The main duo are scientist Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) and her former husband Bill Harding (Bill Paxton). Among the many others is Dr. Melissa Reeves (Jami Gertz), Harding's current fiancee, who would provide a Love Triangle if she ever showed a fraction of affection towards Bill. Also a tale of vengeance against the evil tornadoes that killed Jo's father. Also a rival team of tornado chasers led by villainous Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes) that seek to beat Our Heroes to the punch at a scientific breakthrough.
Twister was also the first film ever released on DVD. It was released on the format on March 25, 1997note (the second title, Blade Runner, came out the next day). Coincidentally, it was also the last film put out on HD DVD in The United States (though the very last HD DVD worldwide was a German release of Death Proof). It was also one of the first movies released on Blu-ray.
- Accidental Public Confession: Bill's rant to Jo under You Can Turn Back below was said within earshot of an active radio, thus transmitting it to the rest of the group...including his fiancee, who uses it in her decision to break up with him.
- Action Insurance Gag: The start of the Gilligan Cut below has Jo ask Bill if his truck has insurance, to which he replies, "liability only".
- The Alleged Car: Every one of the vehicles Jo's team drives.note The red Dodge Ram 2500 and ultimately sacrificed to deliver Dorothy-III into an F-5 tornado was originally Bill's, and appropriated via Gilligan Cut. Compare this to Jonas team, who have a fleet of black Dodge Caravans.
- Amicable Exes: Bill and Jo go back and forth, though it's mostly arguments about who should be in charge and who knows best. Aunt Meg, on the other hand, is thoroughly happy to see Bill.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The film opens with Jo as a child, watching in horror with her mother as her father gets sucked away by a tornado.
- Anachronism Stew: The opening scene is set in 1969, and contains numerous errors of the time period:
- Jo's father mentions the tornado bearing down on his home as possibly being an F5; however, meteorological researchers Ted Fujita and Allen Pearson did not formally unveil the Fujita Scale until 1972. Even so, there were no tornadoes that occurred in the United States during 1969 that were considered strong enough to be classifiable as F5s anyway.note
- Gary England, who makes a cameo in said scene by way of archive footage, was working as an oceanographer with New Orleans-based forecasting contractor A.H. Glenn and Associates in 1969, having passed on an earlier offer to join Oklahoma City television station KWTV in the mid-1960s due to stage fright. England's broadcasting career did not begin until 1971 (at Oklahoma City radio station KTOK), and he did not become a television meteorologist at KWTV until October 1972.
- Artistic License Physics: All over the place. Tornadoes just don't work like that. They can be capricious, but if the tornado's strong enough to completely pick up an 18-wheel gas tanker right in front of you, it's not going to leave your puny little pickup unruffled.
- There is no way in real life that a tornado would roar, though witnesses have heard some crazy-scary sounds from them in real life.
- They don't roar like animals, no (and animal noises were mostly used in the movie). But the big, violent ones DO roar - they make an overwhelming sound that can be heard miles away, and that sound, even over a little YouTube window, is not one you will ever forget. The little ones often sound like wind rushing through a wind tunnel.
- There is no way in real life that a tornado would roar, though witnesses have heard some crazy-scary sounds from them in real life.
- Asshole Victim: Jonas. Doesn't help that he could have avoided his death if he wasn't so damn determined not to listen to Jo's warnings.
- Justified, after a fashion. Jonas stole their invention, knew they were furious with him about it, and assumed they were out to get even with him by impeding him. He didn't listen to Jo's advice because he believed she and Bill were trying to beat him.
- Big Bad: Technically the tornadoes, of the omnipresent situation variant, particularly the F-5 tornado at the end of the film. However, the human antagonist is Dr. Jonas Miller, the corporate tornado-chasing rival of the protagonists who wants to beat them at a scientific breakthrough.
- Butt-Monkey: Melissa.
- Car Meets House:
Bill: [as the house rolls in front of them with no time for them to evade]: I think we're going in!
- In the final tornado chase sequence, Bill and Jo drive their truck through a house that had been torn off its foundations and rolled onto the road in front of them.
Bill: [afterwards]: Maybe we should get off this road.
- A tornado does this with a station wagon into the side of a service center garage the protagonists are taking cover in.
- Car Fu: Bill and Jo do this to make sure the last Dorothy probe makes it into the tornado; setting the truck on cruise control and jumping out, looking on as it plows head-on into the F5 tornado.
- Casual Danger Dialog:Jo: Can I drive?
Jo: Then will you?
Bill [noticing truck has drifted off the road and is about to run into a parked combine harvester]: Whoa!
- Followed soon after by the perennial classic,Jo: Where's my truck?
(truck, which had been hoisted aloft by the tornado, plops onto the road right in front of the truck being driven by Bill's fiance, who understandably is quite distraught, though she miraculously manages to avoid crashing)
Jo: (in a weirdly nonchalant tone) Oh, there it is.
- And of course, "We've got cows!"Jo: Another cow.
Bill: Actually, I think that's the same one.
- Followed soon after by the perennial classic,
- Chekhov's Gun: Jo's truck in the first tornado chase sequence, that gets picked up and dropped onto the road, is a foreshadowing of how they'll eventually need to get their project "off the ground."Dusty: [laughing] Well, there's some good news... I mean, it did fly...
- City Mouse: Melissa is very out of place among the rest of the cast primarily for this reason.
- Commander Contrarian: One of Jonas' greatest character flaws is that he absolutely refuses to follow any recommendations from anybody else. It becomes a literal Fatal Flaw when he refuses to follow Jo's and Bill's pleas to get the hell away from the F-5 (because that would mean give Jo a chance of "winning") and the tornado kills him.
- Cool Car: Bill's red Dodge Ram 2500.
- Cool Old Lady: Jo's Aunt Meg. Artist, inspiration to Jo, awesome cook, beef farmer, and has just enough badass in her that she insists she'll drive herself to the hospital after a twister completely devastates her house. She only consents to being put in an ambulance after she's told that her car also ended up in a tree.
- Dan Browned: Tornadoes do not work that way!
- Tornadoes are given a rating by studying the damage they leave behind, not their size.
- This point is specifically mentioned while eating at Aunt Meg's house. By discussing ratings beforehand, they are estimating based on things like size and wind speed what the Fujita rating will eventually be.
- Tornadoes are given a rating by studying the damage they leave behind, not their size.
- Death by Origin Story: Jo's motivation for chasing and developing a way to track and predict tornadoes is established at the very beginning of the movie where her father dies while protecting her and her mother from a tornado.
- Developing Doomed Characters: While the film opens with a tornado destroying a farm, much of the film is filler with the "kooky" team and the relationship drama instead of tornadoes destroying things. Hey, they only have so much money to spend on the effects. (Though actually none of the heroes die, just the "villains.")
- Disposable Fiancé: Melissa bows out when she realizes Jo and Bill have started rekindling their feelings for each other. Though she also is no fan of the storm chasing and being that close to tornadoes either, and tells Bill she can't compete with the lifestyle he obviously loves.
- Divorce Is Temporary: The main drama of the film is about how long it will take before Bill and Jo get back together - Bill arrives at the start of the film to collect the signed divorce papers from Jo and brings his fiance with him.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Before being seen, Dorothy, Bill and Jos brainchild, is discussed in a way that makes the audience expect Dorothy to be their human daughter Bill calls it her and she and is surprised shes here?
- Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: One of the most notorious offenders.
- Though there are descriptions of the inflow jets, using layman's terms. The depictions, however, are still lacking.
- Jonas' truck does get picked up, circles, and then gets hurled without ever actually touching the funnel cloud itself.
- An aversion: It is explained that the tornado's funnel that struck the gang at night actually passed them, but the accompanying rear-flank downdraft ("ghost train" - considered part of the tornado) didn't.
- Also averted during the scene where the F5 tornado is chasing Bill and Jo. Without the wedge actually touching them, sections of wooden fence are being ripped off and flung towards the two as they make their way through the barn.
- Down on the Farm: The events of the movie mostly take place in a rural area.
- Downer Beginning: The opening scene ends with the family's house destroyed, and a ton of household objects scattered all over the ground.
- Drive-In Theater: One of the twisters attacks one.
- Everything's Better with Cows: The iconic scene was so popular that the real-world NOAA named their cafeteria the Flying Cow Cafe after the film.
- Evil Twin: Used as a joke when Bill's buddies are telling embarrassing stories to his fiance. He blames the stories on Evil Bill, whom he killed.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie takes place over about 24 hours.
- Face Plant: Bill slams face-first into the back window of the truck when Jo slams on the brakes while he's in the back prepping the Dorothy probe during the third chase.
- Felony Misdemeanor: Jonas went out and got himself some corporate sponsors. Hence, he is deserving of contempt. Lampshaded by The Nostalgia Critic:Critic: We like being financially bankrupt with no money to support our research! It gives us an edge.
- Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Bill Harding is only there in tornado-alley at the time because he came there to badger his wife Jo into finally signing the divorce papers. Subverted in that they wind up back together and never do get the papers signed. (She did sign them, but then Bill's new fiancee leaves him.)
- Gilligan Cut:
- After Jo's truck ends up totaled on its roof after the first chase.Jo: You got full coverage on that truck?
Bill: Liability only.
Jo: Liability only... It's a very pretty truck.
Melissa: Thank you.
Bill: Don't even think about it. No way.
[cut to Bill's truck with Dorothy-I installed in the back]
- After one of the team points out to Jo they're near her Aunt Meg's house.The team: We crave sustenance. Food. Food. Fooood! [chanting]
Jo: No. We are absolutely not going.
[next shot has them pulling up in front of Aunt Meg's house]
- After Jo's truck ends up totaled on its roof after the first chase.
- Hate Sink: You can't really boo a series of tornadoes, so that's what Jonas is there for, the smug idea-stealing corporate-funded bastard. Jo tries to hate the tornadoes, though. She has enmity toward them after losing her father to one because she feels like the tornado malevolently skipped the neighboring houses and target hers, taking her father from her.
- Melissa is a smaller one as a roadblock (more like a minor speed bump, really) to Jo and Bill getting back together.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: How Eddie is killed when pressured by Jonas to continue driving towards the F5 tornado against Bill and Jo's protests; a nearby radio mast is shredded by the cyclone, of which a large piece is sent hurling at the two men right through the windshield. Eddie is killed, leaving Jonas trapped as the twister carries him off to his final fate.
- The Juggernaut: The F5 tornado, naturally. When it pursues Jo and Bill in the climax it uproots trees, tosses tractors and cars like toys and disintegrates entire buildings. The only reason they both survive is by anchoring down to pipes (which itself anchored 30 meters deep) and waiting until the tornado passes over them.
- Karmic Death: Jonas disregards Jo and Bill's urgent pleas to get the hell off the road he was on because he was within spitting distance of a twister that was heading his way and was killed as a result.
- Keet: Dusty is the most excitable of all the chasers.
- Large Ham:
- Cary Elwes hams up pretty much every scene he's in.
- Also Dusty (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
- Last-Name Basis: Word is that Wendle Josepher's character's full name is Patty Haynes, but she is only called by her surname in the film.
- Literal Metaphor: Melissa tells Bill, "When you told me you used to chase tornadoes, I thought it was just a metaphor!" It wasn't.
- Logo Joke: The film was a co-production of Warner Bros. & Universal, and both their logos (WB in the US, Universal internationally) are seen emerging from a tornado at the start of the film.
- Love Cannot Overcome: Melissa breaks up with Bill before he goes chasing after the final tornado because, in her words, "I can't compete with this."
- Made of Explodium: Jonas' chase car, already impaled with a cell-phone tower and picked up by the tornado, explodes spectacularly when it hits the ground. Not only do cars in tornadoes not explode that way but the Special Effects Failure is as blatant as it gets.
- Major Injury Underreaction: Even though she and her dog have just been rescued from a house so badly damaged by an F4 tornado that the structure collapses shortly thereafter, and she herself has suffered numerous injuries related to same, Jo's aunt continues to insist that she can drive herself to the hospital right up until Rabbit informs her that her car is in a tree around the corner. While this seems silly, it's also possible that she's suffering from shock or a concussion from the experience and isn't thinking logically, or she doesn't want them to worry about her, or she's so overwhelmed by her situation that she wants to assert some control over her life.
- Matching Bad Guy Vehicles: The good tornado trackers have a motley collection of vehicles, while the evil tornado trackers have a fleet of matching black SUVs.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
- Are the tornadoes mindless disasters or malicious killers? Jo believes that tornadoes purposefully direct themselves at humans, sparing uninhabited areas in favor of populations; "...seen it miss this house, and miss that house, and come after you!" Bill tears into her for this belief; "Things go wrong. You can't explain it, you can't predict it." However, once they manage to successfully deploy a DOROTHY, the F-5 they filled with sensors immediately changes direction and starts chasing them, as if it's supremely pissed that two puny humans have plumbed its secrets with the goal of depriving it of victims.
- Bill's "human barometer" ability to sense weather patterns, which translates into Combat Clairvoyance when chasing tornadoes.
- Naïve Newcomer: Bill's current fiance, Dr. Melissa Reeves, acts in part as The Watson for explanations of general tornado knowledge.
- The Navigator: Rabbit.
- Newscaster Cameo: The movie has several cameo appearances by well-known Oklahoma television meteorologists, most notably Gary Englandnote then of Oklahoma City's KWTVduring the opening scene and Rick Mitchellthen of KOCO in the same citylater on. When Mitchell joined KXAS in Dallas-Fort Worth in 2012, station promos referenced his cameo in the film as a marketing point.
- No Animals Were Harmed: Jo's childhood dog Toby, Aunt Meg's dog Mose and the horses at the end of the film are shown to have survived their respective tornadoes with no apparent injuries. That poor cow however...
- Oh, Crap!: After successfully deploying the final Dorothy into the F-5 tornado, Bill and Jo triumphantly cheer. And then, the tornado changes direction right towards them. The smiles quickly leave their faces.
- Pedal-to-the-Metal Shot: During the climactic chase. The antagonist, Jonas, and his driver are told by the hero storm chaser Bill that the tornado could shift and come at them. Jonas tells his driver to keep going and the driver hits the gas, which is where the shot is, continues onward, and both are killed by the twister a few moments later.
- Plagiarism in Fiction: One of the many things that settle Jonas' position as the film's Hate Sink is the fact that he stole Bill's "Dorothy" project and copied it near-perfectly (except for some additional gizmos because corporate funding/shilling) as "D.O.T." (guy couldn't even think of a different name). When Bill, quite understandably, confronts him about his theft, Jonas just gloats that (at the time) Dorothy was an "unrealized" idea, which in his book meant it was okay to steal it.
- Power of the God Hand: In-universe, an F5 tornado is known as "The Finger of God."
- Product Placement:
- At times, the movie feels like a two hour Chrysler commercial, with the then-new third generation Dodge Caravan serving as part of Jonas' fleet.
- Dodge Ram — when you absolutely, positively have to drive into a tornado. Paid off when sales of the Ram pickup increased drastically after the film's release, and Chrysler eventually spun off the Ram as a separate brand.
- Plus, when they give the Dorothy probes wings by using every aluminum can they can find, all of the cans are Pepsi or Mountain Dew. Which may not be that big of a stretch when it comes to soda brand loyalty, but it's unlikely that every house in the general vicinity of an area that uses "Coke" as a generic term would be Pepsi drinkers, unless it's among the areas that are effectively "owned" by one soda company or another.
- Punch-Clock Villain: While Jonas is just a Jerkass, his team seems to actually have some sort of respect for Jo's team, and their skill at storm chasing. Jonas' driver notes just before his death that Jo and Bill would never lead them into harm's way.
- Ragtag Band of Misfits:
- Reality Is Unrealistic:
- The film received some flack from film critics for the number of tornadoes to appear in a short time frame. While this is unusual, the current record for tornadoes in a single 24-hour period is 206, set in 2011. Before that, the record was 148 in 1974, which the movie, made in 1996, likely used for their reference point (which Bill Paxton buttresses by inference in one of the film's behind-the-scenes featurettes). While a large number of tornadoes at once is unusual, storms that spawn multiple tornadoes aren't uncommon either.
- This movie ricochets between this trope and Artistic License: Everything. Jonas' van getting whirled around the outside of the funnel before being ejected? Numerous videos exist of cars, big rigs and even a house being subjected to the same treatment. (The explosion was still BS, though.) The ragtag aspects of the heroes' chase vehicles? If they weren't working for a large university and being funded with a sizable grant, it's more than likely they would focus their money on the meteorological equipment, not on shiny new matching cars. And the hate for Jonas? Storm chasers doing it For Science! have frequently made disparaging comments about those who make money off of chasing; the kindest term is Weather Paparazzi.
- While charging directly at a tornado was something that storm chasers in the 1990s did not do, Dorothy is actually based off of a real NOAA Experiment called the TOtable Tornado Observatory (TOTO), which more or less operated on the same principles: drive to where a tornado was hopefully going to be, drop the payload and get the hell out. Unfortunately, despite several deployments in the 1980s, TOTO never successfully intercepted a tornado.note
- Several times in the movie the team explicitly mentions the Fujita rating of the tornado while chasing it and prior to the climax Dusty says that NSSL is "predicting an F5." While Fujita ratings are never given in advance (as both the old and new systems are based on the damage the tornado incurs after the fact), the Storm Prediction Center will occasionally issue a PDSnote Tornado Watch, which is an indication that atmospheric conditions highly favor the development of one or more very strong tornadoes (EF3 or higher) and/or a significant tornado outbreak is being forecast. Ironically, some television meteorologists in Tornado Alley have done this as well in recent years, using live footage from storm chasers and news gathering helicopters as well as radar-based wind velocity data to make an educated guess about a tornado's strength based on its size (although many tornadoes that have reached peak widths of one-quarter mile [0.40 km] have been rated EF3 or greater, the size of a tornado does not necessarily always correlate to its strength).
- Real-Place Background: Jo's aunt Meg lives in Wakita, an actual town in northern Oklahoma. Shooting took place in the actual town and several buildings were demolished to give the look of the community getting decimated by a tornado.
- Reality Ensues: Bill and Jo come up with the idea to give the sensors more resistance to the wind to make them fly better by cutting up Pepsi and Diet Pepsi cans and putting them onto the sensors. Cue a group of tornado chasers with obvious cuts and band aids on their hands due to the sharp metal edges while bouncing along in vans and pickup trucks.
- Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: Chasing storms brings Bill and Jo back together.
- Running Gag: The device that the group came up with getting knocked over and its sensor bulbs getting spilled everywhere whenever they try to use it near a tornado.
- Scenery Gorn: Wakita is an especially haunting case of this. The aftermath of the F5 at the end also qualifies, particularly the ground scouring left by the tornado's track.
- Scenery Porn: The beautiful landscape of Oklahoman countryside. Shown during both the film and the end credits.
- Serious Business: Storm chasing, apparently.
- Shipper on Deck: Jo and Bill's team of storm chasers. Their reaction to seeing Jo and Bill kissing after surviving the F5 includes cheering and jubilant hands in the air.
- "That's no moon, it's a space station!!"
- The tornado device is called Dorothy. Of course, real scientists also do this kind of thing. Case in point, Dorothy is based on a real tornado device called TOTO.
- The flying cows that twist in distress as they're blown around may be a Shout-Out to a silly shot in The Wizard of Oz, in which a cow floats past that's just standing placidly in mid-air.
- There is a drive-in theatre which shows The Shining. Some of its most memorable scenes are shown. The screen flies away and the film is projected on the funnel just as Jack Nicholson says Heres Johnny!
- There is an oil company named Benthic Petroleum.
- Slobs vs. Snobs: Jo's Ragtag Bunch of Misfits drive an equally rag-tag collection of beat-up mobile homes and pickup trucks with campers. Jonas' team of nameless mooks drive a fleet of sinister black minivans.
- Smug Snake: Jonas.
- Super Cell Reception: Melissa had a cell phone which was immune to atmospheric conditions, such as giant tornadoes.
- Tagline: Originally it was going to be "It Sucks", but the potential for critical snark off the line made them change it to the less-catchy "The Dark Side Of Nature". The potential for Review Ironic Echo wasn't entirely avoided, though, since they left in some lines describing "the Suck Zone," which several reviewers had fun with.
- Team Mom: Jo's Aunt Meg to the stormchasers. Case in point: They immediately go to her when they get hungry from one of their missions and she's more than happy to fix them up some lunch.
- Technology Porn: The systems stormchasers developed and use to record and analyze tornadoes.
- There's No Kill Like Overkill: When Jonas' van gets picked up by the tornado, only his driver seems to have been impaled by the cell tower, leaving a Hope Spot open that he's still alive... then the vehicle is shown flying to the ground and exploding in a mushroom cloud, leaving no doubt that, yep, he's a goner.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Jonas, who pointedly ignores Jo and Bill's warning about his vehicle and the placement of the oncoming twister just because they don't like each other. He even ignores his own driver who expresses the same concern and has even less motivation to see them both die a windy death. Bill even calls him stupid after he bites it.
- Jo's father at the start of the movie. Never mind his wife and daughter huddling in the corner; did he really think that he could hold those shutters closed against the full might of an F-5 tornado? He might as well have flung open the doors and challenged the tornado to fisticuffs.
- Trailer Park Tornado Magnet: Notably averted here, of all movies. Although tornadoes devastate several farmhouses, two towns, a drive-in theater and a whole bunch of empty fields, they never once whack a trailer park.
- True Companions: If the lunch scene at Aunt Meg's house doesn't show that the stormchasers are this, nothing does.
- Truth in Television: Jo says the main reason for tornado research is to develop better forecasting methods to provide an advance warning system, specifically wanting to increase the lead timenote from 3 minutes to 15 minutes. This was a big problem at the time the film came out: methods for predicting tornadoes were sketchy at best and often tornado warnings weren't issued until after a tornado was already on the ground and the average lead time was three minutesnote . However, thanks to more sophisticated research done throughout the 1990's and 2000's (such as Project VORTEX), by the 2010s the lead time had increased to 15 minutes and in some cases could be as high as 30.
- Van in Black: The corporate storm-chasers drive a fleet of black vehicles, presumably to show they're the bad guys and that their crew is rich enough to afford a fleet of matching, brand-new vehicles. A lot good it did them.
- Villainy-Free Villain: Jonas is a rude, arrogant sleaze, but he never does anything actually illegal.
- Jo's storm chasers rebuke him for accepting corporate funding, while most such would kill to receive actual funding - and since when would any Corrupt Corporate Executive be wealthy and interested enough in storm chasing to fully outfit a team of 20 people with state-of-the-art equipment?
- The villainy becomes more evident when he starts pandering to a bunch of reporters about "his" tracking system, accuses Bill of "trying to take credit for my design", and finally admits that Bill's idea was an unrealized design, meaning Bill doesn't have a legal leg to stand on and whichever team successfully deploys theirs first gets the pot.
- It slams home that he's utterly despicable when everyone realizes he is waiting for Bill to make the first move because he has no idea what he's doing.
- The Watson: Bill's fiancé Melissa has no specialized knowledge about tornadoes, so she is a natural source of questions about them that Jo's tornado chaser team can answer to educate her as well as the audience.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never see Jo's mom after her father's death. Her mom evidently was not killed by the tornado, but it can perhaps be assumed that she passed away at some point afterward.
- You Can Turn Back: Bill to Jo:Bill: Things go wrong. You can't explain it, you can't predict it. Killing yourself won't bring your dad back. I'm sorry that he died, but that was a long time ago. You gotta move on. Stop living in the past, and look what you got right in front of you.