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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Produced by Kevin Costner
John Davis
Charles Gordon
Lawrence Gordon
Written by Peter Rader
David Twohy
Starring Kevin Costner
Dennis Hopper
Jeanne Tripplehorn
Tina Majorino
Michael Jeter
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Dean Semler
Editing by Peter Boyle
Studio Gordon Company
Davis Entertainment
Licht/Mueller Film Corporation
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 28, 1995 (1995-07-28)
Running time 135 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $175 million[2]
Box office $264,218,220[3]

Waterworld is a 1995 American post-apocalyptic science fiction film directed by Kevin Reynolds and co-written by Peter Rader and David Twohy. It was based on Rader's original 1986 screenplay and stars Kevin Costner, who also produced it with Charles Gordon and John Davis. It was distributed by Universal Pictures.

The setting of the film is the distant future. Although no exact date was given in the film itself, it has been suggested that it takes place in 2500.[4] The polar ice caps have completely melted, and the sea level has risen many hundreds of feet, covering nearly all the land. The film illustrates this with an unusual variation on the Universal logo, which begins with the usual image of Earth, but shows the planet's water levels gradually rising and the polar ice caps melting until nearly all the land is submerged. The plot of the film centers on an otherwise nameless antihero, "The Mariner", a drifter who sails the Earth in his trimaran.

The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld was released to mixed reviews, praising the futuristic style but criticizing the characterization and acting performances. The film also was unable to recoup its massive budget at the box office; however, the production did later break even due to video and other post-cinema sales. The film's release was accompanied by a tie-in novel, video game, and three themed attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore, and Universal Studios Japan called Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which are all still running as of 2014.


In the beginning of the 21st century, the polar ice caps began to rapidly melt and the sea level began to rise hundreds of meters, covering every continent and turning Earth into a water planet. The human population was subsequently scattered across the ocean in individual, isolated communities consisting of artificial islands and mostly-decrepit sea vessels. As time passed, mankind slowly forgot about continents or land-based societies, the new mythology being that the world was created in a "great flood". Many, however, clung to belief in a mythical place called "Dryland". The human population also forgot most of their technological knowledge, hence the ramshackle architecture and post-apocalyptic setting.

Five hundred years later, a drifter, known only as "the Mariner", sails the open seas in his trimaran. He enters an artificial atoll city in the shallower part of the ocean seeking to trade dirt, which is a precious commodity. He is instantly asked how he found it but refuses to answer. It is later revealed that he is not a human, but a mutant with webbed feet and gills, an evolutionary step in some of the humans to accommodate the changes in climate. The fearful atollers, who despise mutants, vote to "recycle" him by drowning him in a yellow sludge brine pool they maintain for composting.

Just as they begin lowering the Mariner into the sludge, local pirates known as "Smokers" raid the atoll. The Smokers are searching for an orphan girl named Enola, who had drifted to the atoll alone in a basket and has what appears to be a map and directions to Dryland tattooed on her back. Leading the raid is "the Deacon", captain of a derelict oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, and the overall leader of the Smokers. They are known as such due to the crude fuel they create, using oil from the tanker, to power their machines. He wants the map to Dryland so he can be the first to claim it and build a city in which he will rule. His efforts to capture Enola will lead to a number of skirmishes with the Mariner.

Enola and her guardian, the atoll's shopkeeper named Helen, had planned to leave the floating city soon anyway, with the atoll's expert inventor Gregor. This was due, in part, to the xenophobia exhibited toward the girl by many of the residents there but also in the hopes of finding Dryland, where they believe Enola was born. However, the vehicle they planned to travel in, a hydrogen-filled balloon Gregor made of scraps and spare parts, was launched accidentally early by Gregor to save them from the raid. Unfortunately, only he was able to board in time, leaving Helen and Enola stranded. They instead escape with the Mariner, who agrees to take them because Helen saved him from drowning in the sludge. He is ill at ease with their company though, as he prefers solitude, and finds them to be a nuisance. After Helen's naïve actions during another run-in with the Smokers result in significant damage to the Mariner's boat, he angrily cuts their hair very short and uses it to splice together some of the ships cordage damaged in that encounter. After this incident, perhaps remorseful, the Mariner gradually warms up to them and even teaches Enola to swim in case of an emergency.

Helen is convinced that Dryland exists and she demands to know where the Mariner finds his dirt. The Mariner, able to breathe underwater, puts her in a diving bell and swims them down to the ruins of Denver where he collects the dirt, and other items he trades, from the bottom of the sea. Helen then realizes that this is how former human civilization existed, as she believed people had always lived on water, not based on land. While they are underwater, the Deacon and a few Smokers board the Mariners boat, capturing the Mariner and Helen when they surface then using them to flush Enola from hiding. They dive overboard, barely escaping. Since Helen cannot breathe underwater, the Mariner uses his gills to breathe for the both of them, resulting in an underwater kiss of life. They resurface and find everyone gone and his trimaran destroyed. They board the floating wreckage, where they are later rescued by Gregor in his balloon when he came to investigate the rising smoke. He takes them to a new makeshift atoll where the survivors of the first atoll attack have regrouped.

Using a captured Smoker jet ski, the Mariner chases down the Deacon, finding him on the remaining hulk of Exxon Valdez, which he then boards. There, the Deacon is having a celebration, tossing gifts of cigarettes and Smeat (a Spam-like canned meat) to the huge Smoker crew, proclaiming they have found the map to Dryland. After the crew have all gone below decks to row the hulk, the Mariner walks out onto the deck, where the Deacon and his top men are still present, examining Enola's tattoo. He threatens to drop a flare down a vent into the oil reserve tank unless the Deacon releases Enola. The Deacon, believing that the Mariner is bluffing, refuses, so the Mariner ignites and drops the flare. The ship explodes below-decks and begins sinking rapidly while the Mariner escapes with Enola by climbing a rope up to Gregor's balloon.

The Deacon, still alive, makes a grab for Enola, but Helen strikes him in the forehead with a thrown bottle, causing him to fall into the water. He pulls out his pistol and shoots at the balloon, hitting one of the lines, causing Enola to fall into the sea. The Deacon, stating if he can't have her no one will, mounts a stray jet ski. Signaling two other jet skiing Smokers to get Enola, they converge on her at high speed. The Mariner, seeing this, ties a thick cord around his ankle and jumps down to grab Enola. The bungee-like recoil of the cord pulls them sharply upwards and out of the water just as the jet skis collide and explode, killing the Deacon and the two Smokers.

Gregor deciphers the map, translating the Asian symbols using an old and tattered China Airlines magazine. He realizes that they are latitude and longitude coordinates, and steers his balloon in that direction. The group finds Dryland, which, it turns out, is approximately the top kilometer of Mount Everest. No longer a snowy peak but verdant and welcoming, with fresh water, forests and wildlife from birds up to horses. Gregor, Enola, Helen and some other atoll survivors land and find the remains of Enola's parents in a hut. The group prepares to settle, but the Mariner decides he must leave, explaining to Enola that the ocean, his only home, calls to him. He sails away, taking a boat left by the former inhabitants.



The film marked the fourth collaboration between Costner and Reynolds, who had previously worked together on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Fandango (1985), and Rapa Nui (1994), the latter of which Costner coproduced but did not star in.[5] Waterworld was cowritten by David Twohy, who cited Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior as a major inspiration. Both films employed Dean Semler as director of photography. Gene Hackman, James Caan, Laurence Fishburne, and Gary Oldman all turned down the role of the Deacon.[citation needed] Anna Paquin was the first choice to play Enola.[citation needed]

During production, the film was plagued by a series of cost overruns and production setbacks. Universal initially authorized a budget of $100 million, but production costs eventually ran to an estimated $175 million, a record sum for a film production at the time. Filming took place in a large artificial seawater enclosure similar to that used in the film Titanic two years later; it was located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii. The final scene was filmed in Waipio Valley on the Big Island, also referred to as The Valley of Kings. The production was hampered by the collapse of the multi-million dollar set during a hurricane. Additional filming took place in Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, and Santa Catalina Island, and the Channel Islands of California.

The production featured different types of personal watercraft (PWC), especially Kawasaki jet skis. Kevin Costner was on the set for 157 days, working 6 days a week.[citation needed] At one point, he nearly died when he got caught in a squall while tied to the mast of his trimaran.[citation needed] Laird Hamilton, the well-known surfer, was Kevin Costner’s stunt double for many water scenes. Hamilton, who commuted to the set via jet ski, was temporarily lost at sea when his jet ski ran out of fuel between Maui and the Big Island. He drifted for hours before being spotted by a Coast Guard plane and rescued.[citation needed] When the abandoned jet ski washed up on shore on the island of Lanai, he retrieved it and drove it home. Stunt coordinator Norman Howell suffered from decompression sickness while filming an underwater scene and was rushed to a hospital in Honolulu by helicopter. He recovered quickly from the potentially life-threatening sickness and returned to the set two days later.[citation needed] Tina Majorino was nicknamed "Jellyfish Candy" by Costner after she was stung by jellyfish on three occasions during production.[citation needed]

Mark Isham's score, which was not recorded and only demos were completed for approximately 25% of the film, was reportedly rejected by Costner because it was "too ethnic and bleak", contrasting the film's futuristic and adventurous tone; Isham offered to try again, but was not given the chance.[6] James Newton Howard was brought in to write the new score. Joss Whedon flew out to the set to do last minute script rewrites and later described it as "seven weeks of hell"; the work boiled down to editing in Costner's ideas without alteration.[7][8]

The state of Hawaii had more than $35 million added to its economy as a result of the colossal film production.[9] Rumors abound that, after the filming ran notoriously over-budget, Kevin Costner fired Kevin Reynolds as director and shot the last few scenes himself.[citation needed] Other rumors suggest Reynolds was not fired, but simply walked off set with two weeks of filming left.[citation needed] Despite their reported clashes, the director and star reunited almost two decades later for the History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys.

Loe Real, one of the two 60-foot Waterworld trimarans in 2013; Newport Beach, California.

Inspired by racing trimarans built by Jeanneau Advanced Technologies' multi-hull division Lagoon; a custom 60 foot (18 m) yacht was designed by Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot-Prevost and built in France by Lagoon. Two versions were built, a relatively standard racing trimaran for distance shots, and an effects-laden transforming trimaran for closeup shots. The first trimaran was launched on 2 April 1994, and surpassed 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) in September of that year.[10] The transforming version was first seen in the film as a sort of raft with a three-bladed egg-beater windmill. When needed, levers could be triggered that would flatten the windmill blades while raising a hidden mast to full racing height. A boom emerged, previously hidden in the hull, and the two sails were automatically unfurled. Once the transformation was complete this version could actually sail, although not as well as the dedicated racer.[10] The transforming version is in private hands in San Diego, California.[10] For many years, the racing version was kept in a lake at Universal Studios Florida,[10] before being restored for use as a racing trimaran named Loe Real, which was (as of 2012) beng offered for sale in San Diego.[11]


Box office[edit]

Due to the runaway costs of the production and its expensive price tag, some critics dubbed it "Fishtar"[12] and "Kevin's Gate",[13] alluding to the flops Ishtar and Heaven's Gate, although the film debuted at the box office at #1.[14][15] With a budget of $175 million (not including marketing and distribution costs, which were a further $60 million for a total outlay of $235 million[2]), the film grossed $88 million at the North American box office. The film did better overseas, with $176 million at the foreign box office, for a worldwide total of $264 million.[3] However, even though this figure surpasses the total costs spent by the studio, it does not take into account the percentage of box office gross that theaters retain, which is generally up to half;[2] but after factoring in home video sales and TV broadcast rights among other revenue streams, Waterworld eventually broke even.[16]

Critical reception[edit]

Contemporary reviews for the film were mostly mixed. Roger Ebert said of Waterworld: "The cost controversy aside, Waterworld is a decent futuristic action picture with some great sets, some intriguing ideas, and a few images that will stay with me. It could have been more, it could have been better, and it could have made me care about the characters. It's one of those marginal pictures you're not unhappy to have seen, but can't quite recommend."[17] James Berardinelli of Reelviews Movie Reviews was one of the film's few supporters calling it "one of Hollywood's most lavish features to date". He wrote: "Although the storyline isn't all that invigorating, the action is, and that's what saves Waterworld. In the tradition of the old Westerns and Mel Gibson's Mad Max flicks, this film provides good escapist fun. Everyone behind the scenes did their part with aplomb, and the result is a feast for the eyes and ears."[18]

Metacritic gives the film a score of 56%, based on reviews from 17 critics, in the range of "Mixed or average reviews".[19] Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 43% based on reviews from 49 critics, with and an average rating of 5.1, and site's critical consensus being "Though it suffered from toxic buzz at the time of its release, Waterworld is ultimately an ambitious misfire: an extravagant sci-fi flick with some decent moments and a lot of silly ones."[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Subject Nominee Result
Academy Awards[21] Best Sound Mixing Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker and Keith A. Wester Nominated
Saturn Awards Best Science Fiction Film Nominated
Best Costumes John Bloomfield Nominated
BAFTA Film Awards Best Visual Effects Michael J. McAlister, Brad Kuehn, Robert Spurlock and Martin Bresin Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Picture Nominated
Worst Actor Kevin Costner Nominated
Worst Director Kevin Reynolds Nominated
Worst Supporting Actor Dennis Hopper Won


The film was repackaged in a number of forms, including a 1995 Gottlieb Amusements (later Premier, both now defunct) pinball machine.[22]

Video games[edit]

Video games based on the film were released for the Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and PC. There was to be a release for the Sega Genesis, but it was canceled and was only available on the Sega Channel. A Sega Saturn version of the game was also planned and development was completed but like its Genesis counterpart it was also cancelled prior to release. The Super Nintendo and Game Boy releases were only available in the United Kingdom and Australia. While the Super Nintendo and Virtual Boy versions were released by Ocean Software, the PC version was released by Interplay. The game received negative reviews; the Virtual Boy version was marked as the worst Virtual Boy game ever released out of the 22 games produced for it.[according to whom?]


A tie-in novel was written by Max Allan Collins and published by Arrow Books. The novel goes into greater detail regarding the world of the film.

Comic books[edit]

A sequel comic book four-issue mini-series entitled Waterworld: Children of Leviathan was released by Acclaim Comics in 1997. Kevin Costner did not permit his likeness to be used for the comics, so the Mariner looks different. The story reveals some of the Mariner's back-story as he gathers clues about where he came from and why he is different. The comic expands on the possible cause of the melting of the polar ice caps and worldwide flood, and introduces a new villain, "Leviathan", who supplied the Deacon's Smoker organization. The comic hints at the possibility that the Mariner's mutation may not be caused by evolution but by genetic engineering and that his origins may be linked to those of the "Sea Eater", the sea monster seen during the fishing scene in the film.

Theme park attractions[edit]

There are attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Japan, and Universal Studios Singapore based on the film. The show's plot takes place immediately after the movie, as Helen returns to the Atoll with proof of Dryland, only to find herself followed by the Deacon, who survived the events of the movie. The Mariner arrives immediately after him, defeats the Deacon and takes Helen back to Dryland while the Atoll explodes.


  1. ^ "WATERWORLD (12)". British Board of Film Classification. 1995-07-26. Retrieved 2012-05-24. 
  2. ^ a b c Weinraub, Bernard (1995-07-31). "'Waterworld' Disappointment As Box Office Receipts Lag". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b "Waterworld (1995)". Box Office Mojo. 1995-09-26. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  4. ^ The Making of Waterworld by Janine Pourroy (August 1995). Production designer Dennis Gassner states: "The date was 2500."
  5. ^ Eller, Claudia; Welkos, Robert W. (1994-09-16). "Plenty of Riptides on 'Waterworld' Set : With key crew people quitting and reported turmoil, logistical and organizational problems, the big-budget film, scheduled for release in summer of '95, could end up costing more than any movie ever made.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  6. ^ "Waterworld (James Newton Howard)". Filmtracks. 1995-08-01. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  7. ^ "Waterworld and troubles for Blu-ray?". Mania.com. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  8. ^ Robinson, Tasha (September 5, 2001). "Joss Whedon". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 19, 2012. 
  9. ^ "The Most Expensive Movies Ever Made". Forbes.com. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  10. ^ a b c d "The Mariner's Trimaran". October 27, 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-10-27. 
  11. ^ ""Loe Real" - 60' Jeanneau Custom Trimaran". Morrelli & Melvin. 2012. 
  12. ^ "Waterworld (PG-13)". The Washington Post. 1995-07-28. 
  13. ^ "Married with Movies: Waterworld - Two-Disc Extended Edition". Archived from the original on 10 March 2011. Retrieved 2013-07-16. 
  14. ^ Natale, Richard (1995-07-31). "Waterworld Sails to No. 1 : Movies: The $175-million production takes in $21.6 million in its first weekend. But unless it enlarges its appeal, it will probably gross about half its cost.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  15. ^ Eyerly, Alan (1995-07-31). "Strong Opening Weekend for 'Waterworld': Fans: Why do people endure epic waits in line to see big movies? It's, like, a party.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  16. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike (August 7, 2013). "Isn’t It Time To Take ‘Waterworld’ Off The All-Time Flop List?". Deadline.com. Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 28, 1995). "Waterworld". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-03-28. 
  18. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Waterworld". Reelviews. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  19. ^ "Waterworld Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  20. ^ "Waterworld (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  21. ^ "The 68th Academy Awards (1996) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  22. ^ "Internet Pinball Machine Database: Premier 'Waterworld'". Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  • Parish, James Robert (2006). Fiasco - A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-69159-4.  359 pages

External links[edit]