15 Lessons I Learned From Rewatching Waterworld 20 Years Later

I was just eight years old when I caught my first glimpse of Kevin Costner’s wet, balding head floating through a literal ocean of disaster to the cacophony of swelling music and explosions. Even at that extremely unintelligent age I could tell the movie was complete waterlogged trash.

Waterworld is infamous for its exorbitant budget, terrible critical reviews, ridiculous plot, and the tension between Kevin Costner and the rest of the crew. Director Kevin Reynolds was once quoted saying, “Kevin [Costner] should only star in movies he directs. That way he can work with his favorite actor and favorite director." Good thing he had an ocean of water to cool off that burn. Nice job, other Kevin!

20 years after its release, I’ve grown up and am finally ready to revisit this cinematic catastrophe. Because everyone can learn from Kevin Costner's mistakes. Except Kevin Costner.

1. Bear Grylls copied Costner 

In one of the opening scenes, Kevin Costner pees into a cup, pours it into a purifier, and drinks it right back down—beating Grylls out by 20 years. Sorry, Bear, people have been chugging piss since the 90s. 

2. Waterworld is just Days of Thunder with boats

But, to be fair, Days of Thunder was just Top Gun with cars.

3. Kevin Costner plays a mermaid

Costner plays a drifter only known as "The Mariner" who's grown gills and webbed toes from some type of genetic mutation. He’s half-man, half-fish, so he’s technically a mermaid. Or, more accurately, a merman. MERMAN!

4. Waterworld bends the perception of space and time

23 minutes into the movie, I feel like I've been on the high seas for months and months with no landmarks or features in sight. You just drift until you're no longer sure which thing is the ocean and which is the sky. Waterworld is the only movie that can make 23 minutes feel like an eternity. If you're on your deathbed wishing for more life, stick this into the VCR and you'll feel immortal!

5. Kevin Costner's hair is magnificent

As a man with severe hair anxiety, seeing Costner pull off a ponytail with a crop full of wispy-thin hair shows me that no one gives a f*ck what you do with your hairline, as long as you do it with the unreasonable confidence of a Spanish matador.

6. Waterworld has one degree of separation from Napoleon Dynamite

Here’s something great: Deb from Napoleon Dynamite is in this movie as—get this—some kind of omnipotent mystery child named Enola. She has a a tattoo on her back that's supposedly a map to dry land and draws all over Kevin Costner's boat with crayons. You never really find out her origin story, though, so I guess she's just a stupid orphan. 

7. The writers clearly ran out of ideas

The villains in this movie are referred to as The Smokers. The Smokers are led by Speed’s diamond in the rough, Dennis Hopper. Smokers are called smokers because of how many cigarettes they smoke. So, that's a thing.

8. Waterworld might take place around the year 2300 

It’s hard to understand the timeline in Waterworld. Some allude to it being hundreds of years since the ice caps melted, flooding the entire world. However, some of the relics uncovered from the “old world” look as if they came straight from your parents’ attic. Also, fun fact: if the ice caps actually melted in real life, the oceans would only rise a few hundred feet. Would we even notice?

9. WaterworldXanadu 

Maybe I was wrong before. Maybe Waterworld isn’t Days of Thunder but actually Xanadu with jet skis. Xanadu, on the other hand, is just Labyrinth with roller skates.


10. Tobacco is plentiful in Waterworld

Yep, the Smokers are definitely labeled as such because of the amount of tobacco they consume. But where are they getting these cigarettes? A tobacco farm in the middle of the goddamn ocean? Also, where are they getting the paper? Who’s supplying these men with fresh cigarettes—fresh filtered cigarettes?

11. Kevin Costner is an enemy to women everywhere

Here are some of the things Kevin Costner legitimately does to the two starring women in this movie: he smacks Jeanne Tripplehorn over the head with an oar, threatens to murder Enola to conserve water, and ends up throwing Enola off the side of his boat, knowing full well she can't swim. He angrily cuts off Jeanne Tripplehorn’s hair, then angrily cuts off Enola’s hair, and finally sells Jeanne and Enola to a crazy Irish drifter for the ludicrously low price of four pieces of paper.

12. Kevin Costner uses himself as bait

To catch a giant fish. Just watch

13. The last hour and a half of Waterworld is one long sequence

Essentially, it's one giant rescue mission where Kevin Costner sneaks onto the Smokers' boat, kills everyone, and rescues Enola from Dennis Hopper even though he threw her off the boat. This takes up 90 minutes of time. Oh yeah, spoiler alert. 

14. Turns out dry land is not a myth

At the end of the movie—after inexplicably getting rescued by a hot air balloon—Costner and his crew come upon a leafy island paradise proving once and for all dry land is not a myth. Our hero merman, Costner, decides it's actually a sailor's life for he and takes his boat back onto the ocean.

15. Waterworld = Planet of the Apes

Now that I think about it, Waterworld bears striking similarities to Planet of the Apes. You've got a protagonist who's kind of a prick that's trapped in a cage, an antagonist with the characteristics of an angry simian, a through line that this supposedly mythical forbidden world exists literally under your feet, and a steamy love scene between man and ape—actually, that last one was just in Planet of the Apes. I'm sure I've proven my point.

Jeremy Glass is the Vice editor for Supercompressor and thinks The Postman is the next endeavor on this journey.