'Waterworld' Spin Cycle: How Kevin Costner and Cast Dealt With All the Controversy 20 Years Ago

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Months before Waterworld entered multiplexes two decades ago, the movie already seemed doomed. The Kevin Costner-led production, which envisioned a future Earth where the polar ice caps have melted was plagued by a litany of production problems (a sunken set, included), clashes between Costner and director Kevin Reynolds (which ultimately led to the filmmaker leaving the production), Costner’s crumbling marriage playing out in tabloid headlines, and a budget that infamously spun out of control.

Although its ecological premise has proven somewhat prophetic, journalists and film critics at the time excoriated Waterworld as Costner’s folly (it was mocked as Fishstar and Kevin’s Gate), ridiculing the movie as “the most expensive film ever made.” As Waterworld ramped up for its July 28, 1995 release, Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Hopper, and other key players pounded the pavement to promote the seafaring epic and attempt to reframe the narrative around the troubled film.

On the 20th anniversary of the waterlogged movie, we went back and reviewed how Costner and company tried to spin the movie in the face of all that bad publicity.

“I was so surprised that it came from Newsweek. No matter if they cite a source, it’s just bulls–t, and they’re bulls–t for printing it.” —Kevin Costner to CNN, on the rumor he wanted a computer-generated mane to hide his thinning hair.

“Whatever was going on in his personal life, Kevin Costner worked his ass off every day.” —Dennis Hopper in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, much of which was spent downplaying rumors of chaos and mutiny on the movie’s many floating sets.

“It was great. It was great. The whole thing was the best!” —a bubbly 10-year-old Tina Majorino, at the movie’s Hollywood premiere. (Destined to later play Deb in Jared Hess’s 2004 breakout comedy Napoleon Dynamite, Majorino was stung by a jellyfish at least three times while playing Enola in World.)

“It was hanging from gates, swimming three blocks. It was watching explosions. It was trying to maintain balance on a boat. It was really physical. But that’s good — you can really see that when you watch the movie.” —Jeanne Tripplehorn, at the same Hollywood premiere. (Perhaps “maintain balance” was code for seasickness. Several cast and crew reportedly suffered it while filming.)

“I think it’s actually an intrusion for people who are willing to pay money to go see a movie because now they’ve been told bad information… As it turns out that information hasn’t been good. That makes you even more angry that perhaps there might be some people who might never get to see this movie based on what some idiot said… I think the media doesn’t have anything better to do.” —Costner on bad press leading up to Waterworld’s release.

“This one pushed the limits in a way that made me uncomfortable, but there was almost no choice in a way.” —Costner to Extra.

“Wanting to go around the world and coming to Europe was to try to get certain stories straight because in my own country they refuse to acknowledge the facts of Waterworld — both budgetary and politically speaking.” —Costner at a press conference overseas.

“The movie was one of the hardest points in my life. People ask me very often, 'Would you do it again?’ And I say, 'No, I wouldn’t.’ And I mean that. I don’t care how much money Waterworld makes, our lives are short spans that we have. And to have so much upheaval — whether it be personal, professional, financial or whatever — I don’t think is worth it.” —Costner, at that same press conference.

Despite the inevitable bad reviews, the cast’s tireless counterpoint appeared to work. In the end, while not a blockbuster, Waterworld exceeded its reported $175 million production budget by $89 million, once international ticket sales were tabulated, and the film ultimately turned a profit after video and cable sales.

Watch the trailer for ‘Waterworld’: