The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld lives in the same rarified air as Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate, except that it was one of the highest grossing films of 1995.
The thing is, while it cost $175 million, it made back $264.2 million worldwide, as well as having a profitable video and cable release. It’s still making money, because the stunt show based on the movie, Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, is still running at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Beijing 27 years after the movie was released.
Writer Peter Rader came up with the idea for Waterworld during a conversation with producer Brad Krevoy literally as a Mad Max rip-off. He probably also read the comic Freakwave by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy*, which had been nearly optioned as a movie. Co-writer David Twohy even outright said that he was inspired by The Road Warrior and the filmmakers hired that movie’s director of photography, Dean Semler, for this film.
Before filming began, Steven Spielberg warned star Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds not to film on open water, a lesson he learned from Jaws. They didn’t listen and watched the set sink. And hey, Reynolds quit before the movie was done because he and Costner fought so much.
So what did this all lead to?
Waterworld is way better than it’s been said to be. It is, quite literally, Mad Max on jet skis. Costner is the web-footed Mariner, a man who recycles his own urine as drinking water because since the polar ice caps melted, the drinking water is quite limited and the Earth is just plain filled with water. He saves Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and a kid named Enola (Tina Majorino), protecting them from The Deacon, a one-eyed Dennis Hopper, and then uses the map on Enola’s back to find the only dry land on Earth, which is the top of Mount Everest.
It just takes two hours and fifteen minutes** to get there.
*Ironically, McCarthy would later co-write Mad Max: Fury Road.
**The Costner cut is three hours long.