The Story Behind Waterworld's Nightmarish Production

In the '90s, having Kevin Costner in your film was a sure sign of box office success. Audiences loved him. Then came the disaster known as "Waterworld," which is often described as a "Mad Max" rip-off set on the ocean (let this Honest Trailer explain the film's plot if you're unfamiliar). Over time, it has come to be known as not only a flop but a blight on Costner's Hollywood status. 

What really happened to make the movie's reputation so infamous? The answer is ... too much of everything. Bad weather, near-death experiences, bloated budgets, and creative differences that all made for a topsy-turvy mess of a production. What started as a bit of a passion project for lead actor Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds turned into a legendary Hollywood nightmare that people are still flummoxed by to this day.  

Accidents Were Common

In an attempt to give the movie strong realism, Costner and Reynolds insisted they film on the actual, real-deal ocean, and everyone seemed to pay the price for this decision. Stars Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tina Majorino (a child actress at the time), had to be rescued by divers when they were thrown off their watery set, and an embolism almost cost Costner's stunt double, Norman Howell, his life after a dive. 

Costner's other stunt double, Laird Hamilton, known for big-wave surfing, understands what it's like to risk his life on the water. However, it was "Waterworld" that left him drifting out to sea and in need of rescue, with his jet-ski running out of fuel "mid-commute" to the set. The Coast Guard had to help rescue him. Keven Costner even risked his life for a shot that went sideways, leaving the actor stranded on a boat mast with a helicopter nearby making everything more dangerous. 

Hollywood is notorious for the tough demands it places on its casts and crews. Too often, lives are put at risk or even lost. With so many dangerous situations on set, it's no wonder there was tension between Costner & Reynolds. As a result, Reynolds quit the film, and Costner took over directing.

The Budget Blew up and the Schedule Went Over

While often described as a flop today, it didn't have to be that way for "Waterworld." The film's original budget of $65 million exploded to over $175 million, with shooting going two months over schedule. For context, That's "Avengers" movie money today. Adjusted for inflation, it cost more to make "Waterworld" than it did to cost to make "Avatar." So, sure. The film may have always been destined to be panned by audiences and critics. However, plenty of "bad" movies make their money back, and are simply forgotten to time. That was "Waterworld's" ultimate crime in Hollywood — it lost money, and so much of it that people are still talking about it over 25 years later.

A Watery Future?

If there's one thing Hollywood loves more than a fall from grace, it's a redemption story. 

There has always been a fascination to take some of the ambition of "Waterworld" and expand upon it. So, is there a future for "Waterworld" in today's reboot-hungry landscape? 

It's not impossible, but if folks are waiting on the film's star to make the call, they'll be disappointed to know that Kevin Costner doesn't have much interest in sequels. However, it is being discussed as a television show set 20 years after the original movie with Dan Trachtenberg ("10 Cloverfield Lane") reportedly set to direct. Then again, the idea of a "Waterworld" show was under consideration at SyFy a decade ago, meaning any hopes for a "Waterworld" Cinematic Universe may be Hollywood's latest "believe it when you see it" white whale.