Twister is a 1996 American disaster adventure film starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as storm chasers researching tornadoes. It was directed by Jan de Bont from a screenplay by Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin. Its executive producers were Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes, Laurie MacDonald and Gerald R. Molen. Twister was the second-highest-grossing film of 1996 domestically, with an estimated 54,688,100 tickets sold in the US.
In the film, a team of storm chasers tries to perfect a data-gathering instrument, designed to be released into the funnel of a tornado, while competing with another better-funded team with a similar device during a tornado outbreak across Oklahoma. The plot is a dramatized view of research projects like VORTEX of the NOAA. The device used in the movie, called "Dorothy", is copied from the real-life TOTO, used in the 1980s by NSSL.
In June 1969, 5-year-old Jo Thornton, her parents and their dog, Toby, seek shelter in their storm cellar from an F5 tornado in Oklahoma. Because of its strong winds, the tornado ends up ripping the cellar door off and pulling Jo's father into the storm to his death. Jo, her mother and Toby survive.
Twenty-seven years later, in the spring of 1996, 32-year-old Jo has studied meteorology and become a storm chaser in the midwest. As the storm season begins, Jo is reunited with her 33 year-old estranged husband Bill "The Extreme" Harding, and meets his current fiancée Melissa Reeves; they are here to have her sign divorce papers to allow Bill and Melissa's marriage to go forward. Jo shows Bill her DOROTHY units, four mobile, self-contained tornado research systems consisting of hundreds of deployable sensors, developed from Bill's designs, which she and her team plan to test. Before Jo can sign the paperwork, she is alerted to a developing candidate storm nearby and sets off. Bill and Melissa follow her, and en route encounter Dr. Jonas Miller, a smug, corporate-funded storm chaser, who has developed a more advanced tornado research unit called DOT-3, also based on Bill's designs. Desiring to have Jo take the credit over Jonas, Bill agrees to help Jo to successful deploy DOROTHY first, against Melissa's concerns.
Bill and Jo head into the path track down of an F1 tornado. They grab on a wooden pillar as the twister passes over them destroying Jo's truck and DOROTHY I. By the time the F1 dissipates, Melissa brings Bill's truck just as Jo's truck lands upside-down in front of her as she follows the team, causing her to panic and nearly crash. Bill loads the remaining units onto his truck, they continue onward, now following an F2 tornado. However, the winds also breed two waterspouts, in between which they are caught. Melissa becomes hysterical as the waterspout splits into three and all pass over their truck, spinning them around repeatedly, though otherwise not damaging them.
Jo learns of a stronger F3 tornado nearby; they drop Melissa off with Jo's research team while she and Bill chase down the storm. The storm damages the DOROTHY II unit, spilling its sensor units, and against Bill's orders, Jo tries to leave the truck to collect them. Bill forces her to abandon the unit and get back into the truck, driving them safely away. Out of danger, Bill confronts Jo about her obsession with tornadoes that he realizes comes from her father's death; Melissa hears this over the open radio. During their discussion, Bill comes to a conclusion that the DOROTHY units are too light to remain stationary to properly disperse the sensors in time and need a counterweight.
During the night, an F4 tornado demolishes a drive-in cinema showing the 1980 horror film The Shining that Jo and Bill are in, forcing them and the team to take shelter in a nearby garage warehouse pit. As emergency services arrive along with Jo's support team, Melissa tells Bill that she recognizes he still has feelings for Jo, and amicably ends her engagement, leaving on her own. They learn that the tornado is continuing on Wakita, so they quickly rush to check on Meg. There, they find that the town had no warning and has been devastated as a result; most buildings have been destroyed and people have been left without homes. Jo races to find Meg's house wrecked as well. Bill and Jo rescue Aunt Meg and her dog Mose from her collapsed house. As they wait for medical services to take Meg to the hospital, Jo notices Meg's kinetic sculptures turning in the wind, and realizes that she can modify the sensors in DOROTHY with wind flaps to give them buoyancy and easily enter a tornado.
News of a powerful F5 tornado is reported in the nearby area. As they race there, Jo and her team use aluminum from soda cans to add blades to each sensor and reload the DOROTHY units. The two units are mounted on Bill's truck, and he and Jo drive into the storm, and attempt to deploy DOROTHY III, but the debris from the storm destroys the unit. They hear that Jonas and his team are also trying to deploy DOT-3, and Bill tries to warn Jonas off, believing the storm will shift course towards them. Jonas ignores his advice, and sure enough, after the tornado makes a sudden shift, Jonas and his driver are killed and DOT-3 is destroyed.
Bill drives them to a nearby farm alongside the path of the F5, intending the truck to provide the weight for DOROTHY IV. Jo activates the sensors and the two let the truck and the unit go into the storm; her team reports success as the sensors gather data across the entire height of the funnel. However, they find the storm has changed course again, and is now bearing directly onto the farmhouse. Unable to escape, Bill and Joe attach themselves to the pipes of a pumping house which are anchored deep underground with leather straps. The tornado demolishes the pumping house, but the two remain secure to the pipes, and are able to witness the beauty of the eye of the storm as it passes over them. As the storm dissipates, they see the farm's residence has been left virtually untouched. They reunite with Jo's team and celebrate their success, and Bill and Jo decide to form a new lab to analyze the new data, giving their marriage a second chance in the process.
Twister was produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, with financial backing from Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures. In return, Warner Bros. was given the North American distribution rights while Universal's joint venture distribution company UIP got the international distribution. The original concept and 10-page tornado-chaser story were presented to Amblin Entertainment in 1992 by screenwriter Jeffrey Hilton. Steven Spielberg then presented the concept to writer Michael Crichton. Crichton and his wife, Anne-Marie Martin, were paid a reported $2.5 million to write the screenplay.
The production was plagued with problems. Joss Whedon was brought in to do rewrites through the early spring of 1995. When he got bronchitis, Steve Zaillian was brought in. Whedon returned and worked on revisions right through the start of shooting in May 1995, then left the project after getting married. Two weeks into production, Jeff Nathanson was flown in to the set and worked on the script until principal photography ended.
Halfway through filming, both Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by bright electronic lamps used to make the sky behind the two actors look dark and stormy. Paxton remembers that "these things literally sunburned our eyeballs. I got back to my room, I couldn't see". To solve the problem, a Plexiglas filter was placed in front of the beams. The actors took eye drops and wore special glasses for a few days to recuperate. After filming in a particularly unsanitary ditch, Hunt and Paxton needed hepatitis shots. During the same sequence, Hunt repeatedly hit her head on a low wooden bridge, so exhausted from the demanding shoot that she forgot not to stand up so quickly. During one stunt in which Hunt opened the door of a vehicle speeding through a cornfield, she momentarily let go of the door and it struck her on the side of the head. Some sources claim she received a concussion in the incident. De Bont said, "I love Helen to death, but you know, she can be also a little bit clumsy." She responded, "Clumsy? The guy burned my retinas, but I'm clumsy ... I thought I was a good sport. I don't know ultimately if Jan chalks me up as that or not, but one would hope so".
Some crew members, feeling De Bont was "out of control", left the shoot five weeks into filming. The camera crew led by Don Burgess claimed De Bont "didn't know what he wanted till he saw it. He would shoot one direction, with all the equipment behind the view of the camera, and then he'd want to shoot in the other direction right away and we'd have to move [everything] and he'd get angry that we took too long ... and it was always everybody else's fault, never his". De Bont claims that they had to schedule at least three scenes every day because the weather changed so often, and "Don had trouble adjusting to that". When De Bont knocked over a camera assistant who missed a cue, Burgess and his crew walked off the set, much to the shock of the cast. They remained one more week until Jack N. Green's crew agreed to replace them. Two days before the end of filming, Green was injured when a hydraulic house set, designed to collapse on cue, was mistakenly activated with him inside it. A rigged ceiling hit him in the head and injured his back, requiring him to be hospitalized. De Bont took over as his own director of photography for the remaining shots.
Because overcast skies were not always available, De Bont had to shoot many of the film's tornado-chasing scenes in bright sunlight, requiring Industrial Light & Magic to more than double its original plan for 150 "digital sky-replacement" shots. Principal photography was originally given a deadline to allow Hunt to return to appear in another season of Mad About You, but when shooting ran over schedule, series creator and actor Paul Reiser agreed to delay the show's production for two-and-a-half weeks so Twister could finish. De Bont insisted on using multiple cameras, which led to the exposure of 1.3 million feet of film, compared to the usual maximum of 300,000 feet.
De Bont claims that Twister cost close to $70 million, with $2–3 million going to the director. It was speculated that last-minute re-shoots in March and April 1996 (to clarify a scene about Jo as a child) and overtime requirements in post-production and at ILM, raised the budget to $90 million. Warner Bros. moved up the film's release date from May 17 to 10, to give it two weekends before Mission: Impossible opened.
Twister is known for its successful product placement, featuring a Dodge Ram pickup truck and several other new vehicle models.
Prints of Twister came with a note from De Bont, suggesting that exhibitors play the film at a higher volume than normal for full effect.
Twister featured both a traditional orchestral film score by Mark Mancina and several rock music songs, including an instrumental theme song composed and performed for the film by Van Halen. The film's music was released on compact disc.
The song queued up on a TV in Dusty's van is Eric Clapton's "Motherless Child".
There are some orchestrated tracks that were in the movie but were not released on the orchestral score, most notably the orchestrated intro to "Humans Being" from when Jo's team left Wakita to chase the Hailstorm Hill tornado. Other, lesser-known tracks omitted include an extended version of "Going Green" (when we first meet Jonas) and a short track from when the first tornado is initially spotted.
As of March 2013[update], the film held a 57% score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 53 reviews. The critical consensus stated "A high-concept blockbuster that emphasizes special effects over three-dimensional characters, Twister's visceral thrills are often offset by the film's generic plot." As of March 2013[update], it held a score of 68 at Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "You want loud, dumb, skillful, escapist entertainment? Twister works. You want to think? Think twice about seeing it". In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Somehow Twister stays as uptempo and exuberant as a roller-coaster ride, neatly avoiding the idea of real danger". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B" rating and Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "Yet the images that linger longest in my memory are those of windswept livestock. And that, in a teacup, sums up everything that's right, and wrong, about this appealingly noisy but ultimately flyaway first blockbuster of summer". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, "But the ringmaster of this circus, the man without whom nothing would be possible, is director De Bont, who now must be considered Hollywood's top action specialist. An expert in making audiences squirm and twist, at making us feel the rush of experience right along with the actors, De Bont choreographs action and suspense so beautifully he makes it seem like a snap." Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "when action is never shown to have deadly or pitiable consequences, it tends toward abstraction. Pretty soon you're not tornado watching, you're special-effects watching". In his review for the Washington Post Desson Howe wrote, "it's a triumph of technology over storytelling and the actors' craft. Characters exist merely to tell a couple of jokes, cower in fear of downdrafts and otherwise kill time between tornadoes".
The film opened on May 10, 1996 and earned $41,059,405 from 2,414 total theaters, making it the number-one movie at the North American box office. It went on to earn a total of $241,721,524 at the North American box office. As of November 2012, it has earned a worldwide total of $494,471,524. It currently sits at number 76 on the all-time North American box office charts. Worldwide it sits at number 105 on the all-time earners list, not adjusted for inflation. It was the second-highest-grossing film of 1996 after Independence Day.
|Academy Awards||Best Visual Effects||Stefen Fangmeier||Nominated|
|Henry La Bounta||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Steve Maslow||Nominated|
|Saturn Awards||Best Actor||Bill Paxton||Nominated|
|Best Actress||Helen Hunt||Nominated|
|Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|Best Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film||Nominated|
|Golden Raspberry Award||Worst Supporting Actress||Jami Gertz||Nominated|
|Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million||Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin||Won|
|Stinkers Bad Movie Awards|
|Worst Supporting Actress||Jami Gertz||Won|
|Worst Screenplay for a Film Grossing Over $100 Million Worldwide||Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin||Won|
On May 24, 1996, a tornado destroyed Screen #3 at the Can-View Drive-In, a drive-in theater in Thorold, Ontario, which was scheduled to show the movie Twister later that evening, in a real-life parallel to a scene in the film in which a tornado destroys a drive-in during a showing of the film The Shining. The facts of this incident were exaggerated into an urban legend that the theater was actually playing Twister during the tornado.
On May 10, 2010, a tornado struck Fairfax, Oklahoma, destroying the farmhouse where numerous scenes in Twister were shot. J. Berry Harrison, the owner of the home and a former Oklahoma state senator, commented that the tornado appeared eerily similar to the fictitious one in the film. He had lived in the home since 1978.
On April 3, 1996, Sega Pinball released Twister, a pinball machine themed to the same name of the film. It features modes including Canister Multiball, Chase Multiball and more.
The film was used as the basis for the attraction Twister...Ride It Out at Universal Studios Florida, which features filmed introductions by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt. The attraction opened on May 4, 1998 and closed on November 2, 2015 to make way for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.
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