40 Things You Never Knew About The Disastrous Waterworld
It may have hit our cinema screens on the back of breathless reports about on-set difficulties and spiralling budgets, as well as mixed reviews from critics, but surely we can’t have been the only ones who thoroughly enjoyed the wet and wild thrill ride that is Waterworld?
Released in 1995 and produced by and starring Kevin Costner, Waterworld is set in a distant future where the polar ice caps have completely melted, covering nearly the whole of planet Earth in water. However, while the film itself may have been intended as a warning about what might face this world if we don’t amend our ways ecologically, it ultimately wound up being a cautionary tale of how clashing egos and rampant over-spending can’t be counted on to save a movie.
Below are some things that you probably didn’t know about this slice of post-apocalyptic sci-fi action fun.
40. Waterworld’s writer has admitted the film is a Mad Max rip-off
Any slightly older film fans who’ve seen Waterworld can’t fail to notice a certain familiarity to the overall set-up.
After all, the film is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which one gruff loner does battle with hordes of feral maniacs in motorised vehicles.
In short, Waterworld is a pretty bald-faced imitation of writer George Miller’s iconic Mad Max series – and this is no accident.
The original idea behind the screenplay which eventually became Waterworld was, plainly and simply, to create “a Mad Max rip-off.”
The original script was written by Peter Rader as far back as 1986, directly in the wake of 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
It would be another nine years before the story was finally put on film, and it would be a far cry from what Rader originally envisioned.
Waterworld even shares one key figure with the Mad Max movies: director of photography Dean Semler, who also shot Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
39. One set sank and others floated away
From Jaws to Titanic, water-based movies have often proved to be huge hits – but they also present significant problems for filmmakers during productiom.
When filming out at sea rather than on a studio set, there is far less control when things go wrong.
The production of Waterworld was beset with such on-set difficulties, mainly due to what has become known in insurance terms as ‘acts of God’.
The film was shot in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii, in a specially-built artificial enclosure.
The enclosure may have been man-made, but it was still far-off land, and vulnerable to the elements – such as hurricanes.
Treacherous weather caused one expensive Waterworld set to sink completely, whilst high winds caused others to float away from their original location.
38. Kevin Costner nearly died filming the scene where he’s tied to the trimaran
Kevin Costner was at the height of his action hero fame when Waterworld came along.
Much had been made on Costner’s earlier films of the leading man’s keenness to do his own stunts.
However, when it came to Waterworld, Costner found himself at greater risk than ever before.
One scene required Costner’s unnamed Mariner to be tied to the mast of his trimaran boat, whilst he was filmed from a helicopter a mere 20 feet overhead.
A sudden localised storm whipped up whilst Costner was bound, meaning the actor’s life was briefly at genuine risk – not just from the ocean below, but from the helicopter above if it was blown off course.
Whilst Costner was eager to do a lot of the risky stuff, he also had stunt doubles, including pro-surfer Laird Hamilton.
37. Costner did the bungee and zipline stunts himself
Kevin Costner had a number of experienced stunt doubles for some of Waterworld’s more challenging physical feats.
However, the actor did perform a number of the most exciting moments in the movie himself.
For one, it really was Costner who performed the moment the Mariner spectacularly escapes via a lengthy zip line high above ground.
In addition, Costner also performed (on his very last day of filming) the bungee jump that occurs during the climactic moments of the final showdown with the Smokers.
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the actor didn’t actually leap from a floating hot air balloon, but from a platform in a studio parking lot in front of a giant bluescreen. The shot they used is of the only time the team pulled the stunt.
Costner later told Entertainment Weekly, “I hurt my back really bad doing the shot. [Reynolds] wanted another take. I just kind of shook my head and said, ‘I can’t.’ ”
36. Screenwriter Joss Whedon called his time on the film “seven weeks of hell”
- Credit: Shutterstock
Officially there are two credited screenwriters on Waterworld: original scribe Peter Rader, and David Twohy.
However, as is commonplace in Hollywood, numerous other writers came in to make changes to the script along the way.
- Credit: Greg Doherty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
In the case of Waterworld, this process continued while the film was in production – and going massively over-budget.
One noteworthy screenwriter hired to work on the film was Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and later director of The Avengers).
- Credit: Touchstone
Whedon would go on to describe his experience working on the movie as “seven weeks of hell.” (Of course, according to recent reports, Whedon himself knows a lot about making other people’s lives miserable on film and TV sets.)
It wasn’t (just) the imploding set: Whedon was also required to write Kevin Costner’s new ideas into the script, with no room to input anything that he came up with himself.
35. Director Kevin Reynolds walked away before the movie was completed, leaving Costner to take over
- Credit: Morgan Creek
Kevin Reynolds is given full credit as being the director of Waterworld, but the truth is more complicated.
During the post-production process, Reynolds wound up walking away from the movie before it was even finished.
Reynolds later revealed that Kevin Costner was constantly trying to influence his decisions, in what Reynolds described as “a back-seat driver director mentality.”
With this on top of what a stressful shoot Waterworld had already been, Reynolds finally decided he’d had enough; and once he left the movie, Costner (already an Oscar-winning director for Dances with Wolves) took charge of completing it himself, without credit.
An embittered Reynolds was quoted as saying, “Kevin Costner should only star in movies he directs. That way, he can work with his favorite actor and favourite director.”
Reynolds and Costner would not work together again for another 17 years, when Reynolds again directed the actor in the TV mini-series Hatfields & McCoys.
34. Kevin Costner rejected the original musical score for being ‘too ethnic’
Director Kevin Reynolds wasn’t the only person who Kevin Costner clashed with in production on Waterworld.
The leading man and producer also butted heads with the film’s original composer, Mark Isham.
Costner rejected the musical demos that Isham had created for the movie’s score as “too ethnic and bleak.”
- Credit: Benjamin Ealovega
One story (uncorroborated) states that on being played the demos at Isham’s studio, Costner asked Isham if he could use the bathroom – and never came back.
Whatever the case may be, Costner wanted more traditionally stirring music befitting the upbeat blockbuster adventure he was hoping to make.
- Credit: Wim Lippens/Universal Pictures
To this end, Isham was dismissed from the film, and composer James Newton Howard was brought onto the project instead.
33. The film ended Costner’s career as a blockbuster leading man
Up to the release of Waterworld, Kevin Costner had enjoyed one of the hottest acting streaks in Hollywood history.
Every last one of these films was a huge hit, so hopes were high that Waterworld would out-perform them all.
However, by the time Waterworld was released, Costner’s most recent three films – A Perfect World, Wyatt Earp and The War – had all underperformed, so there were clear signs his star power was fading.
- Credit: Sundholm Magnus/Action Press/REX/Shutterstock
Waterworld only exacerbated this downfall – and after the failure of Costner’s next directorial effort, 1997’s The Postman, his major leading man days were over.
Costner has never reached those heights again, and is now more likely to be seen in small supporting roles, such as that of Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel.
32. The film was pitched as a $5 million B-movie
- Credit: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock
It’s no word of exaggeration that the Waterworld we ended up with was very, very far removed from what was originally envisaged.
Writer Peter Rader wrote the script at the behest of producer Brad Kevoy, at first planning that Rader would also direct.
To get the film off the ground, they approached arguably the most iconic independent filmmaker of all time, Roger Corman.
After making his name as a director in the 50s, Corman has produced over 400 films to date, mostly on very low budgets.
Corman baulked at producing Waterworld as it was calculated there was no way the film could be made for less than $5 million.
This is really quite laughable, when we consider just how expensive Waterworld eventually ended up being.
31. It was the most expensive film ever made at the time
When it originally hit cinemas, Waterworld was the single most expensive film in Hollywood history.
Reportedly studio Universal initially greenlit Waterworld with a budget of $65 million, but this soon went up to $100 million.
This alone was the biggest budget any movie had ever been granted up-front. However, the film soon went over-budget.
After the destruction of the sets and massive delays, the budget ballooned first to $135 million, then finally somewhere between $172 and $175 million, an unprecedented sum at the time.
This record would be beaten two years later by the $200 million spent on Titanic – although that film’s $1.85 billion box office takings made it a significantly better investment.
Today, the record of most expensive film ever is held by 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which cost $379 million to make (and which also largely takes place on the water).
30. Steven Spielberg warned the Waterworld team not to make a movie at sea
- Credit: Universal Studios
Before work began on Waterworld, Kevin Reynolds met with legendary director Steven Spielberg for advice.
Spielberg had his own experiences of shooting a film in the ocean, with his breakthrough 1975 classic Jaws.
The director’s advice was simple when it came to making a movie on the open water: if at all possible, don’t do it.
Reynolds recalls, “I asked Spielberg, ‘Do I want to shoot on the water?’ He said ‘You might. I’ll never do it again.'”
- Credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin
Spielberg also cautioned Reynolds that production on Jaws went 100 days over schedule, and 100% over-budget.
While Waterworld’s initial budget wasn’t quite doubled, the production did last significantly longer than planned: the intended three month shoot wound up taking a little over six.
29. Dennis Hopper’s villain was turned down by Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman and more
Waterworld’s cartoonish villain, eyepatch-clad megalomaniac The Deacon, was taken by the late, great Dennis Hopper.
However, Hopper was reportedly far from the only major Hollywood actor in the frame to play Waterworld’s antagonist.
Gary Oldman also turned Waterworld down, reportedly choosing instead to appear in The Scarlet Letter by way of a coin toss.
Gene Hackman, James Caan, Laurence Fishburne and Gary Busey are all also reported to have turned down offers to play the role.
28. Jack Black makes one of his first on-screen appearances in the film
Waterworld has something in common with another 90s sci-fi action adventure, Demolition Man, which you might not have known.
Both films feature early appearances from future blockbuster movie star and cult rock music icon, Jack Black.
Much as how Demolition Man cast a young Black as an underground ‘scrap,’ Waterworld casts him as one of the marauding Smokers.
Black, who was 25 at the time, is officially credited in Waterworld as the Smoker Plane Pilot.
Black would follow this with small roles in Mars Attacks and The Cable Guy before really breaking through with High Fidelity and School of Rock, as well as playing with his band Tenacious D.
When asked about Waterworld, Black has remarked (presumably jokingly) that it’s all anyone talks to him about.
Black said in 2015, “We crushed it, bro. I’m still trying to shake it. That’s what it’s going to say on my tombstone: Jack ‘Post-Apocalyptic Seaplane Pilot’ Black.”
27. Jeanne Tripplehorn personally chose her nude body double
Waterworld co-stars Jeanne Tripplehorn as Helen, guardian of the sought-after child Enola (Tina Majorino).
In a scene that we probably wouldn’t see in a PG-13 movie today, Helen is at one point shown naked from behind.
Tripplehorn decided against performing this nude scene herself, but was intimately involved in choosing her body double.
In order to select the double who was the best match for herself physically, Tripplehorn arranged to meet three candidates in her trailer.
- Credit: Getty Images
The actress has said that having these three women show her their naked rear ends in this manner was such a peculiar experience that it left them all in hysterical laughter.
Tripplehorn was also present for the shooting of the nude scene, waiting to give her double a robe between shots.
26. Costner nicknamed Tina Majorino ‘Jellyfish Candy’ because she was stung so many times
Tina Majorino plays the key role of Enola, the girl with the coveted map to Dryland tattooed on her back.
Majorino experienced more than her share of water-based problems during the film’s troubled production.
For one thing, the young actress had incredibly bad luck with jellyfish, being stung a reported seven times throughout the shoot.
Because of this, Majorino wound up being nicknamed ‘Jellyfish Candy’ by her co-star and producer Kevin Costner.
- Credit: Getty Images
Reportedly, the actress first sought after for Enola was Anna Paquin, who had not long since become one of the youngest ever Oscar winners for The Piano.
Waterworld was Majorino’s fourth movie, and it helped launch her on a career which continues to this day – including a run alongside Anna Paquin on TV’s True Blood.
25. Costner was rumoured to have demanded CGI to hide his baldness
Whilst Waterworld was in production, reports of Costner’s behind the scenes bravado were commonplace.
The press latched on to the sense that the whole film was just a grandiose vanity project for its star.
It was also alleged that Costner’s vanity was responsible for an additional expense on the already very costly production.
Rumours claimed that, as the wind-whipped actor’s thinning hairline was heavily exposed throughout the film, he demanded that CGI artists digitally augment his scalp.
Costner flat-out denied this at the time, declaring “it’s just bulls***, and [the press] are bulls*** for printing it.”
The allegation has never been confirmed – but given that CGI artists couldn’t convincingly delete Henry Cavill’s moustache in 2017, it’s pretty unlikely that they could hide Costner’s baldness in 1995, when the technology was far less advanced and prohibitively expensive.
24. The film is not an accurate representation of how the melting of the ice caps would change the world
Waterworld was released at a time when environmentalism was gradually gaining prominence in news, politics and popular culture.
The action-adventure film was in part promoted as a warning for where we could be headed if we don’t take better care of the world.
However, there’s one slight problem: it’s a highly inaccurate representation of what would occur should the polar ice caps melt.
Waterworld hinges on the notion that the entirety of the Earth’s surface has been drowned under miles of water due to the melting of the ice caps.
In reality, as cataclysmic as these events would be, much of the world would still be left above water.
The screenwriters were aware of this, but it was ultimately agreed that a fully flooded world would make for a more dramatic setting.
23. ‘Dryland’ is actually meant to be the top of Mount Everest
Waterworld centres on the struggle to locate the legendary Dryland, the last remnants of above-water ground still remaining on the planet.
The map which supposedly leads to this promised land is tattooed on the back of Tina Majorino’s Enola.
The Chinese characters featured in Enola’s tattoo can indeed serve as directions, listing points in longitude and latitude.
These co-ordinates mark out a real location: Mount Everest, the most famous mountain in the world.
- Credit: Arsgera/iStock.com
Whilst Everest is not technically the world’s tallest mountain, it is the highest point above sea level on the planet’s surface.
A scene deleted from the theatrical cut of Waterworld makes this plot point clear, when the survivors pass a plaque identifying the spot as Mount Everest.
22. In one draft of the screenplay, the Mariner was named Morgan – and he had a pet horse
Even before Kevin Costner was attached to star, Waterworld was widely considered to work like a Western at sea.
This, no doubt, is part of why the central character is known only as The Mariner – a nod of sorts to the Old West archetype The Man with No Name, as famously portrayed by Clint Eastwood.
It wasn’t always going to be this way, however. In Peter Rader’s first draft of the Waterworld screenplay, the Mariner was named Morgan (an ‘M’ name, acknowledging the project’s debt to Mad Max).
Rader says that his original draft included something which later drafts cut, which tied Waterworld in closer to the Western genre: a horse.
The writer explains, “having a horse on the boat was an homage to [Westerns]. I also wanted to create that idea of something that was so absurd: Like, where did he find that horse? How’s he keeping it alive? Those questions were all posed by that visual image.”
However, at least six more writers worked on Waterworld after Rader, and it seems they all agreed that having a horse at sea was just a bit too weird an idea.
21. The Smokers’ ship was based on the Exxon Valdez, a real oil tanker that caused a notorious ecological disaster
Waterworld’s villains the Smokers have as their headquarters a mighty oil tanker named the Exxon Valdez.
This was in fact a very real oil tanker, which became infamous for causing a catastrophic oil spill.
- Credit: AP Photo/Al Grillo
The Exxon Valdez disaster occurred in March 1989, when the tanker owned by Exxon Shipping Company struck a reef near Alaska.
This resulted in 37,000 tonnes of crude oil escaping into the sea, the worst spill of its kind at the time.
- Credit: RGB Ventures/SuperStock/Alamy
It was at the insistence of Kevin Reynolds that Waterworld makes direct reference to this notorious event, which the director calls “one of the most egregious accidents that humans had perpetrated on a pristine environment at the time.”
Today, the Exxon Valdez spill is only the second worst of its kind, overtaken by the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010.
20. Costner’s stunt double at one point got lost at sea jet-skiing between the set and the mainland
One of Kevin Costner’s stunt doubles on Waterworld was someone who was very much at home on the water, Laird Hamilton.
Hamilton had for many years been a professional big wave surfer, on top of doing some modelling and film work. (Fun fact: he almost played He-Man in a cancelled Masters of the Universe sequel.)
- Credit: Jennifer Cawley
Hamilton was involved in what director Kevin Reynolds said was the “scariest part” of Waterworld’s production – and it wasn’t when cameras were rolling.
Reynolds recalls that Hamilton “had been taking a jet ski across this channel from the Big Island to Maui, where his home was… [but] he hadn’t shown up that morning for work. They called his wife and she said he left for work.”
“We sent the production helicopter out to try and find him and they couldn’t find him, we thought he was lost at sea. Toward the end of the day they finally found him floating way out in the channel about to be swept out to sea.”
Happily, Hamilton was OK. He would continue doubling for Costner on Waterworld, and seven years later he also doubled for Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day’s infamous surfing scenes.
19. Another stunt double almost died shooting a deep sea diving scene
As mentioned earlier, Costner had a near-miss on the Waterworld set when tied to a boat in stormy conditions.
Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tina Majorino also had some dicey moments, both being thrown overboard and hit by the boat at one point.
- Credit: IMDb
However, no one came closer to death on the set of Waterworld than another of Costner’s stunt doubles, Norman Howell.
Howell – also a stunt co-ordinator on the film, and a frequent double for Costner – performed some of the shots involving deep-sea diving.
- Credit: IMDb
Terrifyingly, Howell suffered a near-fatal embolism whilst shooting an underwater scene, and had to be rushed to hospital.
Happily, the stunt performer recovered in a decompression chamber, and within a few days he was back at work. (Howell still works in stunts today, and is seen above with Costner in 3,000 Miles to Graceland.)
18. The budget was so high in part because local firms all jacked up their prices when the film came to town
Obviously, Waterworld’s budget was affected by such large-scale mishaps as the sets sinking and delays caused by dangerous weather.
However, a great many comparatively minor expenses in the production also wound up costing the filmmakers dearly.
A number of thefts occurred on the set, with computers and generators stolen and needing to be replaced.
The fact that Waterworld was shot in such a remote area of Hawaii also meant that local contractors saw the chance to cash in.
Location manager Ginger Peterson recalls, “Companies knew they were the only games in town and took advantage.”
This resulted in the filmmakers being significantly over-charged for such basic amenities as portable toilets (which may have helped fuel rumours that there were no toilets available on set).
17. Kevin Costner stayed in a $4,500-a-night villa while most of the cast and crew had basic accommodation
One key expense on Waterworld was its leading man, Kevin Costner, considered one of the biggest box office draws around at the time.
For his work on the film, Costner commanded a reported salary of $13 million – and that wasn’t the end of it.
The actor and producer was also reportedly put up in a luxurious ocean view villa at a cost of $4,500 a night. (Keep in mind the production ran for 157 days.)
Costner’s luxurious accommodation is said to have come with a swimming pool, plus personal staff including a butler and a chef.
In the meantime, the bulk of Waterworld’s cast and crew were staying in very basic digs which allegedly didn’t even have air conditioning.
Unsurprisingly, this is said to have taken its toll on the mood on set, with a great deal of resentment toward Costner on the part of the crew.
16. There are three available versions of the film
The theatrically released cut of Waterworld clocks in at two hours and 15 minutes in running time.
This is significantly shorter than Kevin Costner’s original preferred director’s cut, which lasted a full three hours.
Later on, around 40 minutes of excised footage was re-integrated into a TV version of the movie broadcast by US network ABC.
Finally, there is an extended fan edit of Waterworld which is known as the ‘Ulysses cut.’
The Ulysses cut reinserts further deleted footage, including moments of violence and bad language that were previously censored.
All three versions of the film are featured on the Blu-ray release of Waterworld released by label Arrow Video in 2019.
15. Costner and Reynolds had already spectacularly fallen out making Robin Hood together
It’s easy to view Waterworld as a sort-of sequel to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, as it reunites that film’s director and leading man.
However, when the two Kevins first got interested in making Waterworld, neither of them knew the other wanted to do it.
- Credit: Morgan Creek Productions
After falling out during the production of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Reynolds and Costner hadn’t spoken in some time.
It was by total coincidence that when Reynolds reached out to producers Lawrence and Chuck Gordon to express interest in directing, Costner had already told the Gordons he was interested in starring.
- Credit: Morgan Creek Productions
Initially, both Reynolds and Costner balked at the idea of working together again, fearing a reprisal of their tensions on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Ultimately, Lawrence Gordon persuaded the actor and director to put their differences aside – but, unfortunately, the pre-existing tensions between the two were massively intensified by the difficult Waterworld shoot.
14. In the cut original ending, The Mariner leaves Dryland to look for other mutants
One question that’s left relatively unexplored in Waterworld is that of the Mariner’s origins, as a mutated man with gills that allow him to breathe underwater.
We are shown that because of this mutation (introduced in re-writes by David Twohy), the Mariner is widely feared and hated by average humans – but we never meet another one of his kind.
Originally, Waterworld was to end on a reflective note, with the Mariner returning to the water in search of other mutants like him.
This is director Kevin Reynolds’ preferred ending, and it was restored in the fan-edited Ulysses cut.
However, this ending was removed from the theatrical cut, in which the Mariner declares he can’t settle on Dryland because he’s uncomfortable with the stationary ground.
Perhaps having the Mariner leave in search of more mutants would have taken as a starting point for a sequel – and it seems no one involved in making Waterworld wanted to go through it all again.
13. The Mariner’s water was originally going to be purified by a device containing a kidney-like organ
Waterworld immediately announces itself as a somewhat unconventional blockbuster thanks to its rather curious choice of opening.
The first shot is powerful enough, as the continents on Universal’s globe logo gradually disappear under the water – but the introductory shot of our hero is another matter.
We are first shown Kevin Costner’s heroic Mariner as he urinates into a strange water purification device, then drinks the clear liquid which comes out of the other end.
The decision to open the movie with this action might be somewhat questionable, but just where the Mariner would get his drinking water was a practical consideration that had to be addressed.
In any case, the device by which the Mariner purifies his own urine is rather less disgusting than what the filmmakers originally considered.
- Credit: Blausen.com staff
In screenwriter Peter Rader’s first draft, the Mariner was going to have an organic device that closely resembled a human kidney.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was soon dismissed as a bit too gross, and so a more mechanical alternative was dreamed up.
12. The filmmakers had to beg the studio for more money to create the CGI sea monster
Even though Waterworld takes place pretty much entirely at sea, we don’t see all that much sea life.
The filmmakers recognised this, and decided during production that they needed to add at least one appearance from a giant sea monster.
It was quickly decided that this creature should be brought to life via CGI, which was starting to become the industry standard in the wake of Jurassic Park.
However, back in the mid-90s CGI was still a fairly new technology, and very expensive to produce.
As such, the Waterworld filmmakers had to request more money from the studio in order to add the sea monster sequence.
This was quite a request, given that Waterworld was already costing Universal far more than originally expected.
Unsurprisingly, the studio were initially unwilling to put up the extra cash for one SFX sequence, but eventually agreed.
11. The set was so hazardous that on-set medics treated 40 to 50 members of the cast and crew every day
A big part of what made shooting at sea so difficult for the Waterworld cast and crew was the toll it took on them all physically.
The on-set medics were kept busy, with a reported 40 to 50 people coming through their doors on a daily basis.
- Credit: Mary Evans/Roland Grant/Everett
Seasickness was commonplace, from the extras all the way up to director Kevin Reynolds (pictured above) and actress Jeanne Tripplehorn.
Reflecting on this unpleasant aspect of the experience, Tripplehorn recalls, “I threw up, but not in front of anybody.”
It was even rougher for the extras and low-level crew members, who had less creature comforts available.
Extra Sonny LaRosa was one among those who wound up quitting the production after a while, noting they were “tripping over cables” all the time.
10. A 112-foot model of the ship was built at an airport scrapyard
The core premise of Waterworld is that humanity has survived by repurposing whatever remnants of rusted-over ships and oil platforms they could find.
It may seem a bit ironic, then, that the Waterworld crew built these sets from scratch at enormous expense.
The Smokers’ base ship, the Exxon Valdez, was built at full scale, 112 feet in length, in an airport scrapyard.
The Atoll set, built from 1,000 tonnes of steel, wound up costing the production $5 million.
Even the Mariner’s trimaran – ostensibly a more modest, small-scale sea vehicle – came with a hefty price tag attached.
Two trimarans were constructed especially for the movie, at a cost of around $500,000 each.
9. Because of the bad press, Costner ended up banning tabloid newspapers and magazines from the set
Long before even a single frame of Waterworld had been shown to the public, the film was figuratively drowning in bad press.
Reports of the ever-increasing budget and the massive behind-the-scenes difficulties were commonplace in the tabloids.
This was only intensified by the fact that Kevin Costner’s marriage was collapsing at the time, with widespread allegations that the actor and producer was having an affair.
The press wasted no opportunity to pro-actively roast Waterworld, dubbing it ‘Fishtar’ (a play on 1987 mega-flop Ishtar) and ‘Kevin’s Gate’ (in reference to the similarly troubled 1980 film Heaven’s Gate).
Costner was not amused, and when he saw cast and crew reading newspapers and magazines containing such reports, he banned these publications from the set.
Costner is reported to have walked away in silence when his co-star Dennis Hopper tried to show him such an article, remarking, “I don’t ask for a lot on the set. Be quiet, don’t read my tabloid headlines to me.”
8. The film’s original writer envisaged it as a vehicle for Harrison Ford
The title Waterworld is destined to forever be synonymous with the name of its leading man and producer, Kevin Costner.
However, Peter Rader has admitted that while he did have one specific actor in mind while writing the script, it wasn’t Costner.
The screenwriter told Yahoo! Movies in 2020, “I have to confess I was thinking of Harrison Ford.”
This makes sense, given Rader wrote the script in the 80s when Ford was the biggest star around off the back of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and to a lesser extent Blade Runner.
Whether or not Ford was ever an actual possibility for Waterworld is unknown; curiously, this is one instance when there don’t seem to have been reports of any other actors being linked to the film before Costner.
The 90s were a patchy time for Harrison Ford: despite such hits as The Fugitive and Air Force One, his reputation was tarnished by high profile flops like Sabrina and Six Days, Seven Nights.
7. Kevin Costner was on set almost every day of the shoot
It’s not hard to pin a lot of the blame for Waterworld’s downfall on the ego of its star and producer, Kevin Costner.
Costner’s heavily hands-on approach and insistence on making his voice heard on all matters is said to have promoted tension on the already troubled set.
- Credit: Shutterstock
However, one thing Costner certainly can’t be accused of is failing to take up the slack where work was concerned.
For pretty much the duration of the Waterworld shoot (which, as you may recall, went three months over schedule), Costner was always there.
- Credit: Pam Francis/Getty Images
The star and producer says he was on set for 157 days, working six-day weeks at a time.
Costner declares, “It’s never bothered me to work hard. I’ve probably worked on some of the longest schedules in movie history,” pointing out that Dances with Wolves and The Postman also took upwards of 100 days.
6. The film only made a profit thanks to its popularity overseas
Thanks to negative word of mouth, Waterworld was initially a significant loss for studio Universal.
Waterworld wound up costing around $175 million to make – a figure which increases to $235 million taking into account marketing costs.
In order to turn a profit, a movie generally needs to make back at least double its overall budget at the box office.
Waterworld singularly failed to do this at the US box office, making only $88 million, and thus quickly being labelled a flop.
However, the film did fare better overseas, bringing home $176 million in other regions, so it ultimately made its money back.
This, in addition to home video and TV sales, meant that Waterworld did eventually turn a profit.
5. It was adapted into a novel, a video game and three theme park attractions
As everyone was banking on Waterworld being a massive blockbuster, the film’s marketing push was huge.
The slew of tie-in merchandise included a video game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and PC.
There was also an official novelisation of the screenplay written by Max Allan Collins (later the author of Road to Perdition).
Given the film’s emphasis on visual spectacle, it was also fitting that tie-in theme park attractions were launched.
- Credit: Universal Studios
Three Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular shows were introduced at Universal’s resorts in Hollywood, Singapore and Japan.
Even though the movie wasn’t considered a great success, all three of these attractions are still running more than 25 years later.
4. It spawned a comic book series
After the troubled production of Waterworld and the tepid response it inspired, there was never any real possibility of it getting a sequel.
However, the fantastical world introduced in the movie wound up being explored further in a comic book series.
1997 saw the release of Waterworld: Children of Leviathan, a four-issue story following on from the events of the movie.
Published by Acclaim Comics, the limited series was written and illustrated by Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski and Kevin Kobasic.
While the story again centres on the Mariner, the character was given a new look as Kevin Costner would not give permission for his likeness to be used.
Acclaim Comics went out of business in the years that followed Waterworld: Children of Leviathan, so the comic is hard to find in physical form today.
3. It was nominated for four Golden Raspberry Awards, but the only ‘winner’ was Dennis Hopper
After the tsunami of bad publicity that greeted Waterworld on its cinema release, many in Hollywood wanted to make an example of the film.
Unsurprisingly, this included the board of the Golden Raspberry Awards, the satirical anti-Oscars based around naming and shaming the worst film work of the year.
- Credit: Richard Blanshard/Getty Images
Waterworld wound up landing four Razzie nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Director (for both Reynolds and Costner), Worst Actor for Costner, and Worst Supporting Actor for Dennis Hopper.
Ultimately, only Dennis Hopper was given the Razzie, beating such competitors as Tim Curry for Congo and Robert Duvall for The Scarlet Letter.
Perhaps fortunately for Waterworld, it was up against an even more notorious 1995 flop: Showgirls.
Director Paul Verhoeven’s film took the bulk of the Razzies that night – and Verhoeven made history as the first Razzie ‘winner’ to attend the show and accept his awards in person.
2. The film was nominated for an Academy Award
It’s hard to believe now that Waterworld crashed and burned barely five years after Costner’s Oscar-laden smash hit Dances with Wolves.
Unsurprisingly, the widely derided film did not garner a great deal of attention come awards season.
Even so, Waterworld was still admired just enough to be nominated for a single Academy Award.
The film was nominated in the Best Sound category at the 68th annual Academy Awards in early 1996.
However, sound engineers Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker and Keith A. Wester lost out to Rick Dior, Steve Pederson, Scott Millan and David MacMillan, the sound team behind Apollo 13.
The other films nominated in the Best Sound category that year were Crimson Tide, Batman Forever and the big winner of the night, Braveheart (which won Best Picture and Best Director for Mel Gibson).
1. It was the fourth official collaboration between Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds
Director Kevin Reynolds and star Kevin Costner first worked together on 1985’s Fandango, when they were both starting out in the movies.
Although Fandango was a flop, Reynolds and Costner became friends, and would continue to work together.
Reynolds advised Costner and did uncredited work as second unit director on the actor’s 1990 directorial debut Dances with Wolves.
Costner then hired Reynolds to direct him in 1992’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which became a huge hit – and despite tensions between them at the time, Costner went on to co-produce Reynolds’ 1994 film Rapa-Nui (although he did not act in this film).
Making Waterworld soured their friendship for many years, although the two men have since patched things up and collaborated on TV mini-series Hatfields & McCoys in 2012.