In 1998, a new attraction took Universal Studios Florida by storm… literally. That spring Twister… Ride it Out opened at the theme park, putting guests smack in the middle of a raging tornado.
However, the behind the scenes story of the attraction is nearly as turbulent as the storm itself, starting with ghosts, continuing through feuding cast members and a real life weather tragedy, all before ending with… a talk show host? This is truth behind what happened to Twister… Ride it Out.
The show-building that would eventually become home to Twister originally housed the Ghostbusters Spooktacular. This 1990 opening day special effects show was based on the Ghostbusters franchise, and was initially one of the most heavily advertised draws for Universal Studios Florida.
However, by the mid-1990s, Universal believed that the Ghostbusters had become somewhat culturally irrelevant and decided to replace the attraction, closing Spooktacular for good in 1996.
Looking through their modern library for something to replace the Ghostbusters, Universal zeroed in on Twister. While that choice may seem somewhat out of left field today, it certainly wasn’t in 1996. Twister — an “epic disaster film” based around storm chasers starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton — was not only the second-highest grossing film of 1996, it also ended the year as the 10th-highest grossing film in history, leading to an influx of “disaster” films over the next several years. In other words, an attraction based on the concept made a ton of sense at the time.
As Universal plotted out a Twister attraction, they ran into two major issues. The first being how exactly to safely put guests in the midst of a recreation of a deadly tornado. To achieve this seemingly impossible feat, Universal brought in meteorologists, tornado experts, and wind-flow experts Cermak Peterka Petersen. With their input, Universal Creative was able to develop a theater show that utilized a system that could “generate constant winds of 35 miles per hour” for a full tornado size effect generation. The theater also featured 65,000 gallons of water that would simulate a rainstorm every six minutes, 20 laserdisc players, 300 speakers and 60 monitors.
The second major issue facing the development of the attraction was a metaphorical Hollywood storm. The film’s stars Hunt and Paxton allegedly couldn’t stand each other — (partially due to the legendarily troubled production of the film) to the point where they refused to film together… or be in each other’s physical presence. To solve this issue, Universal Creative filmed Hunt and Paxton separately and had their characters “interact” with each other from different screens in the attraction’s pre-show.
After just over a year in development, Twister… Ride it Out was scheduled to open to the public in March of 1998. However, days before the grand opening, an outbreak of tornadoes tore through the nearby Kissimmee area. Over a three day period, 15 tornadoes tore through the area, killing 42 people, injuring 259 more, and causing nearly $200 million in property damage. Universal acted swiftly, delaying the opening of the attraction until May and donating $100,000 to the victims.
Once the attraction finally did open, guests found one of the most interesting experiences Universal has ever crafted. After entering through a facade featuring strewn debris — including numerous pieces “stuck” in the walls of the building — guests would experience two pre-shows (featuring the aforementioned Hunt and Paxton videos) that discussed the film’s effects and the natural power of tornadoes.
Next, they would enter the main theater, which was set up to mimic the drive-in theater scene from the film. There, they would experience the massive man-made tornado discussed above, which would “destroy” numerous buildings and vehicle props on the soundstage similar to scenes in the film. It even featured the movie’s iconic flying cow.
Twister… Ride it Out was a massive success upon its opening, quickly becoming a fan favorite and of Universal’s most reliable attractions over the next 17 years, However, the attraction would eventually succumb to the same issue that led to its creation in the first place: Pop cultural relevancy.
In November of 2015, Universal closed the attraction for good, announcing it would be replaced by the much more “current” Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon 3D simulator attraction, which opened in 2017. Ironically, Universal and Warner are releasing a Twister sequel in 2024, which could potentially reinvigorate interest in the property.
Do you have any fond memories of Twister… Ride it Out at Universal Studios Florida? Do you wish the attraction was still standing instead of Race Through New York? Be sure to let us know in the comments below, and keep following All Ears for the latest Universal Orlando info!
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