Radical sea movies

As the ocean film of the year is released, we count down the best films about the deep blue

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the-deep

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur's haunting The Deep, based on an 80s case in which a shipwrecked fisherman braved impossibly freezing seas to swim to shore, only to be faced by skeptical locals, is set to hit UK cinemas. We look back on other films ocean-awe has spawned.

DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS

The Z-Boys were a group of hardcore surfers in the Santa Monica seaside slum of Dogtown who took to replicating wave-rider stunts on skateboards, revolutionising a fad that had all but died out in the 70s and making it into a hallowed extreme sport – and themselves major celebs. This raw, exuberant doc by former Z-boy Stacy Peralta captures the legacy of these beach town thrill-seekers.

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN

Sergei Eisenstein showed budding propagandists how it's done with this 1925 Russian classic depicting the mutiny of the crew of the battleship Potemkin against their Tsarist officers after they're served up rotten meat. The Kuleshov school's revolutionary Soviet filmmakers were experimenting with editing montages to maximise emotional impact, and sympathy's amped up here for the rebel sailors, which prompted Himmler to ban the SS from attending screenings.

JAWS

It made many scared to even take a bath, and its sensational success set up the Hollywood summer blockbuster model. Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic sees a giant great white terrorise resort town beach-goers, prompting the local police chief to head out into the ocean on its tail with a marine biologist and professional shark hunter. As the art department's mechanical sharks malfunctioned, Spielberg proved the principle that what you can't see is scarier – especially with a minimal, ominous soundtrack to amp up threat.

DRAWING RESTRAINT 9

For its annual journey towards Antarctica, Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru welcomes director Matthew Barney and partner Bjork as guests on board. As a 25-ton hunk of petroleum jelly is cast into a sculpture on deck, the pair – in mammal-hair kimonos – partake in elaborate courting rituals below. Passionately flensing parts off each other's bodies in a jelly tub, they transform from humans into whales. Bjork's atmospheric soundtrack washes over the visually extravagant sea spectacle.

L'AVVENTURA

Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's odd and elegant 1960 masterpiece sees a troubled woman disappear during a Mediterranean boating trip and a romance spark up between her lover and best friend (the legendary Monica Vitti) during the subsequent search. It broke all the cinematic rules of the time with its slow, elliptical style, and has since been widely hailed as one of the best films ever made.

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA

An early instance of steampunk, this 1954 adaptation of Jules Verne's classic Victorian-era novel turns on a warship's journey to determine whether sightings of a giant sea monster that have been striking fear into the hearts of sailors are genuine. Attacking the "monster", the expedition leaders are captured and brought inside what they find to be a large metallic, secretly built submarine – a vessel they then join on several adventures.

THE BIG BLUE

A huge 80s hit in Europe, Luc Besson's epic-length The Big Blue used extensive underwater scenes and a languid score to romanticise the ocean's serenity. It fictionalised the lives of free divers Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, inventing a long sporting rivalry since childhood that culminates in a final contest as to who can dive deeper and longer without scuba-gear. Jacques must choose between his love for free-diving and his passion for a beautiful insurance investigator played by Rosanna Arquette.

POINT BREAK

This 90s Hollywood cult actioner fave saw adrenaline-junkie director Kathryn Bigelow looking to lethally sized ocean waves for the kind of nail-biting thrills she would later harness for warzone cinema. The protagonists here are a gang of surfers who rob banks masked as the Ex-Presidents in operations where they're in and out in 90 seconds. They're infiltrated by an undercover cop (Keanu Reeves), who's increasingly drawn to their thrill-seeker lifestyle, as the "50 year storm" approaches.

LIFEBOAT

As Roman Polanski later did with his lake thriller Knife in the Water, Alfred Hitchcock makes use of a small boat amid a watery expanse to ramp up claustrophobic suspense in this 1944 classic. Brit and US civilians are stuck in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic after their ship and a U-boat sink each other. A German is pulled aboard and denies being an enemy officer. Increasingly desperate in their bid to survive, divisions threaten to explode. Portraying a German in a positive light was radically controversial for the time.

BLACKFISH

In redress to the scaremongering of Jaws, Gabriela Cowperthwaite's harrowing doc Blackfish shows that there are a lot scarier places than the sea for highly sentient, intelligent killer whales. A harsh indictment of SeaWorld entertainment park and its gung-ho approach to its performing creatures, it tells the story of Tilikum, an orca captured off Iceland in the ‘80s. Pushed into psychosis by his confinement in captivity, mishandling and bullying by other whales, he finally killed his trainer.

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