July 28 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Waterworld, a film that gained the reputation of being one of the biggest Hollywood failures of all time.
However, after 20 years, does the film deserve that reputation? Or has it since redeemed itself thanks to the power of hindsight and sentimentality?
In 1995, Waterworld premiered in theaters as a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie in which a future version of Earth sees itself covered in ocean, thanks to the melting of the polar ice caps and global warming. It tells the story of a drifter (Costner) who sails around the world in his boat.
Waterworld gained its bad reputation early on thanks to the film's production costing a fortune, making it the most expensive movie of all time before it ever showed in theaters. During its production, the film's initial budget was $100 million, but the final production cost put it at $175 million. Part of the problem was a hurricane that hit one of the film's locations, Hawaii, that cost the production millions of dollars and significantly set back filming.
After Waterworld premiered in U.S. theaters, it was obvious early on that the film wouldn't recoup the costs it spent on production, and critics immediately labeled Waterworld as a flop, one as big as that of another extremely unsuccessful film, Ishtar.
However, now, 20 years later, looking back, Waterworld wasn't really the flop that its initial critics called it. In fact, by today's standards, Waterworld is a minor Hollywood success, and here's why:
The Film Eventually Broke Even
In the end, Universal Pictures, which produced the film, recouped its costs on the movie. This is, in large part, thanks to the film's international success, paired with a tie-in novel and video game. The movie also features in attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore and Universal Studios Japan, which are all still running today.
By Today's Standards, Waterworld Would Become a Success
Deadline reports from an insider working with Universal Pictures in the 1990s that the numbers brought in by the film "didn't look that bad on paper back then, and would fare better on the bottom line if made today."
"Even though production and P&A costs would rise, studios now take advantage of co-financing that not only shares risk but brings a fee around 11%; mature ancillary markets, from DVD to VOD both domestic and especially foreign bring in more money than [what] back in 1995," reports Mike Fleming Jr. for Deadline. "Then it was a videocassette marketplace dominated by Blockbuster and other rental stores."
Deadline also mentions that actors today don't get the high salaries up front that Costner got for the film.
It Wasn't That Bad
Believe it or not, critics didn't completely pan Waterworld as a bad movie. In fact, they were most often split about the film, with some actually liking it. From reviews at the time, Waterworld scored a decent 42 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Mike LaSalle from The San Francisco Chronicle summed it up best:
"It's a genuine vault at greatness that misses the mark — but survives."
General film watchers, too, still seem to like the movie: on Amazon, the film gets a solid four stars.
An Earth Covered With Water Isn't That Far-fetched
Global warming and climate change were still relatively new concepts in the 1990s, so many filmgoers thought the film's premise was ridiculous. However, now, scientists say that such a thing is possible, thanks to the shrinking crust of the Earth and sea levels that are already rising. In other words, Waterworld just became a much more believable film: in a few billion years, humans may really live on floating villages in the vastness of the oceans covering Earth.
The Concept Of Waterworld Stayed With Us
Just a few years ago, there were talks that Syfy was thinking about creating a Waterworld sequel or a TV mini-series based on the original 1995 film. A series inspired by the film was "talked about endlessly," according to Syfy president Dave Howe. Of course, nothing has come of of those discussions, but with the 20th anniversary of the film having everyone see the story in a new light, it's likely those rumors could start again.