12 Best Ship Movies of All Time

Ships, yachts, cruisers, there’s something about the open sea that calls to many a person – the adventures of yore, the possibility of taming an untamable force, or maybe just an opportunity to sail out to some quiet and calm waters and enjoy a few moments of silence. Whatever it is, the sea has called out to many people and they have answered. Cinema has effectively captured the various circumstances that can possibly arise on a ship – the pleasures, the possibility of entrapment, the dangers of the sea, the promise of freedom. Here is the list of top movies ever that take place on a ship. And yes, it does include the Tom Hanks pirate ship movie — if that’s what you were thinking. You can also watch some of these best ship movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

12. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

One of Wes Anderson’s finest films, this movie is marked by beautiful storytelling, poignant acting and themes and breathtaking cinematography. Steve Zissou the protagonist played by Bill Murray is an oceanographer who decides to document the movements and destruction of a ‘jaguar shark’ that was responsible for the death of his partner Esteban. Accompanied by a motley crew that includes his estranged wife, Steve Zissou sails into adventures and tries to overcome them. He forms a special bond with Ned, a boy who believes Zissou to be his father. When Ned dies in this quest, Steve undertakes the remainder of the quest alone but on coming face to face with the shark decides to let it live. A deeply moving film that reveals its subtle nuances on repeated viewing, Bill Murray makes his indelible mark as ‘the Zissou’. The ship Belafonte serves as the home and refuge that witnesses the development of Zissou’s character and serves as the primary setting of this excellently made film.

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11. The Perfect Storm (2000)

Wolfgang Petersen makes another entry in this list with yet another film adaptation of a non-fictional event of a natural disaster at sea. The film stars George Clooney as the captain of Andrea Gail. He is a proud swordboat captain and his loyal crew and him embark on a late season fishing expedition. However, when they decide to brave a storm on their way back things go awry terribly and in a tragic turn of events the crew never makes it back. A gripping tale of bravery and camaraderie even in the face of death, this movie also remains a testament to the love of sailing.

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10. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

Starring the likes of Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, this movie is a retelling of the actual mutiny on HMS Bounty. A lot of people enjoy sailing but not many enjoy sailing under a cruel captain. Bligh, an unjust and harsh captain makes life unbearable on HMS Bounty and the movie depicts methodically the mounting atrocities which culminate in the death of Dr. Bacchus and ultimately leads to the mutiny. The crew ultimately save themselves from the grasp of the harsh captain and find their own happiness in this tale of strained relationships and need for unity at sea.

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9. Ship of Fools (1965)

This film directed by Stanley Kramer raised a few eyebrows at the Academy Awards and was nominated in eight categories. The plot follows strained relations at sea and how human relations are formed in an enclosed space over a long period of time. A testament to human conditions with the ship merely serving as a setting, this film still remains one of the finer ship movies to have graced Hollywood and stars Vivien Leigh in her final film role marking an important cinematic moment in film history.

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8. Poseidon (2006)

This disaster film stars Kurt Russell. What’s the worst thing that can happen while you’re enjoying a cruise on a luxury liner – yep you guessed it, a rogue giant wave that sinks your ship. While the plot line is thin, the visual effects are beautiful and got the film nominated for the same category in the 79th Academy Awards. A well-shot film about a group’s escape from a sinking luxury liner, this movie serves to remind us of the dangers out at sea.

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7. In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Directed by Ron Howard this film focuses on the real-life incidents that inspired Melville’s classic literature ‘Moby Dick’. The film is in a flashback format as Melville interviews Thomas Nickerson the last survivor of the whaling ship Essex. The interview brings out the story of Pollard and Chase, the latter played by Chris Hemsworth. The tale goes on to describe their encounter with an albino sperm whale that causes them troubles and drives some stranded crew members to cannibalism. However, this gripping tale is one of coming to terms with the wildness of the sea and its refusal to be tamed and the shared bond if compassion and understanding between man and beast. the film also focuses on issues of human self-preservation and makes it one of the finest ship stories in film.

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6. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

If anyone loves movies about ships, and how they call to the free souls, they will love Jack Sparrow and his love for his vessel, the Black Pearl. The entire franchise is about pirates so there are numerous ships throughout the films but I have chosen this film for a particular purpose. The extraordinarily long movie culminates in one of the most satisfying naval battles between the free-spirited pirates and the English navy that seeks to quash them. The fight between Black Pearl and Davy Jones’ the Dutchman remains etched in one’s memory as an old-school naval battle with cannons blazing. Hoist the colors high and watch this tale of free men who refused to conform to the rules.

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5. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Starring Russel Crowe as Jack Aubrey in this epic war drama made the right waves at the Oscars and won two awards but lost out on other counts to Lord of the Rings. However, the plot is tightly packed with naval chases with the British navy’s HMS Surprise in the trail of French privateer’s ship the Acheron. However, the Acheron gets the upper hand in multiple skirmishes but Aubrey remains hot on the pursuit and the movie ends with the chase still going on as Acheron’s captain tricks Aubrey into believing in his victory on the one occasion that the HMS Surprise actually lives up to its name and surprises Acheron. A finely made film, this movie is a must watch for any lover of ships and war movies.

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4. Captain Phillips (2013)

Tom Hanks plays the titular captain of the boat Mv Maersk Alabama, a merchant ship. The story is based on true incidents and recounts the harrowing details of Phillips being kidnapped by Pirates. The movie shows the dark side of the situation and how piracy is really dangerous for those being robbed. A tale of desperation and reserve in the face of danger, Hanks’ role remains impressive and holds the films to extremely high standards.

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3. The Boat That Rocked (2009)

Often also referred to as Pirate Radio, this movie deals with the freedom that the open seas represent in a unique light. Set in a time in 1996 when pirate radio channels broadcasted rock and pop music that the BBC radio did not, this plot focuses on one such ship and the carefree life of the crew members. The tale that shows the nature of music and how music teaches us to rebel and be free, this ship becomes a doyen of free thought and something that will not conform to censorship. A touching tale that will bring tears to the viewers’ eyes in the portrayal of relationships and the love of music, this movie remains one of the finest ship movies ever made.

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2. Titanic (1997)

It was a tough call between Cameron’s best work till date and Eisenstein’s masterpiece, and Titanic comes a close second when it comes to movies about ships. Perhaps the most recognized vessel name, the plot revolves around the actual sinking of the Titanic in the tragic crash against the iceberg. A film that typecast a Hollywood success formula of a boy meets a girl from different walks of life and an illicit love blossoms against all odds and meets a tragic end, the film is raised to extraordinary levels through Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s acting. Titanic remains the world’s most popular movie about ships and perhaps will for the considerable future.

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1. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein, this silent era Soviet film is one of the finest examples of filmmaking and is a foundational stone in the very art of filmmaking in terms of cinematography and direction. The plot revolves around the mutiny on board the vessel Potemkin around June 1905. Part of the Imperial Navy’s fleet the sailors on board revolt as a sign of support for the revolution taking place in Russia. A stunning visual tale divided into various parts to show the multi-faceted mutiny, this cinema remains one of the most heartwarming narratives of solidarity and is easily the best movie about ships.

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