Many massive blockbusters focus on epic space ship battles. With special effects showing us crafts capable of time travel across different realities, it’s no wonder we love a good space movie. With this in mind, it’s easy to forget the more humble vessels here down on earth.
Let’s take the unpresuming “boat” as an example. Except this is not a modest vessel and has indeed played the center of some truly awe-inspiring tales over the years. The importance of “the boat” as a means of transportation, is historic in itself. Without boats, how would we have discovered new lands?
The time has come to celebrate this indispensable craft. A vessel that carries people over thousands of miles of wild ocean.
In honor of “the boat,” we give you a collection of some great movies set on, or around, boats of all shapes and sizes.
In in our unbiased opinion, the best boat movies from 20 to 1:
20) Under Siege
Arguably Steven Seagal’s best. Under Siege had everything you could want from a 90’s action movie, set on a boat.
- Terrorist attack: Check.
- Missing nuclear warheads: Check.
- Only one man can stop them: Check.
Add to this mix some iconic actors, such as Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey. Their eccentric and explosive villainous performances are well worth the price of admission. But, can only add to the result of a solid action story.
The USS Missouri is an iconic ship. It saw combat during World War II, again in the Korean War, and yet again in the 1991 Iraq War. Finally, the battleship retired. Only to become a boat museum in the infamous Pearl Harbor. At the time of the film, the Missouri was not yet decommissioned. This resulted in all shots, other than the opening scene, to be filmed upon the USS Alabama. Don’t worry, you won’t notice the difference.
A movie inspired by a real-life bomb threat to the Elizabeth II ship, in 1972. This tense and explosive thriller did a great job of keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s a classic ransom demand scenario. A team of crack bomb disposal experts must find and disarm several bombs hidden on the SS Britannic.
The onboard suspense is matched neatly with dry-land detectives. These roles come in the form of Anthony Hopkins and John McLeod. Their job is to unravel the mystery of who’s behind it all.
A fast-paced thriller that is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
18) Pirate Radio
Pirate radio broadcasts were all the rage in 1966, Great Britain. Some took the concept literally and broadcast from way out at sea. These were the rebels who played rock music that no BBC radio station would touch. With liberated speech, they announced things that you’d never hear from any respectable DJ on air. That’s exactly what made them so wildly popular.
In this vein, the movie features a ragtag bunch of DJs and their staffers. This is a team that follows no rules but their own. As they swear on the radio, get drunk and generally have a good time, you will be riveted.
So, why were they so successful?
Their soundtracks were amazing, just as they are in this movie.
17) The Caine Mutiny
The movie that gave Michael Caine his stage name.
The Caine Mutiny; is still recognized as having one of the best courtroom scenes of all time. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, by Herman Wouk, it depicts a mutiny aboard the fictional World War II vessel, The USS Caine.
Other actors of fame also influence the movie. Try the infamous Humphrey Bogart who plays Lieutenant Commander Phillip Francis Queeg. His role is considered one of the best villains in American movie history. Queeg’s paranoid delusions and bullying demeanor, inspire his men to remove him from power.
Thanks to the all-round incredible performances, this is a screenplay that will keep you on your toes.
The Caine Mutiny is as thrilling as any movie set out at sea.
Houseboat, is a story of romance and intrigue. A widower and his three children live in a dilapidated houseboat. Along with the family is their new nanny. Nanny comes in the form of an Italian socialite, in disguise, trying to escape an overbearing father.
This is a movie that manages to juggle the themes of loss, and a child’s reaction to divorce. Though, it never loses its warmth or its comedic value.
The kids are delightful and Cary Grant is, as always, utterly charming. For those of you who have always dreamt of living on a boat, probably don’t want to pick a boat like this one.
If you ask ten people what Great Britain’s finest military hour is, you’ll get ten different answers. What you can be sure of is, that at least one of them will be the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”
This is a story of 338,000 soldiers rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. As that is happening, the German armies advance on their position. It’s a feat that could never have been achieved without the courage and willingness of sacrifice. With 850 civilian boats that sailed to the rescue, The Little Ships of Dunkirk won the day.
Christopher Nolan gives us an epic performance. He encapsulates the desperation of the British and French soldiers trapped on the Beach. Exhausted and hungry, they were also terrified they would never see home again. This is a tale of bravery from the hundreds of volunteer captains willing to risk everything for their compatriots.
What makes this so amazing, is that it’s real!
14) Life of Pi
Heart-breaking and uplifting, all at once. A movie that tells the story of an Indian man named “Pi,” and his faithful friend, Richard Parker. Their ship to Canada sinks in the Mariana Trench. And, so begins their struggle to survive on a lifeboat drifting upon the vast ocean. It’s also a tale with a twist: Richard Parker is, in fact, a Bengal tiger.
Along their arduous journey of survival, they face many hardships and difficulties together. The result is an unbreakable bond that is as beautiful as it is unexpected.
Ang Lee won the Academy Award for Best Director in Life of Pi, and it was well deserved. This is a movie that allows you to enjoy a powerful experience of friendship and life, out in a boat upon the high seas.
13) Dead Calm
Is there a better setting for a psychological thriller than out on the open seas?
Isolated and alone with no help for miles around, is not an ideal situation for running into a deranged serial killer!
This is what befalls John and Rae Ingram, a married couple trying to escape a tragic truth. They hope to experience the calmness and serenity of life on the open waters. Instead, they’re confronted by a vicious killer who takes over their yacht. The couple must use every ounce of their cunning and survival instincts to overcome him.
Let’s hope it doesn’t put you off owning your own yacht!
12) All is Lost
Robert Redford gives a powerhouse performance in a role with very little dialogue. Like many great films set on boats, “All is Lost” is about the will to survive. One must use one’s own ingenuity in utilizing every available resource to overcome the fatal situation. Along with the constant need to keep your head above water (pun intended).
Redford is credited simply as “Our Man.” Watching him scramble about his stricken yacht as he fights to keep it seaworthy, is, frankly, exhausting.
A unique viewing experience, and one that any lover of the oceans should take the time to watch.
11) Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
What a cultural phenomenon this movie was when released in 2003. The series went on to span six films that grossed over 4.5 billion dollars worldwide. Sure, they went downhill as the sequels kept coming, but the first few films are outstanding.
It’s hard to imagine that all this came from a theme park ride!
A swashbuckling tale that contains everything you could want from a Pirates’ movie. It gives you a leering pantomime villain, a beautiful and capable damsel, and a hero with a heart of gold. And, of course, there’s the indefinable Captain Jack Sparrow. A role widely regarded as one of the best movie characters of all time.
The Black Pearl itself is a beautifully rendered ship. A ship that will have any pirate aficionados cooing.
10) Captain Phillips
Captain Richard Phillip’s cargo ship, the “MV Maersk Alabama,” was hijacked by Somalian pirates in April 2009. This is the incredible tale of real-life bravery in a dangerous situation.
Captain Phillips finds himself held hostage by pirates. They are trying to escape the US Navy in his hijacked ship. Paul Greengrass brings his distinctive directing style to this movie. He pairs a heart-stopping thriller with an interesting take on globalization.
The excellent Tom Hanks brings a real vulnerability to his role. Newcomer, Barkhad Abdi’s performance, as the pirate leader Muse, earned him an Oscar nomination. A movie with outstanding acting.
9) The Poseidon Adventure
Disaster flicks are a much-enjoyed genre in Hollywood. The movie, The Poseidon Adventure, does not disappoint.
A nightmare scenario that drives the ship’s passengers and crew, as they find themselves trapped in an upside ship.
The S.S. Poseidon is an ocean liner on a New Year’s Eve party cruise. As passengers celebrate they are oblivious to a tsunami causing an undersea earthquake. That is until it hits the ship, turning it the wrong way around. A group of survivors make their way through the capsized ship, in a mission to escape through the “hull.”
Braving terrors, such as flooding corridors and raging infernos hit them around every corner. The cast does a remarkable job of conveying such terror. Gene Hackman received a Bafta for his role. Shelley Winters earned a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
The cinematography convinces the audience to feel the claustrophobia on a sinking ship. Best of all, it works a treat.
8) African Queen
Set in Africa at the onset of World War I, The African Queen is a steam-powered boat sailing down the Ulanga River. In an attempt to escape the German forces, the captain is inspired by a passenger to attack a German warship.
This is one of those, “against the odds,” kinda mission.
This is exactly the kind of underdog story that inspired so many to victory during the two world wars.
Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn are at the height of their Hollywood careers in this dramatic war story.
7) The Old Man and the Sea
Ernest Hemingway’s final fictional masterpiece, before he died in 1961.
A story of a Cuban fisherman, who’s caught nothing for 84 days. On the 85th day, he manages to hook the largest Marlin he’s ever seen. Unable to control the beast, it drags him out to sea and there the adventure begins. As he leaves behind the land, the Old Man reminisces upon his life.
Man vs Nature is often depicted as an epic battle, but this is far more nuanced, and a take on the power of the sea. Spencer Tracy is excellent in the leading role, being nominated for an Oscar.
6) The Perfect Storm
Based on a real event, this is a combination of several storms that hit the East Coast of the US, killing thirteen people. The terrible deaths include six fishermen on their boat, the Andrea Gail. The fishermen and their boat form the focal point of the movie.
It depicts a chillingly, realistic version of life on a fishing boat during a horrific storm. The unique special effects make you feel as if you’re there, right inside the eye of the storm.
The cast performs admirably, with raw emotions displayed for all to see. George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg contribute to the inevitable ending. Which makes it all the more devastating for knowing such brave characters.
5) Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Russel Crowe plays Jack Aubrey, a real-life captain of the HMS Surprise. The corvette is in service during the Napoleonic Wars. Aubrey has the seemingly impossible task of sinking the Archeron, a far bigger and faster vessel. The tale plays out in the Atlantic Ocean, off South America.
This movie is praised as a near-perfect portrayal of sea life, and British Naval protocol. Be prepared for spectacular battle sequences. This is a must-watch for anyone interested in naval warfare.
4) The Bounty
The third movie to depict the real-life mutiny aboard the HMS Bounty in 1789, but this one is regarded as the best.
Anthony Hopkins brings a level of flair and complexity to the role of William Bligh. His unyielding commitment to duty is highlighted above all else. Hopkins heads an all-round brilliant cast. You will experience strong performances from Mel Gibson, Bernard Hill, Liam Neeson, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
A beautifully shot movie with stunning cinematography. You can practically feel the warmth of the sunlight on your skin.
3) Battleship Potemkin
Shot by Soviet director, Sergei Eisenstein. Battleship Potemkin is a masterpiece of International Cinema.
Depicted, in five parts, it is about a mutiny aboard the Russian battleship, Potemkin, in 1905. When a serviceman complains of maggots in his soup, he is promptly executed. This leads to an uprising in nearby Odessa, against the Tsarist government.
A movie about revolutionary spirit. Top that off with fighting against unjust and corrupt systems, and overcoming a centuries-old corrupt regime.
This is one of the most celebrated pieces of historical cinema in history. Truly, a stunning piece of work.
A suspense-filled blockbuster by Steven Spielberg.
A monster movie that is so much more.
A move that changed the face of cinema forever, and made many think twice before swimming in the sea.
When a huge great white shark roams the sea around Amity Island, it appears to indiscriminately kill and eat humans. The local sheriff leads three men on a Fishing boat, called Orca, to capture and kill the beast.
Jaws was so terrifying that it was credited with creating an irrational fear of sharks. A panicked terror, that has lingered on for decades after its release.
The Titanic was an absolute mammoth of a ship. It seems only fitting that a movie adaptation is also done on such a huge scale. A movie that earned over 2 billion dollars in cinemas worldwide. The Titanic is still is the third-highest box office movie of all time.
The story of the RMS Titanic is indisputably the most notorious of any ship that has sailed. It includes a love tale as epic as Romeo and Juliet. Though the two lovers are doomed from the beginning. It turns out that they have more than their secret love for one another to worry about.
James Cameron expertly recreates the Titanic in all its elegance. From the majestic ballrooms to the luxurious cabins. Moving down to the less glamorous decks for the underclasses. Finishing deep down in the underbelly, where coal trimmers toiled in unbearable heat. These workers powered the gargantuan vessel.
Titanic is an emotionally powerful depiction that pulls no punches. A movie that left many in tears, but also in awe.
Conclusion: The Best Boat Movies
And there you have it…
From real-life tales of inspiring resilience. To horror stories where the protagonist faces insurmountable odds.
There have been many powerful movies set on boats drifting on the tides of emotion as they set out upon the high sea. In many such movies, the boat can easily be mistaken as the protagonist itself. A vessel sailing out into the vast ocean sets a scene that is unlike no other. Such a powerful panorama stimulates feelings of freedom and wonder, while simultaneously creating an atmosphere of terror and isolation.
Needless to say, if you’re looking for a movie set on a boat, there are plenty of quality options to choose from.