Re-examining Kevin Costner’s ‘Waterworld’ (1995) and how it could have been made ultimate!

Believe it or not Kevin Costner was once thought as an action movie star. Not for long. He had a few films categorized as action; The Postman and Dances with Wolves (which was more of a drama) for example. But the film that really made people think of him as an action star (however briefly) was Waterworld. And yet, Waterworld flopped terribly. It cost $172 million to make and only grossed $88 million domestic. Those are 1995 numbers so the losses after inflation are even greater than that $90 million.

Although Waterworld would eventually recoup its losses internationally, it was still considered a flop. Why? I’ll answer that here.

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The Asexual Hero

There are two scenes in Waterworld where the Mariner (Costner’s character) turns down sex. In the first scene some floating villagers ask him to impregnate a young lady to avoid in-breeding. He refuses, which understandably raises the villagers’ suspicions. The second scene in which the Mariner refuses sex is when Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) offers him sex in exchange for some real-estate on his boat. Again, the Mariner refuses, for no discernible reason.

How to fix it:

That’s easy. At some point in the film the Mariner has get laid. If, for reasons concerning the plot or character development, the Mariner doesn’t engage in the act during the scenes described above he must engage in the act by the end of the film. In Waterworld, the Mariner takes Helen to the only land left on Earth but leaves without getting any. The result of all these failures is that the Mariner comes across as an asexual anti-hero. It’s not something your average man can relate to nor is it something a man would aspire to become.

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A Forgettable Leading Lady

Jeanne Tripplehorn was attractive, but not stunning in any way. Quick, name another Jeanne Tripplehorn movie. It’s not possible. Tripplehorn in this film has two roles to play; the mother figure to the innocent child and the damsel in distress that the hero must save. There are far more desirable women of the 90s to fulfill this role than Tripplehorn.

How to fix it:

A better woman for this role would be Dana Delaney.

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The PG-13 Rating

Many action movies have the PG-13 rating and are still great (I.e. Goldeneye). Waterworld was not one of them. The villain wasn’t brutal in any way, and therefore we had no reason to fear for the hero or the damsel or the innocent child. What the rating did to this movie was prevent scenes from having any intense emotions. The action scenes were good but there was no suspense behind them.

How to fix it:

Make it rated R. Show some blood. Show some guts. Show some (just a little) brutality from the villain. Show some gratuitous nudity (preferably from Dana Delaney) that successfully entice the hero to indulge.

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Kevin Costner Doesn’t Look Like an Action Hero

1995 was not a transformative year in action movies. When we thought of action heroes then we thought of Arnold and Sly and Bruce Willis. Kevin Costner is a far cry from them. Today we can consider Tom Cruise an action star even though he isn’t bulky or shredded, but Costner does not fit with the Cruises.

How to fix it:

Costner could have put in some sweat and effort and built some muscle or at least gotten shredded like an Olympic swimmer (which would have fit with the plot). Barring that, another actor may have done a better job with a similar look (for 1995 I’m thinking Kevin Sorbo).

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The Hero Has No Purpose

What exactly is the Mariner doing in Waterworld? We see that he is buying anything worth buying with dirt (the Waterworld currency). Other than that, he has no purpose. Once he allows a woman he won’t bang and an innocent child on his ship that changes. Even though he has no emotional connection to them he rescues them once they’ve been taken by the villain. At the end of the film, once he has taken the damsel and the child to dry land he leaves. What he leaves to do we don’t know.

How to fix it:

A noble purpose would have really aided the film. If the villain had played a part in his being mutated (which gave the Mariner gills) or killed the Mariner’s family Waterworld could have had a revenge story. Once the damsel and child are taken the Mariner could then say, “I won’t let [the villain] to do them what he did to me or my family.” 

Or the Mariner could be on a quest to find dry land just like the villain. The movie could be a race to see who finds dry land first, adding a much-needed element of suspense. Any noble motivation would be better than no motivation for the hero of the film.

The good news about Waterworld is that they didn’t make a sequel.

Article by Jared Trueheart. For more about Jared on masculine story-telling visit

What are your thoughts on Kevin Costner’s Waterworld? What would you change to make it more ultimate? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page!


  1. The gills are absurde. It needs many millions of years for a mutation like that to appear, The mutation is also a possible cause for Mariner to reject sex with humans. I would have made a happy end, with the heroes staying together.

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