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 additionally 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 centres 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 criticising the characterization and acting performances. The film additionally was unable to recoup its massive budget at the box office; however, the film did later become profitable due to video and additional post-cinema sales. The film was additionally 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.


After the melting of the polar ice caps in the twenty-first century, the sea levels on Earth have covered every continent on Earth. Four hundred years later, the remnant of human civilization lives on ramshackle floating communities known as "atolls", having long forgotten about living on land, though a few believe a mythological "Dryland" exists somewhere in the world.

The Mariner (Kevin Costner), a lone drifter, arrives at one such atoll on his trimaran to trade dirt, a rare commodity, for additional supplies. The atoll's residents realise the Mariner is a mutant with gills and webbed feet, and decide to drown him in a brine pool. Just then, the atoll is attacked by Smokers, a vicious band of raiders who're seeking a girl named Enola (Tina Majorino) who, according to their leader the Deacon (Dennis Hopper), has a map to Dryland tattooed on her back. Enola's guardian, Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), attempts to escape with Enola on a gas balloon with Gregor (Michael Jeter), an inventor, but the balloon is released too early. Helen rescues the Mariner and insists he take the two of them with him.

The three escape to open sea. They are pursued by the Smokers, and though they escape Helen's impetuous actions result in damage to the Mariner's boat and he angrily cuts her hair. As time passes, the tensions between the two females and the loner Mariner begin to ease. Later, Helen explains that she believes humans once lived on land and that Dryland must exist somewhere; when the Mariner denies her belief in Dryland, she demands to know where the Mariner collected his dirt. He assembles a diving bell and dives with her, showing the remains of a city and the soil on the ocean floor. When they surface, they find the Smokers have caught up to them, and the Deacon threatens to kill them if they don't reveal where Enola is hiding aboard the boat. Enola is tricked into revealing herself; the Mariner takes Helen and they dive underwater to avoid capture, with the Mariner helping Helen to breathe. When they surface, they find that Enola has been taken and the boat destroyed. Gregor manages to catch up to them in his balloon and rescues them, taking them to a new makeshift atoll with the survivors of the first attack.

When the new atoll's members refuse to help Helen rescue Enola, the Mariner takes a captured Smoker jet ski to chase down the Deacon aboard the hulk of the Exxon Valdez, where the Deacon and his Smokers are celebrating Enola's capture and the promise of reaching Dryland. With most of the Smokers below deck to row the tanker, the Mariner confronts the Deacon, threatening to ignite the reserves of oil still on board the tanker unless he returns Enola. The Deacon calls the Mariner's bluff, knowing that that would destroy the ship, but to his horror the Mariner drops a lit flare down a shaft into the oil. The resulting explosion engulfs the lower decks of the ship in flames and the ship starts to sink. The Mariner rescues Enola and they escape by a rope from Gregor's balloon. As the Mariner brings Enola to Helen, the Deacon manages to grab the rope to escape the sinking ship. He fires at the balloon, shaking Enola from the balloon and causing her to fall back into the ocean, and he quickly rejoins with his men on jet skis to capture her. The Mariner makes an impromptu bungee jump from the balloon to grab Enola before the Deacon can, and the Deacon and his men collide and are killed in the resulting explosion.

Gregor has been able to identify the tattoo on Enola's back as coordinates with flipped directions. The Mariner, Gregor, the original atoll's law Enforcer, Helen and Enola discover Dryland, the top of Mount Everest, filled with vegetation and wildlife. They find a crude hut with the remains of Enola's parents. As they prepare to settle in their new home, the Mariner decides he can't stay, as the sea calls to him, and departs.



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 didn't star in. 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. Universal initially authorised 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, additionally referred to as The Valley of Kings. The production was hampered by the collapse of the multimillion-dollar set throughout 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. At one point, he nearly died when he got caught in a squall while tied to the mast of his trimaran. Laird Hamilton, the well-known surfer, was Kevin Costner’s stunt double for a large number of water scenes. Hamilton commuted to the set via jet ski.

Mark Isham's score, which wasn't recorded and only demos were completed for approximately twenty-five percent 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 wasn't given the chance. 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.

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

Loe Real, one of the two 60-foot Waterworld trimarans in 2013; Newport Beach, California.

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. The transforming version was first seen in the film as a sort of raft with a three-bladed egg-beater windmill. When needed, levers can 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. The transforming version is in private hands in San Diego, California. For a large number of years, the racing version was kept in a lake at Universal Studios Florida, before being restored for use as a racing trimaran named Loe Real, which was (as of 2012) being offered for sale in San Diego.


Box office

Due to the runaway costs of the production and its expensive price tag, a few critics dubbed it "Fishtar" and "Kevin's Gate", alluding to the flops Ishtar and Heaven's Gate, although the film debuted at the box office at #1. With a budget of $172 million (and a total outlay of $235 million once marketing and distribution costs are factored in), 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. Notwithstanding even though this figure surpasses the total costs spent by the studio, it doesn't take into account the percentage of box office gross that theatres retain, which is generally up to half; but after factoring in home video sales and TV broadcast rights among additional revenue streams, Waterworld eventually became profitable.

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 a few great sets, a few 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." 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."

Metacritic gives the film a score of 56%, based on reviews from 17 critics, in the range of "Mixed or average reviews". Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 42 percent 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 a few decent moments and a lot of silly ones."

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 AwardsBest 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.

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 cancelled and was only available on the Sega Channel. A Sega Saturn version of the game was additionally 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 didn't permit his likeness to be used for the comics, so the Mariner looks different. The storey reveals a few of the Mariner's back-story as he gathers clues about where he came from and why he's 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 might not be caused by evolution but by genetic engineering and that his origins might be linked to those of the "Sea Eater", the sea monster seen throughout 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.