For some, the ocean brings to mind images of summertime fun in the sun. For others, however, the sea can be a harsh mistress. This harsher side of the briny deep often shows up in film, especially in horror films, action films, and thrillers. In fact, there have been quite a few real-life disasters at sea that have inspired various disaster films over the years.
As humans generally cannot survive in the ocean too long, these stories either take place on a boat or vessel, are very close to a beach, or have some supernatural or animal main characters. Of course, it’s the danger of being lost at sea, and the risk of drowning, that usually makes these films so thrilling.
10 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1950s live-action film from Walt Disney Productions based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name. Three figures, Professor Pierre Aronnax, his assistant Counsel, and master harpooner and sailor Ned Land, embark on an investigation into various sinkings, amidst rumors of sea monster attacks. After an attack, they encounter the Nautilus submarine, with Captain Nemo as its master.
The Disney film is particularly famous for its scene depicting a battle against a giant squid, which occurs near the end of the film. Interestingly, the scene in the original novel actually features a school of “poulpe.” Over the years, the film has also been hailed as an early example of the steampunk genre.
9 The Abyss (1989)
The Abyss is a 1989 film from James Cameron. After a submarine, the USS Montana, sinks in the Caribbean. A recovery team forms, using a private drilling platform known as Deep Core as a base. Soon, the team becomes trapped underwater and cut off from the surface, all the while the threat of a hurricane looms over. However, something possibly even more powerful is in the water: an aquatic species of aliens.
According to the uncut version of the film, these aliens have put the human race on trial, and the sentence could be deadly tsunamis. However, a scene of sacrifice may convince the aquatic beings otherwise, as they may prove to be the team’s only chance at survival.
8 Leviathan (1989)
In Leviathan, geologist Steven Beck is hired as an overseer for an underwater mining operation. The crew soon come across a shipwreck called Leviathan. While researching the wreck, they come across a video log detailing bizarre medical issues that were plaguing the doomed crew. It soon comes to light that there was no accident: the Leviathan was intentionally sunk.
Things start to repeat as the mining crew soon starts to die off. Unfortunately, they aren’t staying dead, as their corpses gradually reanimate as mutants. It comes to light that Leviathan was experimenting with mutagens, and Beck’s crew has been exposed. Soon, a creature is unleashed and it’s hungry for blood. To make things worse, the creature is intelligent enough to attack the air systems to bring about an implosion. Over the years, Leviathan has been compared to other similar science-fiction horror films, like The Thing and Alien. The name Leviathan is no coincidence, as it comes from a sea beast described in Scripture.
7 The Perfect Storm (2000)
The Perfect Storm is a dramatization of the “Perfect Storm” that hit the Atlantic Coast in 1991. Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing boat, embarks on a late-season trip after failing to get a good catch. Disaster first strikes when the ice machines break down, spurring the crew to hurry back home and salvage the catch. Unfortunately, the crew soon finds themselves facing off against a hurricane and two weather fronts.
To make matters worse, a private yacht also gets caught in the hurricane and a rescue helicopter fails to refuel. Even with the Coast Guard getting involved, powerful winds and waves may prove too strong for the ship to be rescued.
6 Life Of Pi (2012)
In Life of Pi, Piscine Molitor Patel, or “Pi,” finds his family set on moving from India to Canada, where they plan on either selling or settling their zoo animals, after the historical event known as “The Emergency.” During their voyage, a storm hits and Pi finds himself put on a lifeboat as he’s separated from his family, who don’t survive the ordeal. Pi wakes up on the boat with a series of animals, until he finds himself alone with a tiger.
The sea offers Pi more and more dangers. Pi attempts to escape with a raft with supplies, only for it to be destroyed by a whale. Even finding an island proves disastrous when Pi finds human remains, implying the island itself is carnivorous. Eventually, Pi and Richard Parker reach Mexico, where, when pressed, Pi offers an alternate version of what happened at sea.
5 47 Meters Down (2017)
In 47 Meters Down, two sisters, Kate and Lisa, are invited to a cage dive in Mexico. Unfortunately, the cage breaks off and, as the title states, end up 47 meters down, right on the sea floor. Disaster seems everywhere. The girls are trapped, oxygen is running out, and there are sharks nearby ready to attack. After seeing a flashlight, Lisa swims out to get help, but a shark attack claims her would-be-rescuer. As if things were made enough, blood attracts more sharks, meaning one attack will lead to more and more.
In the film’s twist ending, it’s revealed that one of the sisters hallucinated events thanks to running low on nitrogen narcosis. Unfortunately, as she is being rescued, she realizes this included her sister escaping along with her.
4 Aquaman (2018)
Aquaman is a superhero film starring Jason Momoa as the eponymous DC superhero. Arthur Curry is born the son of a lighthouse keeper and Atlanna, the queen of Atlantis. However, undersea forces soon capture Atlanna. Years later, Arthur has become known by the alter-ego, Aquaman. Mera, the daughter of King Nereus of Xebel, another underwater faction, seeks Aquaman’s help to stop his half-brother, King Orm, from invading the surface. After initial reluctance, Arthur agrees to help after Orm nearly kills his father with a tsunami.
Arthur’s infamous ability to talk to fish comes in handy during a battle under the water. Not only is he able to turn his enemy’s mounts against their riders, Arthur even gets to summon Karathen, a colossal cross between a kraken and a leviathan, into battle. Eventually, Arthur’s power allows him to take the throne.
3 Jaws (1975)
Based on the novel of the same name, Jaws is set in Amity Island, a New England beach town, plagued by a great white shark. The film even opens with a young woman being dragged to a watery grave by the beast. When keeping the beaches open, as to avoid scaring off tourists, proves deadly, a bounty is placed on the shark. Three figures, police chief Martin Brody, marine scientist Matt Hooper, and shark hunter Quint team up to fight the shark, eventually finding themselves in remote waters. It may take an explosion to take care of the shark once and for all.
Jaws is also notable for being one of the first summer blockbusters, impacting Hollywood’s practices for years to come. The film also gained a few sequels over the years.
2 Titanic (1997)
Titanic is a historical fiction film inspired by the real-life sinking of the RMS Titanic. A research vessel comes across a safe among the wreck of the Titanic, containing a drawing dating back to the day of the ship’s sinking. A woman, Rose Dawson Calvert, comes forward and claims to be the subject of the drawing. Soon, she shares her story of the fateful trip, where she finds love in a poor artist named Jack, despite being pressured to marry into money and maintain her family’s status.
Romance and rivalry, however, have to take a backseat to disaster once the ship hits the iceberg. Even as they end up in the water, Jack manages to help Rose safely onto a wood panel, as he himself dies from the cold. As is a foregone conclusion, Rose survives to the present, all the while keeping Jack in her heart.
1 Das Boot (1981)
Das Boot is a West German film based on the Lothar-Günther Buchheim novel of the same name, based on his own experiences while on the U-96 submarine, during World War II. Despite the trappings of war, the men inside the U-boats are portrayed as ordinary people who don’t have too much faith in the program they’re risking their lives for. The film is especially famous for bringing the claustrophobic nature of a submarine to the silver screen, as the men endure both terror and tedium. After all, what looks like a calm sea can change its tide in an instant.
At the end of the film, most of the crew lose their lives or get wounded during an air raid, as their submarine is lost to the sea. Ultimately, the film shows that one thing that may be more horrifying than the sea is war. Over the years, Das Boot has often been hailed as one of the best German films ever made.