If you ask most people what their favorite Kevin Costner movie is, they'll likely say something like Dances With Wolves, or Field of Dreams. Both were nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, and Dances With Wolves even won Best Picture, famously beating one of the ten best Martin Scorsese movies in Goodfellas. But, if you ask me what my favorite Kevin Costner movie is, I'll tell you…well, I'll tell you it's Oliver Stone's JFK. But, if you ask me what my second favorite Kevin Costner movie is, then I'll emphatically say Waterworld!
And I already know what you're thinking: What? That turkey! But look, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I'm all about the turkey. Seriously, though, Waterworld is freaking incredible, and I don't care what anybody says about it. I thought it was awesome as a kid, and I still think it's awesome today. But, why do I think it's so awesome? Well, you're about to find out. Oh, and move back a little if you don't want to get wet. You're in the splash zone, baby.
Waterworld Is Mad Max With Boats. I Repeat, It's Mad Max With Boats
I’m far from the first person to say this, but Waterworld is pretty much just Mad Max with boats. In fact, some might even call it a Mad Max rip-off, but I definitely wouldn’t go that far. Besides being a post-apocalyptic world with some dangerous villains on motorized vehicles (This time boats and jet skis), Waterworld is a lot better than a lot of people make it out to be.
In truth, Waterworld is a quest story, as our heroes are seeking “Dryland,” as there are legends that there was once a world that wasn’t completely covered in water. Our hero, known only as the Mariner (played by Kevin Costner, more on him soon) is considered “a mutant” since he has gills, which is almost like a superpower in a world covered in water.
That said, there are some villainous rogues on vehicles (The rogues in question are
called the Smokers in this one), and that chase aspect is definitely reminiscent of Mad Max: The Road Warrior. Even so, I’d say that Waterworld has a one-up on Mad Max as it had a female secondary lead in Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) before Mad Max: Fury Road had Furiosa. But yeah, if you like Mad Max, and you dig the water, then you’ll likely love Waterworld. I certainly do.
Kevin Costner Has Never Been Cooler
Kevin Costner usually plays admirable good guys. From Wyatt Earp to Robin Hood and Eliot Ness, Kevin Costner used to play nice guys with a slightly defiant edge, and to be fair, he’s not a villain in Waterworld. Far from it. But he’s not very heroic in it, either. At least not at first.
In a lot of ways, Kevin Costner’s character is kind of like Han Solo. But I mean the Han who shot first, Han Solo. Not the Greedo shot first Han Solo. You can tell that the Mariner doesn’t mind killing people if its his hide over somebody else’s, and at times, he cares more for his trimaran than he does for other people, which is initially the case when he, Helen, and a little girl escape the Smokers, but his boat gets damaged in the process.
But, he’s just badass in this one; the kind of guy who can pilot a boat while chomping down on a cigar and looking cool while doing it. I’ve never seen The Postman, which is another Costner-starring post-apocalyptic movie, but I have a hard time believing that there’s any other character in Costner’s filmography as cool as the Mariner. I mean, he gets to go head-to-head with Dennis Hopper, for Pete’s sake! Oh, and about that…
Dennis Hopper Always Plays The Best Bad Guys
Now, I’m not going to lie to you and say that Dennis Hopper’s eyepatch-wearing villain, The Deacon, is anywhere near as cool as Mad Max’s Fury Road’s terrifying villain, Immortan Joe. Dennis Hopper does a lot of the legwork of making Waterworld as good as it is, however, and that’s because he always plays the best bad guys.
Dennis Hopper doesn’t go as over-the-top as he does in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, nor is he as intense as he is in Speed. But, he’s the kind of bad guy in Waterworld who will interrogate a child and say that he’ll eat the Mariner’s brains if he ever sees him again, and you know he means it. I love pretty much everything about Waterworld, but if I had to choose one thing in particular that has always stood out for me, it’s Dennis Hopper as The Deacon. He was always on point.
The Setting Is Convincing And Pretty Scary
Do you know what climate fiction, or “cli-fi” is? If not, it’s a branch of science fiction that takes a pretty disturbing look at climate change and how it will ultimately affect us in the future. And, while there have been stories in the past that can now retroactively be considered cli-fi, the term itself is relatively recent, with more and more books being categorized in this medium.
Well, Waterworld was cli-fi before cli-fi was popular. Waterworld’s setting is a terrifying one where dirt is actually a much valued commodity. In fact, and please forgive me for repeatedly referencing Mad Max, but you know how water is scarce in Mad Max: Fury Road? Well, in Waterworld, it’s the complete opposite. There’s “water, water everywhere,” just like in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
As in that famous poem, though, there is “not a drop to drink,” leading the Mariner to boil and drink his own urine. Now, I ask of you: Has Max Rockatansky ever had to drink his own pee? Maybe, but not that I ever remember seeing. That’s why Waterworld’s setting is so scary, and convincing. You have to drink your own pee!
It Is Peak '90s
Finally, Waterworld is peak ‘90s. At the time, Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made, and it was considered a major failure when it was first released. But, it was a big, dumb action movie with a major star that cost MILLIONS to make, and you likely wouldn’t find something like that today because it wasn’t a sequel, and studios usually don’t want to take risks like that anymore.
Today, it’s all about familiar IPs and sequels over new ideas. Just look at the MCU or other blockbusters like Jurassic Park: Dominion, and Top Gun: Maverick. Hollywood doesn’t want to put large sums of money behind something that isn’t easily recognizable or a definite win.
Back in the ‘90s, studios were willing to take more chances on something new. Movies like The Rock, Independence Day, Armageddon, and yes, Waterworld, weren’t as few and far between as they are today. And, while Universal Pictures undoubtedly regretted that the movie was filmed in the actual ocean, audiences back then expected studios to go all out, no matter what the movie was. So, Waterworld feels like it’s from a bygone era, which of course, it is.
But, what do you think? Do you also love Waterworld? For more news about other great ‘90s movies, make sure to swing by here often!
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.