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Film / Waterworld

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"Dry land is not just our destination, it is our destiny!"

A 1995 movie starring Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Dennis Hopper, directed by Kevin Reynolds.

Set In a World... where the polar ice-caps have melted due to havoc caused by a geomagnetic reversal. The world is now covered by water. What's left of humanity is surviving on ramshackle crafts tied together to make Atolls (villages). The Mariner (Costner) enters one of these Atolls to trade, but is discovered to be a mutant and sentenced to death. A gang of raiders known as Smokers, led by Deacon (Hopper), attacks the Atoll. A woman named Helen (Tripplehorn) and her adopted daughter Enola (Tina Majorino) bribe the Mariner to take them to the mythical Dry Land, which no one has ever seen. Conveniently, Enola's back has been tattooed with a map indicating the alleged way to Dry Land. However, with The Smokers hot on their tail, their journey encounters more than a few bumps along the way. And the Mariner is not your traditional plucky hero. He's just looking out for himself.


Essentially, it's Mad Max with the opposite problem: too much water.

The film had a notorious Troubled Production that caused the film's $100 million budget to balloon at $175 million, making it the most expensive film ever made until Titanic two years later.

An extended edition of the movie was also released, adding roughly one hour of world building and background information, which was cut before the theatrical release. The general consensus is that this version is much better than the theatrical one.

Despite the film's financial failure, it ended up spawning a stunt show at the Universal Studios parks, called Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which over time became more popular and better-known than the movie itself.

Not to be confused with the type of Single-Biome Planet where the whole world is an ocean, although obviously the Earth in this movie comes pretty damn close.


Waterworld provides examples of:

  • After the End: The polar ice caps have melted and flooded the world. Most of humanity has not survived, and the remnants have been reduced to living in makeshift rafts and cities of flotsam.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: The Deacon every so often mentions "Old Saint Joe" with the same reverence as an actual saint. Near the end of the movie it's revealed that the Smokers' base is the remains of the Exxon Valdez and "Old Saint Joe" is a portrait of the ship's disgraced captain, Joseph Hazelwood.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Don't like Kevin Costner's gills.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Smokers seem to fit this to a T.
  • Anti-Hero: In typical '90s fashion.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2: Planetary Scale, Societal Collapse, with massive disruption to the biosphere thrown in for good measure.
  • The Apunkalypse: Civilization has collapsed, humans are adrift on the world-ocean, and the punkish, scavenging Smokers play the part of a large jet ski gang.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Somehow, the Mariner can inhale water with his gills and exhale breathable air indefinitely to allow Helen to breathe underwater. Needless to say, gills do not work that way.
    • He can breathe underwater, yet he still needs fresh water to drink, like an ordinary human.
    • Even if we accept the Mariner's gills, has it really been long enough for a giant, three-jawed vertebrate mutant like the one he catches to eat to have evolved?
  • Artistic License – Engineering: In the end, the Mariner takes a wooden yacht, sets it back on water and sails off. In reality, a wooden hull that would spend more than few years out of water would dry out, deform and became extremely leaky, if not outright fell apart in contact with water.
  • Artistic License – Geology:
    • If you melted all the ice on the planet, you would cause a 60 metres (about 190 feet) rise in sea level, which is a lot, but only lowland areas would be seriously affected, and at the very worst people would have to resort to living on long chains of large islands. Everest would still tower six miles above the sea, and it has the rest of the Himalayas to keep it company.
    • Even if there were enough ice to cover the world to the extent depicted, the ocean salt water would become diluted enough to be drinkable. (And kill everything that's adapted to live in salt water. Not to mention it would be much more difficult to float in it.)
    • The shores of the island at the end had sandy beaches. It takes a long time to erode rock to sand...
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: Just one word: Portogreek. And it sounds like neither.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Even if the world were totally flooded in water, the moon would not appear as huge as it does in the movie.
  • Barbarian Longhair: Pretty much everybody has barbarian hair, with the notable exception of the Deacon's Bald of Evil.
  • Big Bad: The Deacon.
  • Bland-Name Product: Smeat, an Expy of Spam. There's tons of it on the Exxon Valdez and the Deacon hands out cans of Smeat like it's manna from heaven and going out of style.
  • Brick Joke: When an insane trader wants to sell the Mariner a single page of paper as the biggest treasure ever, he just ignores him and the whole thing is played to show how much deranged the trader is. And then, many scenes later, it is revealed the Mariner has an entire locker full of newspapers, books and maps.
  • Brutal Honesty: The Mariner, who at first glance sounds like a Deadpan Snarker, but each of his comments is proven real and dead-serious.
  • Buffy Speak: The pale old guy who measures the oil in the smoker ship apparently doesn't know it's called oil; he calls it "black stuff". This seems to apply to all the Smokers, as they all refer to it as "go-juice".
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: The knife-fight variety, when the Mariner killed the drifter after cancelling their deal.
  • But Now I Must Go: Kind of justified considering our Drifter is a mutant with gills and webbed phalanges who really doesn't need or want life on land.
  • Byronic Hero: The Mariner is the less erudite version of this, without any hint of formal education, but it's par for the course in a less cultured, post-apocalyptic world.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Drinkable water is called "hydro". Makes sense, since the entire planet is covered with undrinkable saltwater.
  • Can't You Read the Sign?: The tower bridge of the oil tanker used as lair by the Smokers has a huge "NO SMOKING" sign over it.
  • City on the Water: Atolls and the Exxon Valdez.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Played straight, invoked verbatim and discussed, when the Mariner goes to rescue Enola, even if he has no real profit in it.
  • Character Development: Kevin Costner's character changes from Jerkass to Jerk with a Heart of Gold halfway through the movie and loses his "jerk" persona by the end of the movie. He's still far away from being a likable, charismatic individual, but at least stops snarling at people just for standing too close to him.
  • Conflict Ball: Helen, listen, first of all, when you've just blackmailed a man into saving your life, expecting trust is a little much. On top of that, in the middle of a firefight when that someone is trying to save your life and his is a really stupid time to answer any random question he asks you with "Can I trust you?!"
  • Cool Boat: The Mariner's trimaran, and the Exxon Valdez.
  • Cool Car: The rust-eaten shell of a car the Deacon rides around in throughout the depths of the Smoker colony.
  • Cool Plane: The Smokers' seaplane. Cool by virtue of being ancient, rust-colored, and probably the last of its kind. Also, piloted by Jack Black.
  • Crapsack World: All that appears to be left is small communities on the edge of genetic extinction, traders, slavers, pirates and marauders.
  • Dated History: The Smokers use the Exxon Valdez as their base, but the real Exxon Valdez was renamed several times (it was the Sea River Mediterranean at the time of filming), refitted into an ore carrier in 2008, and finally beached in India and dismantled in 2012.
  • Desperate Object Catch: Deacon tosses a lit match at the open hatchway to the oil tanker's petroleum tanks, just so he can watch one of his henchmen make a Diving Save to keep it from igniting the fuel and blowing them all to hell.
  • Digital De Aging: An early, rudimentary example. Supposedly Costner forced the filmmakers to use CGI to enhance his thinning hairline.
  • Dope Slap:
    • After Enola waves at a plane of "Smokers" flying above them, the Mariner dope-slaps her and yells, "What are you thinking about?!?"
    • Enola, again, gets one from the Deacon for mouthing out while they're confronting the Mariner on the deck of the tanker.
  • The Dragon: The Nord is the right-hand man and a top enforcer for Deacon.
  • Dull Surprise: Kevin Costner's performance, in a notorious contrast to Dennis Hopper's Ham and Cheese. Which is justified, as his Mariner spent most of his life alone on the ocean, keeping away from people to hide his mutation. Some people deal with that much solitude by going bonkers (like the sailor they encounter at the halfway point of the film), and others react by emotionally shutting down.
  • Epic Movie: Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, with an eventual budget of $172m in 1995 (~$270m in modern money, making it a contender for most-expensive movies even today).
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The pilot of the Smokers' seaplane was deeply distraught to say the least over losing Ed, his gunner and apparently best friend whom Helen killed when they attacked the Mariner's boat.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • The Mariner. Subverted in the extended edition, wherein after the heroes reach Dry Land, Helen gives the Mariner a real name just before he heads onto the ocean. It's Ulysses, the Latin name of the main character of Homer's Odyssey.
    • Also the Deacon, and in a way the Nord. The Smokers don't get names either because most of them are just Mooks.
  • Exact Words: Subverted. The Deacon interrogates two atoll survivors by saying "First one to tell me lives." So one survivor tells him what he wants to know and is still threatened with death. He reminds the Deacon that "You said you wouldn't kill me." So Deacon gives his gun to the Nord to execute him. The talker should have used the exact words.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The Deacon gains one during the movie, but unlike typical example he absolutely hates the fact he got crippled, making it very personal with the Mariner.
  • Fantastic Racism: You'd believe that being able to breathe underwater would be quite a desirable asset in a ocean world, but people seemed to think otherwise. Downplayed in both the novelisation and the extended cutnote .
  • Fate Worse than Death: Implied with the old guy who works in the oil tank in the villains' ship, who is actually relieved to see the flare blowing the whole thing up with him inside.
    "Oh thank God!"
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Subverted when Helen strips nakednote , appropriates the Mariner's weapons and threatens to kill him, only for the Mariner to lower his sail directly onto her.
  • Future Imperfect:
    • Dry Land is considered mythical and few dialogues implied it is blasphemous to even consider the world once had any land on it or was flooded.
    • While going through the Mariner's belongings, the Atoll's citizens assume that a yo-yo, flute, and exercise machine are garrote wire, a spy listener, and a torture device.
  • Glass Eye: The Deacon gets one initially, but hates the appearance, so he settles for an Eyepatch of Power instead.
    Deacon: It DOES look like shit!
  • Green Aesop: The film's portrayal of a ruined Earth depicts the villains in a world flooded by global warming as wasteful "Smokers" (most of whom coincidentally smoke tobacco) who use motorized vessels running on unsustainable fossil-fuel obtained from the Exxon Valdez, a tanker infamous for one of the largest oil spills in history. The aquatic anti-hero and his companions use natural wind-power and eventually find refuge in a serene promised land with vegetation and fresh water atop the Himalayas, but only after blowing the Smokers to kingdom come.
  • He Will Come for Me: Enola defends the Mariner with a speech intense enough to scare her captors, and when ordered (at knife point) to put a lid on it, finishes with "He'll come for me, he will."
  • Human Resources: How the residents of the Atoll dispose of their dead... they need the organic material for sustained growth. They call it "recycling," and it's done to the dead as well as to prisoners they want to execute.
  • Incest Is Relative: Discussed. The Atoll folk try to get the Mariner to impregnate one of their young women since all the local options would be inbreeding. Him turning the offer down after being so long at sea is what makes them suspicious of him.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: The Nord runs out of ammo just as he has the Mariner at gunpoint and gets blown away for his troubles.
  • Jerkass: The Mariner. He tosses a little girl overboard when angry at her antics. Deconstructed, as he isn't expecting she can't swim and isn't trying to kill her, just scare her.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • The Atoll's ruling council, a bunch of old men willing to kill a stranger just because they fear he may be a threat to their power base, lose the Atoll to the Smokers and the two that survive the battle are unceremoniously shot by Deacon and the Nord after being interrogated.
    • Deacon and the Nord are both killed by Mariner, who they spent the whole movie harassing because he has Enola, and just like they set fire to the Mariner's boat he sets fire to theirs (and holy crap is there a lot of fire).
  • Large Ham: Dennis Hopper as the Deacon, the leader of the Smokers.
  • Logo Joke: The Universal Pictures globe floods to the levels seen in the movie proper.
  • Long Runner: While the film bombed, the stunt show based on the film has been running at Universal Studios Hollywood since 1996. The parks in Japan and Singapore opened with the attraction in 2001 and 2010.
  • Made of Explodium: A Wronski Feint between three smokers on jet skis creates a giant fireball explosion. What fuel they used to create the massive, towering fireball is still unknown. There are also traces of Outrun the Fireball, but on a bungee.
  • The Mole: The atoll dwellers believed the Mariner was a spy for the smokers who would bring them to invade the atoll looking for Enola but their concerns of him were completely unfounded. The Nord on the other hand...
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • So the world has gone crap, few survivors left are squabbling against each other and there's tension between the protagonist and two females he saved... Suddenly, over-the-top Smokers hijinx!
    • A smaller example happens during the escape from the Atoll. Whenever the boat is cut to, the music sounds triumphant, but whenever the slaughter on the Atoll is cut to, the music sounds tragic.
    • The opening escape sequence has the same issue — as long as the camera focuses on the Mariner and his sailing, it's one of the most triumphant pieces of the entire soundtrack. The moment it cuts to the thief he left stranded with impending Smokers, it gets somber within just a single beat.
  • More Dakka: The Smokers' idea of a siege weapon is a four-barrel antiaircraft machine gun emplacement trained at your enemy's floating citadel. It gets hijacked by the good guys, and shows itself very effective against ships too.
  • Mutants: Numerous humans and wildlife have ended up developing mutations in this new world.
  • No Place for Me There: The Mariner brought Helen, Enola, and their friends to the much sought-after Dry Land. However, he decided that it wasn't a suitable place for him to settle down, and left for the sea.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Taking a page from Jaws, much tension comes from the invisibility of underwater threats. The giant three-jawed mutant-fish-thing the Mariner catches for food is only very briefly seen (alive — it does get a few more minutes of screen time as mutant sashimi).
  • Ocean Madness: The other seagoing trader whom the Mariner eventually knifes because he wants to take Helen. The Mariner himself has shades of it, too, getting easily irritated when having to deal with the mere presence of other humans.
  • Ocean Punk: In all its post-apocalyptic, Green Aesop glory.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: The Smokers make the residents of a small trading post, whom they've recently killed, appear to be waving to the Mariner as the latter approaches, intending to draw him into a deadly trap. The Mariner doesn't buy it, since there is nobody to reply to his calls in Portogreek.
  • The Old Convict: Sort of, if you count the old guy who measures the oil level in the Exxon Valdez's tanks. It's implied he can't leave.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Enola arrived to the atoll she lives on in a basket full of rich, fertile earth. Helen used it to bribe the elders to keep the infant despite limited resources.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "MU-TA-TIOOOON!" "HE'S-A-MU-TAAAANT!"
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Any technology that's still around, along with operable and floating vessels. But special mention should be given to the airplane the Smokers use.
  • Rasputinian Death: The Deacon. To the point he is back for Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: One of the leaders of the atoll does what he can to give the Mariner a fair trial and the benefit of the doubt, and is genuinely sorry when he is sentenced to be recycled anyway. Regardless, it's enough for the Mariner to save his life when the Smokers attack.
  • Recycled INSPACE: It's Mad Max... on JET SKIS!
  • Regional Redecoration: Waterworld has a similar situation to A.I., except the entire world is underwater. Aside from the very tops of the Himalayas.
  • Religion of Evil: In the extended edition, The Deacon refers to the Smokers as the Church of Eternal Growth when talking with Enola.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: Downplayed. A lot of mechanisms on the trimaran work on this principle, to accommodate for the fact the Mariner sails alone. Some of them are shipyard-made, other were obviously MacGyvered by him.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: Seen underwater when the Mariner takes Helen to see where he got dirt from. Word of God says it's Denver, Colorado.
  • Rule of Cool: A water-covered planet, where mutated loner is helping to track down Dry Land in a race against ski-jet riding bandits, all served with a Used Future Ocean Punk sauce and a side-dish consisting of Large Ham? Yes please!
  • Scavenger World: There's (almost) no dry land left, no agriculture beyond tiny gardens, and no real industry, and relics from the old world like simple technology, uncorroded metal, plants and soil are rare and worth fighting for.
  • Scenery Gorn: The atoll gets trashed and part of it set ablaze during and after the Smokers assault. In the extended cut, they proceed with cutting the atoll's tree down.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Enola is "alone" spelled backwards. Fitting considering she was orphaned.
  • Sea Monster: The giant, three-jawed... thing that the Mariner kills for food using himself as a bait.
  • Seen It All: Quite literally. The Mariner remains absolutely unphased by all signs of technology, goods or objects, because he regularly dives to the bottom and scavenge from there.
  • The Social Darwinist: Most of people in the movie are this but the Mariner is the prime example, he definitely believes in survival of the fittest and has no concern for anyone but himself.
  • Spent Shells Shower: A Smoker operating a Maxon Mount four-machine gun chassis in the atoll assault scene showers the boat it is mounted on and his crew with hundreds of .50 calibre brass shells. On the other hand, it does show them collecting most of their brass. While the ability to refill it is questionable, you don't let valuable metal go to waste. Especially as brass doesn't corrode much.
  • The Stateless: While many characters in this film have only their boat as their "nation", the Mariner still stands out, as he has no affiliation to any atoll, group or species. And the closest thing to nations in this universe are the atolls and Deacon's oar-powered supertanker.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: "Maybe he has some FOOD!"
  • Suicide Attack: The Smokers direct an explosive-laden boat at the Atoll to blow a large hole in the side.
  • Technology Porn: Countless shots and takes all over the trimaran, establishing both the impressive stache of old tech and trinkets the Mariner owns, but also how he adopted the giant vessel for solo sailing.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: When the Smokers raid the Atoll, the Mariner impales one of them with a thrown machete.
  • Title Drop: "Nothing's free in Waterworld."
  • Token Romance: The Mariner and Helen.
  • Traumatic Haircut: A somewhat strange example that serves as a Kick the Dog moment for our anti-hero, the Mariner. Following barely surviving an attack on his boat, he takes out his knife and holds down Helen, responsible for all the massive damage, cutting off her hair as punishment. When Enola starts to protest, he spots that she has a crayon in her hand, after already warning her to not touch his stuff. Next scene we see them all, Helen and Enola have short hair.
  • Used Future: Almost all technology is repurposed from "ancient" (read: 20th–21st century) equipment, and thus looks heavily patched and rusted. The remainder is mostly Bamboo Technology.
  • Viewers Are Morons: The Opening Narration was added on Universal's insistance, despite the Logo Joke and title screen providing the exact same amount of information without saying a word. The narration is also responsible for half of all plotholes, since it's the only bit where ice caps meltdown is given as a reason why entire planet is covered in (salt) water.
  • Wasteland Elder: A group of corrupt, power-hungry and thoroughly cowardish elders is ruling the atoll. Their vices are all that more apparent in the extended cut.


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