Scuba diving poses a great backdrop for a range of Hollywood films. With the terror of a stormy sea, and an always limited air supply, scuba diving can offer incredible tension to movie screenplays when appropriately written into a movie script.
With a multitude of scuba diving-themed movies available to watch today, many diving enthusiasts wonder which of those movies will make them feel the most like they’re both underwater and performing the activity themselves.
Continue reading to learn what the best scuba diving movies of all time are, their plotlines, actors, filming locations and more.
Best Diving Movies of All Time – Top 10
Diving has caught the interest of filmmakers and fans for decades, yet superb dive films are still difficult to find. The difficulties of capturing underwater footage, along with the extremely minimal acting and almost non-existent speaking, provide a challenge for both filmmakers and actors alike. Nonetheless, certain films have captured the enchantment of underwater diving.
My list of the top 10 scuba diving movies of all time:
- The Abyss
- Open Water
- Le Grand Blue – The Big Blue
- Diving into the Unknown
- Deepsea Challenge 3D
- The Deep
- Chasing Coral
- The Dive (Dykket)
- 47 Meters down
Just note, that some of these are not strictly diving movies but have an underwater theme throughout and some special effects or underwater sequences that make them entertaining.
1. The Abyss (1989)
The Abyss is a 1989 American science fiction film that is both written and directed by James Cameron. This is an epic diving adventure film about a crew of civilian divers and Navy SEALs searching for a sunken nuclear submarine at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
This film not only has deep sea diving scenes, but it also features aliens, which is always a winning combo. The story follows a crew of divers who begin their mission, run across a multitude of problems, and realize they may not be alone.
While the film was shot in a variety of locations, including California, Missouri, and North Carolina, the majority of the underwater sequences were shot at the Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant in Gaffney, South Carolina. Popular cast also includes Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (more at IMDb or amazon).
2. Open Water (2003)
Open Water is based on a true story of a vacationing couple who planned to spend their time diving in the Caribbean. However, due to a tragic blunder, the duo is left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters as the boat returns to land without them.
Travis and Blanchard Ryan, a husband-and-wife duo, spent three years filming Open Water off the coast of the Bahamas on a strict budget of $120,000. They captured about 120 hours of material before putting it all together to make the film that it is now.
Check out the widescreen edition.
3. The Big Blue – Le Grand Blue (1988)
“The Big Blue,” is perhaps one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films ever created, combines outstanding underwater imagery and superb location filming in Antibes, France, the Greek islands, Peru, and Taormina, Sicily. However, it is the emotional intensity of the cinema experience and the story’s mystical elements that have made this picture a renowned classic throughout the years.
“The Big Blue” is, at its core, a basic, uncomplicated narrative of a lifelong competition between two men who dive for depth records and an expression of a deep love for the sea.
4. Diving into the Unknown – Takaisin Pintaan (2016)
Juan Reina’s ‘Diving into the Unknown,’ follows a group of Finnish friends whose diving adventure in Norway goes horribly wrong. The documentary opens with a mix of self-filmed footage and post-production interviews.
The Plura cave system, which is seen in this film, is located in Northern Norway, around 50 kilometres from Mo I Rana. The cave system is around 2 kilometres long and 130 metres deep, with enormous, jagged rocks and tight corridors.
The Finns recall their failed effort to trace a subterranean length of Norway’s Plura river in February 2014, when their equipment became entangled in rock formations and as a result, two divers actually perish more than 100 metres below the surface.
5. Deepsea Challenge 3D (2014)
James Cameron dreamed of exploring the deepest region of the ocean as a child. This film is a dramatic realization of that fantasy. Deepsea Challenge 3D follows James Cameron’s quest as he embarks on an expedition to the Marianas Trench, the deepest region of the ocean. Since the film was completed with a guided submersible that Cameron developed himself, this is a voyage of historic proportions and peril.
The film will captivate audiences of all ages with the excitement of real discovery and the attraction of the unknown, new life forms, and never-before-seen panoramas, all set on our beautiful planet Earth.
6. The Deep (1977)
‘The Deep,’ based on Peter Benchley’s novel, is an underwater adventure about a couple who discover a wreckage in the Bermudan seas and become entangled in a dangerous battle with treasure hunters.
Recommended Read: 29 Best Scuba Diving Books
Open water diving scenes for ‘The Deep’ began in 1976 off Black Rock Point, near Peter Island, at the site of the authentic RMS Rhone disaster in the British Virgin Islands. Starring Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte, The Deep also required 8,895 dives, 10,870 hours underwater, and 1 million cubic feet of compressed air (according to IMDb).
7. Chasing Coral (2017)
Chasing Coral is an American documentary film about a group of divers, biologists, and photographers that chronicle the destruction of coral reefs all around the world. This film debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed as a Netflix Original Documentary in July 2017.
It starts by following Richard Vevers and his colleagues at The Ocean Agency, who designed and built the world’s first underwater camera that could capture 360-degree images of the ocean. This became the inspiration for the film Chasing Coral. They then performed trips in over 25 countries and gathered about one million 360-degree ocean photographs with this technology.
As a result, millions of people have been able to embark on virtual dives to experience the wonderful and unique undersea environment thanks to Chasing Coral.
8. Sanctum (2011)
Sanctum is a 3D action thriller directed by Alister Grierson that was released in 2011. Rhys Wakefield, Richard Roxburgh, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, and Ioan Gruffudd are among the cast members. This movie is based on a real story of a scuba diving excursion to Papua New Guinea’s Esa-ala Caves, which ranks among some of the largest cave systems in the world.
The team’s purpose is to follow an already-explored route far beneath the surface to a “base camp,” and then carry on, to learn how surface water flowing into the tunnels makes its way back out into the sea. However, like with most diving movies, be prepared for a few twists, and turns.
Viewers should also note that despite the fact that the story takes place in Esa’ala Cave, the majority of the film was shot in Australia.
9. The Dive – Dykket (1989)
The Dive (Dykket) is a Norwegian action thriller. The film was shot in Haugesund, Norway, and chronicles the story of two deep sea divers and a dangerous operation at 110 metres.
Eidsvold and Sundquist portray deep sea divers who agree to do a last-minute dive before the holidays to assist with an oil valve that has become stuck in a trawl. The dive should take no more than five minutes in all, and the divers will be richly rewarded. However, things go awry.
As a result, both the divers and the surface crew are racing against time to keep these men alive and get them to the surface before they run out of oxygen.
You can even watch the full movie here.
10. 47 Meters Down (2017)
Johannes Robert’s 47 Meters Down is a survival horror film that stars Mandy Moore and Claire Holt.
The story follows two sisters who are asked to go cage diving in Mexico while on vacation. With their air supply running low and great white sharks lurking nearby, the two girls must find a method to escape when the cage’s winch mechanism fails and the cage plummets to the ocean floor, trapping them within.
Filmed in the Dominican Republic, 47 Meters Down is, overall, a frightening thriller that reviews claim can even give Jaws a run for its money.
Experience the Underwater World Through the Eyes of a Free Diver (2019)
National Geographic short film, where freediver Guillaume Néry takes you on an underwater journey that will take your breath away.
Breaking Surface (2020)
Another great Norwegian flick where a race against time begins for two sisters during a winter dive, when one of them becomes trapped on the ocean floor by falling rocks.
Into the Blue (2005)
This is kind of like modern version of The Deep. Not a suprise that the movie was so successful, given the young and sexy main protagonists in Jessica Alba and Paul Walker. And the exotic locations, clear blue waters, and of course a treasure hunt excitement.
Fool’s Gold (2008)
Another successful Hollywood blockbuster with a great supporting cast and a treasure hunt. Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson the stars of some exciting underwater scenes and very good entertainment indeed.
A group of deep-sea divers are trapped in a small saturation pod on the sea bed after diving down to fix an oil pipeline. They need to figure out how to get to the surface before running out of air.
Even though it is not realistic and without proper diving practices, it sure does give you a feeling of good entertainment.
Other Films Worth Mentioning:
- The Frogmen (1951)
- Sphere (1998)
- Men of Honor (2000)
- Deep Blue Sea (1999)
- The Cave (2005)
- Last Breath (2019)
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
- Pioneer – Pionér (2013)
Overall, with so many scuba-themed movies accessible to watch and stream nowadays, many diving fans question which one will make them feel the most like they’re taking part in the action themselves.
Many diving enthusiasts rave about the accuracy of the diving techniques in The Abyss film, as well as the 3D underwater details in James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge.
If you’re looking for the best scuba diving movies to curl up on the couch and feel like you are underwater too, look no further than the list I’ve compiled in this article.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.