Twister at 25: Still The Best Tornado-Based Disaster Movie Ever Made

For all the tornado-based disaster movies that have been released over the last decades (2014’s Into the Storm being one of them), I still find Twister remains the best of its kind. Although it was released 25 years ago, Twister has everything you ask for a summer movie worthy of a bucket of (caramel-coated) popcorn.

Released on May 10, 1996 to enthusiastic responses, the movie made a then-impressive 3-day start at US$41 million in the North American box office and even stayed on the top spot for two consecutive weeks. By the end of its theatrical run, it grossed a healthy US$241.7 million in the US alone with a worldwide total of over US$494 million.

It’s easy to see why Twister such a crowd-pleaser in the first place. Directed by Jan de Bont, who is no stranger to delivering a fast-paced movie seen in 1994’s Speed, the movie doesn’t waste time getting into the business. For those who have forgotten what it’s all about, Twister follows Bill (Bill Paxton) and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Jo (Helen Hunt) as they join forces to “chase” tornadoes using the state-of-the-art device nicknamed “Dorothy”. The nickname, of course, refers to Judy Garland’s famous character from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. Apparently, the device will release thousands of tiny metallic-like sensors into the tornado, which in turn, help to record insightful data.

A tornado scene in "Twister" (1996)

The plot may have been nothing much here since it’s more of a sitting-back-and-enjoy-the-show kind of movie. Jan de Bont did a great job here, beginning with his efficient yet muscular direction that keeps the pace taut throughout the 113-minute running time. The groundbreaking special effects from Industrial Light & Magic for the tornado sequences are where the movie excels the most. Even viewing them by today’s standard, the effects still retained the same cinematic impact as I saw it in the cinema back then. The rest of the technical credits are just as impressive, namely Mark Mancina’s lively score as well as its incredible sound design (the movie garnered a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Sound in addition to Best Visual Effects — both of which lost to The English Patient and Independence Day respectively).

Not content to just showing how realistic the tornado featured in Twister, you have to give credits to Jan de Bont for making the effects-laden scenes as visually captivating and inventive as possible. The kind where it was best experienced on the big screen, particularly if you happened to be one of them got to watch the movie in the cinema.

Whereas the story took a backseat in this movie, Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt’s overall engaging performances as two relentless storm chasers did their best to elevate the otherwise threadbare material. Supporting actors including Philip Seymour Hoffman’s eccentric turn as Dustin Davis help enliven the already-entertaining-as-it-is movie in Twister.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (middle) in "Twister" (1996)

As fun as the movie capable of delivering its promise, shooting Twister wasn’t exactly a smooth journey. Jan de Bont along with his cast and crew had to deal with the erratic weather problem while filming the movie on location in Oklahoma and Iowa.

It was also hard to believe that Helen Hunt, so perfectly cast as Jo, wasn’t actually the instant choice to lead a movie alongside Bill Paxton. At least for Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures, where they co-produced the movie together. From a business point of view, it was understandable since Hunt’s primary fame came from the TV world, notably the hit sitcom Mad About You. In other words, her TV fame wasn’t convincing enough to risk a high-profile tentpole movie that reportedly cost US$92 million to make. But thanks to Jan de Bont’s insistence of wanting Hunt for the role, she eventually landed the gig and the rest, as they say, is history.  A year after the huge success of Twister, she appeared in another huge hit — a romantic comedy, to be exact — where she earned an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in As Good As It Gets.

Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt in "Twister" (1996)

Before Bill Paxton landed the role as Bill, it’s difficult to imagine the initial choices were originally went to Tom Hanks and even Garth Brooks (yes, that country singer). Twister was one of Paxton’s best roles and the fact that he’s no longer with us (he died of a stroke at the age of 61) still resonates even after his passing in 2017.

Interestingly enough, Twister was the last time Jan de Bont made a great summer blockbuster after Speed. After a one-two punch of the aforementioned movies, he quickly went down from a bona fide director to a has-been filmmaker, as evidently seen in his next three directorial efforts — Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997), The Haunting (1999) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003). At the time of writing, he has yet to have a new film in the pipeline after his bad experience in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life prompted him to stop making movies.

You can still stream Twister on Netflix.