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

The setting of the film is in the distant future. Although no exact date was given in the film itself, it has been suggested that it takes place in 2500. The polar ice caps have completely melted, and the sea level has risen over 7,600 m (25,000 feet), covering nearly all the land. The film illustrates this with an unusual variation on the Universal logo, which begins with the usual image of Earth, but shows the planet's water levels gradually rising and the polar ice caps melting until nearly all the land is submerged. The plot of the film centers on an otherwise nameless antihero, "The Mariner", a drifter who sails the Earth in his trimaran.

The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld was released to mixed reviews, praising the futuristic setting and premise but criticizing the characterization and acting performances. The film also was unable to recoup its massive budget at the box office; however, the film did later become profitable due to video and other post-cinema sales.[6][7] The film was also nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Sound at the 68th Academy Awards.

The film's release was accompanied by a tie-in novel, video game, and three themed attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore, and Universal Studios Japan called Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which are all still running as of 2016.


At the beginning of the 21st century, the polar ice caps melted and the sea level rose to cover every continent on Earth. Surviving humans were scattered across the ocean on ramshackle floating communities known as atolls, mostly built from scrap metal and decrepit sea vessels. Over time, the survivors eventually forget that they ever lived on firm ground, adapting a mythological place named "Dryland" somewhere in the ocean.

Five hundred years after the apocalypse, a drifter, known only as "the Mariner", arrives at an atoll seeking to trade dirt, which is a precious commodity due to its usefulness as a medium for growing plants. When the Mariner is revealed to be a mutant with webbed feet and gills who is able to breathe underwater, the fearful atollers vote to drown him in a brine pool they maintain for composting. As they begin lowering the Mariner into the sludge, local pirates known as Smokers raid the atoll. The Smokers are searching for an orphan girl named Enola, who has a map to Dryland tattooed on her back. The leader of the Smokers is "the Deacon" (Dennis Hopper), who wants the map so he can be the first to claim Dryland and build a city upon it with his crew.

Enola and her guardian, Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), had planned to leave the floating city with Gregor, an inventor. However, during the attack Gregor accidentally launches the gas balloon they planned to escape in with only himself on board, leaving the pair stranded. As the Smokers gain entry to the atoll, Helen rescues the Mariner from drowning in the sludge, and he agrees to help them escape on his trimaran.

Once out on the open sea, the trio encounter the Smokers again, but Helen's naïve actions result in damage to the Mariner's boat, and he angrily cuts her hair. Helen, convinced that Dryland exists and that people had not always lived on water, demands to know where the Mariner finds his dirt. The Mariner puts her in a diving bell and swims her down to the ruins of Denver where he collects dirt and scrap from the bottom of the sea. Helen realizes that former human civilization had indeed existed on land that is now submerged.

When they surface, the Mariner and Helen are captured by the Smokers and used to flush Enola from hiding. They dive overboard, barely escaping. Since Helen cannot breathe underwater, the Mariner uses his gills to breathe for both of them. They resurface to find everyone gone and the trimaran destroyed. They are rescued by Gregor in his balloon and taken to a new makeshift atoll where the survivors of the first atoll attack have regrouped.

Using a captured Smoker jet ski, the Mariner chases down the Deacon, finding him on the remaining hulk of the Exxon Valdez. The Deacon is celebrating with the huge Smoker crew, proclaiming they have found the map to Dryland. After the crew have all gone below decks to row the ship, the Mariner walks out onto the deck, where the Deacon and his top men are examining Enola's tattoo. He threatens to drop a flare into the oil reserve tank unless the Deacon releases Enola. Knowing the act would destroy the ship, the Deacon calls the Mariner's bluff, and is aghast when the Mariner makes good on his promise. The ship explodes below-decks and begins sinking while the Mariner escapes with Enola by climbing a rope up to Gregor's balloon.

In the final moments before the ship disappears, the Deacon manages to reach the rope himself and begins to climb it, ultimately making a grab for Enola, but Helen throws a bottle at him, causing him to fall. He pulls out his pistol and shoots one of the balloon's lines, causing Enola to fall into the sea. The Deacon mounts a jet ski and signals two other jet skiing Smokers to converge on Enola. The Mariner, seeing this, ties a rope around his ankle and jumps down to grab Enola in an impromptu bungee jump. The recoil of the cord pulls them to safety just as the jet skis collide and explode, killing the Deacon.

Gregor deciphers the Asian symbols on the map using an old China Airlines magazine. He realizes that they are not only coordinates, but are reversed - North is South and East is West - and steers his balloon in that direction. They find Dryland, which is revealed to be Mount Everest. It is verdant and welcoming with fresh water, forests, and wildlife. Gregor, Enola, Helen and other atoll survivors land and find the remains of Enola's parents in a hut. They prepare to settle, but the Mariner decides he must leave as the ocean, his only home, calls to him.



The film marked the fourth collaboration between Costner and Reynolds, who had previously worked together on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Fandango (1985), and Rapa Nui (1994), the latter of which Costner co-produced but did not star in.[8] Waterworld was cowritten by David Twohy, who cited Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior as a major inspiration. Both films employed Dean Semler as director of photography.

During production, the film was plagued by a series of cost overruns and production setbacks.[8] Universal initially authorized a budget of $100 million, but production costs eventually ran to an estimated $175 million, a record sum for a film production at the time. Filming took place in a large artificial seawater enclosure similar to that used in the film Titanic two years later; it was located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii. The final scene was filmed in Waipio Valley on the Big Island, also referred to as The Valley of Kings. The production was hampered by the collapse of the multimillion-dollar set during a hurricane. Additional filming took place in Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, and Santa Catalina Island, and the Channel Islands of California.

The production featured different types of personal watercraft (PWC), especially Kawasaki jet skis. Kevin Costner was on the set for 157 days, working 6 days a week.[9] At one point, he nearly died when he got caught in a squall while tied to the mast of his trimaran.[10] Laird Hamilton, the well-known surfer, was Kevin Costner’s stunt double for many water scenes. Hamilton commuted to the set via jet ski.

Mark Isham's score, which was not recorded and only demos were completed for approximately 25% of the film, was reportedly rejected by Costner because it was "too ethnic and bleak", contrasting the film's futuristic and adventurous tone; Isham offered to try again, but was not given the chance.[2] James Newton Howard was brought in to write the new score. Joss Whedon flew out to the set to do last minute script rewrites and later described it as "seven weeks of hell"; the work boiled down to editing in Costner's ideas without alteration.[2][13]

The state of Hawaii had more than $35 million added to its economy as a result of the colossal film production.[2] Despite their reported clashes, the director and star reunited almost two decades later for the History Channel miniseries Hatfields & McCoys.

Inspired by racing trimarans built by Jeanneau Advanced Technologies' multi-hull division Lagoon; a custom 60 foot (18 m) yacht was designed by Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot-Prevost and built in France by Lagoon. Two versions were built, a relatively standard racing trimaran for distance shots, and an effects-laden transforming trimaran for closeup shots. The first trimaran was launched on 2 April 1994, and surpassed 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) in September of that year.[16] The transforming version was first seen in the film as a sort of raft with a three-bladed egg-beater windmill. When needed, levers could be triggered that would flatten the windmill blades while raising a hidden mast to full racing height. A boom emerged, previously hidden in the hull, and the two sails were automatically unfurled. Once the transformation was complete this version could actually sail, although not as well as the dedicated racer.[16] The transforming version is in private hands in San Diego, California.[16] For many years, the racing version was kept in a lake at Universal Studios Florida,[16] before being restored for use as a racing trimaran named Loe Real, which was (as of 2012) being offered for sale in San Diego.[2]


Box office

Due to the runaway costs of the production and its expensive price tag, some critics dubbed it "Fishtar"[2] and "Kevin's Gate",[2] alluding to the flops Ishtar and Heaven's Gate, although the film debuted at the box office at #1.[2][2] With a budget of $172 million (and a total outlay of $235 million once marketing and distribution costs are factored in),[4] the film grossed $88 million at the North American box office. The film did better overseas, with $176 million at the foreign box office, for a worldwide total of $264 million.[5] However, even though this figure surpasses the total costs spent by the studio, it does not take into account the percentage of box office gross that theaters retain, which is generally up to half;[4] but after factoring in home video sales and TV broadcast rights among other revenue streams, Waterworld eventually became profitable.[23]

Critical reception

Contemporary reviews for the film were mostly mixed. Roger Ebert gave Waterworld 2.5 stars out of 4 and said: "The cost controversy aside, Waterworld is a decent futuristic action picture with some great sets, some intriguing ideas, and a few images that will stay with me. It could have been more, it could have been better, and it could have made me care about the characters. It's one of those marginal pictures you're not unhappy to have seen, but can't quite recommend."[24] James Berardinelli of Reelviews Movie Reviews was one of the film's few supporters, calling it "one of Hollywood's most lavish features to date". He wrote: "Although the storyline isn't all that invigorating, the action is, and that's what saves Waterworld. In the tradition of the old Westerns and Mel Gibson's Mad Max flicks, this film provides good escapist fun. Everyone behind the scenes did their part with aplomb, and the result is a feast for the eyes and ears."[25]

Metacritic gives the film a score of 56%, based on reviews from 17 critics, in the range of "Mixed or average reviews".[26] Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 42% based on reviews from 50 critics, with an average rating of 5.2. The site's critical consensus is: "Though it suffered from toxic buzz at the time of its release, Waterworld is ultimately an ambitious misfire: an extravagant sci-fi flick with some decent moments and a lot of silly ones."[27]

Home media

Waterworld was first released on VHS on July 9, 1996, then on DVD on November 1, 1998. The film was released on Blu-ray on October 20, 2009.

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards[28]Best Sound MixingSteve Maslow, Gregg Landaker and Keith A. WesterNominated
Saturn AwardsBest Science Fiction FilmNominated
Best CostumesJohn BloomfieldNominated
BAFTA Film AwardsBest Visual EffectsMichael J. McAlister, Brad Kuehn, Robert Spurlock and Martin BresinNominated
Golden Raspberry AwardsWorst PictureNominated
Worst ActorKevin CostnerNominated
Worst DirectorKevin ReynoldsNominated
Worst Supporting ActorDennis HopperWon


The film was repackaged in a number of forms, including a 1995 Gottlieb Amusements (later Premier, both now defunct) pinball machine.[29]

Video games

Video games based on the film were released for the Super NES, Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and PC. There was to be a release for the Genesis, but it was canceled and was only available on the Sega Channel. A Sega Saturn version of the game was also planned, and development was completed, but like its Genesis counterpart it was cancelled prior to release. The Super NES and Game Boy releases were only available in the United Kingdom and Australia. While the Super NES and Virtual Boy versions were released by Ocean Software, the PC version was released by Interplay.


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

Comic books

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

Theme park attractions

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