The Ghost and the Darkness is a 1996 American historicaladventure film directed by Stephen Hopkins and starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas. The screenplay, written by William Goldman, is a fictionalized account of the Tsavo man-eaters, a pair of male lions that terrorized workers in and around Tsavo, Kenya during the building of the Uganda-Mombasa Railway in East Africa in 1898.
The film received mixed reviews and was considered a box office disappointment, having grossed only $75 million against a production budget of $55 million. It won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing for supervising sound editor Bruce Stambler.
In 1898, Robert Beaumont, the primary financier of a railway project in Tsavo, Kenya, seeks out the expertise of Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson, an Anglo-Irish British military engineer, to get the project on schedule. Patterson travels from England to Tsavo, promising his wife, Helena, he will complete the bridge and be back in London for the birth of their child. Shortly after his arrival, he meets British supervisor Angus Starling, Kenyan foreman Samuel, and Doctor David Hawthorne. Hawthorne informs Patterson of a recent lion attack that has affected the undertaking.
That same night, Patterson ends the life of an approaching lion with a single gunshot, earning the respect of the laborers and allowing them to resume their activities safely. Only a few weeks after, however, Mahina, the construction foreman, is dragged from his tent. At sunrise, his mutilated body is recovered, and Patterson tries another night-time hunt, seeking to catch the lion that ate Mahina, but in the morning, he is informed by Starling that the corpse of a second worker has been found at the opposing end of the camp from his position.
Patterson, heeding the advice of Samuel, employs the workers in building thorn fences around the tents in order to prevent any lions from entering. Several days later, in broad daylight, a lion assails the camp, killing another worker. As Patterson, Starling, and Samuel corner the lion while it is feasting on the body, another lion leaps upon them from the roof of a building, slicing Starling across the throat and injuring Patterson on the left arm. Patterson recovers and attempts to shoot them, but both lions escape. Samuel states that there has never been a pair of man-eaters before; they have always been solitary hunters.
The workers, led by a man named Abdullah, begin to turn on Patterson and, consequently, progress on the bridge comes to a halt. Patterson requests soldiers from England as protection, but he is denied. During a brief visit to the site, Beaumont threatens Patterson that, should his commission not be concluded on time, he will tarnish his reputation. He also announces that he will be contacting the famed hunter Charles Remington to help Patterson in eliminating the threat due to his past failures.
A short time later, Remington reaches Tsavo with the company of skilled Maasai warriors, who dub the lions “the Ghost” and “the Darkness” because of their notorious methods. Remington’s initial attempt to trap one lion in a thicket fails when Patterson’s borrowed gun misfires. The warriors decide to leave, daunted by the beast, but Remington elects to stay behind. He constructs a new hospital tent for sick and injured workers and tempts the lions to the abandoned building with animal parts and blood. The man-eaters seemingly fall for the trap, but Remington and Patterson shoot at them, and they retreat to the new hospital, slaughtering many patients and Hawthorne.
Abdullah and the workers depart, leaving Patterson, Remington, and Samuel alone. The former two locate the animals’ lair and discover the bones of dozens of victims, leading Remington to the realization that the lions are acting as they have been merely for sport. Back at camp that evening, Patterson mounts a hunting stand in a clearing and lures one of the predators to his position using a baboon as bait. The plan goes awry after Patterson falls from the stand, but Remington manages to slay the feline before it can leap on Patterson. He, Patterson, and Samuel spend the remainder of the night drinking and celebrating, but the next morning, Patterson awakes to find that the remaining lion has devoured Remington as he and Samuel slept.
The two men cremate Remington’s remains and burn the tall grass surrounding the camp, driving the surviving lion toward the trap that they have set there. It ambushes them on the partially constructed bridge and, after a lengthy chase, Patterson finally dispatches it with a double-rifle Samuel has thrown to him from a nearby tree. Abdullah and the workers return, and the bridge is completed on time. Patterson reunites with his wife and meets his son for the first time.