I’m a few days away from departing on my very first cruise, which means I’ve been brushing up on sea-themed movies galore in lieu of packing. I figure I can purchase a toothbrush case and dig out my passport at the last minute, but getting into a ship-shape state of mind is more of a long-term endeavor that I’m sure I’ll thank myself for once I’m on the high seas. In my quest to channel the Zen of sea foam through maritime cinema, I’ve realized that most movies set on big ships are either boisterous comedies or epic tragedies; even more striking than this dichotomy is the fact that films from both extremes get me in the mood to sail the ocean blue. Now, I know this may seem like an exceedingly obscure category of movies, but some of these are such gems that I figured they were worth sharing. So, without further fanfare and fog horns, here are my top picks of nautical flicks that are sure to get you in the mood for a cruise or seaside vacation, or maybe just a meeting with a travel-insurance agent.
- “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) – Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe star as two vaudeville performers embarking on a cruise to Paris. With one girl being tailed by a private investigator and the other unwittingly falling for the investigator, the girls quickly find themselves surrounded by more diamonds, hunky men and trouble than they know what to do with. This is one of my favorite movie musicals of all time, and I promise you’ll love its amusing and astute dating commentary. As if you need another excuse to watch it, it’s where Marilyn Monroe’s famous (and frequently imitated) “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” number originated.
- “Titanic” (1997) – If you were alive in the 90s you’ve probably seen this film more than once, but have you ever watched it just for the costumes and set pieces? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for the action and epic love story like anyone else who ever doodled hearts in a textbook, but the grandeur of the ship and characters’ wardrobes is what keeps me coming back for repeat viewings every few years. Try fast-forwarding through the frame story (all the scenes in present day on the submarine), and you’ll find “Titanic” is quite the visual feast.
- “Under Siege” (1992) – A galley chef who just so happens to be a former Navy SEAL must stop terrorists from taking over his battleship, using steak knives and savvy to defend his cargo of nuclear warheads…In other words, this is your go-to movie if you want Steven Segal, Tommy Lee Jones and a bunch of high-seas action stunts involving cooking utensils. Need I say more?
- “Master and Commander” (2003) – Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this period piece stars Russell Crowe as a British sea captain who’s past his prime yet still has his greatest adventure ahead of him. It is a gritty tale that does nothing to glamorize the ocean, but the underdog story of an old boat waging war against the ocean and a giant French ship will keep you sitting on the edge of your deck chair. This flick is a sure bet if you’ve ever wanted to watch the equivalent of a tremendous car chase on the high seas with a few history lessons woven in.
- “Anchors Aweigh” (1945) – This movie feels slow at parts, but Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra make it more than worth your while. They play two sailors on the lookout for love while on a brief shore leave in Los Angeles. Although very little screen time is actually spent at sea, the subject matter and costumes are so nautical that the flick feels like one glorious romance with the ocean. This film also gave birth to the famous clip of Gene Kelly in a striped sailor suit dancing with a cartoon mouse, making it a must-see for movie buffs and dance aficionados.
Psst: Any other nautical movies out there that make you feel seasick or lovesick?