Twister (1996 film)
North American theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jan de Bont|
|Music by||Mark Mancina|
|Cinematography||Jack N. Green|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Box office||$495.7 million|
Twister is a 1996 American epic disaster adventure film directed by Jan de Bont from a screenplay by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin. It was executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, and Gerald R. Molen. The film stars Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz and Cary Elwes, and focuses on a group of storm chasers trying to deploy a tornado research device during a severe outbreak in Oklahoma.
Twister grossed $495 million worldwide and became the second-highest-grossing film of 1996; it sold an estimated 54.7 million tickets in the U.S. The film was met with a mixed critical reception, receiving criticism for its screenplay and praise for its visual effects and sound design. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound, but lost both to Independence Day and The English Patient respectively.
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In June 1969, in western Oklahoma, 5-year old Jo Thornton and her family are awakened by an approaching F5 tornado. The family seeks refuge in their storm cellar, but while attempting to hold it down, the tornado rips the cellar door off and pulls Jo's father to his death inside the vortex.
27 years later, Jo has become a meteorologist and storm chaser on the trail of a predicted record outbreak of tornadoes in Oklahoma. Jo is reunited with her estranged husband, Bill Harding (Paxton), a former weather researcher and fellow storm chaser turned television weather reporter, who is planning to marry reproductive therapist Melissa Reeves (Gertz). Visiting Jo's camp to get her to complete the divorce forms, Bill finds that she and her team have built four tornado research devices called DOROTHY based on his design. Each unit contains hundreds of sensors that, if picked up by a tornado, will provide data that could lead to breakthroughs in meteorological research and improve the lead time for tornado warnings in advance of a tornado's arrival. Before Jo can finish the paperwork, her team rushes to intercept an F1 tornado forming nearby, forcing Bill and Melissa to chase after her. Bill encounters Dr. Jonas Miller (Elwes), a corporate-funded meteorologist and long-time rival storm chaser, and learns that he has created a device called DOT-3 (Digital Orthographic Telemeter), a blatant copy of DOROTHY. Bill vows to help Jo deploy DOROTHY before Jonas can deploy DOT-3 and claim credit for the idea.
In an attempt to deploy DOROTHY, Bill maneuvers Jo's Jeep Gladiator off-road into a muddy ditch towards the rapidly growing tornado. They collide with a small wooden bridge and find themselves trapped in the direct path of the oncoming tornado. As they take cover underneath the bridge, Jo's truck and DOROTHY I are both picked up and destroyed by the tornado.
A second tornado is spotted. Jonas and his team are also moving to intercept the tornado, which has strengthened to F2 intensity. However, Bill's intuition that the tornado will shift its path sends them off seemingly in the right direction. Bill, Jo, and Melissa have a dangerous encounter with twin waterspouts on a enclosed road and are spun round by the sideswiping tornadoes, leaving Melissa shaken. The rest of the team, however, is ecstatic about the encounter and convince Jo to let them go visit her aunt, Meg (Lois Smith), in the nearby town of Wakita for food and rest.
While there, the team informs Melissa about Jo's backstory, explaining that Jo has since become obsessed with ensuring nobody else suffers the same fate as her father. Jo, realizing she is falling in love with Bill again, isolates herself from the rest of the group and is confronted by Aunt Meg, who tells her that no matter what happens, they will always end up together.
They learn an F3 tornado is quickly forming in a neighboring county. As the team attempts to intercept the F3, the tornado initially fails to appear. They make yet another attempt to deploy a DOROTHY unit, but the tornado forms perilously close to them, toppling an electrical pole onto DOROTHY II, hitched on the back of the truck, destroying it. Overwhelmed by these recent events and racked with guilt over her father's death, Jo begins to despair. As their emotions run high, Bill tells Jo that he's still in love with her, unaware that Melissa is hearing the conversation over CB radio.
That night, the team stays in a hotel next to a drive-in cinema that is showing The Shining. Jo decides to fill out the remaining divorce papers, but is interrupted when an F4 tornado approaches, forcing her team as well as townspeople caught in the storm to take shelter. Finding herself traumatized by the recent near-death experiences and recognizing the re-blossoming love between Bill and Jo, Melissa peacefully ends her relationship with Bill and makes her own way home. The tornado continues on to devastate Wakita; upon the team's arrival in the town, Jo and Bill rescue an injured Aunt Meg from her flattened home before the destabilized second floor collapses. As Meg is about to be taken to a nearby hospital and chase team member Dusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman) informs Jo that the team has heard that an F5 is forming close by, Meg pushes Jo not to give up, reminding her that Wakita had been hit by the tornado essentially without warning, the tornado sirens having barely gone off before it struck. In a brief moment of quiet, Jo absently watches Aunt Meg's wind chimes. The image inspires an epiphany and she begins to form a plan to improve and deploy the next DOROTHY unit.
As the sun rises, the team sets out to intercept the F5 tornado, which has grown to be over a mile (nearly 2 km) wide. Bill and Jo lay the newly altered DOROTHY III directly in the F5's path, but it is destroyed by an uprooted tree. Meanwhile, Jonas attempts to deploy DOT-3 in a similar fashion, ignoring Bill's repeated warnings that his team is too close and that the tornado is shifting directly towards them. A metal tower impales Jonas' driver, Eddie (Zach Grenier), and their vehicle is swept into the tornado and thrown to the ground, killing both men and destroying DOT-3 in the resulting explosion. Bill and Jo press on, realizing that the only way to successfully deploy DOROTHY IV is by driving directly into the tornado and jumping out before Bill's truck is swept away. The plan works and the rest of the team celebrates the successful deployment of DOROTHY IV. However, Bill and Jo's celebration is cut short when the F5 shifts direction towards them. They flee into the nearby cornfields and take shelter in a water pump facility, fastening themselves to deeply rooted pipes. As the tornado passes overhead, they are able to see the tornado's interior, before the storm dissipates altogether. The rest of the team arrives on scene to celebrate the achievement while Jo and Bill excitedly plan the next phase of research, deciding to run their own lab and rekindle their marriage.
- Helen Hunt as Dr. Joanne "Jo" Harding
- Alexa Vega as Young Jo Thornton
- Bill Paxton as Dr. Bill "The Extreme" Harding
- Jami Gertz as Dr. Melissa Reeves
- Cary Elwes as Dr. Jonas Miller
- Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dustin "Dusty" Davis
- Alan Ruck as Robert "Rabbit" Nurick
- Sean Whalen as Allan Sanders
- Wendle Josepher as Haynes
- Jeremy Davies as Brian Laurence
- Joey Slotnick as Joey
- Todd Field as Tim "Beltzer" Lewis
- Scott Thomson as Jason "Preacher" Rowe
- Lois Smith as Aunt Meg Greene
- Zach Grenier as Eddie
- Richard Lineback as Mr. Thornton
- Rusty Schwimmer as Mrs. Thornton
- Abraham Benrubi as Bubba, the Mobile Lab Driver
- Patrick Fischler as Landers, The Communicator
- Anthony Rapp as Tony
- Jake Busey as Mobile Lab Technician
Three one-time Oklahoma City television meteorologists—Gary England, then-chief meteorologist at CBS-affiliated television station KWTV; Jeff Lazalier, then a weekend meteorologist at NBC-affiliated television station KFOR-TV; and Rick Mitchell, then-chief meteorologist at ABC-affiliated television station KOCO-TV—all appear as themselves within the movie's local television news reports. (The opening scene in which England appears via archival footage provided by KWTV, takes place in 1969, when England was an oceanographer for New Orleans-based A.H. Glenn and Associates; he would not be hired by KWTV until October 1972.) Additionally, the weather radio operator heard toward the beginning of the movie was voiced by Andy Wallace, then-chief meteorologist at ABC-affiliated television station KSWO-TV in Lawton.
Twister was produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, with financial backing from Warner Bros. Pictures and Universal Pictures. In return, Warner Bros. was given the North American distribution rights, while Universal's joint venture distribution company United International Pictures (UIP) obtained international distribution rights. The original concept and 10-page tornado-chaser story were presented to Amblin Entertainment in 1992 by screenwriter Jeffrey Hilton. Steven Spielberg then presented the concept to writer Michael Crichton. Crichton and his wife, Anne-Marie Martin, were paid a reported $2.5 million to write the screenplay. After spending more than half a year of pre-production on Godzilla, director Jan de Bont left the project after a dispute over its budget, and quickly signed on for Twister.
The production was plagued with problems. Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite through the early spring of 1995. When Whedon contracted bronchitis, Steven Zaillian was brought in to work on script revisions. Whedon later returned and worked on revisions right through the start of shooting in May 1995, then left the project after he got married. Two weeks into production, Jeff Nathanson was flown to the set and worked on the script until principal photography ended.
Filming was to originally take place in California, but De Bont insisted the film be shot on location in Oklahoma. Shooting commenced all over the state; several scenes, including the opening scene where the characters meet each other, as well as the first tornado chase in the Jeep pickup, were filmed in Fairfax and Ralston, Oklahoma. The scene at the automotive repair shop was filmed in Maysville and Norman. The waterspout scenes were filmed on Kaw Lake near Kaw City. The drive-in scene was filmed at a real drive-in theater in Guthrie, though some of the scene, such as Melissa's hotel room, was filmed in Stillwater near the Oklahoma State University campus.
The real town of Wakita — serving as the hometown of Lois Smith's character, Meg, in the film — was used during filming, and a section of the older part of town was demolished for the scene showing the aftermath of the F4 tornado that devastates the town. Additional scenes and B-roll were filmed near Ponca City and Pauls Valley, among several other smaller farm towns across the state. However, due to changing seasons that massively transformed the look of Oklahoma's topography, filming was moved to Iowa. The climactic scene with the F5 tornado was almost entirely shot around Eldora, Iowa, with the cornfield the characters run through located near Ames. The "twister hill" scene was shot on 130th Street near the small town of Pilot Mound. Some additional footage was shot north of Pilot Mound, near the town of Dayton. After primary filming had wrapped, additional pick-up shots and reshoots, which included the opening scene and additional footage of the drive-in tornado, took place in Bolton, Ontario.
Halfway through filming, both Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by bright electronic lamps used to make the sky behind the two actors look dark and stormy. Paxton remembers that "these things literally sunburned our eyeballs. I got back to my room, I couldn't see". To solve the problem, a Plexiglas filter was placed in front of the beams. The actors took eye drops and wore special glasses for a few days to recuperate. After filming in a particularly unsanitary ditch (for the first tornado chase scene, in which Bill and Jo are forced to shelter from an approaching F1 tornado under a short bridge), Hunt and Paxton needed hepatitis shots. During the same sequence, Hunt repeatedly hit her head on a low wooden bridge, so exhausted from the demanding shoot that she stood up so quickly her head struck a beam. During one stunt in which Hunt opened the door of a vehicle speeding through a cornfield, she momentarily let go of the door and it struck her on the side of the head. Some sources claim she received a concussion in the incident. De Bont said, "I love Helen to death, but you know, she can be also a little bit clumsy. " She responded, "Clumsy? The guy burned my retinas, but I'm clumsy ... I thought I was a good sport. I don't know ultimately if Jan chalks me up as that or not, but one would hope so".
Some crew members, feeling that De Bont was "out of control", left the five weeks into filming. The camera crew led by Don Burgess claimed De Bont "didn't know what he wanted till he saw it. He would shoot one direction, with all the equipment behind the view of the camera, and then he'd want to shoot in the other direction right away and we'd have to move [everything] and he'd get angry that we took too long ... and it was always everybody else's fault, never his". De Bont claims that they had to schedule at least three scenes every day because the weather changed so often, and "Don had trouble adjusting to that".
When De Bont knocked over a camera assistant in a fit of rage who missed a cue, Burgess and his crew walked off the set, much to the shock of the cast. They remained in place for one more week until Jack N. Green's crew agreed to replace them. Two days before principal filming ended, Green was injured when a hydraulic house set (used in the scene in which Jo and Bill rescue Meg and her dog, Mose, from her tornado-destroyed home in Wakita), designed to collapse on cue, was mistakenly activated with him inside it. A rigged ceiling hit him in the head and injured his back, requiring him to be hospitalized. De Bont took over as his own director of photography for the remaining shots.
Because overcast skies were not always available, De Bont had to shoot many of the film's tornado-chasing scenes in bright sunlight, requiring Industrial Light & Magic to more than double its original plan for 150 "digital sky-replacement" shots. Principal photography was originally given a deadline to allow Hunt to return to film the fourth season of her NBC sitcom Mad About You, but when shooting ran over schedule, series creator and actor Paul Reiser agreed to delay the show's production for two-and-a-half weeks so Twister could finish filming. De Bont insisted on using multiple cameras, which led to the exposure of 1,300,000 feet (400,000 m) of film, compared to the usual maximum of 300,000 feet (91,000 m).
De Bont claims that Twister cost close to $70 million, of which $2–3 million went to the director. It was speculated that last-minute re-shoots in March and April 1996 (to clarify a scene about Jo as a child) and overtime requirements in post-production and at ILM, raised the budget to $90 million. Warner Bros. moved up the film's release date from May 17 to 10, to avoid audience cannibalization with the release of Paramount's Mission: Impossible two weekends later.
Twister is known for its successful product placement, featuring a Dodge Ram pickup truck and several other new vehicle models. Prints of Twister came with a note from De Bont, suggesting that exhibitors play the film at a higher volume than normal for full effect.
Twister featured both a traditional orchestral film score by Mark Mancina and several rock music songs, including an instrumental theme song composed and performed for the film by Van Halen. The film's music was released on compact disc and cassette tape formats.
Twister: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack
- Van Halen – "Humans Being"
- Rusted Root – "Virtual Reality"
- Tori Amos – "Talula" (BT's Tornado Mix)
- Alison Krauss – "Moments Like This"
- Mark Knopfler – "Darling Pretty"
- Soul Asylum – "Miss This"
- Belly – "Broken"
- k.d. lang – "Love Affair"
- Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – "How"
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – "Melancholy Mechanics"
- Goo Goo Dolls – "Long Way Down" (Remix)
- Shania Twain – "No One Needs to Know"
- Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham – "Twisted"
- Eddie & Alex Van Halen – "Respect the Wind"
The song queued up on a TV in Dusty's van is Eric Clapton's "Motherless Child".
Twister: Motion Picture Score
- Oklahoma: Wheatfield
- Oklahoma: Where's My Truck?
- Oklahoma: Futility
- Oklahoma: Downdraft
- It's Coming: Drive In
- It's Coming: The Big Suck
- The Hunt: Going Green (feat. Trevor Rabin on guitar)
- The Hunt: Sculptures
- The Hunt: Cow
- The Hunt: Ditch
- The Damage: Wakita
- Hailstorm Hill: Bob's Road
- Hailstorm Hill: We're Almost There
- F5: Dorothy IV
- F5: Mobile Home
- F5: God's Finger
- Other: William Tell Overture/Oklahoma Medley (feat. Wendle Josepher and Todd Field vocals)
- Other: End Title/Respect the Wind - written by Edward and Alex Van Halen
There are some orchestrated tracks that were in the movie but were not released on the orchestral score, most notably the orchestrated intro to "Humans Being" from when Jo's team left Wakita to chase the Hailstorm Hill tornado. Other, lesser-known tracks omitted include an extended version of "Going Green" (when we first meet Jonas) and a short track from when the first tornado is initially spotted.
Twister: Expanded Archival Collection
In January 2017, La-La Land Records released a limited edition remastered and expanded album containing Mark Mancina's entire score plus four additional tracks.
- Wheatfield (Film Version)
- The Hunt Begins
- The Sky
- Dorothy IV (Film Version)
- The First Twister
- In the Ditch / Where's My Truck?
- Walk in the Woods
- Bob's Road
- Hail No!
- Futility (Film Version)
- Drive-in Twister
- Wakita (Film Version)
- Sculptures (Film Version)
- House Visit
- The Big Suck (Film Version)
- End Title
- Wheatfield (Alternate)
- Waterspouts (Alternate)
- The Big Suck (Alternate)
- End Title / Respect the Wind
As of November 2020[update], on Rotten Tomatoes the film had an approval rating of 59% based on 56 reviews, and an average rating of 6/10. The site's critics consensus read: "A high-concept blockbuster that emphasizes special effects over three-dimensional characters, Twister's visceral thrills are often offset by the film's generic plot." As of October 2020[update], on Metacritic the film had a weighted average score of 68 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "You want loud, dumb, skillful, escapist entertainment? Twister works. You want to think? Think twice about seeing it". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Somehow Twister stays as uptempo and exuberant as a roller-coaster ride, neatly avoiding the idea of real danger". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B" rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "Yet the images that linger longest in my memory are those of windswept livestock. And that, in a teacup, sums up everything that's right, and wrong, about this appealingly noisy but ultimately flyaway first blockbuster of summer". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "But the ringmaster of this circus, the man without whom nothing would be possible, is director De Bont, who now must be considered Hollywood's top action specialist. An expert in making audiences squirm and twist, at making us feel the rush of experience right along with the actors, De Bont choreographs action and suspense so beautifully he makes it seem like a snap." Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "when action is never shown to have deadly or pitiable consequences, it tends toward abstraction. Pretty soon you're not tornado watching, you're special-effects watching". In his review for the Washington Post Desson Howe wrote, "it's a triumph of technology over storytelling and the actors' craft. Characters exist merely to tell a couple of jokes, cower in fear of downdrafts and otherwise kill time between tornadoes".
The film opened on May 10, 1996, and earned $41 million from 2,414 total theaters, making it the #1 movie at the North American box office. Twister went on to earn a total of $241.7 million at the North American box office, and a worldwide total of $494.5 million. It became the second-highest-grossing film of 1996, after Independence Day, and was Warner Bros.' most successful film release at that time. As of 2020[update], Twister ranks at #76 among the highest-grossing North American movie releases of all-time; worldwide, it places #105 on the all-time earners list, not adjusted for inflation.
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Twister was released on home video by Warner Home Video on March 26, 1997 in the United States, and is considered to be the first home release of a movie to use the now widely-used DVD optical media technology. (The DVD release occurred two weeks before Twister made its pay-cable debut on HBO on April 5, deviating from the then-standard film release "window" that normally placed a four- to six-month gap between a movie's initial home video release—which typically overlapped with its pay-per-view availability period—and premium cable distribution window.) Subsequent special editions on DVD and Blu-ray followed in 2008. The film was also released on LaserDisc, and VHS in 1996, and re-released in 1998. The VHS and Laserdisc were also released in other territories on late 1990s by CIC Video, and the DVDs and Blu-ray in 2000-2011 released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
On May 24, 1996, a tornado destroyed Screen No. 3 at the Can-View Drive-In, a drive-in theater in Thorold, Ontario, which was scheduled to show Twister later that evening, in a real-life parallel to a scene in the film in which a tornado destroys a drive-in during a showing of the film The Shining. The facts of this incident were exaggerated into an urban legend that the theater was actually playing Twister during the tornado.
On May 10, 2010, a tornado struck Fairfax, Oklahoma, destroying the farmhouse where numerous scenes in Twister were shot. J. Berry Harrison, the owner of the home and a former Oklahoma state senator, commented that the tornado appeared eerily similar to the fictitious one in the film. He had lived in the home since 1978.
Bill Paxton would later narrate storm chaser Sean Casey's 2011 documentary Tornado Alley. After the death of Paxton in February 2017, hundreds of storm chasers and users of the Spotter Network used their markers to spell out his initials across the states of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma in tribute to actor.
A Twister museum located in Wakita, Oklahoma, where much of the particularly destructive scenes of the movie were shot, contains various memorabilia and artifacts related to the film.
In other media
Theme park attraction
The film was used as the basis for the attraction Twister...Ride It Out at Universal Studios Florida, which features filmed introductions by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt. The attraction opened on May 4, 1998 and closed on November 1, 2015 to make way for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. In the windows of the New York facade lies a tribute to Twister...Ride it Out with references to the film and Bill Paxton.
The original screenplay, written by Crichton and then-wife Anne Marie Martin, was released as a mass-market paperback in conjunction with the film.
The story of Bill's drunken encounter with a tornado is referenced in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn downloadable content when asking the bartender of the Retching Netch in Raven Rock, Geldis Sadri, about how the inn got its name. He explains about a Dark Elf (Dunmer) that was one of his regular customers and very drunk offering his drink to a netch, before tossing the bottle at the netch. The netch apparently caught and swallowed some of the alcohol as the bottle never hit the ground, but this caused the netch to become intoxicated itself, and this resulted in it throwing up due to the drink making it very sick.
In June 2020, a reboot was announced to be in development from the film's international distributor Universal Pictures, with Joseph Kosinski in early negotiations to serve as director. Frank Marshall and Sarah Scott will serve as producers on the project.
- Into the Storm: A film released in 2014, with a similar film plot to Twister.
- 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak
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