Written and directed by Stephen Sommers (who went on to make The Mummy), Deep Rising is a fun but grisly blend of action and horror. The film sees a luxury cruise liner besieged by heavily armed thieves, only for the criminals to unexpectedly find themselves under attack from a mysterious and deadly threat. Here are some facts about this sea-faring creature feature that you might not have known.
15. There were over 400 extras on set for the early cruise liner sequence
For the most part, Deep Rising centres on a fairly small ensemble of under a dozen characters exploring the cruise liner. At the very beginning, though, there are a whole lot more people on board the luxurious ship. To shoot this early sequence, the filmmakers had to bring in more than 400 extras.
Capturing all the footage they needed with this large amount of people took the crew five days. Unfortunately, one minor slip-up in the shooting of this sequence found its way into the final film. Watch closely, and you may notice that when Simon Canton (Anthony Heald) gives his big speech, there’s a moment when the boom mike operator is visible.
14. Kevin J. O’Connor wound up heavily bruised from the scene where he gets beat up
As we’ve seen time and again, making action-oriented movies can be a hazardous business for cast and crew. Actor Kevin J. O’Connor found this out the hard way shooting a particularly rough scene for Deep Rising. One particularly dark scene sees O’Connor’s Joey knocked down, kicked and punched by the mob of mercenaries.
For the actor’s safety, he was given a lot of padding to wear underneath his costume. Unfortunately, this didn’t entirely do the trick, as O’Connor wound up covered in bruises afterwards. Director Stephen Sommers has said that he felt “horrible” about the incident and was hugely apologetic to O’Connor.
13. The film’s release was pushed back to avoid clashes with Con Air and Starship Troopers
Had things originally gone to plan, Deep Rising would have been released to cinemas in the summer of 1997. However, Deep Rising was a Disney production, and the studio had another big R-rated movie coming out at the same time. That film was Con Air, the legendarily ridiculous prisoners-on-a-plane action movie starring Nicolas Cage.
It was feared that opening Deep Rising at the same time might dent Con Air’s box office chances (which turned out to be a very respectable $224 million). Later, Deep Rising was set to open in November – but once again, there was another major R-rated movie opening that month, Starship Troopers. Starship Troopers wasn’t so successful, earning $121.2 million off a budget upwards of $100 million – but that’s still way better business than Deep Rising wound up doing.
12. The film was destroyed at the box office by Titanic
While Deep Rising’s release date had been changed multiple times to avoid clashes with other R-rated action movies, no one had expected what happened next. Hollywood Pictures wound up releasing the film to US cinemas in January 1998 – when a certain other movie set on a ship was still on screens. That movie was of course James Cameron’s Titanic, which had unexpectedly become a blockbuster of unprecedented proportions.
Even though the romantic disaster movie had been in cinemas for almost three months when Deep Rising opened, it was still dominating the box office. Titanic proved an insurmountable obstacle (you might even say an iceberg) to Deep Rising; Stephen Sommers’ film wound up grossing a mere $11.2 million. As for Titanic, it became the biggest box office hit ever at the time, and the very first film to earn upwards of $1 billion.
11. The marketing campaign centred on the special effects artists
Deep Rising did not boast any major stars in its cast (sorry, Treat Williams), nor was director Stephen Sommers that well known at the time. This, it seems, left those in charge of marketing the film at a bit of a loss for an angle. Ultimately, the decision was made to sell Deep Rising on the strength of its special effects work.
We’re used to seeing the names of actors at the top of a poster, but one Deep Rising poster instead sported the words, ‘From the Special Effect Team who made Total Recall and Star Wars.” True enough, Deep Rising’s FX team included Rob Bottin, who won an Oscar for his work on Total Recall. Bottin’s other credits include The Thing and RoboCop. Meanwhile, the CGI effects in the movie were largely handled by George Lucas’ SFX company Industrial Light and Magic.
10. The film’s box office failure sank a production company
While distributed by the Disney-owned Hollywood Pictures, Deep Rising was produced by production company Cinergi. Cinergi was founded by producer Andrew G. Vajna, who had previously co-founded mini-studio Carolco Pictures. While Cinergi produced such hits as Tombstone and Die Hard with a Vengeance, the company were also responsible for some notorious flops.
Cinergi were behind expensive failures Super Mario Bros and Judge Dredd – and having yet another money-loser in Deep Rising didn’t help their fortunes. The final nail in the coffin was their next release, the disastrous Burn Hollywood Burn: An Alan Smithee Film. When this critically reviled comedy made a truly abysmal $53,000 at the box office, Cinergi folded in mid-1998.
9. Roger Ebert declared it one of his most hated movies
In recent years, many fans and critics have hailed Deep Rising as one of the best monster movies of the 90s. However, back when the movie was first released in 1998, it was a rather different story. With only a few exceptions, the initial reviews that Deep Rising received were overwhelmingly negative.
Stephen Sommers’ film got a particularly venomous welcome from one of the most influential American critics: Roger Ebert. The famed and respected movie reviewer listed Deep Rising among his most hated films of that year. Despite the cult status Deep Rising enjoys today, it still has a low Rotten Tomatoes score: 28% from critics, and 43% from audiences.
8. Kevin J. O’Connor’s character originally died, but he was kept alive after test audiences objected
It would seem that writer-director Stephen Sommers wasn’t the only one to develop a soft spot for Kevin J. O’Connor in Deep Rising. Originally, O’Conner’s Joey Pantucci was not intended to survive the monster battle on the Argonautica. However, test audiences loved the character, and voiced their displeasure when he was killed off.
This prompted a rethink, and a reshoot, to make Joey a survivor alongside Treat Williams’ Finnegan and Famke Janssen’s Trillian. In the years since Deep Rising, Kevin J. O’Connor has not only enjoyed further collaborations with director Stephen Sommers, but also with acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. The actor has taken supporting roles in both Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and The Master.
7. Treat Williams described the making of the movie as “fun, fun, fun”
Treat Williams is said to have summed up his experience on Deep Rising in three words: “Fun, fun fun!” The 1998 movie is one of the few big-budget films to have given Williams a leading role. Born in Connecticut in 1951, Williams broke into acting through theatre, appearing in Grease and other musicals on Broadway.
He broke into movies in the late 70s, with roles in Hair and Steven Spielberg’s widely forgotten misfire 1941. Williams has tended to specialise in supporting roles, with parts in Once Upon a Time in America, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and the bad guy role in The Phantom. Williams’ only other notable leading action man role has been in three direct-to-DVD sequels to 1996 thriller The Substitute.
6. The edited-for-TV version makes Stephen Sommers cry
Pretty much all filmmakers have to deal with seeing their vision compromised to some degree for the sake of commerce. On the Blu-ray commentary for Deep Rising, Stephen Sommers remarks that he’s delighted the film’s home entertainment releases avoid that. The writer-director notes that, when Deep Rising is shown on US television, it’s in a significantly different cut.
For one thing, the film’s content is censored, which naturally hurts the film (hence the filmmakers ditched their attempts at a PG-13 cut). In addition, cuts are also made to allow space for commercial breaks; so overall, Deep Rising’s TV version runs about 30 minutes shorter. Sommers remarked that screenings of this condensed version are “good for my pocketbook, but it makes me cry sometimes.”