of the city. Realizing that he can undo all the damage which was done, Dastan finds Tus and Garsiv and immediately decries Nizam as a traitor in public. Tus tells his men to find the spy, but that proves unnecessary. Exposed, Nizam tries to kill Dastan. Dastan and Nizam fall off of the palace stairs and Dastan tells him that Nizam had everything he could have wanted, but he turned his back on his family for personal gain. He walks away from Nizam but Nizam tries to skewer him with his sword. Tus stabs Nizam through the stomach before Nizam can kill Dastan, saving his brother’s life.
With the timeline altered and the ruse exposed, Dastan accompanies his brother to Tamina’s quarters. Tus apologizes for their attack and offers a marriage to Dastan as a means of healing the broken trust between Alamut and Persia. Dastan presents Tamina with the dagger and overtly hints that he knows what it does. They exchange banter in the palace garden and he tells her that he looks forward to the day they will know each other well enough to be more forward in their talks. The dagger is then returned to the high temple.
- Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan
- Gemma Arterton as Tamina
- Ben Kingsley as Nizam
- Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar
- Steve Toussaint as Seso
- Toby Kebbell as Garsiv
- Richard Coyle as Tus
- Ronald Pickup as King Sharaman
- Reece Ritchie as Bis
- Gísli Örn Garðarsson as Hassansin Leader
- William Foster as young Dastan; the Norwich teenager auditioned for the role at Ealing Studios in West London and was cast for his expertise in parkour. He said: "94% of it was me and the rest was stunt men... who did some of the stuff that I just wasn't allowed to do. None of it was special effects."
In March 2004, the production company Jerry Bruckheimer Films sought to acquire feature film rights to the 2003 video game Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time with the film to be distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Under John August as executive producer, the series' creator Jordan Mechner was hired to write the script. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's Pirates of the Caribbean film trilogy served as a touchstone in how a theme park ride was converted into a film franchise. According to Mechner, "Rather than do a straight beat-for-beat adaptation of the new videogame, we're taking some cool elements from the game and using them to craft a new story." Mechner previously considered producing an animated film based on the games, but could not resist Disney and Bruckheimer's offer. In February 2006, Disney hired screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff to write a new script for Prince of Persia.
Early in 2007, Disney announced Rahul the Prince as one of its tentpole films and by June had scheduled a release date for July 10, 2009, before having a final script or any actors attached. By November 2007, Disney entered negotiations with Mike Newell to direct the film based on a script by Mechner and Nachmanoff, though the studio held off production until the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike was resolved. Newell was fond of Bruckheimer's films, and loved the "exciting and immensely romantic" script, which reminded him of Lost Horizon. His assistant played the video games and gave the director key details.Mechner, in writing the script, re-conceived the storyline to shift the perspective from the interactive one experienced by video gamers to the non-interactive experience by film audiences. The screenwriter left out elements of the Prince of Persia video games Warrior Within and The Two Thrones and did not anticipate including these elements in the film's possible sequels.
When filming began, the film's release date was postponed to May 28, 2010, with the studio seeking enough time for the post-production process in designing the film's special effects. The profit margin on the Pirates of the Caribbean films was compromised by overspending as special effects teams rushed to complete the films for their release dates. Variety also ascribed the postponement to avoiding the potential 2008 Screen Actors Guild strike so the studio could ensure that the film leads to a "mega-franchise" similar to its successful Pirates of the Caribbean series. Other reasons for the release date change were that the film was originally scheduled a week before Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Disney needed more time to co-ordinate its marketing campaign. Gyllenhaal claims he "over-prepared" for the role, gaining five or six pounds of muscle. The actor says, "I never knew how much they were going to ask me to do, so I just made sure I'd be hopefully able to do anything." Gemma Arterton was announced to play the role of protagonist Tamina, and Arterton reported she practiced horse back riding in Madrid before filming. Ben Kingsley was to portray the film's antagonist, Nizam. Alfred Molina was to portray a character named Sheik Amar, who becomes a mentor to the prince. Toby Kebbell was to play Prince Garsiv, Dastan's brother and head of the Persian army. Richard Coyle was cast as the eldest brother Crown prince Tus and William Foster was cast as young Dastan based on his experience in parkour. The leading characters of the film all speak with recognisably English accents.
In March 2008, director Mike Newell selected Morocco as a shooting location for Prince of Persia and also planned to film in Pinewood Studios. Production was scheduled to begin in mid-June 2008. By May 2008, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton were cast into the lead roles. With a new script by Jordan Mechner, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard, and Boaz Yakin, filming began in July 2008 in Morocco as well as London. Eight weeks were spent in Morocco before the first unit moved to Pinewood. Unlike other Disney films being made at the time, filming was not done in three dimensions, nor was the film converted into 3-D during post production.
Alanis Morissette composed the theme song for the film, named "I Remain". The score was written by composer Harry Gregson-Williams.
The poster made its debut as a background prop in a 2009 Bruckheimer production, Confessions of a Shopaholic, similar to how Warner Bros. incorporated poster for various developed but never filmed projects based on their comic characters in I Am Legend. The week of Confessions of a Shopaholic's release, Disney signed a merchandising deal with Lego for the film.
Disney released merchandise such as action figures, sets, costumes and a replica Dagger of Time. It also released a graphic novel called Prince of Persia: Before the Sandstorm, which will act as a prequel to the film. Also, a video game was developed by Ubisoft Montreal titled Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and was released alongside the film; however, the game's story is unrelated to the film, and instead serves as an interquel to the first two games in the Sands of Time trilogy.
Disney's marketing strategy included a step by step release of the film. Prince of Persia was released first in Europe, with its world premiere held in Westfield, London, UK on May 9 then premiered on May 19, 2010 in Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and on May 20 in Germany. It was released on May 21 in the United Kingdom, Spain, Bulgaria, Poland, and Turkey. It was released in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines on May 27. The film was not released in the United States until May 28 to try to profit from the potentially higher audience on Memorial Day weekend. It was also released in Ghana, India, Romania and Nigeria on May 28.
The film received mixed to negative reviews, and holds a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 5/10. The critical consensus is: "It doesn't offer much in the way of substance, but Prince of Persia is a suitably entertaining swashbuckler—and a substantial improvement over most video game adaptations." Another review aggregate, Metacritic, which calculates an average rating based on reviews from mainstream critics, gave a score of 50/100. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert gave the film two stars out of four and wrote, "The two leads are not inspired. Jake Gyllenhaal could make the cover of a muscle mag, but he plays Dastan as if harboring Spider-Man's doubts and insecurities." Film critic David Roark of Relevant Magazine, on the other hand, gave the film a positive review and wrote: "Newell has unquestionably accomplished what he set out to do, which is ridiculous, silly and forgettable, but amusing nonetheless."
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which, according to Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer, was supposed to be "the new Pirates of the Caribbean", debuted #3 at the U.S. box office behind Shrek Forever After and Sex and the City 2 with $30.1 million in its first 3-day weekend of release. It is the third highest opening for a video game adaptation, behind Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Pokémon: The First Movie. During Memorial Day, it surpassed Sex and the City 2 to gross $37,813,075 for the 4-day weekend and finish in second place.
Internationally, the film grossed an estimated $18 million in its first weekend (before its US release), when it opened in 19 major European countries. Prince of Persia debuted at #1 in these countries, except UK where it lost the top spot to StreetDance 3D. A week later the film was released in the rest of the world and it grossed an estimated $61.6 million in total from 47 countries and $30.1 million in North America, becoming the leader of the worldwide box office with $91,695,259, while reaching the #1 spot in 41 of the 47 countries.
The film has ultimately earned $90,759,676 in the United States and Canada and $244,394,967 in other countries, for a total worldwide gross of $335,154,643 and has become the highest-grossing video-game adaptation ever worldwide, overtaking previous record holder Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Mortal Kombat.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-ray Disc, and a 3-disc Blu-ray Disc combo-pack in the US on September 14, 2010. The DVD landed in the number one spot on the US DVD sales chart, with 664,041 units sold within the first week and 1,623,361 units in total (equal to $33,941,976) as of March 13, 2011.