The River Wild

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Not to be confused with Wild River.
The River Wild
River wild movie poster.jpg
Original theatrical poster
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Produced by Lawrence Turman
David Foster
Written by Denis O'Neill
Starring Meryl Streep
Kevin Bacon
David Strathairn
John C. Reilly
Joseph Mazzello
Benjamin Bratt
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Maurice Jarre (rejected score)
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Edited by David Brenner
Joe Hutshing
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • September 30, 1994 (1994-09-30)
Running time
108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
American Sign Language
Budget $45 million
Box office $94,216,343

The River Wild is a 1994 adventure crime-thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Mazzello as Roarke. The film involves a family on a whitewater rafting trip who encounter two violent criminals in the wilderness.


A Boston couple, Gail (Meryl Streep) and Tom (David Strathairn), are having marital problems, due to his inability to spend time with his family because of his work as an architect. She, a water rafting expert, decides to take their son, Roarke (Joseph Mazzello), on a holiday rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho, along with their dog, Maggie. Their daughter, Willa (Stephanie Sawyer), accompanies them to Gail's parents' house in Idaho. At the last minute, just when they are about to leave for the almost week-long trip, Tom joins them. As they are setting off, they meet a couple of other rafters, Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly), who appear to be friendly. Thus they leave for the trip, leaving Willa behind to be taken care of by her grandparents.

After a day's rafting, they make camp for the night, but Tom continues to work on his renderings rather than entering fully into the experience, which agitates Roarke. They are joined by Wade and Terry, who help to celebrate Roarke's birthday that night. Gail becomes friendly with Wade. However, after a while he begins acting suspiciously, and she decides it would be best to part ways. During the morning's rafting, he reveals to Roarke that they have a gun with them. As they raft down the river, Gail and Tom discuss a strategy that will allow them to leave the two men behind, and at lunch they attempt to leave on their raft and get away before Wade and Terry realize what is going on.

Their attempt fails, and Wade pulls the gun on them and assaults Tom. Maggie runs off during the melee, avoiding a shot by Wade. Gail then realizes that an armed robbery she had heard about was actually carried out by Wade and Terry, and their rafting trip is actually a way for them to get away. Having found out that they are criminals, the family is forced to raft at gunpoint down the rest of the river before they all set up camp for the night.

During the night, Tom attempts to steal the gun from the sleeping Terry but is heard and has to run into the bushes and to the river. Wade gives chase and believes he has shot Tom when he hears a loud splash into the water.

A park ranger named Johnny (Benjamin Bratt), who knows Gail, is whitewater canoeing down the river. He bumps into them. Wade holds the gun to Gail's back, and they pretend everything is okay. Later, Johnny reappears. Wade shoots him and throws him into the rapids.

Wade and Terry plan to escape by rafting a set of rapids named the Gauntlet, where rafting is no longer allowed because in recent years one person was killed and another was left paralyzed. Aware that Gail is one of only three people to have ever survived the deadly waters, they force Gail to raft down through those rapids despite her repeated declarations that she can no longer navigate such big water, especially not with novices and her son.

Unbeknownst to anyone Tom has been racing to try and get ahead of the raft, in a desperate attempt to save his family. After a harrowing ride in which Terry is nearly drowned, the group manage to make it through the Gauntlet. Tom reappears, and manages to flip the raft. As he struggles with Terry, Gail is able to get the gun.

Wade tells Gail there is no need to kill him, and that if she does, it will haunt her because she will never have a way to know if she truly had to. Gail, knowing Wade believes the gun has only one round, fires into the air, after which Wade orders Terry to kill Tom and Roarke, and goes after Gail. Gail chambers the other round and kills Wade. The film ends with the family and Terry, who has been arrested, being helicoptered out.



The Kootenay River valley used in the film

Many of the film's whitewater scenes were filmed on the Kootenai River in Montana. Other scenes were filmed on the Ruby Horsethief section of the Colorado River, the Rogue River in Southern Oregon, and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. Streep did several of her own stunts in the film, on the milder river sections. The major whitewater stunts were performed by expert professional river guide Kelley Kalafatich who was hired as Streep's stunt double for the movie.

There was a scare at the end of one day of filming when Hanson asked Streep to shoot one more scene, which she objected because of her exhaustion. However, she decided to attempt it, and weak from fatigue, was swept off the raft into the river and was in danger of drowning; she did not because of her personal flotation device and the river rescue team. Afterwards she said to Hanson, "In the future, when I say I can't do something, I think you should believe me," to which he agreed.[1]


The film was initially scored by Maurice Jarre, but after the producers threw his work out Jerry Goldsmith was signed to rescore the project (footage of the Goldsmith scoring sessions was used in the 1995 documentary Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith, with extended footage of same as a DVD bonus). Although Goldsmith took a different approach to Jarre, both composers incorporated the folk song "The Water Is Wide" into their scores; The Cowboy Junkies also recorded a version of the song for the end credits. RCA Victor released a soundtrack album on September 13, 1994.

On January 19, 2014, Intrada Records released a limited edition album, with Goldsmith's score and alternates on disc one and Jarre's unused music on disc two. Tracks in bold also appear on the RCA album, mostly under different names.

CD 1: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

  1. Practice (2:24)
  2. The Field (1:25)
  3. Let’s Go Boys (1:26)
  4. Here We Go (1:01)
  5. No Favors (1:32)
  6. Graffiti (1:38)
  7. My Life (0:45)
  8. Wade’s Over (3:20)
  9. Same Old Story (2:13)
  10. All Is Well (0:47)
  11. Get The Drinks (4:00)
  12. Stand Off (0:48)
  13. Run Maggie (0:41)
  14. Pictures (1:54)
  15. Maggie’s Back (1:02)
  16. Secrets (2:03)
  17. Where Are You? (2:34)
  18. Anything I Want (1:10)
  19. The Raft (Original) (3:41)
  20. Go, Mom (2:11)
  21. What Happened? (2:41)
  22. Do It! (2:53)
  23. Ballast (Revised #1) (1:43)
  24. Vacation’s Over (10:05)
  25. One Left (Revised #1) (0:35)
  26. Family Reunion (End Title) - contains edited version of “The Water Is Wide” (Traditional), performed by The Cowboy Junkies (5:46)
  27. The Gun (Pizzicato Hits) (1:52)
  28. The Raft (Revised) (3:42)
  29. Now What? (Original) (1:44)
  30. Ballast (Original) (1:18)
  31. Ballast (Revised #2) (1:19)
  32. One Left (Original) (0:36)
  33. One Left (Revised #2) (0:37)
  34. Great Timing (Original) (1:59)
  35. “The Water Is Wide” (Electric Violin Version) - adapted and arranged by Jerry Goldsmith (2:58)

CD 2: The Unused Score

  1. The Bridge (2:59)
  2. We All Go (3:58)
  3. Wade Overboard (4:27)
  4. The Stakes Just Got Higher (5:02)
  5. Tom Lost (3:46)
  6. The Cliff (2:32)
  7. Ranger Danger (1:00)
  8. Raft In Trouble (2:32)
  9. Gail Strikes Back (1:30)
  10. Hold On (4:28)
  11. The Gauntlet (9:29)
  12. Final Fight (2:06)
  13. Reunion And End Title - contains “Mandolin Mix” of “The Water Is Wide” (Traditional), performed by Cowboy Junkies (6:33)
  14. Racing Victory (0:44)
  15. Racing Victory - Alternate 1 (0:35)
  16. Racing Victory - Alternate 2 (0:29)
  17. Gail Leads - Alternate (0:13)
  18. Maggie, Too (0:36)
  19. Maggie, Too - Revised (0:36)
  20. First Baggage (0:36)
  21. First Baggage - Revised (0:28)
  22. Rock Symbols (0:55)
  23. Baggage Again (0:28)
  24. Gail’s Advice (0:50)
  25. Wade Shows The Gun (0:36)
  26. Terry Hesitates (0:44)
  27. Threats (0:18)
  28. Wade And Terry Argue (0:34)
  29. Tom’s Plan – Revised (0:22)
  30. Twigs And Leaves (0:47)
  31. Raft In Trouble - Revised (2:30)
  32. Tom And Maggie (0:30)
  33. Untie Us (0:43)
  34. Final Fight – Revised (2:06)
  35. Reunion - Version 2 (2:00)
  36. Reunion - Version 3 (1:59)
  37. Reunion - Version For Album (2:02)
  38. Reunion – Version 4 (0:10)
  39. “The Water Is Wide” (Traditional) - The Cowboy Junkies (3:10)


The film premiered on September 30, 1994 in the United States, but release was delayed in the United Kingdom until February 24, 1995. The film grossed a total of $94,216,343[2] worldwide, earning $46,816,343 domestically in the United States and $47,400,000 abroad.[citation needed]



The critics gave the film a mixed reaction, although its scenery and cinematography were widely praised. It currently[when?] holds a 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Film critic James Berardinelli praised the production values of the cinematography and score, and the pace of the rafting experience. He also praised Hanson's directing, likening it to that like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), stating that Hanson, "could manipulate characters and situations within the comfortable confines of a formula plot", and describing The River Wild as a "level of excitement designed to submerge implausibilities and minor gaffes, and a film which "braves the rapids while keeping the viewer afloat amidst its churning waters".[3] He also praised Streep's powerful performance as a female action hero, but described the film overall as "a cut below a white-knuckler".[3]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times also said the best elements of the film were its cinematography, which he described as "great looking", and the performances of Bacon and Streep; he described the latter as "putting a lot of humor and intelligence into her character".[4] However, Ebert identified serious flaws in the strength of the plot, remarking that, "movies like this are so predictable in their overall stories that they win or lose with their details ...The River Wild was constructed from so many ideas, characters and situations recycled from other movies that all the way down the river I kept thinking: Been there".[4] He emphasized the lack of credibility in the storyline and sheer impossibility of some scenes, particularly involving Strathairn as he outruns the pace of the river, and his scenes with the cliff and his Swiss Army knife.[4]

Nominations, awards, and recognitions[edit]

Streep received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nominations for best actress for her portrayal of a former river guide. Bacon received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Featured Film. Neither of them won the Golden Globe, with the awards going to Jessica Lange in Blue Sky and Martin Landau in Ed Wood respectively.[citation needed]

Streep's character, Gail, was a Nominated Hero in AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains.[5]


  1. ^ "10 Iconic Movie Scenes That Nearly Killed Their Stars: 2. Meryl Streep: The River Wild". MoviesTalk. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "The River Wild at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Beradinelli, James (1994). "The River Wild". Retrieved March 18, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (1994). "The River Wild". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved March 18, 2009. [dead link]
  5. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees" (PDF). AFI. 

External links[edit]