Critics Consensus

Though it suffered from toxic buzz at the time of its release, Waterworld is ultimately an ambitious misfire: an extravagant sci-fi flick with some decent moments and a lot of silly ones.



Total Count: 58


Audience Score

User Ratings: 230,472
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Movie Info

This epic sci-fi actioner is set 200 years in the future. The polar ice caps have melted, flooding the continents and creating a giant ocean. People are few and far between, living as sailors or on rickety atolls made from scrap metal; in this time, dry land is considered a myth and dirt and water have become the most valuable currency. The film begins as a mysterious Mariner aboard his ingenious trimaran urinates carefully into a small jar. He then pours the golden liquid into a filtration device that purifies it and makes it drinkable. The Mariner is self sufficient and eschews humanity, except for occasional stops for supplies. He is different from other humans in that he has developed functional gills and has webbed feet. Such a mutation makes him a pariah. He cruises into a rusty atoll and tries to exchange dirt for supplies. The half-crazy people within the fortress end up putting him in a cage and planning to recycle him in a bubbling vat of green effluvium. Just before he is to die, the fortress is attacked by a flotilla of Smokers (tobacco addicted sea bikers) led by the bald, one-eyed and crazy Deacon who has come to search for a little girl with a strange tattoo on her back that is said to be a map leading to dry land. The girl and her mother escape with the reluctant Mariner. Eventually Deacon and the Smokers capture the girl and it is up to the fishy stranger to save her from their hulking lair (which turns out to be the notorious wreck of the Exxon Valdez).


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Critic Reviews for Waterworld

All Critics (58) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (26) | Rotten (32)

  • That Costner's antihero should be so fundamentally dislikable is entirely acceptable - after all, the Mariner's arc makes him an eternal outsider... - but that he should also be deadly dull is less so

    Jan 21, 2019 | Full Review…
  • Costner... is totally humorless and as dreary as the landscape he travels. And the uninspired and often inane dialogue in Peter Rader and David Twohy's script doesn't help.

    Jun 12, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Waterworld is a pretty damn good summer movie. There, I've said it...it's a breezy, clever entertainment with stirring effects.

    Feb 15, 2018 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    Top Critic
  • It's a genuine vault at greatness that misses the mark -- but survives.

    Jun 18, 2002 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • A moderately successful guy's movie with both weak and strong elements where lots of things are brilliantly blown up and few things make any kind of sense.

    Feb 13, 2001 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Has the makings of a cult movie.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 3/4

    Mike Clark

    USA Today
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Waterworld

  • Mar 04, 2018
    Don't get me wrong, this is not a good movie but it isn't a complete disaster. The scope of the production is impressive and there are solid action sequences. If they'd spent more time on the screenplay and had a better lead actor this might have worked.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • May 10, 2013
    An underwater futuristic city would've be a better idea for a waterworld in my book. Anyways, it does pack quite a lot of unique above-water contraptions in use throughout besides exhilarating action sequences, though I literally didn't get the deal with the Smokers fighting for oil for whatever reason.
    Max G Super Reviewer
  • Jun 08, 2012
    I'm not saying that this $175 million box office disaster of a post-disaster film flopped like a fish, but the world wasn't the only thing pertaining to this film that sank. Well, at least Costner did just fine on the home market and during the BP oil spill incident, because this film pretty much helped them come up with that filtering water centrifuge that got quite a bit of money. At that moment, Costner must have thought that this film finally paid off, up until Stephen Baldwin sued him for cheating him out of a business deal with BP. Wow, Costner really can't catch a break with this film, because that suit doesn't appear to hold too much water. Sorry for all of these somewhat wishy-washy puns, but that's what happens when you go to your dad for suggestions for a joke. Okay, I actually came up with most of the puns and my dad's actually pretty awesome; certainly cool enough to tell that this film is a little bit lame, but still pretty enjoyable. That's pretty much right on the money, something that this film is no stranger to, or at least in terms of spending it, yet make no mistake, this film does get goofy. The film hits a fair couple of cheesy points, whether it be in the cornball dialogue or some cheesy concepts, yet what is more consistent in its being so hard to buy, if not completely far-fetched is the science behind this film, which is hardly tight. Much of the science seems overly fantastic, while some of your more plausible pieces of science are rather obscure, yet treated with such casualness that they too come off as entirely hard to buy into. Still, the obscure aspects of this futuristic world don't simply end on a scientific level, as many of the film's interpretation of society, whether it be its behavior or vocabulary, feel so very in-tune with their own mythology to where they, while still reasonably easy to figure out, remain rather esoteric in their attempt to place us deeper into this world, when really, they simply come off as silly to the point of disconnecting us further. Still, it's not simply the world's mythology that feels much too underdeveloped, because if I'm to start discussing the traditional storytelling issues with this film, allow me to start with what this film should have started with: development, for the film, while not devoid of exposition, seems too interested in its general concepts to contribute a considerable amount of care into fleshing out the story, or at least telling it in a consistently engaging fashion. Surprisingly, the film is a tad slow, with a limp narrative that just doesn't grip all that thoroughly, rendering the film periodically disengaging, with quite a bit of repetition and points of extreme looseness in the editing of moments of simple nothingness exacerabting the disconnect. Really, to be honest, the silliness of the film is quite frankly the least of its worries, as the film ultimately stands as aimless and underwhelming, helplessly paddling in a sea of ambition. However, the film stays afloat, carried to the shores of general enjoyability by what ambitious aspects it does, in fact, fulfill, particularly its ambitions of production. The production designs of the film are nothing if not remarkable, with most every constructed component to this world being so dynamic and heavily detailed to where they can be believed as pieces of the environment, yet remain dazzling in their slickness, as well as their broadness. These grand production pieces add quite the compliment to the action sequences, just about all of which are unfortunately overlong, yet they are all also thrilling and sweeping, with sharp staging and intrigue that wouldn't be what it is without the film's sharp style. This visual spectacle, married with Mark Isham's and James Newton Howard's excellent score work, gives the film a genuine sense of sweep and scope to juice as much of the worthiness as it can salvage from the concept. Yes, this story is a worthy and unique one, indeed, and while it is ultimately betrayed by its own ambitions, as well as a great deal of other things, it still makes the film rather fascinating. If nothing else, the film's ambitions evoke a kid of charm that's intense enough to win you over, yet pulled back enough to let what other bits of resonance there is to spill upon the audience and engage them further. These moments stand to be more prevalent, yet whenever they are present, they're well worth waiting for, giving the film a degree of compellingness to break up the repetition, which, even then, goes faught back by the aforementioned charm, augmented by the performers, almost all of whom are, if nothing else, rather charming by their own right. Again, the film stands to fulfills its promising concepts more, or at least to engage more, yet once the film gets a hold, it's hard to not just flow into it and have a genuinely good time enjoying it as a generally entertaining product. Washing up to the shores, the final product of this perhaps too ambitious project is, at times, silly and often far-fetched in its scientific and human aspects, while what hurts it the most is simply that it is just so very underwhelming and often lacking in intrigue, plagued by the occasional piece of loose editing, some repetition and much slowness, yet the film manages to pull to the surface enough, being kept afloat by an epic sweep, spawned from sharp score work and fanatastic production designs - which also make for some good action sequences -, but most of all, moments of genuine intrigue to break up the consistent charm that helps the most in ultimately making "Waterworld" an enjoyably dazzling example of general entertainment through messiness. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Apr 01, 2012
    Waterworld was fun, exciting, and really creative. The story was relatively captivating and the film was an entertaining afternoon watch.
    Sam E Super Reviewer

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