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J.D.'s Top 10 Movies From the Deep

by JD Warnock on May 6, 2008

in Top 10s

Look out kids, here comes summer. A few months back, in desperation for some warm weather, I did a list of Top 10 Hot Movies. In anticipation of a little fun in the sun and some time in a few highly chlorinated, probably recently peed-in public swimming pools here is my list of Top 10 Movies From the Deep: films that take place primarily in, on or under large bodies of water. This is just a favorites list, there are some films that I would defend until my face is blue and then there’s “Deep Blue Sea.” Some of you, with wicked supreme old school monster-movie backgrounds, may be able to enlighten us with some requisite water monster classics, and I’m sure more than a few of you have a number of older films in your pocket that I’m missing – take for instance “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” which I haven’t seen since I was a kid. I’m sure we’re due for a “20,000 Leagues” remake any second now, but in the meantime, here are my current favorite Movies From the Deep.

10. Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) Ghosts of the Abyss Cameron Paxton Titanic

There is no way “Titanic” was going to make this list, however the follow-up documentary which James “King of the World” Cameron made, post his bloated Celine Dion-themed behemoth, was actually quite interesting. The film was narrated by Bill Paxton (who also starred in “Titanic”), and Cameron and co. developed new underwater filming technologies to bring the wreckage of the Titanic to life in 3D. The mysteries of this famous shipwreck are far more illuminating from a historical perspective, minus all the sappy ridiculousness that Cameron poured so copiously all over his Oscar-winning smash-hit.

Old Rose: 1,500 people went into the sea… when Titanic sank from under us… there were twenty boats floating nearby… and only one came back. Six were saved from the water… myself included. *Six*. Out of 1,500. Afterward, the 700 people in the boats had nothing to do but wait… wait to die… wait to live… wait for an absolution… that would never come.

9. Deep Blue Sea (1999) Deep Blue Sea Thomas Jane Samuel L. Jackson

THIS IS A TERRIBLE MOVIE! However, sometimes unintentional humor, sharks, and LL Cool J all mixed together makes for high-end entertainment. Seriously, I can’t defend this film. I would try, but I swear I get a kick out of it because it is so over the top. Directer Renny Harlin is known as much for his big-budget action stinkers as the few (ie: “Cliffhanger” and “Die Hard 2”) that aren’t so bad. I base a great deal of my appreciation of this truly bad-is-good film on the monologue sequence where Samuel L. Jackson gives a tough-as-nails speech about how their going to make it out of the situation and then gets promptly swallowed up like an hors d’oeuvres by a problem-solving Mako shark. The rest of it I blame on LL Cool J.

Russell Franklin: So here’s the riddle. What does an eight thousand pound mako shark with a brain the size of a flat head V8 engine and no natural predators think about?
Carter Blake: Well, I’m not waiting around here to find out!

8. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Wes Anderson Bill Murray

There are few actors who experience a redefinition quite like Bill Murray has in the last decade. From “The Royal Tenenbaums” to “Broken Flowers” to “Lost in Translation” and “Rushmore,” Murray has charted a new course in his work that few actors are capable of or willing to attempt. Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is easily his least accessible film to date with regards to characters and story, but it remains thoroughly intriguing. From an art direction standpoint, the scenes in this film that take place on a doll house-like, cutaway set of the ship, are on par with visionary filmmakers like Michel Gondry and Tim Burton’s finest moments.

Ned Plimpton: I’m gonna fight you, Steve.
Steve Zissou: You never say, “I’m gonna fight you, Steve.” You just smile and act natural, and then you sucker-punch him.
Ned Plimpton: You fight your way, and I’ll fight mine.
Steve Zissou: Oh, listen, Ned. Don’t you try to…
Steve Zissou: I think your Team Zissou ring might’ve caught me on the lip.

7. Lady in the Water (2006) Lady in the Water Paul Giamatti M. Night Shyamalan

This film got a bad rap. Quite possibly because M. Night Shyamalan cast himself as the man who will save the world, but more likely because the film was fundamentally misunderstood – it is a fairy tale. I believe now, as I did when I first watched the film in the theater, that viewed through that lens it is a clever and enjoyable ride with yet another fabulous performance from Paul Giamatti. The girl comes through a swimming pool from a water world below, so technically this counts.

Cleveland Heep: H-how was the movie?
Harry Farber: Sucked
Cleveland Heep: Oh… what a shame.
Harry Farber: Characters were walking around, saying their thoughts out loud. Who does that? And in a typical romance where the couple finally tell each other they love one another in the rain. Why does everyonelike to stand around and talk in the rain in movies?
Cleveland Heep: Um… well maybe it’s a metaphor for purification; starting new.
Harry Farber: No, it’s not!

6. Cast Away (2000) Hanks Cast Away The Deep

This one is the most debatable entry on the From the Deep list, but quite a bit of the film takes place on the ocean. The scenes with Hanks barely escaping a dramatic plane crash, or lying lifeless on what’s left of a makeshift raft being gently prodded by handy whales constitute a film primarily on or entirely surrounded by water. If you’ve ever been overcome by work and stress and given in to the desire to escape to a deserted island in your mind, this film will make you think twice about your aspirations to become Robinson Caruso.

Chuck Noland: We might just make it. Did that thought ever cross your brain? Well regardless I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean, that to stay here and die on this shithole island spending the rest of my life talking to a god damn VOLLEYBALL.

5. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) Master and Commander Russell Crowe Paul Bettany

Despite the presence and star power of Russell Crowe, Austrailian director Peter Weir’s (“Dead Poets Society”) epic about sea captain Jack Aubrey didn’t exactly set any new box office records in 2003. It did, however, garner Weir a Best Director nomination and a Best Picture nomination for the film shot almost entirely on the water. Crowe and co-star Paul Bettany anchor the film with solid performances and obvious chemistry, and the ship-to-ship battle sequences are a thing of wonder.

Capt. Jack Aubrey: I respect your right to disagree with me, but I can only afford one rebel on this ship. I hate it when you talk of the service in this way. It makes me feel so very low. You think I want to flog Nagle? A man who hacked the ropes that sent his mate to his death? Under MY orders? Do you not see? The only things that keep this wooden world together are hard work…
Dr. Stephen Maturin: Jack, the man failed to salute. There’s hierarchies even in nature. There is no disdain in nature. There is no…
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Men must be governed! Often not wisely, but governed nonetheless.
Dr. Stephen Maturin: That’s the excuse of every tyrant in history, from Nero to Bonaparte. I, for one, am opposed to authority. It is an egg of misery and opression.
Capt. Jack Aubrey: You’ve come to the wrong shop for anarchy, brother.

4. Crimson Tide (1995) Crimson Tide Hackman Washington submarines

One of the two submarine films on the list – the one still to come has the better story – but, “Crimson Tide” has better dialogue. Supposedly script-doctored by Quentin Tarantino, “Tide” is a claustrophobic, mutinous adventure with rapid fire dialogue and plot twists that make it one of my favorite military films of all time. Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington are phenomenal bouncing off one another and, if I’m not mistaken, this was my first proper introduction to both Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson) and Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

Capt. Ramsey: You do qualify your remarks. If someone asked me if we should bomb Japan, a simple “Yes.” By all means sir, drop that fucker, twice! I don’t mean to suggest that you’re indecisive, Mr Hunter. Not at all. Just, uh… complicated. ‘course, that’s the way the Navy wants you. Me, they wanted simple.
Hunter: Well, you certainly fooled them, sir.
Capt. Ramsey: Be careful there, Mr Hunter. It’s all I’ve got to rely on, being a simple-minded son of a bitch. Rickover gave me my command, a checklist, a target and a button to push. All I gotta know is how to push it, they tell me when. They seem to want you to know why.
Hunter: I would hope they’d want us all to know why, sir.

3. The Abyss (1989)

James Cameron makes his second appearance on the list at spot number three with “The Abyss.” I remember watching a “making of ” on HBO or Cinemax in high school and thinking, maybe for the first time, about what it would take to shoot a film like “The Abyss.” Special masks were engineered so the actor’s faces would be recognizable during underwater dialogue sequences, they flooded parking lots and built a set inside a grain silo which was then filled with water covered with black beads on the surface to block out all light. I recommend the extended edition of the film with a few extra minutes of the alien plotline that was left out of the theatrical version.

Ensign Monk: Bud, give me a reading from your liquid oxygen gauge.
Virgil: 5 minuts worth
Lindsey Brigman: What?
Alan “Hippy” Carnes: It took him *thirty* minutes just to get down there!
Lindsey Brigman: Bud! Do you hear me? You drop your weights and start back now, Bud. The gauge could be wrong. Do you hear me? Just drop your weights and start back now. The gauge could be wrong! The gauge could be wrong, you drop your weights and start back now!
Virgil: Going to stay awhile

2. The Hunt For Red October (1990) The Hunt for Red October Clancy Connery Baldwin

This is by far the best of the Jack Ryan films based on the novels by Tom Clancy. Unfortunately, “October” star Alec Baldwin chose not to reprise his role as Ryan in future films, turning the part over to Harrison Ford for a few decent films (“Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger”) – and then there was the Affleck incident. The ensemble cast is amazing, with far too many names to list here. The story is top notch, Baldwin and Sean Connery both turn in career-best performances and director John McTiernan of “Die Hard” fame brought it all together into one cohesive action-adventure thriller from the depths. Playing chicken with nuclear submarines is usually going to add some tension.

Jack Ryan: Has he made any Crazy Ivans?
Capt. Bart Mancuso: What difference does that make?
Jack Ryan: Because his next one is going to be to starboard.
Capt. Bart Mancuso: Why? Because his last was to port?
Jack Ryan: No. Because he always goes to starboard in the bottom half of the hour.

1. Jaws (1975) Jaws Movies from the Deep

This is the one that started it all. “Jaws” is the prototype summer blockbuster and the ultimate motivation for an almost genetic fear of all things moving in the deep – which many people, including myself, are entirely familiar with. Even the long list of tragically flawed ‘films from the deep’ that “Jaws” spawned – which include “Alligator,” “Lake Placid,” “Orca,” “Leviathan,” and many, many more – can’t undo the magnificence of Steven Spielberg’s breakout feature. It’s a movie that was so affecting that it put a permanent hex on sharks, the same way the Garden of Eden story has besmirched the reputation of snakes for centuries.

Hooper: Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all. Now, why don’t you take a long, close look at this sign.
Hooper: Those proportions are correct.
Mayor Vaughn: Love to prove that, wouldn’t ya? Get your name into the National Geographic.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 chris May 6, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Vo Ist Das Boot?


2 Brian May 6, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Deep Blue Sea, but no Deep Star Six or Leviathan?! What gives? Classic underwater horror!


3 Reed May 6, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Agree with Chris on Das Boot, and I expected to see Finding Nemo on here. I’m not sure if I would have it on mine. Prolly.

My list would definitely have The Big Blue, but that’s just a personal favorite.

Deep Blue Sea is a perfect #9.

And would Solyaris count? I guess not, but an Ocean does figure prominently in it.

Looking forward to “Top ten movies that ended up redefining a major actress/actor’s career.”


4 Coquito Von Tito May 7, 2008 at 12:50 am

I totally love “Jaws” you’re right, it’s #1.


5 Josh May 7, 2008 at 1:27 pm

solid list. i am actually a big fan of “Sphere” as well… i feel like i am the only one sometimes though.


6 Norville Rogers May 8, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Interesting list…although not a blockbuster, was Open Water should be on this list. Made some heads turn at film festivals, as much for the style of filming (almost appears like on a handy-cam). Great water movie.


7 cleavy May 8, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Fun list JD! Jaws is one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time – it’s just incredible on so many levels. I agree that Lady in the Water was definitely misunderstood – I loved it. And, Deep Blue Sea (as much as you want to hate yourself for it) is really so much fun. I’m a horror movie fan (and shark fan – I actually rented Spring Break Shark Attack), and the Samuel L. scene is one of the last times I had a true jump-scare, followed by uncontollable laughter. In the same vein, Piranha is pretty sweet.


8 conv May 29, 2008 at 5:14 am

No, Josh. You’re not alone.


9 K.G. June 13, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Check out “Below” sometime. An overlooked horror great.


10 Morgan January 12, 2009 at 8:15 am

i flippin love the life aquatic!! and i thought i was the only person who had ever heard of it. its quite possibly my favorite movie of all time, but i think i look at it too deeply


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