The setting of the film is the distant future. The polar ice caps have completely melted, and the sea level has risen many hundreds of feet, covering nearly all the land. The film illustrates this with an unusual variation on the Universal logo, which begins with the usual image of Earth, but shows the planet's water levels gradually rising and the polar ice caps melting until nearly all the land is submerged. The plot of the film centers on an otherwise nameless antihero, "The Mariner", a drifter who sails the Earth in his trimaran.
The most expensive film ever made at the time, Waterworld was released to mixed reviews and was unable to recoup its massive budget at the box office: however, the production did later break even due to video and other post-cinema sales. The film's release was accompanied by a tie-in novel, video game, and three themed attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Singapore, and Universal Studios Japan called Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which are all still running as of 2013.