During the worst recorded rainstorm in the history of the Midwestern United States, armored truck drivers Tom (Christian Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Edward Asner) are collecting the money from the local banks affected by the rising flood waters. In the small town of Huntingburg, Indiana, which has been evacuated, Tom and Charlie drive into a ditch and become stuck, and Charlie calls dispatch to alert the National Guard. They are then ambushed by Jim (Morgan Freeman) and his gang of armed robbers, Kenny (Michael Goorjian), Mr Mehlor (Dann Florek) and Ray (Ricky Harris). Kenny accidentally shoots Charlie dead, as Tom gets away with the $3 million in cash and hides it in a cemetery.
After being chased through the local Middle School by the gang now travelling with a boat and jet skis, Tom takes refuge in a nearby church. He is knocked out and wakes up in a cell at the local Sheriff's office. Tom tells the Sheriff (Randy Quaid) about the gang and the area he hid the money, although he keeps him locked up. He and his Deputy Wayne (Mark Rolston) then leave to investigate, whilst another officer Phil (Peter Murnik) is ordered to take Karen (Minnie Driver), the woman who knocked Tom out and is currently restoring the church, out of town. In protest, she pushes Phil out of the boat so she will be able to fill the water pumps at her church.
The town's dam continues to experience huge pressure from the rain and the operator Hank (Wayne Duvall) is forced to open another spillway floodgate. This causes another huge burst of water to stream through the town, resulting in even worse flooding, especially at the church. Tom wakes in his cell, trapped as the Sheriff's building slowly fills up with water. After filling the pumps at the church, Karen returns and saves him by opening the light fitting on the roof for him to escape. They are then spotted by the gang, and hide before having to get out of the water because a nearby transformer is going to blow.
Kenny grabs Tom and they both fall in the water, but Tom fights him off before Kenny is electrocuted and later dies. Tom and Karen enter a nearby house, only to discover locals Doreen (Betty White) and Henry Sears (Richard Dysart) who believe they are looters. After explaining their story, Henry decides to give Tom their boat so he can return to the armored truck. When he resurfaces from the now submerged truck, he finds Jim and the gang holding the elderly couple hostage. Tom gets Jim to let them go by promising he'll show them where the money is.
On the way to the cemetery, Jim reveals to Tom that the National Guard were never coming because Charlie was actually calling the gang, and was in an alliance with them. He was only killed because Kenny was never told Charlie was on their side. Jim then sends Tom to retrieve the money but finds it has disappeared. When the gang are about to shoot him in anger, they are all ambushed by the Sheriff and his Deputies, who have found Karen. The Sheriff, having recently lost his bid for reelection, now doesn't care any more about justice and intends to keep the money for himself, Wayne, Phil and Hank, who has now joined them from the dam.
Mr Mehlor and Ray are killed in the shoot out, and Jim and Tom escape in a boat, finding sanctuary in the church. Wayne takes Karen back to her house, with the intention of raping her. The others try to force Tom and Jim out by throwing petrol bombs on the roof, but instead are forced to drive through the stained glassed windows. At Karen's house, Karen manages to stab Wayne with her penknife, killing him. In the church, a shoot out occurs, and at one point Tom and Phil come face to face, but Phil cannot bring himself to shoot him. Hank then shoots Phil, thinking he's a coward.
The dam overtopping alarm sounds, alerting the town that the dam is going to fail. Offering a deal, the Sheriff says Tom and Jim should let Hank and him go with a couple of the moneybags. Tom agrees, yet Jim does not. Instead, Tom then leaves to try and save Karen, before the Sheriff shoots Jim with a revolver he was hiding, although he isn't badly hurt. The Sheriff and Hank escape in a boat and, when they are forced to go faster to avoid the wave engulfing the town, the Sheriff pushes Hank out of the boat. He then dies after being caught in a gas explosion.
Tom arrives at Karen's house, to find her handcuffed to the banister. He first tries to free her with a saw, then uses Wayne's gun. The water is so high now they have to get onto the roof and are then caught by the Sheriff. Jim, who managed to escape from the church, comes from behind them in a boat. The Sheriff shoots at him, disabling the steering, forcing him to go over the roof. As he does so, the engine breaks off and collides with the Sheriff, knocking him into the water. However, he is not dead and tries to shoot Karen as he grabs a moneybag, but Tom and Jim manage to shoot him dead. Tom tells Jim he should leave, just as the State Police arrive. Jim picks up the Sheriff's moneybag and rows away, as Tom tells Karen the fire damage to her church wasn't too bad, and it can be repaired.Morgan Freeman as Jim
Christian Slater as Tom
Randy Quaid as Sheriff Mike Collig
Minnie Driver as Karen
Edward Asner as Uncle Charlie
Michael Goorjian as Kenny
Dann Florek as Mr Mehlor
Ricky Harris as Ray
Mark Rolston as Wayne Bryce
Peter Murnik as Phil
Wayne Duvall as Hank
Richard Dysart as Henry Sears
Betty White as Doreen Sears
The production of the film was a collaborative effort between numerous film studios, one of which was the British Broadcasting Corporation. Christian Slater himself served as co-producer. At one point, John Woo was attached to direct the film, but he left the project to direct Face/Off instead and the project was taken over by Mikael Salomon.
The film was originally titled The Flood, but it was changed because the film-makers did not want audiences to assume it was primarily a disaster film and not a heist-thriller. However, the film still retained that title in numerous other countries.
The film was shot in Huntingburg, Indiana, where the film is set (in reality there is no major river or dam nearby, although there are two reservoirs near the town), as well as a $6 million set in an aircraft hangar in Palmdale, California where the B-1 Lancer bomber was manufactured, and some exteriors in Etobicoke, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
As of April 2016, upon speaking with the Huntingburg City Office, film historian Adam Nichols was informed of and shown a museum located upstairs in the city office where several props, costumes, media, and production stills are displayed featuring this film and the 1992 film A League of Their Own that was also partially filmed in Huntingburg.
The film features the song "Flood" by the Christian rock group Jars of Clay, which launched the band into the mainstream music scene.
Hard Rain opened on Martin Luther King long weekend in 1998 earning fifth place with $7.1 million from Friday to Sunday and $8 million including the holiday Monday. In the end, the film made $19.9 million in the US on a $70 million budget.
The production costs were however remade by high VHS and DVD sales, and some overseas box offices. Due to its poor box office performance in the US, the film was released straight to video in most countries. However, in the UK, a 2004 showing on BBC One was very well received.
The film received polarized reviews, some very positive and some very negative. One example of a positive review was on timeout.com, which favorably compared the plot of Hard Rain to writer Graham Yost's earlier and more financially successful project, Speed, and suggested that it could be considered a spiritual sequel to Speed. Another review, on starpulse.com, praised the action scenes of Hard Rain yet criticized the plot, calling it "mindless" yet "entertaining". Commenting on its commercial performance, Total Film called it the "biggest flop of 1998" but said it deserved to perform better because of its "fun tension-cranking moments".
The film grossed $19.9 million in the US on a $70 million budget, and it has a 29% approval rating based on 42 reviews on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes.