The spaceship Hunter-Gratzner is transporting passengers in cryostasis, including a Muslim cleric called Imam (Keith David), his three acolytes Suleiman (Les Chantrey), Hassan (Sam Sari) and Ali (Firass Dirani), a teenaged girl named Jack (Rhiana Griffith) posing as a boy, a pair of prospectors named Shazza (Claudia Black) and Zeke (John Moore), a merchant named Paris Ogilvie (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), a bounty hunter William J. Johns (Cole Hauser) and his prisoner Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel).
Debris from a comet kills the captain and sends the ship off course, and the crew tries to land on a desert planet. Several passenger compartments are destroyed, and co-pilot Owens (Simon Burke) is killed, but pilot Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) survives. The survivors explore the uninhabited planet, where three suns keep it continually in daylight. They find an abandoned geological research settlement with a water-well and a dropship whose batteries are dead. Zeke is killed and his body disappears. Riddick, of course, is suspected. Fry barely escapes photosensitive underground creatures. Johns offers Riddick a deal: if he helps them get off the planet, he’ll be set free.
One of the acolytes is killed and eaten inside one of the buildings and everyone realizes the geologists were all killed by the creatures. They learn that an eclipse is coming, when the creatures will be able to come up to the surface. Riddick can pilot the Dropship. They struggle to get enough power cells from distant settlements, but the eclipse takes place. Shazza is killed. Because Riddick can see in the dark, he will lead them back to the dropship in the dark. They begin to leave bodies behind.
Riddick realizes that Jack is actually female, and her menstrual blood is attracting the creatures. Johns suggest they leave her behind as bait, but Riddick injures him and leaves him instead. After Imam’s last acolyte is killed and rainfall puts out their torches, Riddick, Fry, Jack, and Imam—the last survivors—take shelter in a cave and Riddick leaves to drag the batteries to the dropship. In the cave, they find bio-luminescent worms to put in lanterns.
Fry goes on and finds Riddick ready to leave in the dropship, and he offers to take her. She insists that they go back for the others. Amused, he agrees. They find Imam and Jack, but Riddick is wounded. Fry goes back for him but is killed. Riddick reaches the ship and takes off, incinerating the massing creatures. Jack asks Riddick what to tell the authorities and he tells her to say he died.
The film was directed by David Twohy and written by him and Ken and Jim Wheat, whose story it is based on. It was inspired by David Twohy’s idea for Alien 3, which was not used, and probably by Robert Heinlein’s novel Tunnel in the Sky. It received mixed reviews, but it was a sleeper hit, mostly because of Vin Diesel’s onscreen charisma. There were two sequels and video games. It was filmed in the Australian outback. The spaceship was left behind and is a tourist attraction in Coober Pedy, South Australia. The same desert was used in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Red Planet, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Coober Pedy was chosen because it looked more dangerous than Mars.
Riddick’s eyes were either inherited from his warrior ancestors or given to him for a bribe by a prison doctor, depending on the source. Vin Diesel’s contact lenses were a prototype and an optometrist had to be flown in to take them out. Later, they were marketed to the public under the name Shine Job, as in the movie. He actually performed the shoulder-dislocation trick in the film. Claudia Black was a regular on the series Stargate SG-1 and Farscape.