Why Waterworld Wasn't A Flop, According To Kevin Costner

1995’s Kevin Costner vehicle Waterworld is widely regarded as one of the biggest cinematic belly flops of all time. (Cards on the table, I loved Waterworld in 1995, and I love Waterworld now.) Costner, however, doesn’t look at the film as a failure, and doesn’t think it was a flop at all.

The film just turned 20 at the end of last month (it was released on July 28, 1995), and there have been some people looking back on it to mark the occasion. Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere is one who revisited Waterworld after a long time. He decided maybe he gave it a bum rap the first time around and reached out to Costner for his take. The actor responded with:

I know that people might think of Waterworld as a low point for me. It wasn’t. It could have had a better, more obvious outcome. The thing I know is that I never had to stand taller for a movie when most were going the other way. The movie with all its imperfections was a joy for me…a joy to look back upon and to have participated in.

Reviews of Waterworld were mixed upon its initial theatrical release. While things like plot, story, and characterization were picked apart by critics, many still praised the soaring action, comparing it to George Miller’s Mad Max films, except, you know, on water. The film has held up remarkable well over the years, and while I don’t know if it has quite achieved full-fledged cult status, the hard stance originally taken against the movie has definitely softened over time.

To be fair, the bulk of the fuss wasn’t primarily about the movie itself, it was about the out of control budget. Set in a world where there is no land, every last scene takes place on the high seas. With massive, elaborate sets—shooting in open water is tricky and expensive—the film kept getting deeper and deeper into cost overruns, until the original $100 million budget ballooned to a bloated $175 million, which was, at the time, a record. Granted, that is still an ass-load of cash, but in today’s blockbuster-minded landscape, that’s barely considered outlandish at all (these days Waterworld is the 63rd most expensive movie ever produced).

Just in case you don’t remember, Waterworld takes place in a future where the polar ice caps have melted, causing the oceans to rise, and forcing everyone to live on boats, or makeshift floating shantytowns. Kevin Costner plays a mutant flipper-man who sails around on his post-apocalyptic catamaran, drinking his own pee, and battling sea monsters. A stoic, reluctant hero (think Max Rockatansky on water), he rescues a woman and a small girl, who, as it turns out, are the key to finding the mythical "Dryland." Their journey is complicated, however, when they run afoul of Dennis Hopper’s Deacon, a post-apocalyptic warlord, and his gang of "smokers," who live on an old oil tanker but who would also prefer to live on dry land. And yes, Waterworld rules as hard as that description makes it sound. So, if you haven’t watched it in a while, what better reason to pop it in than the 20th anniversary?

Brent McKnight