The film was produced by Fox 2000 Pictures and Stan Winston Studios (which did the special effects for the creatures) and principal photography was shot in British Columbia, Canada. The film was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released in cinemas in the United States on July 16, 1999, and in the United Kingdom on March 31, 2000. Despite some good reviews, critical reception to the film was generally mixed to negative. However, the film was still a financial success at the box office and it spawned two made-for-television sequels, Lake Placid 2 in 2007 and Lake Placid 3 in 2010.
An officer of Maine Fish and Game researching American beaver populations is scuba diving in Black Lake, Aroostook County, Maine, when he is savagely attacked and bitten in half by something unseen in the water. A tooth is found in the diver's remains and, as it appears to be a prehistoric fossil, a request is made for assistance to the Natural History Museum in New York City. Paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda) gets the job, mainly because her boss, with whom she has had an office affair, wants her out of his way so that he can pursue another relationship with one of Kelly's co-workers.
Upon arriving in Maine, Kelly informs Fish and Game officer Jack Wells (Bill Pullman) and Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson), who himself witnessed the fatal attack, that the tooth appears to be reptilian in nature, and is not a fossil, but something much more recent. They also meet Delores Bickerman (Betty White), one of few people living on the lake, who claims her husband was killed by something in the lake.
Later that afternoon, a helicopter arrives at the camp where we are introduced to Hector Cyr (Oliver Platt), an eccentric mythology professor, flamboyant multi-millionaire and crocodile enthusiast who believes, despite Hank's intense skepticism, that the creature doing the attacks is indeed a crocodile. While the four are out exploring the lake, the creature is shown settling under Kelly and Hank's canoe. Hector's radar begins to pulsate as Kelly and Hank are thrown off their canoe and into the water.
That night, due to his antagonistic nature and free spirit, Hector angers Hank and the two get into an argument. After the two are broken up, Kelly tells Jack and Hank that Hector believes crocodiles are godly creatures (since he's never been bitten by one).
The next day Jack and Hector go diving in the lake to find the creature. After the two enter the water, a speaker producing the sound of baby crocs in distress is placed in the water. The creature is shown sneaking up on them. It pulls the boat anchor, but Hank orders his deputy Burke to cut the anchor cable and the boat escapes. Kelly falls overboard, but is saved just in time as the croc was preparing to attack. Jack and Hector come back up separately and while removing the speaker, Burke is attacked by the creature and his head is bitten off.
Hank mourns the deputy and blames himself for his death. Hector's attempts to console him backfire and anger him, and they get into another fight. During the brawl, Hank chases Hector to the lakeside and as the others follow, a grizzly bear appears. Jack pulls Kelly out of the way, but the bear looms over them. Suddenly a giant crocodile leaps out of the water and drags the bear back into the lake. Kelly and Jack share a moment of awkward intimacy as Kelly dresses Jack's cut. Jack, Kelly, and Hank visit Delores again. They find her feeding the crocodile by bringing a blindfolded cow to the edge of the lake. Delores reveals to have been feeding the crocodile for six years after it followed her husband home and killed him. She is placed under house arrest for not telling the police what she knew when they visited her before.
Hector has shared a relationship with one of Hank's deputies and decides to take her on a trip in the helicopter. Hector lands the helicopter in the cove where the crocodile lives. While he is diving it attacks him but he escapes by throwing an inflatable raft which it chases while they escape in the helicopter. On their return, Jack berates Hector for foolishly risking the life of the deputy. Hector sulks in his tent, where Kelly consoles him and he regains his confidence. Jack and Hank plan to allow Florida Fish and Game to kill the crocodile when they arrive, but Hector stops them and suggests instead that he lure it out of the water and drug it. Jack reluctantly accepts the proposal and they use one of Delores' cows, dangled from the helicopter, as bait. After a few hours of trying this without success, when they are about to give up the crocodile turns up and lunges at the cow. Hector pulls up, loses the cow, and crashes the helicopter into the lake. The crocodile then comes on land and attacks Jack and Kelly, and Kelly is knocked into the lake by its tail. When the crocodile approaches her, Hector tells her to swim to him and go underwater. The croc follows her underwater and she goes behind a tree to hide. She doesn't notice her foot gets stuck in a hole. She tries to swim but can't get out. The croc comes and shakes the tree and she gets free and swim above the surface to Hector.
The croc then smashes through the cockpit and gets wedged in, trapping it and allowing Hector and Kelly to swim to the shore. Despite Hector and Kelly's protests to let the animal live, Jack grabs a gun from a deputy and shoots it, but the gun is revealed to be a tranquilizer rifle. As Hector comes out of the water, a second crocodile attacks him, but Hank blows it up with his grenade launcher. Florida Fish and Game arrive seconds later. They load the crocodile on a truck and take it to Portland, Maine until they can figure out what to do with it. Kelly and Jack also appear to start a relationship, the wounded Jack warmly tells Kelly, "I already miss the crocodile".
The last scene shows Delores feeding bread crumbs to what appears to be many baby crocodiles implying the two adults were a mating pair. During the end credits, the surviving adult crocodile is seen tied to the back of a flat-bed truck speeding down a road.
- Bill Pullman as Jack Wells (he sounds like Dr. James Harvey from Casper, Walter from Sleepless in Seattle, Korso from Titan A.E..)
- Bridget Fonda as Kelly Scott
- Oliver Platt as Hector Cyr
- Brendan Gleeson as Sheriff Hank Keough
- Betty White as Mrs. Delores Bickerman
- David Lewis as Walt Lawson
- Tim Dixon as Stephen Daniels
- Natassia Malthe as Janine (he sounds like Angela Pierce Turner from Big Momma's House 2, and Charisse from Call Me: The Rise and Fall of Heidi Fleiss)
- Mariska Hargitay as Myra Okubo
- Meredith Salenger as Deputy Sharon Gare
- Jed Rees as Deputy Burke
- Richard Leacock as Deputy Stevens
- Jake T. Roberts as Officer Coulson
- Warren Takeuchi as Paramedic
- Ty Olsson as State Trooper
The film was produced by Fox 2000 Pictures, Phoenix Pictures, and Rocking Chair Productions. The 30-foot (9.1 m) long crocodile was created by Stan Winston Studios.
Almost the entire film was shot on location in remote locations in British Columbia, Canada, which stood in for the fictional locations of the film in the American State of Maine. Some scenes were shot in Vancouver and Surrey, B.C. Three different lakes stood in for the fictional "Black Lake"; these were Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, B.C.; Buntzen Lake, Anmore, B.C.; and Hayward Lake, Mission, B.C.
Betty White's character is told that PETA would be interested to learn of her alleged mistreatment of her cows. In reality, Betty White is a major on-air spokesperson for PETA.
Although Lake Placid was a financial success at the box office, critical reception was mixed. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 37% rating with the critical consensus being "Faux horror schtick fails to elicit any laughs or scares." Roger Ebert described it as "completely wrong-headed from beginning to end". Empire gave the film four out of five stars, saying "You can enjoy Placid as a straightforward camping-holiday nightmare, or as a sly, ironic take on the same. It works deliciously as both."
Lake Placid 2, produced by Sony Pictures and the Sci Fi Channel, is a made-for-television movie aired as a Sci Fi Channel original movie on April 28, 2007. It has a completely different cast from the original film, although the setting is the same. The unrated DVD release of the film was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released on January 29, 2008.
Lake Placid 3, produced by the Sci Fi Channel is a made-for-television horror film starring Colin Ferguson (Eureka). This sequel to the 2007 film, Lake Placid 2, and the 1999 film, Lake Placid, aired as a Sci Fi Channel original movie on August 21, 2010. It was released as a DVD on October 26, 2010. Lake Placid 3 has 2 versions; The TV version was rated R, the DVD version was unrated and contains nudity.