When The Shape of Water won the Academy Award for Best Picture back in March, we wondered if it was the greatest movie ever made about water.
(This is the kind of thing we obsess about here at Sloan when we’re not developing new water-saving bathroom products or pioneering new sustainability initiatives. For more obsessiveness, see our list of the top songs about water.)
After some debate, we eliminated movies that simply take place near water or that happen to have “water” in the title. To make our list of the greatest movies about water, water has to mean something—maybe everything—to the characters and the plot.
We also included one that you may not remember so fondly, because we couldn’t ignore it.
- The Abyss. In the process of recovering a lost submarine, a divided rescue team experiences near-drownings, nitrogen narcosis, a fluid breathing system and (spoiler alert) contact with an alien undersea race.
- Chinatown. Most people remember this noir classic for the steamy romance between Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, but the plot springs from a conflict over the reservoirs that serve Los Angeles during a drought. Hmm, that sounds familiar ...
- Das Boot. All the tension and fear inside this World War II German submarine is magnified by the millions of tons of water outside its hull. Once you watch this movie, you’ll never see a leaky pipe the same way.
- Deliverance. Four buddies want to canoe the Cahulawassee River before it gets dammed up, but they run into trouble with some psychotic locals. The raging river affects every turn in the action, right up until the final haunting frames.
- Jaws. Definitely one of the scariest movies ever made. But notice how you relax whenever the action is taking place on land. When the action’s on the water—like, for the whole last hour—you can barely even breathe.
- The Little Mermaid. Bet you don’t have this one next to Jaws in your collection! Its undersea world is so enchanting, we’ve always wondered why Ariel was so eager to leave. Teenagers, right?
- Open Water. Here’s the whole plot: Two lovers get left behind by their diving expedition. There are no surprises or twists after that—just the sheer mounting terror of being surrounded by endless, empty water. Plus sharks.
- A River Runs Through It. This period drama about two Montana brothers soaks you in every water and fishing metaphor you can imagine. But those river scenes are just so gorgeous—no wonder it won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
- The Shape of Water. An erotic science fiction fantasy set in 1962 Baltimore about the relationship between a mute woman and an aquatic humanoid mutant. We know it sounds weird, but you gotta see it.
- Splash. Your typical boy-meets-mermaid, boy-loses-mermaid, boy-goes-bonkers-trying-to-find-mermaid story. Just don’t ask her how to say her name in dolphin.
- Titanic. The 1997 Best Picture. Kate and Leo and the iceberg. Need we say more?
Plus, the one movie we had to include, even though it doesn’t make too many people’s “best ever” lists:
- Waterworld. It’s the future. The polar ice caps have melted, the whole world’s underwater, and our hero tries to lead people to dry land that may not exist. This was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, but the critics were not kind. It worked a lot better as a theme park attraction—it was way shorter, and you actually got wet.
You don’t have to be obsessed with water to learn more about Sloan innovations that save building owners billions of gallons of water every year. Talk to Sloan!
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