For as long as there have been mythologies, there have been sea monsters. Just as the vastness of space has given way to countless fictional stories of the terrors up there, the unknown depths of the world's oceans have given way to tales of aquatic mystery.
Though the topic of sea monsters has given the world a seemingly endless amount of schlock, there have been quite a few noble cinematic riffs on the formula, mostly in the horror genre, but not always. From Best Picture winners to enduring B-Movie classics, here are the 10 best films about monsters beneath the sea.
10 Underwater (2020)
After sitting on the shelf for a couple of years before finally being given an early January release date, Underwater, unfortunately, seemed destined to fly under the radar.
Though the Kristen Stewart-led thriller has the inescapable feel of being sewn together from elements of sci-fi thrillers past, there are a handful of inspired sequences, namely the Lovecraftian finale that gives viewers one of the most high-budgeted renditions of the iconic Cthulhu. A perfect stay-at-home matinee, Underwater is worth the ride and sadly one of 2020's first cinematic casualties.
9 Lake Placid (1999)
Lake Placid's success can largely be summed up in two simple words: Betty. White. A blend of comedy and creature-feature, Lake Placid is nowhere near a "great movie." However, the film is a lot of fun to watch.
Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, and Bridget Fonda lead a team of scientists trying to defeat a giant crocodile who seemingly can't stop eating cows. It's silly and doesn't altogether work, but Betty White's supporting turn as a local who quips her way around the film is what makes it an enduring romp that at least tried to do something a little off-kilter.
8 Sweetheart (2019)
One of Netflix's better original stabs at the horror genre, 2019's Sweetheart plays out like a mix of Jaws and Cast Away. After a young woman is stranded on a tropical island, the quest to survive is complicated by the revelation there is a humanoid sea creature living just offshore in an ominous pit on the ocean floor.
From the first scene onwards, Sweetheart maintains a steadily growing tension that culminates in a riveting finale showdown between woman and beast. The film relies heavily on star Kiersey Clemons, and thankfully Clemons is more than up to the task.
7 Sea Fever (2020)
The most recent addition to the list, and the subgenre, is this little Irish indie from debut director Neasa Hardiman. Relying on atmosphere and mounting suspense over special effects and setpieces, Sea Fever is a claustrophobic 'parasite from the deep' tale.
After a trepidacious biologist joins the crew of a fishing vessel, the ship's captain veers them into forbidden territory. What follows is a brilliantly written nightmare with at least two scenes guaranteed to make anyone's skin crawl. A film that has definite cult-potential, Sea Fever also marks a great showing of potential for its debut writer/director.
6 Tale Of Tales (2015)
A dark fantasy anthology of fairy tales, Tale of Tales begins with a surreal sea monster story that sets the tone for all of the bizarre events to follow. The story dealing with the sea monster is led by Salma Hayek in a performance that is a break from her usual sly seductress.
The mixture of computer-generated and practical effects used in the film to bring the leviathan-like sea monster to life results in an unusually unsettling sequence of imagery. One of the more traditional renditions of the classic sea serpent, Tale of Tales is a singular work.
5 The Lure (2015)
"Original" is a word thrown around a lot when it comes to genre films. However, there is no doubt that the Polish oddity The Lure is worthy of the label. One part disco musical, one part mermaid horror film, and another part modern fable, The Lure is the story of two mermaid sisters who become land walking, lounge singing, love-seeking girls in a local community.
The film's unusual mixture of fun cinematic entertainment with genuinely unsettling stretches of body horror, the film has gone on to have a loyal following and a Criterion edition.
4 The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)
After a geological expedition uncovers an Amazonian monster with gills and fins, the titular monster wreaks glorious havoc around the crew's steamboat. Less iconic than its earlier peers, Dracula and Frankenstein, the film nonetheless spawned a series, none of which matched the campy heights of the original. The film is simply one of the best of its kind.
3 The Lighthouse (2019)
A stomach-churning descent into nautical madness, The Lighthouse was one of 2019's most talked about horror films. It's ostensibly a chamber piece of a tete-a-tete between an old lighthouse keeper, played by Willem Dafoe, and a fresh employee keeper, played by Robert Pattinson.
Sea monsters and myths of the old sailor worlds play a huge role in the film's world-building, including one of cinema's most terrifying depictions of merfolk. The film's dreamy and surreal edge makes it one of the more challenging and unique horror experiences of the past decade.
2 The Abyss (1989)
James Cameron's film about an oil crew investigating a sunken submarine thousands of miles below the sea was notoriously hard to make. Cameron's vision has rarely been as focused and imaginative as it is here, especially in later sequences utilizing computer-generated effects revolutionary for the time.
One of Cameron's oft-forgotten films, The Abyss stands as a fitting conclusion to the filmmaker's incredible run in the 1980s, as well as a foreshadowing for the further blending of technological progress and blockbuster filmmaking that he would go on to achieve the following decade.
1 The Shape Of Water (2017)
The fact that this dark romance film about a deaf woman falling in love with a reptilian water-based humanoid took home the Academy Award for Best Picture is still mind-blowing to this day. Truly a masterful blend of old school monster movies and classic doomed love stories, Guillermo del Toro's magnum opus is one of the most creative and well-executed genre films of the past 20 years.
Sally Hawkins gives a career performance as the lonely deaf woman and gives the film its emotional pulse that elevates the entire affair - it's a masterpiece.