“It Doesn’t Suck!”

“By the time of Waterworld in 1996, the press’s sonar for the thrashings of a production in trouble — in this case, a prolonged location shoot, on water, with an unfinished script and a quarrelsome star — were so fine-tuned that reporters were virtually camped on the Hawaiian docks where Kevin Costner‘s post-apocalyptic extravaganza was shooting, sharpening their knives and forks.

“Here, though, was the twist: Waterworld wound up making $264 million, thanks to foreign markets, DVD sales, pay-per-view and all the other ancillary revenues with which the studios sought to insulate themselves from risk in the mid-1990s.

“With Last Action Hero (’93) and Godzilla (’98) — two more Flops That Weren’t — Waterworld marked the birth of a new breed of ‘presold’ movie, neither a hit nor a flop, just there, circling the Earth like a blimp, sucking rental revenues from Abu Dhabi, Helsinki, Bangkok.” — from Tom Shone‘s Wall Street Journal review of Ben Taylor‘s “Apocalypse on the Set,” a review of nine “disastrous productions.”

I distinctly recall that the original “it doesn’t suck” quote about Waterworld came from an early reviewer who either caught it at a recruited research screening or (more likely) at a press junket screening.

  • Markj74

    Waterworld didn’t suck. It wasn’t GREAT but it did have several things going for it, specifically 2 or 3 terrific set-pieces, the fun interplay between Costner, Tripplehorn and Majorino on the catamaran and a great score from James Newton Howard. Compared to the bloated CG junk of Kurtzman/Orci it’s looking like a minor masterpiece these days.

  • Mr. F.

    Say what you will about WATERWORLD — it’s still a lot better than THE POSTMAN.

  • Luke Y. Thompson

    And they STILL have a Waterworld stunt show at Universal (though not for long – apparently it’s getting replaced with Harry Potter)

  • DuluozGray

    Waterworld was solid entertainment, and has a very enjoyable performance from Dennis Hopper.

    The Postman also is unfairly maligned. While not great, it is certainly not the disaster people said it was. It had some interesting ideas and Costner is great at casting, as always. James Russo AND Will Patton as bad guys? How can you not love that? I also love when Will Patton reveals that before the world went to shit, he was just a salesman.

  • Alboone

    Extremely underrated in my book. The action is well choreographed, they at least attempt to do something new with the post apocalyptic genre, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Hopper is a hoot in that movie.

  • Movie Watcher

    You can get it at Amazon, either dvd or bluray for 15 bucks. Maybe I will buy a copy, it was ok and 15 bucks isn’t a bad price.

  • Jason S.

    I love these types of books. Wasn’t GODZILLA covered in Peter Bart’s BOFFO already, though.

  • Robert Cashill

    Shone shoud know that WATERWORLD came out in 1995. I felt becalmed throughout, but the stunt show, which I wrote about many years ago, was fun.

  • berg

    wasn’t there another book about a decade ago called Fiasco that mined the same territory … When Waterworld came out Universal had just been bought by Matsushita who wrote off all the studio’s debt so yes it was a money maker

  • Bob Hightower

    It’s actually OK, even if it starts with Kevin Costner drinking his own piss. Not many films can boast such an opening.

  • Ray

    “With Last Action Hero (’93) and Godzilla (’98) — two more Flops That Weren’t — Waterworld marked the birth of a new breed of ‘presold’ movie, neither a hit nor a flop, just there, circling the Earth like a blimp, sucking rental revenues from Abu Dhabi, Helsinki, Bangkok.”

    That’s a great, astute quote. Most summer movies these days are in that mold: too bland to be overtly offensive OR any good. You forget them as you walk out of the theater.

    The most memorable thing about Waterworld was the production nightmare and how it sadly derailed Costner’s once promising career.

    It’s a fool’s errand, but I’m still rooting for a Costner comeback. You can’t hate the guy. Dropping out of Django Unchained was a mistake, but hopefully he has something else lined up.

  • PastePotPete

    “Waterworld wound up making $264 million.. neither a hit nor a flop”

    People keep pointing to Waterworld’s box office gross as proof that it broke even or even made a profit – sorry this is complete bullshit. The studio got back maybe half of the gross from distributors(and from what I understand it’s usually less than 50% return from overseas theatrical) – so the studio got back AT MOST $132 mil from theatrical.

    $175mil budget + whatever prints and marketing cost(at least another $30mil?) is still more a hell of a lot more than that $132mil. Perhaps it made a ton of money on dvd but I doubt it it was enough to entirely cover that shortfall. I remember the dvds being given away with dvd players, probably to boost the perception of success. Counting those as sales.

    That’s the real trick the studios have pulled, they’ve kept such tight reign over financial results for individual movies that there’s several generations of entertainment journalists who have no idea how the economics of movies actually work, so they’re entirely dependent on the studios’ spin machines.

  • David A.

    Majorino ruined that movie. The best part of Waterworld was when Costner tossed her in the ocean to drown.

  • Joe Leydon

    I cannot say this with complete assurance, because I have always suspected somebody somewhere else likely said the same thing. But, seriously, I think I am the source of the “It doesn’t suck” quote. I made the comment after a junket screening on the Universal lot back in the day — and if memory serves me correctly, it was picked up by a USA Today reporter covering the event. Again, not trying to grab credit away from anyone, but I think that’s what happened.

  • Raising_Kaned

    You and a thousand other moviegoers opening weekend, Joe.

    I actually haven’t revisited this at all since its original release (which, by the way, wasn’t it ’95 and not ’96? the ONLY reason I think I remember this is I was in high school at the time, before the years started bleeding together like crazy), which is a little bit weird for me. My recollection at the time was that it wasn’t half-bad, but I’m not entirely sure I can trust my 15 year-old brain on that…

  • Markj74

    Has anybody picked up the extended TV version available on DVD? Is it any good / improve the film in any way?

  • moviemorlock

    Is the TV version 1.33? I’m sure the extra headroom would make all the difference.

  • Markj74

    @moviemorlock: The TV version is 42 minutes longer. It runs 2h 57 compared to the theatrical 2h 15.

  • The Bandsaw Vigilante

    The TV version is 1.85:1 — same as the theatrical cut. That said, the DVD version retains the broadcast trims (like Costner urinating, and one or two other, tiny things).

    Still, as good as the theatrical version is, the extended TV cut is really the only way to fly (or swim) if you’re hankering for a viewing…lots of great restored character and storyline material, and the longer version really lets the film breathe where it needs to.

  • Jesse Crall

    I saw Waterworld when I was about 12 and I remember being bored. I guess it wasn’t awful, just sort of bloated like the budget.

    Costner was great in The Company Men and he always worked really well as a Regular Joe you could relate to. I saw him in Massachusetts once, on his boat he’d named “Dances With Waves.” Good name.

  • moviemorlock

    Do I have to explain the 1.33 extra headroom joke?

  • The Bandsaw Vigilante

    Woops…yeah, sorry, just got that. Was doing about five other things simultaneously as I was reading/typing that, and…yep.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    The thing about saying Waterworld cost $175 million and only paid the studio $136 million is… they probably paid themselves $50 million of that. That’s the key to Hollywood financing, they are the recipients of so much of that money, on any film that has anybody else sharing footing the bill– you pay the house for development, for marketing, for this and that. That’s why studios don’t go under after a couple of bombs.

    In any case, no idea what the other movies in this book are but it’d be interesting to see what the biggest money losers of all time are now. At one time I was pretty sure it was Cutthroat Island (cost $100 million, took in nothing) or maybe Pluto Nash, but I have to think something else may have replaced it since then– The Golden Compass, or Sahara? What’s kind of amazing now is that the title could belong to something no one even remembers came out. At least in the old days, when a disaster production hit the screen at last, its name was legendary, like Heaven’s Gate or Ishtar.

  • Wiggumx

    According to this, it’s “Mars Needs Moms.”


  • Kakihara

    Uh, Last Action Hero cost $85 million and made $130 million, not counting P+A. How is that *not* a flop? As for Godzilla ’98, it did great internationally, so it’s technically *not* a flop, but it clearly wasn’t a hit on the same level as Independence Day.

    Ray: He’s doing the Hatfields and McCoys.

  • Fortunesfool

    The biggest problem with Last Action Hero was John Mctiernan’s flawless set pieces. The Jack Slater stuff was supposed to be bad, but was actually head and shoulders above the majority of action flicks.

    Never did get the hatred for that film, or Waterworld for that matter. Gozilla, on the other hand was crap, but then that’s Roland Emmerich for you.

  • Markj74

    @moviemorlock: No, I think most people just didn’t feel it was worth commenting on.

    @Bandsaw: Thanks, will have to check out the extended version sometime.

  • Mgmax, le Corbeau

    “According to this, it’s “Mars Needs Moms.”

    Yes! Should have thought of that but it does seem very likely. Amazing how much animation costs now– Tangled is apparently one of the most expensive movies ever made, and I don’t even remember it seeming that elaborate.

  • Those were some of the most disastrous motion pictures ever I watched. For instance, I watched Waterworld many times and I never found an answer to this question: Why and how did they do this job?

  • JLC

    Amazing how the domino effect of Mars Needs Moms could claim John Carter as a casualty, as well. Once Moms flopped, I’m almost postive an edict issued from on high that John Carter’s marketing was to avoid any reference to Mars upon pain of death. Notice how the logo, which was apparently designed prior to Moms’ release, contains the initials J-C-M, but the word Mars appears nowhere in any commercial or clip.

    So now you have the chore of selling a movie without being able to tell anyone what it’s really about. I really hope word of mouth can save John Carter because the property and Andrew Stanton deserve better.

  • Sasha Stone

    The male ego is an astonishing thing.

  • BoulderKid

    If “Waterworld” was released today it would have recieve good reviews. Films like this look so good in retrospect compared to the “anti-movies” we have today like the Pirates sequels and Transformers. At least “Waterworld” contains a plot, attempts at characterization, and an actual sense of “internal reality” to its action. The set piece on the floating trading post still plays today.

  • With Last Action Hero (’93) and Godzilla (’98) — two more Flops That Weren’t — Waterworld marked the birth of a new breed of ‘presold’ movie, neither a hit nor a flop, just there, circling the Earth like a blimp, sucking rental revenues from Abu Dhabi, Helsinki, Bangkok.” — from Tom Shone’s Wall Street Journal review of Ben Taylor’s “Apocalypse on the Set,” a review of nine “disastrous productions.”

  • Rachel Anderson

    I think this is a good movie. I want to watch this one. – Garrett Hoelscher