Twister: 20 Facts About The 1996 Blockbuster That Will Blow You Away
Jan de Bont’s Twister pushed the envelope on 90s cinematic spectacle, giving the time-honoured disaster movie genre a modern spin (pun intended). Oscar-winner Helen Hunt and the late, great Bill Paxton star as a couple on the brink of divorce, who are brought back together by their shared passion for storm-chasing. However, they soon find themselves at the heart of the most destructive tornado outbreak they’ve ever seen.
It’s been more than 25 years since Twister first blew audiences out of their seats – but did you know the following facts about the film?
20. The film was the second biggest hit of 1996 behind Independence Day
The production budget of Twister was reported to be somewhere between $88-92 million.
This means that Twister was among the most expensive movies made in the mid-90s.
This being the case, the movie needed to be a real blockbuster for that investment to pay off.
Happily for studios Warner Bros and Universal (who collaborated on the film), Twister was indeed a huge hit.
The film’s final worldwide earnings were $496.7 million worldwide, which was a huge box office sum at the time.
This made Twister the second-biggest movie of 1996 behind Independence Day, which earned $817.4 million.
19. Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis all came close to directing it
Twister was produced by Amblin Entertainment, the company co-founded by Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall and future Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy.
The film was developed from a treatment by writer Jeffrey Hilton entitled Catch the Wind.
Excited by the dramatic possibilities, Steven Spielberg was thinking about directing the film himself.
Ultimately Spielberg decided against this – and a number of other big-name directors were then considered for the job.
These included Terminator 2’s James Cameron (above), Short Circuit’s John Badham, and Back to the Future’s Robert Zemeckis.
Eventually, the director’s chair was handed to Jan de Bont, an experienced cinematographer who had not long since had a huge hit with his first film as director, Speed.
18. Filming had to be scheduled around Helen Hunt’s work on Mad About You
Today, Helen Hunt is best known for her Oscar-winning performance in 1997’s As Good As It Gets.
Back when cameras rolled on Twister, however, Hunt’s claim to fame was her role on sitcom Mad About You.
For a time it was uncertain that Hunt would be able to take the role of Dr Jo Harding in Twister, because of her TV commitments.
Originally, a schedule was worked out to ensure Hunt’s work on Twister would be done before the next season of Mad About You started shooting.
Unfortunately, problems during the shoot meant that Hunt’s scenes on Twister were not completed on time.
After being informed of the situation, Hunt’s Mad About You co-star Paul Reiser (also the show’s creator) agreed to delay shooting on the new season for two and a half weeks.
17. Bill Paxton’s role was originally earmarked for Tom Hanks
Early on, Twister’s male lead Bill Harding was poised to be played by Tom Hanks.
Reportedly the Philadelphia and Forrest Gump Oscar-winner remained attached long enough to do script readings with the cast and choose his character’s costume.
However, Hanks eventually pulled out; 1996 would instead see him make his directorial debut with That Thing You Do!
Paxton was cast in part based on the recommendation of his friend and frequent collaborator James Cameron.
The clothes Paxton wears in the movie are the same ones Hanks had selected for his wardrobe.
16. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by the lighting in one scene
As it centres on storm activity, Twister relied heavily on special effects: both CGI added later, and practical work on set.
As you might expect, the crew needed some pretty heavy-duty lights on set to simulate the weather conditions presented in the film.
This proved more hazardous than expected, when both Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by the glaring lights used.
After consulting an ophthalmologist, both Paxton and Hunt were prescribed eye drops to help heal their wounded retinas.
In addition, special filters were placed on the lights to avoid any further injuries to cast or crew.
Of course, such an injury to the lead actors meant there were further delays to the already troubled production.
15. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt had to get hepatitis shots after filming the muddy scene under the bridge
Temporary blindness was just one of the ailments which Twister’s lead actors had to endure.
In another scene, Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton get covered in thick mud under a bridge.
You might assume all that was just make-up, but as they were shooting on location with with practical rain and wind FX, much of the dirt was real.
Some of the detritus whipped up by the wind got into the eyes of both Hunt and Paxton.
Because of the risk of infection, both actors had to be given shots for hepatitis.
Who says the life of a Hollywood movie star is nothing but glamour and luxury?
14. Bill Paxton wanted to direct a Twister sequel
Within a few years of making Twister, Bill Paxton moved into directing with acclaimed 2001 horror Frailty.
Paxton had hoped to do more such work behind the camera – and one project he was keen to take on was Twister 2.
Paxton explained in 2012, “I’d love to direct a sequel to [Twister]. I’ve always felt like there was a Jaws version of that movie. I always felt like we did the Pepsi Lite version.”
Paxton’s vision for Twister 2 would have seen the daughter of Bill and Jo follow her parents into the storm-chasing game. He also hoped to utilise the 3D technology which was still popular at the time in the wake of Avatar.
Unfortunately, Paxton was not able to drum up interest in making a Twister sequel before his untimely passing – but more recently, there have been reports that a reboot may be in the works.
Joseph Kosinski, director of Tron: Legacy and the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick, was linked to a new take on Twister in June 2020.
13. The prologue scene featuring young Jo was added at the last minute
Twister opens with a prologue scene showing Helen Hunt’s Jo as a child, losing her father in a tornado.
This plot point was always part of the character’s backstory, there to help explain her fixation on the destructive weather phenomenon.
However, it had not always been the plan for this to be established from the film’s opening scenes.
Originally the filmmakers shot a nightmare sequence, and director Jan de Bont intended to occasionally cut back to this in flashbacks to illustrate Jo’s haunted state of mind.
During editing, De Bont realised that this approach wasn’t working, and so the prologue was written and filmed in last-minute reshoots.
Fun fact: young Jo is played by Alexa Vega, who went on to appear in the Spy Kids movies.
12. The entire camera crew quit after director Jan de Bont hit a camera operator
Making large-scale, action-driven blockbusters is always hard work, but reportedly Twister was an especially difficult shoot.
The crew often struggled to get the shots they needed due to adverse weather conditions on location.
By all accounts director Jan de Bont didn’t make things easier, constantly keeping intense pressure on the crew.
Things reached a head five weeks into production, the director angrily struck a camera operator for missing a cue.
In protest at this, director of photography Don Burgess and the entire camera crew quit the movie, complaining the director was “out of control.”
Production was then halted for a week until cinematographer Jack N. Green and his crew took over.
11. Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar left the band over the Twister theme song
Rock legends Van Halen were enlisted to record some original music for the Twister soundtrack.
The band’s most notable contribution wound up being the film’s theme song, Humans Being.
However, this track wound up being the last thing the band recorded with their second vocalist Sammy Hagar.
Tensions had been building in the band for sometime, until finally clashes between Hagar and his bandmates over the song’s lyrics resulted in the singer walking away. (Hagar would soon thereafter be replaced in Van Halen by third vocalist Gary Cherone.)
Originally, Van Halen had intended to record a number of songs for the Twister soundtrack with lyrics. With Hagar gone, Van Halen’s remaining members instead came up with instrumental track Respect the Wind.
Other artists featured on the Twister soundtrack album include Tori Amos, k.d. lang, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Shania Twain.
10. CGI was used to erase a moment where Philip Seymour Hoffman’s privates were accidentally visible
Twister features a scene-stealing supporting turn from Philip Seymour Hoffman as the excitable and eccentric Dusty.
The esteemed character actor was in full-on 90s grunge-era slacker mode for the role, clad in casual clothing with a somewhat relaxed fit.
This led to an unforeseen problem, in a moment when Dusty is laughing heartily and leans back, lifting a leg.
In the earliest cut of the film, there was a brief moment in this scene when Hoffman’s private parts were clearly visible up the leg of his shorts.
Because of this, Twister’s CGI team had to hastily augment this shot to hide the offending regions, and thereby avoid an adults-only rating.
Like co-star Hunt, Philip Seymour Hoffman would later become an Oscar-winner for Capote in 2006, before sadly passing away in 2014 aged just 46.
9. Real-life storm chasers paid tribute to Bill Paxton after his death
Twister star Bill Paxton sadly passed away from a stroke in February 2017, aged just 61.
The beloved actor’s death was widely mourned – and among those mourners were members of the storm chaser community.
— Daniel Shaw (@DanielShawAU) February 26, 2017
Around a week after Paxton’s death, a group of over 200 storm spotters arranged themselves to spell out the actor’s initials using their GPS trackers.
This was achieved via the Spotter Network, a weather report system specifically designed to respond to extreme weather emergencies.
The tribute covered regions of Oklahoma featured in the movie – including the real-life town of Wakita.
Spotter Network president John Wetter said of Paxton, “[his] character in Twister helped to make meteorology – and the hobby of storm chasing – cool.”
8. Helen Hunt may have been concussed after hitting her head in a driving scene
As if temporary blindness and hepatitis shots weren’t enough, Helen Hunt suffered further injury shooting Twister.
A great deal of the film follows the cast whilst they’re in cars and trucks, chasing the ongoing tornado – and all this driving gets a bit bumpy at times.
One risky sequence saw Hunt’s Jo open her car door whilst driving through a cornfield – and when Hunt momentarily lost her grip on the door, it hit her in the head.
Some of those close to the production have said that Hunt wound up with a concussion because of this accident.
Quizzed on the matter, director Jan De Bont said, “I love Helen to death, but you know, she can be also a little bit clumsy. ”
Hunt herself didn’t take too kindly to this: “Clumsy? The guy burned my retinas, but I’m clumsy.” (Hunt and De Bont have not worked together again.)
7. It had one of the most expensive screenplays ever
When Twister went into development, executive producer Steven Spielberg had not long since made the biggest box office hit ever with Jurassic Park.
Hoping for another hit of similar magnitude, Spielberg approached Michael Crichton (author of the original Jurassic Park novel) to write the Twister screenplay.
Crichton (above) signed on to co-write the movie with his wife Anne-Marie Martin, for $2.5 million – one of the largest fees ever paid for a screenplay.
However, even after Crichton (who also co-produced the film) and Martin had done their work, more time and money went into the Twister script.
Once cameras were already rolling, Joss Whedon was hired to rewrites, and after him Steve Zaillian was brought on board.
Reportedly both Whedon and Zaillian were paid $100,000 a week for their uncredited contributions to the Twister screenplay.
6. The filmmakers were sued by two screenwriters who claimed they’d been plagiarised
Twister was adapted into a screenplay from an initial treatment by writer Jeffrey Hinton entitled Catch the Wind.
However, after the film was released, screenwriter Stephen Kessler declared that he had written a screenplay called Catch the Wind years earlier, and the Twister had stolen his work without permission or payment.
Kessler took Steven Spielberg, Michael Crichton and studios Warner Bros and Universal to court over the matter, demanding the profits from Twister.
The makers of Twister denied Kessler’s charges, with Crichton insisting that he and Anne-Marie Martin had based the script largely on a TV documentary about storm chasers, and the film His Girl Friday.
Kessler ultimately lost the case – but curiously, he was not the only screenwriter to claim that Twister plagiarised his work.
Another writer, Daniel Perkins, sued over claims that his script Tornado Chasers had been ripped off; the matter was settled out of court, with both parties agreeing to keep the details of the settlement confidential.
5. Jan de Bont dropped out of Godzilla to make Twister
Before signing on to make Twister, director Jan de Bont had been attached to a somewhat different large-scale disaster movie.
The filmmaker had signed on to direct the first Hollywood take on the iconic Japanese monster Godzilla.
An American Godzilla movie had been in various stages of development for many years, with Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2) attached to direct early on.
When de Bont signed on, he helped develop a script that estimates said could not be made for less than $200 million – an unthinkable sum in 1994.
When studio TriStar Pictures would not agree to de Bont’s requested budget, he quit the movie and agreed to make Twister instead.
TriStar’s Godzilla would eventually be made by Independence Day director Roland Emmerich in 1998. Since then, Warner Bros and Legendary have rebooted the character as part of their ‘Monsterverse’ series.
4. Several Oklahoma TV meteorologists appear in the film as themselves
Twister was shot on location in Oklahoma, the Southern US state where the story is set.
This was at the insistence of director Jan De Bont; originally the plan had been to shoot in California and the UK.
Given the film’s subject matter it was only appropriate that it feature appearances from a number of real-life local TV weather reporters.
Oklahoma City meteorologists Gary England, Jeff Lazalier, Rick Mitchell and Andy Wallace all appear in the movie.
England, Lazalier and Mitchell all appear as themselves during Twister’s TV news report scenes.
Meanwhile, we hear the voice of Andy Wallace over the radio early on.
3. It was the very first film released on DVD in the US
Twister was a big-budget blockbuster boasting an epic visual spectacle and state-of-the-art special effects.
As such, it was the ideal film on which to introduce a brand new home entertainment medium promising consumers an enhanced viewing experience.
This format was of course the digital versatile disc, AKA digital video disc, AKA DVD.
Twister was the very first film made commercially available on DVD in the United States.
Warner Bros Home Entertainment released the film to the shiny new format in March 1997.
Within less than a decade, DVD would become the dominant form of physical media for home entertainment worldwide, ending the reign of the VHS tape.
2. It’s one of only five films that Jan de Bont has directed
Jan De Bont had been in the movie business as a cinematographer for over 25 years before he tried his hand at directing.
The Dutch filmmaker’s resume as a director of photography includes such hits as Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October.
De Bont then turned director with 1994’s Speed, which was a hugely acclaimed action hit.
When De Bont followed Speed with the even bigger hit Twister, it looked like he was set to join the ranks of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster directors.
Unfortunately, De Bont’s next two films – Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Haunting – were critically lambasted flops, and his reputation suffered.
De Bont’s last effort as director was 2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and he hasn’t called the shots on another film since.
1. It was the basis for an attraction at Universal Studios, Florida
As is often the case with major productions from Universal, Twister inspired an attraction at the studio’s theme parks.
In May 1998, two years after the movie was released, Twister: Ride It Out opened at the Universal Studios resort in Orlando, Florida.
The indoor special effects show was introduced in the building that previously housed Ghostbusters Spooktacular.
Filled with references to the film, the event gave guests a safe simulation of what tornado conditions might feel like.
Twister: Ride It Out ran for 19 years, until declining popularity saw it replaced with Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon.