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 best movies that take place on a ship. And yes, it does include the Tom Hanks pirate ship movie — if that’s what you were thinking.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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