The five greatest shipwreck movies ever made fact and fiction

Dec 8, 2000
It's interesting reading all of the nominations and I've added many of the films above to my list of possibilities next time I'm in the video library - or checking out the late night B&W listings on the ABC. Thank goodness for IMDB! I’d quite forgotten seeing Morning Departure absolute years ago and quite enjoyed the reminder of that one (thanks Dave). Hopefully it will turn up on the ABC as part of the next John Mills fest, after the next repeat of the Kenneth More fest scheduled as the Finch fest (Battle of the River Plate, again, again, again) seems to be coming to an end. Thanks too for the guff on Forever Ealing, Bob: it’s another added to the never ending, ever growing list.

Previously I begged out of naming 'shipwreck films’ as most of the films I've seen (and enjoyed) that involve ships being wrecked/sinking are ‘war films’ (or utter dross, but let’s not go there). For some reason I just didn’t interpret Tarn’s question as covering that angle, even if — as Mike S — put it ‘a shipwreck is a shipwreck’. I also interpreted the question as regarding feature films rather than documentaries (thus discounting Ghosts of the Abyss) or mini series (Shackleton, a series that I’m still enjoying every time I watch it). Given my interpretation, I think I’ve only seen about ten shipwreck films, including the Titanic films, and I’m blowed if I’m putting such works as The Wreck of the Mary Drear on my list. ;)

Er, having read Wouk's novel and many viewings of The Caine Mutiny (owning the video definitely a plus), I can't say that I remember USS Caine actually sinking or being wrecked. She might've come close during the actual 'mutiny' scenes, but that's as far as it went. Great film, though. This means I’ve also discounted films about ships that don’t sink from my list.

However, if war films and mini series are permitted and with the rider that there are already many films listed above that I haven’t seen and I have a very dodgy memory at times, in no particular order:

A Night to Remember (1958)
The Cruel Sea (1953)
Das Boot (1981)
Shackleton (2002)
Titanic (1953)

Tarn, are ‘war films’ permitted as part of the answer to your question? I hope so.

Bob Godfrey

Nov 22, 2002
Fiona, Tarn must be allowing 'war films' as he includes one in his own list.

Dave, 'San Demetrio, London' is a good choice, even though the wreck made it into port! The burning tanker was abandoned from an Atlantic convoy and later re-boarded by some of its crew and brought to the Clyde. Another Ealing production directed (like 'The Cruel Sea') by Charles Frend and made in similar documentary style and featuring both pro and non-pro 'actors'. The real merchant seamen who achieved this feat were awarded £14,000 salvage fees and this acknowledgement from a judge: "It has given me the best working day of my life in listening to the very modest recital of some gallant gentlemen concerning a memorable achievement".

Bob Godfrey

Nov 22, 2002
Concerning the 'Flying Enterprise', back in the '50s the newsreel makers Associated British-Pathe sold a number of 4-minute sequences for home entertainment. One of these was 'the Saga of the Flying Enterprise', which cost 19/6d (ok, call it a quid).

Captain Carlsen, the hero of the day, shunned publicity including an offer of $150,000 for his co-operation in a proposed film. He far preferred to just get on with his job and could never understand what all the fuss was about.

More recently 'The Mystery of Flying Enterprise' is a documentary made in 2002 following the recent discovery of the wreck. The 'mystery' elements involve CIA documents and questions such as 'What was REALLY in the hold?' - hopefully not a mummy!
Dec 8, 2000
Erm, yes Bob. Good point re Tarn's pick of Sink the Bismarck.
Was also reminded last night that I'd completely forgotten about The African Queen.

Hey Tarn - yes, Kenneth Moore played Lightoller in ANTR and Captain Shepard in Sink the Bismarck! Personally I prefer him as Ambrose Claverhouse in Genevieve, but that's not a ship movie. ;)
Feb 14, 2011
Thanks for the info Fiona!

I think I recall seeing the Flying Enterprise footage on the Discovery channel..

She was heeling over to starboard i think..

Pity Capt Picard was not on the bridge...

Tarn Stephanos

Raymond Leggs

Apr 3, 2003
A night to remember
Titanic (1953)
Titanic (1996)
Titanic (1997)
Britannic (2000)
the posiedon adventure
escape under pressure
final voyage

and What about Titanic 2000 I have not seen this but some one said it was a porn film So now I know what it is i will not get it because that is discraseful and the facxt i am under 18 and anyway who ever thought about that had a nasty mind

Susan L. Romanyuk

>>Tarn: I rather enjoyed the Black Beauty' film, where a ficticious liner named the Drake went to the bottom... <<

That movie was the Black Stallion and Alec Ramsey and a very poorly dyed black arabian horse!

As these are all great films I will not put them in top down order as they are all equal. As far as shipwreck films go:

ANTR; SOS Titanic; Titanic 1953; Titanic 97; Titanic 96; The Last Voyage; Poseidon Adventure;
Pearl Harbor (the ship turning over); Shackleton (the ship sinking under the ice-pack)

That was a long list but I want to add one more: Last week I just got 'Sink the Bismark' on DVD and found that it is a very well made movie! Plus there are a lot of actors from ANTR in the film: Kenneth More (Lightoller; ANTR), Laurence Naismith (Capt Smith; ANTR), Michael Goodlife (Thomas Andrews; ANTR) to name a few.

Anita Casey-Reed

OK - I have to put my two cents worth in. I'll agree completely with ANTR, Sink the Bismarck, Shackleton and The Enemy Below. But my favorite shipwreck movie is "Action in the North Atlantic". Granted, the shipwreck happens in the first 15 minutes, then the rest of the film is about the next voyage, but it's an unheralded WWII gem with Bogart as the first officer on a merchant marine ship taking tanks and oil to the Russians through the Nazi wolf pack. WORTH SEEING!!!
Feb 21, 2003
I am going to add one more to my list of favorite ship (well boat) wreck films. The film 'The Perfect Storm' about the Andrea Gail is a true story about the Holloween Gale of 1991. Though there was a lot of Hollywood license involved in the film, the storm sequences and the sinking scene is worth it. It may have been a boat, but there were also ships damaged in this storm too.

Nick Rose

Feb 4, 2006
1.Titanic ('97)
2.Raise the Titanic ('80) didnt see this on anyone's list
3.Britannic ('00)
4.Night to Remember ('58)
5.tie between Posiedon and Titanic ('53)

Jerry Nuovo

Jan 22, 2010
New Jersey,USA
1.A Night to Remember (1958) 2.Titanic (1997) 3.The Poseidon Adventure (1972) 4.S.O.S.Titanic (1979) 5.Titanic (1953) Honorable mention to Sink the Bismarck (1960) Sincerely,Jerry Nuovo
Nov 30, 2000
1. "Titanic" (1953. 1996 or 1997? God NO.)

THE film that eloquently captures the legendary RMS Titanic.
God love Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck!

2. "A Night To Remember"

THE film that captures the RMS Titanic of history -so what about the simple special effects!-, especially her human dimension.
God love Kenneth More, Laurence Naismith, David McCallum, etc.!

3. "The Posideon Adventure."

The ULTIMATE fictional sea disaster. God love Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgenine, Eric Shea, etc.!
Ditto scenes shot on RMS Queen Mary!!!!

4. "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

The scens of the destruction of Battleship Row are an eloquent testimony to the folly of underestimating an enemy in wartime and are as haunting an image as the ones of the destruction of the World Trade Center.
I always pay special attention to the USS Arizona: I knew one of her survivors when I was a young boy.

5. "Lifeboat"

Alfred Hitchcock at his level best.

6. "The Last Survivors"

Martin Sheen can do way more than Jeb Bartlett. In fact, he is completely opposite from Bartlett in this gripping drama about an overloaded lifeboat adrift after a ship -the S.S. Liberty Towers- goes down in a storm. Features a chilling sinking sequence, emotion-charged survival scenes, and even Sheen's character on trial for murder due to his orders to put the weak and infirm overboard during a storm.
Remake of an original flic, btw. Can't recall the title.

7. "Gray Lady Down."

Charlton Heston may be outspoken in politics, but he is a fine actor regardless. He shines in this film as the commanding officer of a nucular sub who is almost home from his last sea duty when his boat is rammed by accident by a freighter and goes down with half the crew dead and the rest in need of rescue. Stacy Keach and David Carridine also star, as well as a future Superman -Christopher Reeve- and a future Superman villian- Ned Beatty (played Lex L.'s sidekick Otis in first two flics).
Incidentally, Keach later played a Navy captain
whose ship was sunk by a Japanese sub during WWII: the USS Indianapolis.
It was in the made-for-tv drama "The Mission Of The Shark". (I have not seen this flic yet, so I include it here because Keach played a Navy officer in GLD.)

8. "Goliath Awaits."

"CHILLING, HAUNTING, HARD TO FORGET!" are the words that come to mind to describe this drama depicting an ocean liner -the RMS Goliath- which is sunk during WWII by a German sub...that is later found to house a colony spawned by the original survivors who found an air pocket on the ship! Christopher Lee can do way more than Dracula or Lord of the Rings: he is memorable in this as the leader of the colony. Mark Harmon and Eddie Albet also excell in this story.

Nov 30, 2000
Oops! I forgot two:

9: "The Perfect Storm"

As classic an adpatation from a book as "ANTR".
George Clooney and Mark Walhberg star in this true-life drama centering around a fishing boat -the Adrea Gail- that in 1991 during the "Halloween Storm" on the east coast met the same fate then S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald did in November of 1975 on Lake Superior: lost with all hands.
Has the same feel for the human dimension of the story as "ANTR" did Titanic's, not to mention incredible storm sequences. Loss of Andrea Gail is VERY tastefully done with high respect paid to the Gail's crew (indeed, it was as tastefully done as the deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the end of George Roy Hill's movie of the same title.
I will always remember how one of the Gail's crew notes how his death will be hard on his little boy...
God rest their souls!)

10: "SOS Titanic"

While not as crisp as "ANTR" or "TPS", this re-enactment of the Titanic disaster is still a close second to "ANTR" and the second -and last- film to-date that attempted to tell the story from strictly a factual point of view without the makers loosing their minds to outlandish fantasy. Only Big T drama that I know of that shows the wave kicked up by the final plunge at the terrible climax of the disaster (one groan for the footage recycled from "ANTR", but then again, it WAS shot on a shoestring budget!)

Jul 11, 2001
#1, Titanic 1997. Despite fictional love story, a visual masterpiece!

#2, A Night To Remember. 1958. What a shame it wasn't filmed in color!

#3, Poseiden Adventure, 1972. A great cast, a great concept!

#4, Juggernaut, 1974. Mostly forgotten about film featuring Terrorist take over of a cruise ship. Stars Richard Harris, Omar Sharif and Anthony Hopkins.

#5, Goliath Awaits. Far fetched plot, but interesting nonetheless.

#6, Last Voyage, 1960. Good film if you can stand listening to that kid screaming every 2 minutes! Even has a reference made to the Titanic just before the explosion!

#7, SOS Titanic, 1979. Nice try, but Queen Mary set spoiled it for me.

#8, Titanic 1953. Ugh, silly fictional story line and poor interior sets. Look how much better ANTR was in accuracy.

#9, CBS Titanic mini-series. 1997? Horrible. Bad acting, bad casting, bad script, cheesy computer generated special effects. I probably wouldn't watch it if ever rerun.
Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
Since nobody seems to have mentioned it, I'd like to point to James Cameron's documentary production on the Bismark, which featured footage from the wreck site itself, and one of the very best descriptions I've ever seen on how naval gunnery actually worked in World War Two era ship to ship combat.

Matt Endacott

My top fav film - not only of a shipwreck but in all would HAVE to be TITANIC 1997. I feel it has been one of the greatest movies in history and nothing since has equaled its splendor.
When it comes to accuracy, this films tops them all, aswell as acting.
I feel it has also boosted interest in the ship and brought it into a new era. It's happy to see in the age of computers and electronics the old Titanic is still popular & earning the same respect as it did 91years ago.

Matthew Smith

Mar 12, 2006
Mine are deffinately

(1)Titanic (by James Cameron) 1997
The sheer accuracy and scale of the sets in this film cannot be matched, and the activities of the actual passengers and crew that lingered on the periphery curiously played second bannana to the main fictional characters.
Despite the fictional love story element, the film is breathtaking, and is a historic drama, adventure,romance and action film all rolled into one. (Well, this film did get me into Titanic and I just love it. My fave by far.)

(2)A Night To Remember- 1958- This film was a very accurate retelling of Walter Lord's book, and proved that fact is much more interesting than fancy.

(3) "The Last Voyage",1960
starring the late Robert Stack and the Ille De France. What is breathtaking about this film was that the legendary French liner Ille de France was used as a floating set, and was partially sunk during the film. The French were so insesnsed that the name of the vessel was changed to the "Clarendon". Hands down the most accurate shipwreck film, as a real liner was sunk.

(4) "The Poseidon Adventure"-
Always a favorite fictional shipwreck tale, filmed on the Queen mary, the 'Poseidon' was capsized by a psunami, and a handful of survivors trapped in airpockets try to make it to the propellor shaft where the hull is thinnest. How they initially planned to break out of the hull once at that desitnation was never explored. Ernest Borgnine was particulary good as the resident jerk every adventure film must feature...

(4)Sink The Bismark! -
This classic film detailing the pursuit and sinking of the great German battleship Bismark is certainly the best film detailng the loss of a military vessel.

Jon Meadows

Haven't seen Sink the Bismark yet. I've got it but haven't had a chance to watch it.

Barring that, I'd have to say:

1) A Night to Remember - Gripping and likeable...even if some of the sets are inaccurate and the ship doesn't break up.

2) Titanic (1997) - Great reproductions of the interiors. So what if some are larger size and there is more light on deck? It's still gorgeous to look at.

3) The Poseidon Adventure - I'm in love with Stella Stevens.

4) Raise the Titanic - Most of the movie isn't all that great. But when they raise the ship, and when it bursts out of the water bow first, it gives one goosebumps.

5) Goliath Awaits - Cheesy and implausible, but fun to imagine and some good performances (but, I don't include Frank Gorshin and his silly accent).