sea adventure moviesSince its earliest days, cinema has depicted all sorts of ocean-bound ventures, from maritime and naval expeditions of note, to fantastical voyages based on pre-Columbus myths. For the average person who's accumulative boat experience won't equal more than the odd cruise or holiday ride, films provide that expansive visual entrance into the possibilities of life on the water, with certain titles leaving a huge splash in terms of quality. In our list of the top 10 Sea adventure movies, you won't find any of the Pirates of the Caribbean films; our choices favour a greater breadth of quality, with plenty of attention paid to the working life of seamen.

#1 Das Boot (1981)

Director: Wolfgang Peterson

Cast: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann

Did You Know? The actors of the film were deliberately kept away from the outside, so that they would look as pale as real submarine crews during the filming.

This is easily the best of the German World War II epics and one of the greatest films from the country overall. It was also hugely expensive, with most of the $15 million budget being spent on constructing its cast of U-boats; despite the fact that you rarely see much of the ocean. Whilst it's plagued by the usual historical inaccuracies and differences to the novel, this tense depiction of a U-96 submarine crew is heavily grounded in realism and appreciation for the tolls of this kind of warfare, and made us a lasting fan of its lead actor Jürgen Prochnow even to this day.

#2 The Abyss (1989)

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn

Did You Know? Ed Harris almost drowned whilst filming underwater. His safety diver got hung up on a cable and his regulator was upside down, forcing a camera man to help put it in the correct orientation.

As undersea adventure movies go, The Abyss is a marvel both from the technical and storytelling department. An underwater sci-fi lab thriller set in the Mariana's Trench, the 1993 special edition reminded us of the immersive nature of the special effects, with the original flaws of it's otherwise tense plot actually much improved. Given how much work went into this from every division, it's understandable why James Cameron has such a love for the depths of our oceans, and why this won't be his last appearance on this list...

#3 The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Director: John McTiernan

Cast: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones

Did You Know? A subtle lighting scheme was used to help audiences familiarise with each sub: red for Red October, green for the Alpha class "V.K. Konovalov" and blue for Dallas.

Submarine films have had the royal treatment in cinema, and the crowning achievement has to be The Hunt for Red October. Based on the late, great Tom Clancy's novel, it spins the tale around a Soviet Union nuclear submarine, and the political tensions that arise after its captain defects to the US. It's impossible to say the title without Sean Connery's thick Russian accent poking through, however he's nevertheless commanding in the lead role. Ultimately the show stealer is the plot; a brilliant game of Jenga that keeps you very nicely enthralled till the subs resurface.

#4 Titanic (1997)

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane

Did You Know? At the film's end, a clock on the grand staircase where Rose meets Jack is pointing to 2:20AM: the same time the original ship sank.


There's very little we need to say about this film, being that it's the second highest grossing movie of all time! A love-story, ocean adventure and of course a historical film, the huge expanse of the production leaves a lot for everyone to find enjoyable in this landmark of landlubber cinema. For us, it's the dutiful attention paid to the ship design (both inside and out), with astonishing detail seen in everything from the engine room to the captain's quarters, done with a mix of CG and practical effects.

#5 Life of Pi (2012)

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

Did You Know? Steven Callahan was hired as a "nautical consultant", naturally because of his own ordeal surviving 76 days adrift a rubber lifeboat in the Atlantic.

The most fantastical entry in this list, Life of Pi may offer more escapism than the previous films on this list, but as astonishing water-bound adventures go we could hardly be more impressed. Based on a novel that was said to be un-filmable, this tale of a young Indian 16-year old who lies stranded on the Pacific with a Bengal tiger is engrossing and a cornerstone example of current special effects. It also wonderfully captures the unique, spiritual quality that's inherent in the open ocean.

#6 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

Director: Richard Fleischer

Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas

Did You Know? The nurse shark that appears in the treasure chest scene was unscripted. Underwater personnel tried to warn it off, but the whole ordeal was considered so exciting it was left in the final cut.

One of the early live-action Disney films, 20,000 Leagues is a sea adventure movie of the pulpy, classic variety. Giant sea monsters and steampunk aesthetics may seem somewhat novel now, but back then they were the stuff of spectacle, as were the great lead performances and great-for-their-time effects that would lay the groundwork for future genre films and sea-bound adventures to follow.

#7 Master and Commander (2003)

Director: Peter Weir

Cast: Russel Crow, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd

Did You Know? This was the first movie ever to be shot on the Galapagos Islands.

A boating epic with a distinct human side, this naval ocean adventure is based on the historical novel by Patrick O'Brian, telling the story of Jack Aubrey and his crew of the HMS Surprise. It's a well acted and technically flawless portrayal of life on a Napoleonic-era boat, looking into the complex relationships of the various sailors and even the scientific intrigue that was common of the time. The final battle scene, in our opinion, has yet to be outdone in any future boating bit of celluloid.

#8 The African Queen (1951)

Director: John Huston

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Did You Know? The African Queen herself sank and had to be raised twice during the filming of the movie.


As you can tell from the old-school trailer above, this is 50's cinema at the height of its cheesy brilliance. The story about an old steam ship that's used to ferry supplies in East Africa during World War I is wonderfully done almost in the style of a play, with star performances by Hollywood legends Bogart and Hepburn. A great recommendation for fans of classic movies.

#9 Moby Dick (1956)

Director: John Huston

Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Leo Genn

Did You Know? Orson Welles' one-scene cameo helped to fund his stage production of the very same story.


Another floating epic from our previous director, this version of Moby Dick may not capture every nuance of the novel's depth, but it makes up for it with astonishing amounts of spectacle - largely filmed on location no less. A great chase movie of its time and a passionate retelling that we hope hasn't been too forgotten about.

#10 Sharkwater (2006)

Director: Rob Stewart

Did You Know? The director has won over 50 international awards for this movie.


Our most modern, and perhaps leftfield choice is Rob Stewart's powerful documentary on the plight of modern sharks today, whom he learns are the victims of illegal trade within the marine reserves of Cocos Island, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Part scientific exploration into these dangerous but fascinating sea creatures, and part chase adventure, like the best docs it's eye opening and great food for thought.

You can view our range of sea adventure movies here. What's some of your all time sea adventure movies? Let us know via the Seachest Facebook page, Twitter and on Google+!


Post By Graham