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Movies That Take Place Primarily Underwater, Ranked

Updated January 23, 2020 1.4k votes 167 voters 5.0k views21 items

List RulesOnly films set in the ocean. Movies that take place on the high seas ('Titanic,' 'Jaws,' 'Orca,' etc.) but do not have a significant number of scenes underwater do not qualify.

Earth's oceans are deep, vast, and full of mystery. Most of us will never know what it's like to dive thousands of feet below sea level and witness the natural wonders under the surface. Maybe that's why filmgoers are so fascinated by movies about deep sea exploration.

Whether they're submarine stories like The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide, horror tales like Underwater and Deep Blue Sea, or more whimsical films about magical undersea kingdoms like The Little Mermaid and Aquaman, movies set in the ocean give audiences a chance to dive into a world most of us are unfamiliar with.

But which movie in this subgenre (pun intended) goes the deepest? Vote up your favorite underwater films by how deep they travel.

  • What's It About? Marlin (Albert Brooks) is a helicopter parent/widower clownfish whose precocious son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), is captured and dumped in a dentist's office fish tank. As Marlin hunts through the ocean for his missing child, he's joined on the journey by the forgetful royal blue tang fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). 

    Are There Sea Creatures/Monsters? There are whales, electric jellyfish, and some pretty intimidating sharks, but this is a kids movie, so it's never particularly scary.

    How Deep Does It Go? The depth of a clownfish's habitat rarely exceeds 12 meters, or 40 feet. Plus, half the movie takes place in a dentist's office on land. So, we're not talking super-deep here.

    • Actors: Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Eric Bana, Allison Janney, Albert Brooks
    • Released: 2003
    • Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
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  • What's It About? When Soviet submarine commander Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) decides to defect to the United States and hand over the highly advanced sub Red October, only CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) can ensure Ramius and his crew's safety as they attempt to evade capture at the hands of both the Soviet and US Navies.

    Are There Sea Creatures/Monsters? No, unless you think that the simmering tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as the threat of mutually assured destruction, is some sort of metaphorical monster.

    How Deep Does It Go? This is a submarine movie, so you can only go so deep before the pressure compresses your boat. Red October is supposed to be a modified Typhoon-class Soviet sub, meaning that its maximum operational depth would be about 1,300 feet.

    • Actors: Alec Baldwin, Sean Connery, Tim Curry, James Earl Jones, Jeffrey Jones
    • Released: 1990
    • Directed by: John McTiernan
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  • What's It About? Mermaid princess Ariel (Jodi Benson) falls in love with the human Prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes), which causes her to abandon her life under the sea to be (all together, now) a part of his world. Ariel will have to overcome the meddling of evil sea witch Ursula if she wants to avoid becoming a poor, unfortunate soul and live happily ever after with her prince. Will Eric get to kiss the girl? Only one way to find out.

    Are There Sea Creatures/Monsters? The Little Mermaid includes talking fish, a talking crab, a half-woman/half-octopus, and a mermaid.

    How Deep Does It Go? Not deep enough. The undersea scenes are located in relatively shallow depths where familiar fish species thrive, and the whole plot of the movie is about Ariel trying to escape her life underwater. One might even argue that this movie is anti-ocean.

    • Actors: Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Jason Marin
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
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  • What's It About? The inhabitants of an experimental undersea drilling platform discover an alien intelligence while attempting to salvage a sinking submarine. The designer of the platform, Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), volunteers for the salvage mission despite the presence of her soon-to-be ex-husband Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris). Their relationship is tested through various crises related to the underwater alien presence.

    Are There Sea Creatures/Monsters? Yes. Our heroes encounter aliens, though the film refers to them as "non-terrestrial intelligences" (NTIs), which sounds slightly less silly than "UFOs" or "ETs." Alien probes, the famous Water Tentacle, and the butterfly-like NTIs themselves all make appearances.

    How Deep Does It Go? Very, very deep. The movie starts in a trench and only goes deeper, as Lindsey plumbs the depths in search of a wayward missile. Earlier in the film, crew member "Catfish" says the eponymous abyss runs "2½ miles straight down," which is 13,200 feet. Now, that's nowhere near as deep as some underwater spots, but Catfish is presumably counting from the oil rig's location, not the ocean's surface, so it would be deeper still.

    Another crew member, "Hippy," tracks Bud's depth during his final plunge. The last number he calls out is 17,000 feet, but Bud falls a long way further after that. It's possible that Bud goes no further than 25,217 feet, which is the maximum depth of the Cayman Trough, where the movie is supposed to be set.

    Interestingly, Abyss director James Cameron himself did a solo descent to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in 2012, only the second time such a manned descent was ever made. Reaching a depth of 35,756 feet, Cameron went far deeper than Bud could have gone, albeit in a submersible, not a suit. But Cameron didn't see any NTIs down there - just tiny, shrimplike creatures.

    Also, the movie's ending revolves around the power of love conquering all, which is pretty deep when you think about it.

    • Actors: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Chris Elliott, Michael Biehn, J. C. Quinn
    • Released: 1989
    • Directed by: James Cameron
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