It has been twenty years since “Waterworld” cruised into cinemas and shipwrecked as one of the most notoriously expensive failures at the time, but the anniversary of the movie has caused some folks to take a look back. Yahoo recently ran How Costner’s Apocalyptic Adventure Became One Of The Biggest-Budgeted Fiascos Of All Time, while Newsweek put together an oral history of the movie featuring many of the key players (except Kevin Costner). And in the latter piece, director Kevin Reynolds reveals that he felt that reports of the troubled production led to critics to being eager to pounce on the blood in the water. “The press wanted it to bomb. The head of Universal, Bill Washington, thought the bad publicity cost us at least $50 mill in the box office … The reviews were painful. People didn’t like it. I remember publicists saying that people walked out of a press screening. And then one guy said, ‘Well, it didn’t suck.’ That was the attitude —people walked out expecting to be disappointed and weren’t,” he said.
“It doesn’t suck” was also the feedback columnist Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere recalls hearing back in the day, and he brings this up to Costner in a recent text message conversation the pair had about the movie, and the actor shared his feeling on the reception of “Waterworld” and what the legacy has been twenty years on.
“I’m not sure you know how hard people work [on films]. I’m not sure you know how beloved the movie is around the world. Being hard [on a film] is really easy if you don’t know the underbelly of what [went into it]. When you do know the forensics of a movie — the participation and decisions of others that one has to stand in front of — you can’t help but see it differently,” he said. “…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.”
However, Costner might be viewing things through rose colored glass. Month’s prior to the film’s opening, he was already tossing out harsh words to both the studio and Reynolds. “Universal never wanted to face the truth. This was always going to be a big expensive movie,” he told New York magazine in March 1995.
“Kevin has vision. But eventually someone has to make the tough decisions. If it’s got to be me, I’ll do it,” Costner added about his former frequent collaborator. “…I got Kevin through ‘Fandango,’ ‘Robin Hood,’ and ‘Rapa Nui,’ and now now ‘Waterworld.’ “
Either way, the perception of the movie as a total disaster has softened over the year. Perhaps in another twenty years, it’ll be get the full blown critical reversal of Michael Cimino‘s “Heaven’s Gate.” Thoughts? Let us know in the comments section.