It was a conversation from Dai and her not liking aquatic films that prompted me to create this list just for her. As I gathered the most notable titles in this area, I began to realize that there were alot of water-based films that I really liked. In fact, I’ll go as far to say as “favorites”. Though there is a bit of difficulty when creating a purely aquatic list. That being the level of water use in the film. What capacity, was the horror “water” or what is in the water? All these little details that don’t always align.
So to keep this list within the “right” frame of context, I’m going to call this focus on films that are primarily based around aquatic circumstances. That is, the horror has to be connected to the water and used as a primary location or theme. So for instance “Open Water” is great example, “Dark Water” on the other hand, has it in its title but was actually based in an apartment. So water was used but not as the primary theme of events. I think the aspect of a water film is pretty clear. If I had to list every film that had a lake in it, a cave with water or a body of water nearby, we’d end up with a never ending list.
I’ll save you the exercise of listing every damn shark film, as there really wasn’t but a hand full that are worth mentioning. And sorry for old school fans, I found “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” kind of lame, so he gets moved off.
Here is the other thing. Very few of us, use the term “aquatic” horror (as a search) so that’s best left as a description rather than a title. but if you prefer “aquatic”, then have at it……liquid maybe, nah
Not in ranking order:
01- Jaws (1975)
(and it’s sequel franchise – give or take)
A mainstay in water based films. Great use of score and tension building. The shark was a little cheesy for today’s standards….though it still works as a shocker. Major kudos to the director (Steven Spielberg), Jaws will always have a special place in peoples memory as one of the most frightening water films ever made. It also motivated a cool ride at Universal Studios. My kids will never live that experience down.
02- Open Water (2003) (also had a part 2)
Definitely not the best movie on this list, but its entirely a water based horror movie about being stranded in open water while sharks and starvation add to the tension of being alone. I was reluctant to add this, but if you are seeking 100% water horror, then this one has to go on the list. The movie is shot cheaply, but it does keep things tense for a long time. For that alone, it does just fine. It also gets kudos for an aggressive marketing campaign that managed to sell alot of tickets on this somewhat of a dud.
03-Piranha (1978) | Piranha (2010)
Ok, we got a classic and a successful remake all centered around lake fun and these man eating little vixens of the sea. Since the debut of Piranha 2010, there has been word of a sequel already, most likely followed by another sequel. I don’t know, I’m up for anything that chews up Jerry O’Connell to the bone, even though I don’t want to know what “a major tool” tastes like.
04- Deep Blue Sea (1999)
One of the cooler shark movies. In fact Samuel L. Jackson gets chomped…worth prices of admission alone. Some didn’t care for CGI sharks, but with its strong cast, this movie has been a frequent re-watch for me. I does the best it can for what the film entails. Certainly a better shark movie than many and water is around 24-7.
05- Below (2002)
A unique B movie that surprised a few viewers with a pretty solid storyline. There is not alot to look at, but the presence is felt as this crew begins to come undone at the oceans floor. A subtle but effective ghost story that is set within a 1943 submarine.
06- Sphere (1998)
An excellent hybrid of sci fi and horror. The underwater thriller approaches things bit different with some unique plot twists and the use of great visuals. As a horror film, the best way to describe this one is simply spooky. Sphere goes beyond an “Alien” style premise and really engages the viewer into an intellectual experience. It has survived so long as a choice due its ability to engage without spelling everything out for you.
07- Leviathan (1989)
An older monster classic for the water front. It may not be as hip as new technology films, but it often is mentioned enough to be a favorite on the water front horror aspect. “Levianthan took the place of “Alien” in an underwater form. This mutation would later inspire filsm like “Deep Rising” and such. I think Leviathan was one of the front runenrs that was considered an effective deep sea horror film.
08- Black Water (2007)
A terrifying tale of survival in the mangrove swamps of Northern Australia
Ok, imagine you are on a canoe trip tour into the massive swamps of Northern Australia, then a huge crocodile decides to terrorize you and everyone else. Water everywhere, a few trees to climb into. Not very good odds. Oh ya, your boat is capsized and the crocodile knows that he’s got you if you go for it. What do you do? I would poke him with a stick till he gets so annoyed that he moves on….. well, i would! Oh ya, this crocodile can leap into the air pretty well… I found this much more tense than the films “Rogue” and “Lake Placid”
09- Deep Rising (1998)
Deep tentacle sea monsters emerge from the water and into this lost ship that was taken over by highjackers. This one uses cgi but good cgi that works better than 100 films I’ve seen taking this approach. It’s sort of a fan favorite that deliver pretty good action, war against weird sea monsters and some tasty kill moments to boot.
10- Anaconda (1997) – (it had various sequels, but #1 was best)
Primarily a snake movie, but the horror also comes from a constant interaction with the local river and what’s going to pop out next. There wasn’t t a single moment that a viewer could say, now s a safe time to go into the water. One mean gigantic snake terrorizes this expedition. a fear that we all share. While the snake was the antagonist, the water represented the unknown. The kind tats we want to stay away from. Sorry to those who hated this one, I really though it was cool snake and water thrills.
11- Triangle (2009)
Havoc on open seas, this surreal film plays a nice head trip with time based events. You just have to see it to get the full gist. The synopsis goes like this: “story revolves around the passengers of a yachting trip in the Atlantic Ocean who, when struck by mysterious weather conditions, jump to another ship only to experience greater havoc on the open seas.” One of my favs from this list.
12- Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009)
You’ll hate to love this one, but you just have to. The front runner in the giant monster film resurgence. Asylum just hit the mark on this one stirring up all kinds of future crazy gigantic creatures. The film skips back and forth between cool water CGI moments and cheesy set decor. My 8 year loves this film….just saying.
13- The Deep (1977)
A pair of young vacationers are involved in a dangerous conflict with treasure hunters when they discover a way into a deadly wreck in Bermuda waters. This falls into one of the original deep water terror rides. Haitian black magic, treasures, and morphine…oh my.
14- Dagon (2001)
An H.P Lovecraft story that is really bizarre. Directed by Stuart Gordon, this movie ranks easily in one of my fav HP movies about a group who becomes shipwrecked on Imboca. The locals have abandoned Christianity and have given themselves to the god Dagon. In this process they have also taken on various fish-like deformities ending on a climax of strange denizens and fishy tentacle sporting townsfolk. Just check it out, enuff said – ” We shall dive down through black abysses, and in that lair of the Deep Ones, we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.”
15- Ghost Ship (2002)
C’mon now…Ghost Ship was lot of fun. I especially liked the intro clothesline beheading myself. While it fails to deliver all across the board, it still manages to few a few worthy scares. It is stated as “not” being related to the 1952 film sporting the same name. It also is not to be confused with “Death Ship”. There was a small period that seemed to have special interest in boat movies, this was one of them.
2 Favorites that aren’t really categorized under the horror genre:
The Perfect Storm (2000)
This has got to be my favorite raging seas epic. Mark Wahlberg just simply works in this out to sea action film. Though I must say the threat of those mammoth tidal waves at center of endless ocean and a storm still haunts me to this day. Great Effects and visuals make this a harrowing journey.
The Abyss (1989)
What a perfect film. You got tension, sci fi, aliens, catastrophe and an award winning performance in cast drama in this one. The horror comes later in the paranoia of the deep sea and being down for so long. I think even in its action and drama moments it successfully builds a slow grind of terror. Imagine having to breathe in liquid oxygen and the bizarre effects it would have on you.
The following are additional water based films, that involve water in various capacities. Perfect Storm was added, since big waves coming at you are damn scary!
Beneath Still Waters (2005)
Creepshow 2 (1987)(The Raft episode)
Dead Calm (1989)
Death Ship (1980)
Deep Star Six (1989)
Humanoids From the Deep (1980)
Lake Dead (2007)
Lake Placid (1999)
Lost Voyage (2001)
Red Water (2003)
Sanctum (2011) (adventure, though alot of water parts)
Shark Night 3D (2011)
Swamp Thing (1982)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Deep (1977)
The Fog (1980)
The Island (1980)
The Reeds (2009)
The Reef (2010)
The Rift (1990)
Zombie Lake (1981)
Missed some? Feel free to list your fav water based movies below!
Top 15 Water Based Horror Films