Whilst humanity’s focus has often been on the skies, be it shooting for the moon and beyond, or looking out for the potential chance of extraterrestrial visitors from far-off galaxies, one great mystery has remained.
Sitting all around us, but still largely unexplored by human beings, the ocean has long been a source of inspiration for stories, novels, films, and art. So without further ado, here is our list for the top five movies set underwater.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
Released in 1954, and produced by Walt Disney, this particular movie might not be the first adaptation of the classic 1870 Jules Verne novel, but it is certainly the most famous.
Following master harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), and the crew of a US Navy frigate tasked with investigating reports of a “sea monster” destroying naval vessels in the Pacific Ocean, the film soon reveals that the monster is in fact the Nautilus, a futuristic submarine constructed and captained by the mysterious Captain Nemo (James Mason) – revealed in the novel to be the son of an Indian raja.
With a cast including Kirk Douglas and James Mason, this film became an instant classic when it was released, grossing more than $8 million in North America, and making it the third most successful film of 1954.
Several differences from the novel (and previous adaptations) are present, such as the Nautilus being powered by atomic energy instead of Verne’s sodium/mercury battery-powered vision, the ornate design of the ship (instead of Verne’s simplistic, streamlined submarine), and the novels subtext of masculinity and class within western, industrialized society was largely glossed over.
But despite this, the story of the charismatic anti-hero Captain Nemo, whose modern, humanitarian outlook, legendary vessel, and vengeful distaste for the British Empire, continues to captivate audiences to this day.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
This comedy drama, written and directed by Wes Anderson (and Noah Baumbach), is as unusual as it is entertaining.
Featuring an all-star cast, including Bill Murray (as the eponymous Steve Zissou), Owen Wilson, and Angelica Huston, The Life Aquatic follows oceanographer Zissou, on a mission of revenge against a jaguar shark that killed his partner and best friend, Esteban Du Plantier.
Setting out on his research vessel, the Belafonte, Zissou and his team of misfit documentary filmmakers plan to catch and defeat the shark, filming its destruction for their latest project.
Encountering dangerous Filipino pirates, rival oceanographers (led by Jeff Goldblum), and familial problems along the way, Zissou’s obsession with the jaguar shark, and somewhat wild lifestyle tackles humanity’s precarious existence, as well as paying homage to Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick.
The Abyss (1989)
Directed by James Cameron, who it is safe to say has his own intense fascination with the ocean, The Abyss offers a unique perspective on the mysteries of the deep.
Centered on a rescue crew in their attempt to save a US submarine that has sunk in the Caribbean, The Abyss explores notions of sacrifice, discovery, and human kindness, as the crew discovers a “non-terrestrial intelligence” aboard the sunken vessel.
Despite their apprehension as to the entity’s intentions, as well as the unprovoked attack by crewman “Coffey” (Michael Biehn), the NTI ultimately saves protagonist “Bud” (Ed Harris) from drowning, and ascends the sunken vessels to the surface, saving many of the crew members.
Based on a short story written by Cameron when he was a child, and paying homage to spiritual forefather H.G.Wells (who wrote a similarly titled story Into The Abyss in 1897), The Abyss’ overriding message of brotherhood through shared curiosity is one that can be enjoyed time and time again.
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
On a somewhat different note to the former, this Renny Harlin-directed action-horror-drama focuses on a crew of scientists at the bottom of the ocean, as they study mako sharks with the hope of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.
However, things go predictably wrong when several hyper-intelligent sharks break free, flood the isolated facility, and go on a killing spree, hunting the terrified crew, and proving that unfortunately, in the world of Hollywood, no good deed goes unpunished.
With a curious cast of characters, featuring Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, rapper LL Cool J, Michael Rappaport, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Samuel L. Jackson in a supporting role, this is an action-packed romp showing the darker side of nautical exploration.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Last, but by no means least, this fan-favorite Pixar installment from 2003 remains fun even twenty years later.
Starring Albert Brooks as clown fish “Marlin”, and Ellen DeGeneres as forgetful regal blue tang “Dory”, the plot sees the pair track down Marlin’s only son “Nemo” (Alexander Gould) after a father-son argument sees him storming (or swimming) off, getting lost, and being unable to find his way home.
The gang encounter all manner of strange characters along the way, getting into various scrapes that include exploding sea mines, blood-crazed vegetarian sharks, and a terrified tank of imprisoned fish, who live in a dentist’s waiting room, scared for their lives of the dreaded “Darla” (the dentist’s young niece).
With an all-star voice cast including Willem DaFoe, Geoffrey Rush, John Ratzenberger, and Barry Humphries as the vegetarian great white shark “Bruce”, and with stunning animations that still set the bar visually and creatively, Finding Nemo is a heartwarming tale suitable for all ages.
And there we have it, our list for the top five films set underwater.
Despite their differences in plot, several things remain the same.
The joy of curiosity, the treasure of discovery, and the importance of friendship all shine through, with specific importance placed on the one, vital fact that the only way for humankind (or indeed fish-kind) to conquer the unpredictable mystery of the ocean, is with a crew of friends by your side.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy our posts on ‘Movies About Toys‘ or ‘Movies About Fairies‘.
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