Movie opens with flashes of the Ghost Rider comic book pages flipping. Voice over, Carter Slade explains about the background of how the Ghost Rider came about - basically, he's a bounty hunter for Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) a.k.a. the devil himself. In the past, somewhere in Texas. there's this particular Ghost Rider (there are a few) was tasked to collect a souls onto a list callled San Moai (something like that). Basically, these souls are super-evil ones. Anyhow, the gist of it is, when this Ghost Rider found out what giving the list to the devil means (i.e. end of the world), at the last minute, he turns his back and rides away on his horse.
Fast forward in time; we see 2 daredevils performing at a circus - Father and Son, young Johnny Blaze. They perform an act that gets a crowd roaring. We see Johnny's girlfriend, young Roxanne Simpson, sitting in the audience, and she adores Johnny but winces when he is at the most dangerous part of the performance. It is obvious she cannot bear to see anything happen to him. We find out that both sides' parents discourage their relationship.
The 2 young lovers arrange to elope, but Johnny returns home to find that his father is stricken with lung cancer. He debates leaving with Roxanne. That night, Mephisto pays him a visit and offers the classic favor-in-return-for-your-soul deal. As young Johnny debates, he is tricked into signing. true enough, Father Blaze is cured...but dies the next day in the midst of a stunt. Johnny is grieved and furious at Mephisto for the 'deception', but cannot do anything about it. He decides not to elope with Roxanne.
Fast forward to present time, we see Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) has taken over his father; he is now a stunt superstar. It is clear he has no regard/fear of death, and true enough, a crazy stunt over 20+ trucks which would have broke any other men's back has Johnny walking out of it alive. We are aware there is something supernatural about it because even Jphnny senses it. He reads a lot of religious literature to find out more about the devil et al., hoping to find a 'way out of the deal', or a 2nd chance, a sign, as he calls it. His buddy and co-worker is trying to discourage him out of making a crazy jump, which Johnny plans to perform at the anniversary of his father's death. It is clear Johnny isn't listening to his friend's advice.
Day of the jump, and we see Johnny preparing. He is bombarded by the press and is about to leave when he hears a familiar voice: it is Roxanne (Eva Mendes) and she is a vision in white against the sunlight. The apparition of Roxanne is like an angel and Johnny realises that this is his sign. Clearly, their affection for each other has not waned despite the years. As before, she doesn't like watching him jump and leaves before he performs. But this time around, Johnny performs with a renewed gusto, thinking of Roxanne, and he clears perfectly this crazy jump over 6 spaced-out blade-whirling army helicopters. He rides after her press van and hoots in victory after some 'cajoling' (involving stunts) when she agrees to a dinner date.
Unfortch, that night is when Mephisto decides to claim his prize. Blackheart (Mephisto's son) is out to outshine his father and get the San Moai list and he gets 3 devil minions which take the form of the elements Earth, Air and Water to help him. Mephisto tells Blackheart to prepare to deal with his Ghost Rider. He confronts Johnny and puts the Ghost Rider spell on him; Mephisto wants JOhnny to kill Mephisto and get the San Moai list for him. Johnny is reluctant (and unsure) of the effects and we only see this when Johnny ends up in front of Blackheart and begins his transformation into a fiery blazing skeleton. His power is tremendous and he makes shortwork of Earth, sending him back to 'hell'. The rest escape. We also see that the Ghost Rider has another power; which is to make evil pple see their wrongdoings and feel the pain of their victims, thereby searing them and sending their soul to hell. Meanwhile, Roxanne is going bananas waiting for Johnny for their 'date'.
The Ghost Rider power 'disappears' as dawn breaks. Johnny ends up at his father's grave & passes out. When he comes to, he meets the caretaker. He is about to leave when the caretaker begins to reveal knowledge that he knows Johnny is the Ghost Rider. The caretaker tells Johnny more about the list and the Ghost Rider power.
The first showdown battle between Mephisto and his gang and the Ghost Rider has obviously left devastating carnage and damage. Roxanne, being a reporter, is there to cover the story. She is baffled at a witness account of the Ghost Rider. Johnny in human form reaches to apologize to her for his 'non-appearance at the dinner' but she brushes him off.
Johnny returns home trying to learn more about his power and how to control it. He starts to get the hang of things and realises he turns into the Ghost Rider whenever he is around evil. Roxanne shows up at his place and tries to patch things up, but it being night, Johnny is afraid he might 'transform' anytime and tries to shoo her away. When she asks him to explain, his futile attempt drives her off. Next moment, Johnny is arrested by the cops who have traced his motorcycle plate (which fell out during the showdown). He is taken to cop central where his explanations get him no where. He tries to talk his way out of going into the lockdown (where he knows evil villians are kept) but to no avail. True enough, his evil cellmates cause Johnny to transform and he wrecks havoc and escapes. The police chase after him but Johnny escapes. (pretty cool scene of him riding vertically upwards in blaze of fire). Blackheart is there and sends Air to take the Ghost Rider down. But the Ghost Rider is too good, and Air is soon a goner. As Johnny is about to ride off, Roxanne is standing in the midst of the cops and she realises that the Ghost Rider is Johnny. Blackheart and Water-guy witness this and realise that Roxanne is Johnny's sweetheart.
Johnny returns back to the cemetary to learn more from the caretaker. Meanwhile, Roxanne goes to Johnny's apartment to find him and Blackheart is waiting for her. Johnny is warned about Blackheart by the caretaker but is too late as he returns home to find Roxanne half-dead. Blackheart is quite powerful and quickly overpowers the Ghost Rider back into human form. It is also understood that the Ghost Rider's power to make evil pple feel the pain of their victims' suffering (and thereby searing them death) has no effect on Blackheart because he has no soul. He tells Johnny that he is no longer working for his father Mephisto but for Blackheart and if he wants Roxanne alive, then he is to get the San Moai list for Blackheart.
Johnny returns to the cemetary and it is then we realise that the caretaker is Carter Slade and after testing the goodness of Johnny's heart, he hands over the San Moai list. Both Ghost Riders transform and ride off to San Moai together. Carter Slade gives Jonny a shotgun. Now, he has completed his duty and 'disappears'. Johnny arrives at San Moai and has a small battle with Water (who, of course, loses to the Ghost Rider). He faces off with Blackheart, but while he tries to save Roxanne, Blackheart reads off the list. A thousand evil souls are absorbed into his body and he becomes this red-eyed super-evil super- powerful being. It is clear the Ghost Rider is not his match. Worst, the sun begins to rise and the Ghost Rider power fades. Johnny tricks Blackheart to take the battle inside a building (where it's dark). Part of him changes into the Ghost rider and transforms the shotgun into some super-duper fire-shooting weapon, which debilitates Blackheart but he slowly reforms back with the thousand evil souls. Johnny then realises this and picks up Blackheart and uses that searing power on him; this time it has a mega-effect on Blackheart as the power tortures the thousand evil souls with the pain of all their victims' suffering. Blackheart is defeated. As Johnny prepares to walk away from Roxanne, she tells him that she's not afraid. He transforms back at her touch, but just as they are about to leave, Mephisto appears. He tells Johnny he has fulfilled his bargain to kill Blackheart and therefore, their contract is completed and Johnny can have his soul back. Of course, it also means that Mephisto will remove the Ghost Rider power.Johnny exchanges a look with Roxanne and tells Mephisto that no, he will always be the Ghost Rider, but now he will use it against Mephisto (because he's the devil after all) and the Ghost Rider will go after him and all his devil-minions. (it's the typical plot to make the show continue...) Roxanne accepts Johnny as he is and they have worked out some kind of arrangement (i guess he's with her in the day and superhero at night..).