The film, shot in California at an estimated $46 million budget, was theatrically released on May 27, 1994, and earned almost $342 million worldwide against a $46 million budget, making it a huge box office success, despite earning negative reviews from critics. Observers criticized the storyline and tone, which they deemed too adult and mature for family audiences, as well as the casting of O'Donnell as Betty and Taylor as Pearl, but praised its visual effects, costume design, art direction, and Goodman's performance as Fred.
In Bedrock, Slate and Co. executive vice-president Cliff Vandercave and secretary Miss Sharon Stone discuss their plan to swindle the company of its vast fortune and flee, and that they need one of their employees to be responsible for it. Fred Flintstone loans his best friend and neighbor Barney Rubble money so that he and his wife Betty can adopt a child named Bamm-Bamm, who can only pronounce his own name. Although the child is initially difficult to control due to being raised by mastodons, as well as having super strength, he eventually warms up to his new family. Barney vows to repay his friend. Despite his mother-in-law Pearl Slaghoople's objections, Fred's wife Wilma remains supportive of his decision.
Cliff holds an aptitude test, where the worker with the highest mark will become the new vice president of the company. Barney gets the highest score but he switches his paper with Fred, who he knows will fail. Fred receives the promotion, but his first order is to dismiss Barney, since Barney now effectively has the lowest score. Fred doesn't want to fire him, but Vandercave tells Fred if he doesn't fire him, he will fire Barney for him and Fred will be fired too. Fred reluctantly accepts, but does his best to help Barney support his family, even inviting the Rubbles to live with them so that they can rent out their home. However, Fred's job and newfound wealth put a strain on his relationships with Wilma and the Rubbles. Cliff eventually tricks Fred into dismissing the workers, over the objections of his office Dictabird. Later, Barney confronts Fred after seeing worker riots on the news revealing that he switched tests with Fred and the Rubbles move out, despite having nowhere to live. Wilma and Pebbles also move out to her mother's house, leaving Fred behind.
Fred goes to the quarry and realizes his mistake and Cliff's plan, but also finds out that Cliff has manipulated events to make it look as if Fred stole the money, and has reported it to the police. A manhunt for Fred ensues by the police and the workers. Wilma and Betty see this on the news, and break into Slate and Co. to get the Dictabird, the only witness who can clear Fred's name, unaware that Cliff saw them from his office window. As Fred attempts to enter a cave where the workers are seeking refuge, they see through his disguise and attempt to hang him. Barney is almost hanged as well after he admits his part. Fred and Barney reconcile, but before they can be hanged, Wilma and Betty arrive with the Dictabird, who tells them the true story. The workers release Fred and Barney after realizing that Cliff was the one who fired them.
Cliff kidnaps Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm and demands the Dictabird in exchange for the children's safe return. Fred and Barney confront Cliff at the quarry, where Cliff has tied Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm to a huge machine. Though they hand him the Dictabird, Cliff activates the machine to stall them. Barney rescues the children while Fred destroys the machine. The Dictabird escapes from Cliff and lures him back to the quarry, where Miss Stone knocks him out, having had a change of heart after learning that Cliff was planning to betray her. The police arrive and Cliff attempts to flee, but he is petrified by a substance falling from the machine.
With the Dictabird's help, all charges against Fred are dropped, while Miss Stone is arrested as Cliff's accomplice, though Fred is confident she will be granted leniency for helping them stop Cliff. Impressed with the substance that Fred inadvertently created by destroying the machine, Mr. Slate dubs the substance "concrete" in honor of his daughter Concretia and makes plans to produce it with Fred as the president of its division, thus ending the Stone Age. Having realized the negatives of his wealth and status as a vice president, Fred declines and asks that the workers be rehired and given the job benefits he initially set out to achieve, which is granted. As the Flintstones and Rubbles have finally made amends, Fred and Barney get into a humorous quarrel when Fred once again asks Barney for a small amount of money for breakfast.John Goodman as Fred Flintstone
Rick Moranis as Barney Rubble
Elizabeth Perkins as Wilma Flintstone
Rosie O'Donnell as Betty Rubble
Kyle MacLachlan as Cliff Vandercave
Halle Berry as Miss Sharon Stone
Elizabeth Taylor as Pearl Slaghoople
Mel Blanc as Dino (archive audio); Blanc previously supplied the voice of Barney in the original series.
Elaine & Melanie Silver as Pebbles Flintstone
Hlynur & Marinó Sigurðsson as Bamm-Bamm Rubble
Elizabeth Daily provides Bamm-Bamm's voice, though uncredited
Dann Florek as Mr. Slate
Richard Moll as Hoagie
Irwin Keyes as Joe Rockhead
Jim Doughan as Maitre d'
Harvey Korman as the Dictabird (voice); Korman previously voiced the Great Gazoo in the original series.
Jonathan Winters as Grizzled Man, a co-worker of Fred and Barney's
Jack O'Halloran as Yeti
The B-52's as The BC-52's
Jean Vander Pyl as Mrs. Feldspar; Vander Pyl previously voiced Wilma in the original series.
Laraine Newman as Susan Rock
Jay Leno as a talk show host
William Hanna as a boardroom executive
Joseph Barbera as a man driving a Mersandes
Sam Raimi as Cliff Vandercave look-alike
In 1985, producers Keith Barish and Joel Silver bought the rights for a live-action feature film version of The Flintstones and commissioned Steven E. de Souza to write a script with Richard Donner hired to direct. De Souza's script was eventually rejected and Mitch Markowitz was hired to write a script. Said to be a cross of The Grapes of Wrath, Markowitz commented that "I don't even remember it that well, but Fred and Barney leave their town during a terrible depression and go across the country, or whatever that damn prehistoric thing is, looking for jobs. They wind up in trailer parks trying to keep their families together. They exhibit moments of heroism and poignancy". Markowitz's version was apparently too sentimental for director Donner, who disliked it. Eventually, the rights were bought by Amblin Entertainment and Steven Spielberg who, after working with Goodman on Always, was determined to cast him in the lead as Fred. Brian Levant was hired as director, knowing he was the right person because of his love for the original series. They knew he was an avid fan of the series because of his Flintstones items collection and the knowledge he had from the series.
When Levant was hired, all previous scripts were thrown out. Levant then recruited what he called an "all-star writing team" which consisted of his writer friends from television shows such as Family Ties, Night Court, and Happy Days. "This is a sitcom on steroids", said Levant. "We were just trying to improve it." Dubbed the Flintstone Eight, the group wrote a new draft but four more round table sessions ensued, each of which was attended by new talent. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel took home a reported $100,000 for just two days work. Rick Moranis was also present at Levant's roundtables, and later described the film as "one of those scripts that had about 18 writers". The effects for Dino, Dictabird, and the other prehistoric creatures were provided by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Actors John Candy, Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase were all considered for the role of Fred Flintstone, but John Candy had died before production began, the last four actors were all deemed too skinny and a fat suit was deemed too inappropriate to be used. If Goodman had turned the role down, the film would not have been made. Geena Davis, Faith Ford, and Catherine O'Hara were all considered for the role of Wilma. Elizabeth Perkins won the role. Danny DeVito was the original first choice for Barney, but he turned down the role as he felt he was too gruff to do the character properly and reportedly suggested Rick Moranis for the role. DeVito was also considered for Fred Flintstone. Although Janine Turner was considered, Rosie O'Donnell won the role of Betty Rubble with her impersonation of the cartoon character's signature giggle. Both Tracey Ullman and Daphne Zuniga were also considered for the role. Sharon Stone was to play her namesake character, but turned it down because of scheduling conflicts. The role was also offered to Nicole Kidman. Anna Nicole Smith was also considered. Both Audrey Meadows and Elizabeth Montgomery were considered for the role of Pearl Slaghoople.
The film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 23% "Rotten" rating based on 44 reviews with an average rating of 3.7/10. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 38 out of 100, which indicates "generally unfavorable reviews", based on 15 reviews. On Siskel and Ebert, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two marginal thumbs down. They both mentioned that its main story lines (embezzlement, mother-in-law problems, office politics and extra-marital affairs) were storylines for adult films, and ones that children would not be able to understand. However, many critics praised the film's look, faithfulness to the cartoon, Rosanna Norton's costume designs and Goodman's performance. A few reviews were positive, including Time Magazine which said "The Flintstones is fun", and Joel Siegel from Good Morning America who called the film "pre-historical, hysterical... great fun".
Despite the negative reviews, The Flintstones was a box office success, grossing $130,531,208 domestically, including the $37,182,745 it made during its 4-day Memorial Day opening weekend in 1994. It performed even better internationally, making another $211,100,000 overseas, for a total of $341,631,208 worldwide, against a $46 million budget.
O'Donnell won the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance in this film. The film also won Worst Screenplay and was nominated for two others: Taylor as Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress (the second performance in the film nominated for this award) and for the film as Worst Remake or Sequel. However, the film also received four Saturn Award nominations, including Best Fantasy Film, Best Costume Design and Best Supporting Actress for O'Donnell's and Berry's performances. In a 1997 interview, Joseph Barbera, co-creator of The Flintstones and co-founder of Hanna-Barbera Productions, stated that, although he was impressed by the film's visuals, he felt the story "wasn't as good as I could have made it."
McDonald's marketed a number of Flintstones promotions for the film, including the return of the McRib sandwich and the "Grand Poobah Meal" combo with it, a line of premium glass mugs, and toys based on characters and locations from the film. In the commercials and released items for the Flintstones promotion, McDonald's was renamed "RocDonald's" with stone age imagery, similarly to other businesses and proper names in the Flintstones franchise. A video game based on the film was developed by Ocean software and released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy and Mega Drive/Genesis (Sega Channel exclusive) in 1995. In the United Kingdom, Tetley promoted adverts with audio from the film, including mugs starring characters from the film. Jurassic Park, the name of another movie was also seen briefly as a park in the film.
The film was released, first on VHS and LaserDisc on November 8, 1994 by MCA/Universal Home Video. It later made its debut on DVD on September 24, 1999 and finally to Blu-ray on August 19, 2014.
A prequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, was released in 2000. The original main cast did not reprise their roles of the characters, though O'Donnell provided the voice of an octopus who gave massages to younger versions of Wilma and Betty. Irwin Keyes returned as Joe Rockhead, the only cast member to reprise his role from the first film. Unlike its predecessor, it disappointed at the box office.