Inspired by the true life exploits of Rodney Ansell, the film was made on a budget of under $10 million as a deliberate attempt to make a commercial Australian film that would appeal to a mainstream American audience, but proved to be a worldwide phenomenon. Released on 30 April 1986 in Australia, and on 26 September 1986 in the United States, it was the second-highest-grossing film in the United States in that year and went on to become the second-highest grossing film worldwide at the box office as well.
There are two versions of the film: the Australian version, and the American/international version, the latter of which had much of the Australian slang replaced with more commonly understood terms, and was slightly shorter. The international version also changes the title to "Crocodile" Dundee, adding the quotation marks. The film was followed by two sequels: "Crocodile" Dundee II (1988) and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001).
Sue Charlton, a feature writer for Newsday engaged to marry her editor, Richard, travels to Walkabout Creek, a small hamlet in the Northern Territory of Australia to meet Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee, a bushman reported to have lost a leg to a Saltwater Crocodile. On arrival, she finds his leg is not missing, but he has a large scar.
At first Sue finds Dundee less legendary than she had been led to believe, being unimpressed by his uncouth behaviour and clumsy advances towards her; however, she is later amazed when in the Outback, she witnesses "Mick" (as Dundee is called) subduing a Wild Asian Water Buffalo, taking part in an Aboriginal tribal dance ceremony, killing snakes with his hands, and (at her request) scaring tourists from their sport of shooting kangaroos. Offended by Mick's assertion that she is incapable of surviving the Outback alone, Sue goes out alone to prove him wrong, but is attacked by a crocodile and rescued by Mick. She finds herself becoming attracted to him.
Sue invites Mick to return with her to New York City on the pretext of continuing the feature story. There he is perplexed by New York behaviour and customs but is still able to overcome problematic situations including attempted robberies and two encounters with a pimp. When Richard proposes marriage to Sue at a dinner party, Mick is upset and decides to go 'walkabout' around the USA; but Sue, having refused Richard, follows him to a subway station. There, she cannot reach him through the crowd on the platform, but has members of the crowd relay her message to him, whereupon he walks to her on the heads and raised hands of the jubilant crowd and embraces her.
- Paul Hogan as Michael J. "Crocodile" Dundee
- Linda Kozlowski as Sue Charlton
- Alan Dunlea as Dingo
- John Meillon as Walter Reilly
- Terry Gill as Duffy
- David Gulpilil as Neville Bell
- Reginald VelJohnson as Gus
- Steve Rackman as Donk
- Gerry Skilton as Nugget
- Peter Turnbull as Trevor
- Christine Totos as Rosita
- Graham 'Grace' Walker as Angelo
- Mark Blum as Richard Mason
- Michael Lombard as Sam Charlton
- Caitlin Clarke as Simone
- John Snyder as Pimp
- Anne Carlisle as Gwendoline
- Anne Francine as Fran
- Paige Matthews as Party Girl
- Paul Greco as New Yorker
The idea to make the film came to Paul Hogan when he was in New York. He wondered what it would be like if a Northern Territory bushman arrived in town. Hogan:
There's a lot about Dundee that we all think we're like; but we're not, because we live in Sydney. He's a mythical outback Australian who does exist in part—the frontiersman who walks through the bush, picking up snakes and throwing them aside, living off the land who can ride horses and chop down trees and has that simple, friendly, laid-back philosophy. It's like the image the Americans have of us, so why not give them one?... We've always been desperately short of folk heroes in this country. Ned Kelly is pathetic. So are the bushrangers.
The film's budget was raised through the 10BA tax concessions via Morgan Sharebrokers. Paul Hogan used his regular collaborators from TV, including John Cornell, Peter Faiman and Ken Shadie. Linda Koslowski was imported to play the American reporter; Actors' Equity Australia objected to this but eventually relented.
Six weeks of filming were spent working out of Jaja, an abandoned uranium mining camp in Kakadu National Park, with an additional week in Cloncurry. There was a further six weeks filming in New York. Filming finished on 11 October 1985.
A number of minor changes were made to the film for its US release.
When the film finished Hogan said he expected it would make millions of dollars around the world. Hogan also said of the film, "I'm planning for it to be Australia's first proper movie. I don't think we've had one yet—not a real, general public, successful, entertaining movie."
The film has a rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.
James Berardinelli of Reelviews.net gave the film three stars out of four stating, "What the storyline lacks in ambition, it makes up for in sheer, unfettered likability."
Crocodile Dundee debuted at #1, and was a worldwide box office hit. The film grossed $47,707,045 at the box office in Australia, which is equivalent to $104,001,358 in 2009 dollars.
The film was released theatrically in the United States by Paramount Pictures in September 1986. It grossed $174,803,506 at the domestic box office. It was the second highest-grossing film that year (after Top Gun) for both the studio and the United States box office.