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For those of us that dive and many others with imagination, there is a craving for a good movie in an underwater setting. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many really fine fictional films that have been made. They can be costly to do and require crew and actors with specialized skills. As time goes on the technology is making it easier and quite likely there will be many more produced.
Below is a compilation of 10 that all have a following. Admittedly there may not be a truly great one among them, but they are all entertaining in one way or another whether it be as comedy, adventure, romance, science fiction, animation, or some combination of these genres.
Have you seen any of the reviewed movies before? If so, I’d love to know what you think. It’s certainly a debatable topic. Is this a reasonable list? What is your favorite diving movie? What ideas can you add to the discussion? If you’d like to join in, please post your response in the comments section at the bottom and we can compare notes.
Top 10 Best Diving Movies of All Time (?)
- Thunderball (1965)
- The Deep (1977)
- Open Water (2003)
- Sanctum (2011)
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
- Into the Blue (2005)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
- Men of Honor (2000)
- Fool’s Gold (2008)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
This is the fourth in the iconic James Bond Cold War-era spy films based on the novels by Ian Fleming starring Sean Connery. This complex production was the most expensive of the first four at $9M with a quarter of the film taking place underwater. In this one 007 is in the Bahamas battling S.P.E.C.T.R.E. to recover stolen nuclear warheads which they are using to leverage a ransom and ultimately take over the free world. The underwater scenes that include dozens of divers in a speargun fight are fun and we are shown the diving technology level as well as the romantic swashbuckling lifestyle often depicted by male heroes in that period with Connery at the epitome.
The Deep (1977)
This one is author and screenwriter Peter Benchley’s follow-up to the commercial success of Jaws two years earlier. This time the plot follows vacationers played by Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset who keeps many viewers’ eyes glued to the screen in sexy underwater shots in her clingy T-shirt. Benchley brings back Robert Shaw to go along with two other character stars, Louis Gossett and Eli Wallach. After a storm, Nolte’s character discovers morphine ampoules and Spanish treasure while doing some shallow underwater exploration. This pits the couple against local power brokers and Haitian drug dealers and the dangerous plot thickens. The story takes place in Bermuda but the excellent underwater scenes are filmed near Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands. Benchley follows on the theme of Jaws with a terrifying shark attack. Divers will be interested in the state of the scuba gear used at that time.
Open Water (2003)
This independent film cost only $120,000 to make, received acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, and subsequently was picked up by Lionsgate and grossed $55M – not a bad return. Based loosely on the true story of divers on the Great Barrier Reef, the story was transferred to the Western Hemisphere where it was filmed in the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Grenadines, and Mexico. A couple in an attempt to reinvigorate their relationship go for a diving trip. While on a dive they become separated from the group and when they surface realize that the boat is gone and they are on their own in mid-sea to face the environment, which before long includes sharks. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the ending but suffice it to say terror ensues. Real sharks are used so the filming has an air of authenticity. The movie serves as a good reminder to take all precautions to avoid this sort of situation.
This visually impressive 3D film was co-produced by James Cameron and inspired by a true story of an adventure in an Australian cave system in 1988. In the movie version, the cave is in Papua New Guinea and includes an exploratory group with its leader and his 17-year-old son. A storm floods the caves blocking the exit leading to emotion-packed action and father/son relationship friction as the crew works to find a new way out. Although the site in the movie is Esa’ala Cave in PPG, it is shot in Gold Coast, Australia with cave scenes at Mount Gambler, and all underwater action actually taking place in a huge water tank. As a side note, one of the stunt double divers in the movie died shortly after filming in a situation like that of the movie in one of the Mount Gambler caves.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Bill Murray stars as a world-renowned oceanographer, Steve Zissou, in a tongue-in-cheek presentation of undersea research. Directed by Wes Anderson with an all-star cast, the plot has Steve putting together a new research project and documentary in a mission to find the “jaguar shark” that killed his best friend and lead diver in an earlier mission. Along for the trip are his estranged wife (Anjelica Huston), a youthful airline pilot (Owen Wilson), a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), and others including Jeff Goldblum, and Willem Dafoe. Much of the humor is deadpan when it isn’t silly and the movie which was initially a box office flop has turned into a cult classic. It won’t suit everyone but Murray fans and divers will probably get it.
Into the Blue (2005)
This action thriller set in the Bahamas reminiscent of “The Deep” stars youthful heart-throbs Paul Walker (may he rest in peace) supporting himself at odd jobs as a diver, and Jessica Alba, as a guide in an aquatic theme park. When friends come for a visit they go for a fun dive and find a recently crashed plane with a cargo of cocaine. Lots of beautiful underwater action with numerous sharks highlights the adventure as the two try to exploit the situation without getting killed by the owners of the illicit cargo. It was a box office flop and Jessica Alba won an award for worst actress of the year but you can’t beat the pair for being a hot couple. The bountiful shark action in the movie was made possible by the shark tourism in the Bahamas where there are feeding programs such that the resident sharks are used to being up close and personal with divers without being dangerous (they say).
Finding Nemo (2003)
This computer-animated film by Pixar which was re-released in 3D in 2012 is the charmingly anthropomorphized version of marine life that continues to generate interest in the undersea world. It’s the story of Nemo the clownfish, abducted by a human diver, and the adventure of his dad, Marlin, and his dad’s best friend, Dory, a regal blue tang, to find him. Fortunately, in the end, they are able to rescue him from a dentist’s aquarium and make their way back home again. Top voice talent includes Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, and Brad Garrett, among many.
Men of Honor (2000)
Based on a true story, it’s about Carl Brashear, the first African-American to become a master diver in the U.S. Navy. A sharecropper with a 9th-grade education he joins up in 1950 and pushes through training, racial prejudice, and the amputation of a leg to reach that status. Brashear, played by Cuba Gooding, and his antagonist, played by Robert DeNiro, his trainer and superior in rank, learn to respect each other with the DeNiro character transforming into Brashears champion and suffering a demotion because of it. Receiving mixed reviews, the film provides an interesting look at the institutionalized prejudice and state of hard hat diving in that day.
This light adventure romance stars Mathew McConaughey as Finn Finnegan, a scrambling Bahamas treasure hunter, and Kate Hudson as his wife Tess. Finn has info on a Spanish treasure galleon but has to battle local opponents and financing problems to make it happen, as well as a wife who has about had enough of his failing escapades. Along the way, there are explosions, twists, and turns in the plot, and a lot of beautiful underwater scenes that were actually filmed in Queensland, Australia to avoid the hurricane season in the Bahamas.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Using the top technologies in movie-making of that period, Technicolor and Cinemascope, Walt Disney brings to life the fantastic vision of the 19th century Jules Verne novel. In the story, the seas of that period were not safe with many ships lost reportedly to a sea monster. A warship goes on a mission to find the beast that turns out to be a submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by Captain Nemo. The warship is sunk and the three survivors accompany the sub on a trip some 20,000 leagues under the sea. There are many adventures along the way including a fight with a giant squid. Starring some of the biggest stars from the 1940s and 50s, James Mason, Kirk Douglas, and Peter Lorre, along with Paul Lukas, the movie was an early popularized depiction of the undersea world.
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