Back in 1935, my grandparents traveled from Wisconsin to New York City. At one point, my highly opinionated grandmother (yes, it’s an inherited trait), went to visit the Atlantic Ocean. “You know what? I wasn’t impressed,” she told me.
Many years later, in 1969, I first saw the ocean when our family traveled from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. I was 13 and I was impressed. I remember standing on Santa Monica Beach thinking: “It’s too big.” The whole ocean thing makes me nervous. It’s enormous and, really, who knows what’s going on out there?
Well, sea monsters and creatures of the deep, to name a few things. As we have all learned from the movies, the ocean is full of sea monsters just waiting to swallow us up. Here are some of my favorite sea monster movies.
This dopey (but fun) movie is one of the better sharks-are-out-to-kill us movies. It had an A-movie budget ($82 million), but a B-movie spirit and story. It also has my favorite Samuel L. Jackson movie quote ever: “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?” I guess you’re going to find out, my movie-viewing friends!
In 1820, the whaling ship the Essex was lost at sea pursuing a great white sperm whale. Thirty years later, gloomy New York customs agent Herman Melville wrote a novel based on this story and called it Moby Dick. One hundred sixty-five years after that, Ron Howard made a movie about Herman Melville writing his book about the true story of the Essex. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s full of grand adventures on the high seas and pulsates with seriousness, although it was not so well-received by critics at the time. Still, it’s worth watching. Plus, it has Chris Hemsworth in a sea-drenched, soaking wet poofy shirt, so ladies (and some gentlemen), that alone may make it worth watching.
It’s still terrifying, 42 years later. Dun dun dun dun dun dun.
A pretty compelling argument can be made that Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep is the sexiest woman ever in the movies. Ever. Most beautiful, in my mind, is Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, but for pure raw sexiness I really would have to go with Ms. Bisset in this movie. What’s the movie about? She and Nick Nolte are tourists out scuba diving who find some kind of treasure and are pursued by bad guys… and, oh, who cares? More Jacqueline Bisset in scuba gear, please.
There have now been 33 Godzilla movies. Are any of them any good? Short answer: No. Long answer: Not really, but they are a lot of fun. Created by Japanese special effects artists Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, and Eiji Tsubaraya, this enduring franchise about a sea monster rising and menacing (or protecting) Tokyo has an endearing charm, mainly because the movies are all so cheesy. Go ahead, put down your copy of The New York Review of Books and revel in the glory of Godzilla.
This is a genuinely terrifying film. A couple (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) decide to take a scuba diving trip in the Caribbean to rekindle some magic in their relationship. They are left stranded in open waters when the boat they were on miscounts passengers and leaves while they are still underwater. What unfolds is a psychological thriller of horrifying proportions because it feels so real. Alone, abandoned, and unable to swim to safety because they don’t know where they are, they are stung by jellyfish and eventually surrounded by sharks. Fantastic movie.
While everyone “knows” this movie, most people haven’t actually seen it from start to finish. Which means you may not realize that it’s actually a pretty good movie. Scientists in the Amazon discover a web-footed prehistoric creature who isn’t particularly interested in being discovered and would mainly prefer to be left alone. Shot in 1950s 3D with ground-breaking underwater sequences, it’s a B-movie that almost makes it to being an A-movie. Almost. The B-movie instincts of director Jack Arnold (It Came From Outer Space, Tarantula, and The Incredible Shrinking Man) keep this movie firmly in the B-movie firmament, although right there at the top of the heap.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.