On this list, readers can find action films like Jaws and Waterworld, as well as films aimed at younger audiences, like Moana and Finding Nemo. No matter the exact plot, each featured film demonstrates how powerful the ocean can be in filmmaking. It has the power to transport viewers to an alien world, one filled with sea monsters, talking crabs, lost kingdoms, and more.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Why it was epic: Johnny Depp’s memorable turn as Jack Sparrow

Best moment: Jack escaping his imprisonment

A classic pirate ship, like the ones that feature in Pirates of the Caribbean
A classic pirate ship, like the ones that feature in Pirates of the Caribbean

Over the last years, five Pirates of the Caribbean films have been made. These iconic films feature Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, and Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth Swan. Each has something to offer, and all are elevated by Depp’s humorous depiction of his pirate character. Viewers are taken on journeys around the world, all of which are tinged with the supernatural and take place on the open ocean. Lovers of ocean films are going to be thrilled by the over-the-top sea battles, ocean mythology, and the generally dramatic lives the main characters lead as they sail from adventure to adventure.

Moana

Why it was epic: Incredible soundtrack

Best moment: Maui singing “You’re Welcome”

An island just like the one featured in the movie Moana
An island just like the one featured in the movie Moana

Moana is a well-loved Disney film released in 2016. It features the main character, Moana, who embarks on a mission to save her people. She travels across the ocean along with Maui, a demigod. Together, in classic Disney fashion, they face off against monsters, meet pirates, explore reefs, battle with powerful tides and a deadly ocean. The odds are stacked against them, but the story ends happily with Moana exploring her identity, reuniting with her parents, and taking on the role of Chief and Wayfinder.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Why it was epic: Special effects ahead of their time

Best moment: Fighting the cyclops

This classic 1958 movie has it all. Viewers are treated to swashbuckling heroes, a giant cyclops, and more than a few incredible adventures. The film is based at sea and follows Sinbad as he tries to save the woman he’s meant to marry and prevent a war. He travels to an island of monsters, battles the sea, and the impending war at the same time.

Waterworld

Why it was epic: Breathtaking special effects

Best moment: The Mariner torching the Exxon Valdez

Waterworld is another very interesting addition to this list. It was released in 1995 and featured Kevin Costner as the Mariner. It takes place in the future where the polar ice-caps have melted, and all the landmasses on earth are submerged by water. This means that a new ocean-based culture has had to evolve where everyone fights starvation and fends off attacks from more powerful groups.

Jaws

Why it was epic: Iconic horror that inspired many other films

Best moment: When the beach is cleared after an attack

A great white shark like the one that featured in Jaws
A great white shark like the one that featured in Jaws

No list of ocean movies would be complete without mentioning Jaws. The first Jaws film was released in 1975, and it was followed by several sequels. The original features a man-eating great white shark that plagues a small seaside town, dependent on tourism to fuel its economy. Numerous people lose their lives to this immense creature before a small group of men is sent to hunt and kill the shark.

Finding Nemo

Why it was epic: Perfect combination of comedy and genuine emotion

Best moment: Marlin finding Nemo

A clownfish pokes his head out of an anemone, just like in the movie Finding Nemo.

This is an incredibly popular animated children’s film that was released in 2003. It follows Marlin as he attempts to track down his missing son, Nemo. Along the way, he grudgingly makes friends with Dory, gets into trouble with sharks, and then makes his way into a dentist’s aquarium. The movie is heart-warming and appropriate for the whole family.

Aquaman

Why it was epic: Intense underwater scenes and drama

Best moment: Seeing Jason Mamoa as Aquaman

Powering through the water like the King of Atlantis

Aquaman is one of the newer films on this list, released in 2018 and featuring Jason Momoa as the title character. It is based around the D.C. comic of the same name and is filled with ocean-based adventures and drama. Viewers will be treated to incredible scenes of underwater kingdoms, battles, and an intense, personal drama involving the throne of Atlantis. Contemporary special effects make the entire film wholly believable and a pleasure to watch.

The Little Mermaid

Why it was epic: Really gave a vivid impression of life beneath the waves

Best moment: Ariel singing in her cave

Mermaid in water
The Little Mermaid featured a mermaid exploring both the ocean and land

The Little Mermaid is one of the most popular films Disney has ever made. it takes place almost entirely underwater except for those moments that Ariel pines after her true love, Prince Eric. The movie has a powerful moral message while also providing entertainment that’s suited to the whole family. There are several famous songs from the film and well-loved characters like Sebastian, the crab.

Titanic

Why it was epic: Because it’s based around real events and is emotionally moving throughout

Best moment: The build-up to the collision with the iceberg.

The sunken wreck of the Titanic as featured during the movie.

The story that plays out within Titanic is incredibly well-known. It features classic performances by Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as well as a loose interpretation of the events of the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912. The film is filled with personal dramas set against an intense ocean backdrop. Lovers of disaster films as well as romances will find themselves drawn again and again to this movie. 

Castaway

Why it was epic: Tom Hanks acting as Chuck Noland

Best moment: When he loses Wilson

A similar beach to what the film Castaway looks like
A similar beach to what the film Castaway looks like

Castaway is one of Tom Hanks’ best-known films. He plays Chuck Noland, a man who becomes trapped on an island in the Pacific Ocean. There, he struggles to survive, with his mind intact, before being rescued four years later. Viewers are treated to Hanks’s incredible acting, making the island drama incredibly believable. It’s hard to walk away from this film without wondering what one would do in Noland’s situation.

FAQs

What makes a good ocean film?

A good ocean film is defined by the same parameters as any other film. A thrilling storyline, engaging characters, good acting, effects, and more make a successful film. Viewers should be able to suspend their disbelief and believe while they’re watching that everything on screen could happen. 

What are the characteristics of an ocean film?

An ocean film will take place mainly near, on, or under the ocean. These movies will include ships, pirates, adventure, danger, and perhaps even sea monsters. Anything that can happen on, in, or under the ocean will happen. 

What is the greatest ocean film of all time?

Some believe the greatest film based around the ocean is Jaws. Others might suggest it’s Waterworld or one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. There are many different choices, and each viewer is going to have a different opinion. 

Why are ocean films good?

For many viewers, these films are thrilling because they provide audiences with an escape from the norms of everyday life. Exploring life underwater, on a pirate ship, or on a desert island can be incredibly interesting.