Not Only Was 'Waterworld' A Complete Flop, It Was An Utter Disaster During Production

The 1995 science fiction epic Waterworld is considered one of the biggest flops of all time. But the film wasn’t simply a flop, it was a complete disasterWaterworld behind the scenes stories point to how this would-be blockbuster went straight off the rails. So, what happened with Waterworld? Was the original vision sullied by hired hands? Was the film’s star a straight-up diva? Did the elements themselves try to keep Waterworld from being made? You better believe all of that and more came together to make sure the film was a special kind of awful.

While making WaterworldKevin Costner (who still maintains it's a good movie) was going through intense personal struggles. He was dealing with a divorce and constantly clashed with the close friend who happened to be the film’s director. Plus, he had to regularly perform life-threatening stunts. It’s an absolute marvel that this movie ended up making it to theaters at all.

Waterworld may not be the first film that comes to mind when you think "adventure on the high seas," but it’s one of the biggest disasters in film history and its story deserves to be told.


  • The Movie Began As A Mad Max Rip-Off

    The Movie Began As A Mad Max Rip-Off
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    In the mid-'80s, aspiring screenwriter Peter Rader wanted to get into Hollywood. So, he did what a lot of people did: he took a meeting with Roger Corman, the king of low budget filmmaking who launched the careers of Dennis Hopper, James Cameron, and Joe Dante. Rader explained what happened next to Starlog:

    "I had a meeting with Roger Corman’s company in 1986 that stimulated the idea. I met with Brad Krevoy – who went on to produce Dumb And Dumber – and he offered me money to write and direct a Mad Max rip-off."

    Rader wanted to differentiate his idea from the rest of the post-apocalyptic wasteland films cropping up at the time, so he decided to set his film on water. But Corman's company passed on the idea, believing it would cost the hefty fee of $5 million.

  • The Script Was Rewritten Countless Times

    The Script Was Rewritten Countless Times
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    According to original screenwriter Paul Rader, he went through six or seven drafts of Waterworld before getting burnt out. Then, the script left his hands and went to David Twohy. The rewrites continued, and at some point the script wound up in the lap of Joss Whedon for an uncredited pass. According to the future brains behind Buffy, by the time he saw the script it was a real mess:

    "Waterworld was a good idea, and the script was the classic, 'They have a good idea, then they write a generic script and don't really care about the idea.' When I was brought in, there was no water in the last 40 pages of the script. It all took place on land, or on a ship, or whatever. I'm like, 'Isn't the cool thing about this guy that he has gills?' And no one was listening."

    Even Kevin Costner admits they probably shouldn’t have rushed into production with an unfinished script, as he explained to SF Gate:

    "We shouldn't have green-lighted this movie until the script was finished. I do movies that I know are already written well. Except for Waterworld. From a producing standpoint, I tried to manage and control a story that was not there – and kept trying to build a story."

  • Kevin Costner Supposedly Demanded Computer-Generated Hair

    Kevin Costner Supposedly Demanded Computer-Generated Hair
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    Stars are often known for their egos. So maybe it's not so crazy that Waterworld’s star, Kevin Costner, wanted the special effects team to do a little something about his thinning hair. According to Newsweek, Costner demanded the special effects department add “computer-generated hair” to mask his balding noggin.

    Costner vehemently denied this report to CNN in 1995: "I was so surprised that it came from Newsweek. No matter if they cite a source, it's just bullsh*t, and they're bullsh*t for printing it."

  • The Set Was Absolutely Insane

    The Set Was Absolutely Insane
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    According to director Kevin Reynolds, the Waterworld set was already nuts when he arrived in Hawaii to start filming. He attempted to describe the madness to Newsweek for the film’s 20th anniversary:

    "The set wasn’t a three-ring circus, it was a 12-ring circus. The scale was enormous. Especially the giant floating set, the atoll. We had hundreds of extras, dozens and dozens of guys on jet skis and helicopters with cameras on them."

  • One Of The Stunt Men Was Nearly Lost At Sea

    One Of The Stunt Men Was Nearly Lost At Sea
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    When you’re filming an action movie some accidents are to expected. Normally, though, you're filming in a much more controlled environment than the actual ocean. The film’s director, Kevin Reynolds, described the most frightening moment on set:

    "The AD came in and told me one of the stunt guys was missing at sea. I said, 'What do you mean? We aren’t even shooting at sea!' We were shooting on the Big Island and this guy was Bill Hamilton – this legendary big wave surfer. He had been taking a jet ski across this channel from the Big Island to Maui, where his home was, and he'd stay for the weekend. He’d get up before dawn on Monday and drive it back 40 miles across the ocean, and 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."

  • The Director Quit In The Middle Of Post-Production

    The Director Quit In The Middle Of Post-Production
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds had been working together since the '80s, when Reynolds gave Costner a role in the film Fandango. They later collaborated on Dances With Wolves (Costner directed, but received tips from Reynolds), and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But their relationship apparently began to sour as Costner’s star rose, and their friendship almost ended during the filming of Waterworld.

    Reynolds was already cracking under the stress of filming the bloated movie, but the straw that broke the director’s back was his creative clash with Costner. After leaving the production, Reynolds told Entertainment Weekly, "In the future Costner should only appear in pictures he directs himself. That way he can always be working with his favorite actor and his favorite director."

    Costner responded, “At the end of the day, you've got to get the work done, and that's what I'm about."