Twisters – The epic studio disaster movie returns

From the producers of the Jurassic, Bourne and Indiana Jones seriescomes Twisters, a current-day chapter of the 1996 blockbuster, Twister.

In 1996, Amblin Entertainment and The Kennedy/Marshall Company elevated the art of the natural disaster film with Twister, a worldwide smash from the super-team of producer Steven Spielberg, best-selling author Michael Crichton, and director Jan de Bont, that captivated audiences. Tornadoes became terrifying movie spectacles courtesy of pioneering digital effects and brainy meteorologists became bold action heroes. Now the franchise touches down again with Twisters, a timely, bold new chapter that charts a thrilling new course for the franchise.

“One of the reasons that Twister was so compelling was that Michael Crichton was writing about things that were science fact, not science fiction,” says producer Frank Marshall.

“People are fascinated about things they can relate to,” Marshall says. “And unfortunately, the things Michael was writing about in the 1990s have now become more frequent and severe.” Crichton—who also wrote the Jurassic Park novels, The Andromeda Strain and Congo and specialized in blockbuster novels anchored in deeply researched science and history—died in 2008. “While we wanted the tornado-mitigation science in Twisters to be aspirational, we also wanted to make sure that the movie remained rooted in what was possible,” Marshall says. “That’s why we don’t ever say in the film that you can kill the tornado. We can try to affect them, tame them, reduce them, but we can’t yet stop them. There’s still so much we don’t understand about them.”

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Glen Powell on the set of Twisters.Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures & Amblin Entertainment

Edgar-Jones stars as Kate Cooper, a former storm chaser haunted by a devastating encounter with a tornado during her college years who now studies storm patterns on screens safely in New York City. She is lured back to the open plains by her friend, Javi to test a groundbreaking new tracking system. There, she crosses paths with Tyler Owens (Glen Powell), the charming and reckless social-media superstar who thrives on posting his storm-chasing adventures with his raucous crew, the more dangerous the better. As storm season intensifies, terrifying phenomena never seen before are unleashed, and Kate, Tyler and their competing teams find themselves squarely in the paths of multiple storm systems converging over central Oklahoma in the fight of their lives.

The goal of writing a script that was grounded in credibility and realism prompted Smith to throw himself into research, interviewing meteorologists and riding with storm-chasers to understand their work better. The producing team wanted to do the same, so they decided to reach out to an old franchise friend: Kevin Kelleher, a former analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who served as the technical advisor on Twisters.

Screenwriter Mark L. Smith

“It was of the utmost importance to us that we bring in a consultant to authenticate the science and speak to the theories we were exploring,” says executive producer Ashley Jay Sandberg, the lead feature film exec at Kennedy/Marshall who helped oversee the development of the script. “This led us to Kevin, who became our trusted and invaluable sounding board.”

Back in 1996, Kelleher had consulted on the first Twister, helping vet ideas and teaching the cast and crew basic tornado science: e.g. how thunderstorms produce whirlwinds and how they are measured on the Fujita scale (named after the late Ted Fujita, a trailblazing Japanese American storm researcher), what shapes they take (rope; stovepipe; wedge; multi-vortex) and the various features of each. “I was so impressed and moved by the respect the producers had for real science and the desire to reflect that in the movie,” says Kelleher.

The first Twister film had a profound impact on the field of meteorology, inspiring a surge of interest and support for tornado research and raising awareness about the rising occurrences of extreme weather. For those reasons and more, Kelleher was more than happy to return, almost thirty years later, for this new chapter in the franchise. “It was heartening that the filmmakers wanted to do the same thing with Twisters, because so much has changed over the past 28 years, and so much of the story in this film concerns issues that today’s researchers are currently working on,” Kelleher says. “We know more about tornadoes than we ever have, but fundamental questions remain about how and why they occur and what can be done to detect them sooner. I was also struck by the filmmakers’ sensitivity to real-life people who’ve been gravely impacted by tornadoes and how they persevere though and recover from tragedy. I was able to speak into the desire to honor that, while helping find a balance between science, entertainment and empathy.”

Another point of emphasis for the Twisters team was acknowledging concerns about the role climate change plays in extreme weather. “Our movie emphasizes the need to increase scientific knowledge to help increase warning lead times and raises the question whether technological innovations may, in the future, be able to help reduce the effects of climate change,” says Patrick Crowley, the veteran producer (The Other Guys; Assassin’s Creed) who has collaborated frequently with Frank Marshall, partnering with him to bring the Jason Bourne and Jurassic World films to screen.

Although weather scientists are uncertain about the role climate change has had on tornado frequency and severity, recent studies have shown that what has traditionally been called ‘tornado season’ during the late spring/early summer in the United States has expanded and tornadoes are now occurring more frequently at other times of the year. There is, however, substantial evidence that ‘tornado alley’ has been expanding eastward into the more highly populated areas of the south-central and southeastern U.S. “We’ve done everything we could to dramatize that in this movie,” Crowley says. “We would have been irresponsible if we didn’t pay attention to that and if we didn’t use the movie as an opportunity to help sound the alarm.”

As work wrapped on the Twisters script in 2022, Joseph Kosinski departed the project to direct another film. Enter Lee Isaac Chung, whose acclaimed autobiographical 2020 family drama Minari earned him multiple Oscar nominations and super-charged his career after 13 years of independent filmmaking. For Chung, Twisters was an opportunity to branch into a kind of filmmaking he had long hoped to pursue and had nearly lost hope he’d ever have a chance to chase.

Chung was impressed with the script that Mark L. Smith had written for Twisters and says that two aspects in particular captured his imagination. “What Mark did so well is make the study of weather feel like an adventure—a real-world adventure, set amid the wonder and tumult of the natural world, as opposed to some fantastic fictional reality,” says Chung. “But the other thing that really hooked me was the fun of it. We have this character of Tyler, played by Glen Powell in the film, a cowboy storm chaser whose only ambition is to light up a tornado by shooting fireworks into it. It cracked me up so much. It reminded me of the stupid stuff me and my friends would dream of doing where I grew up in Arkansas. I don’t know if it’s because I have a hillbilly streak or if it’s the filmmaker in me, but all I knew after reading that scene was that I wanted to film it, because I’d never seen anything like it in a movie before, and the people back home would laugh when they saw it.”

Several different movies served as touchstones to Chung while making Twisters, beginning, of course, with Jan de Bont’s 1996 film. “From beginning to end, I returned to Twister, and I would ask myself: ‘How would Jan do this?’ Because he did it so well, and I wanted to honor the fandom around the first film,” says Chung. “But I’ve always loved Steven Spielberg, as well, and the process of working with him has been so great. I went back and watched Jaws a few times, as well as War of the Worlds—movies about powerful forces of nature or monstrous things coming at you or looming above you. They captured some of the tone we wanted for our tornadoes. Perhaps the movies I watched the most in preparation for Twisters were driving movies—from The French Connection (1971) to Gone in 60 Seconds (2000), for example  —because so much of our movie rides with groups of storm chasers in their vehicles.” Indeed, approximately 70 percent of the film’s 60-day production would later be spent shooting driving scenes, with characters chasing after tornadoes. “We were a literal road show, and on the go at all times,” says executive producer Ashley Jay Sandberg, who was on the ground for the entire shoot.

Moving into pre-production, Chung also poured himself into research and worked on revising the script, with an eye toward further developing key relationships, creating backstory for the plethora of supporting characters (which he did in collaboration with the actors playing them), and plotting the beats and details of the film’s action-packed tornado sequences. But perhaps the most significant decision Chung made in shaping the tone and look of the movie was choosing where Twisters would be shot. The director was adamant that the film, which is set in Oklahoma, be made in Oklahoma, a state he knew well, having produced Minari there.

All the tornadoes in Twisters were inspired by at least one real-life tornado and were created for the film using a combination of practical special effects and digital visual effects. There are six tornado sequences in Twisters, but more than ten tornadoes were designed for the film, because one tornado has a twin and another ultimately begets several more. The filmmakers’ cache of reference material included original footage of super-cell clouds and real tornadoes that was filmed for the production by its technical consultants, most notably, professional storm-chaser Sean Casey.

In charge of producing the film’s practical, on-set tornado effects—e.g. wind, rain, hail, flying debris—was Academy Award winning special effects supervisor Scott R. Fisher, whose work on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Tenet won him his pair of Oscars

The crucial job of making the tornadoes for Twisters fell to another franchise OG, visual effects supervisor Ben Snow. Just as production designer Patrick Sullivan got his Hollywood start on Twister, Snow began his nearly 30-year career at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) working onthe 1996 film. Since then, he’s earned four Oscar® nominations for his contributions to Pearl Harbor, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Iron Man and Iron Man 2.

The ten unique tornadoes and weather environments were designed by ILM, all based on real events and observations. These tornadoes are not just destructive forces; they become characters themselves, transforming natural phenomena into monstrous entities that drive the story. They represent some of the most complex and realistic CG weather simulations and tornadoes ever committed to film. The combination of special effects and visual effects results in a cohesive, immersive experience that brings the raw power of nature to the big screen in spectacular ways.

At the heart of the process was a deep commitment to analyzing nature and developing cutting-edge simulation and rendering tools to visually replicate these storms realistically. The ILM team artistically and scientifically broke down and analyzed every detail that constitutes a storm, ensuring the visual components were accurate and visually interesting. This approach ensured that the tornadoes not only looked realistic but also behaved in ways true to life. The result is an immersive experience that sets a new standard for weather simulations in film.

(from left) Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, and Director Lee Isaac Chung on the set of Twisters.Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures & Amblin Entertainment

Directing Twisters signifies a major transition for me. I’ve been making low-budget, independent films for most of my life. I grew up in NW Arkansas on the Oklahoma border—tornados were a big reality for me. Growing up as a child I was mesmerized when the original film came out in 1996. Here was a group of people running into the storm while everyone else was running out. So, when the producers came to me to direct this new chapter, I was truly honored and terrified to make the transition into tentpole, summer blockbuster territory. But the film embodies what inspired me to take on the challenge; I wanted to run toward my fears and not away from them. 

There were many components that were important to me in making this film. I have long wanted to tell a story like this with a strong, female lead, and Daisy Edgar-Jones delivers on every level. We collaborated very closely with a dedicated team of climate scientists and together, I hope we’ve crafted an immersive experience that brings viewers up close and personal to the things that are bigger than us, things that are meant to scare us and take us into the heart of the storm.

To work alongside industry titans Steven Spielberg and Frank Marshall has been one of the great honors of my career. Their belief in my vision for the film has been nothing short of empowering. This film aims to offer an exhilarating experience that transcends the confines of the screen, and my hope is to ignite in audiences the same sense of wonder and awe that I felt as a kid witnessing the power of nature firsthand.