The making of 1996's TWISTER was an F5 disaster, but look at us now.

by Charles Gerian

The story of 1996’s TWISTER.


Long before TWISTER became a part of the Oklahoma culture, as iconic as Braum’s or years-long ODOT roadwork projects, it began as a proof-of-concept by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM aka “The Star Wars People”) using entirely CGI, based on the research of storm simulator Stefen Fangmeier.

The pitch to Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin Entertainment sparked interest from Spielberg himself who showed initial interest in directing a weather-based action movie before guiding the project to a “Who’s Who” list of big-name 90s directors including James Cameron (TITANIC, Terminator 2, Aliens), John Badham (Short Circuit, WarGames), Tim Burton (Batman Returns, Mars Attacks), and Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future Trilogy).

Eventually, the loose concept of a project attracted Jan de Bont, a Dutch filmmaker who had just exited Sony’s in-development GODZILLA film over creative differences. De Bont was a household name on a meteoric rise following his work on SPEED, a film that Spielberg was a huge fan of.

De Bont’s allure to TWISTER was that it would be a “Grimm fairy tale where the monster comes out of dark clouds.”

Celebrated science fiction author Michael Crichton (Westworld, The Andromeda Strain, Timeline, Congo) had a healthy relationship with Spielberg of course, as the two had just worked together on the 1993 adaptation of JURASSIC PARK.

Crichton and his wife / co-author Anne-Marie Martin were paid handsomely for a script which came from Crichton viewing a PBS documentary about storm chases, and a loose inspiration from the 1940 Howard Hawks comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY featuring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

Crichton drew inspiration for the film’s “main character”, Dorothy, from TOTO which was an instrument for weather research developed by the NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Oklahoma.


The film attracted Tom Hanks for the role of Bill, but Hanks ultimately passed, suggesting Bill Paxton for the role. With Paxton and Helen Hunt locked, the film’s May 1996 release date seemed nearly impossible given the conditions TWISTER was shot in and under.

Early into production, Joss Whedon was brought in to rewrite and punch up the script following his uncredited work on scripts for THE GETAWAY, SPEED, and WATERWORLD.

Steven Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST) was also brought on to assist through the course of production.

Initially, filming was set to take place in the U.K. and California, but De Bont was adamant that TWISTER be “the last great action movie not to be shot on a soundstage.”

De Bont won and filming took place across Oklahoma including Fairfax, Ralston, Maysville, Norman, Kaw Lake, Stillwater, Wakita, Ponca City, Guthrie, and Pauls Valley.

Through the arduous shoot, De Bont’s attitude became a point of contention, leading to several crew members walking off-set as well as several injuries that occurred including one instance where Paxton and Hunt were temporarily blinded.

TWISTER, despite the odds, swept its way towards its May 17, 1996 release date before Warner Bros and Universal opted to open it a week early, May 10, to avoid colliding with Paramount’s hotly anticipated Tom Cruise action movie, a little film by the name of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.


TWISTER’s premiere was held at the Penn Square Mall’s AMC theater in Oklahoma City with De Bont, Paxton, and Hunt present at the mall for interviews and meet-and-greets.

The film opened to $41 million dollars off a budget which had ballooned to an upwards of $90 million after it was all said and done.

That weekend, TWISTER topped the hysterical Robin Williams comedy THE BIRDCAGE for the biggest opening weekend of 1996 and it had the 6th largest opening weekend in film history behind THE LION KING, BATMAN, BATMAN RETURNS, BATMAN FOREVER, and Crichton’s own film, JURASSIC PARK.

TWISTER’s incredible opening weekend (coupled with that month’s aforementioned MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) would change cinematic history, forever marking May as the official start of the “Summer Movie Season” with DEEP IMPACT, THE MUMMY, STAR WARS EPISODE I, SPIDER-MAN, and more following suit.

TWISTER went on an all-star box office run, grossing nearly $500 million globally. It was WB’s highest-grossing film until the 2001 release of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE.

Reviews were mixed on the weather-based action film, with many critics slamming the characters and general plot, but the film received nearly universal praise for the special effects and action.

The effects propelled TWISTER to two Oscar nominations (Best Sound and Best Visual Effects).

The film’s legacy could also be felt in the real world as well. According to the University of Oklahoma, their meteorology program doubled from 225 to 450 the year the film was released.

The program also saw funding coming in from Universal Studios to develop a mobile radar system. The film studio also funded the National Severe Storms Laboratory to go on tour around the country promoting meteorology.


For reasons unknown, WB / Universal never attempted to turn TWISTER into a franchise. Sure it would have been hard to justify or reason why these characters would go back into the field together for another tornado outbreak, and it’s kind of hard to milk merchandise from a film about the weather, but that hasn’t stopped studio from making sequels in the past.

The ball didn’t start rolling until 2020 when Helen Hunt herself pitch a TWISTER sequel that would have focused on a diverse group of storm chasers with Hunt reprising her role and opting to take over directorial duties.

Universal Studios swiftly rejected her offer and ideas.

Eventually, Universal and WB shifted focus to Lee Isaac Chung who had just broken onto the scene with his Oklahoma-set film about a South Korean family attempting to make it as farmers which earned several Oscar nominations.

Chung was to direct a script from Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, The Boys in the Boat) based off of a story by Joseph Kosinski (Top Gun: Maverick).

The film eventually became TWISTERS, enlisting Hollywood’s new golden boy Glen Powell (also Top Gun: Maverick; Anyone But You) as Tyler Owens, a celebrity storm chaser opposite Daisy Edgar-Jones (Where The Crawdads Sing) a former weather scientist as the two cross paths during a prolific storm outbreak in Oklahoma.

Produced for an estimated $200 million, TWISTERS, like its predecessor, filmed in Oklahoma.

TWISTERS finally releases July 19, 2024.