20 Best Sailing Movies of all Time

20 Best Sailing Movies of all Time | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

If you have been looking forward to curling up on the couch, grabbing a bowl of popcorn, and watching some captivating movies, this can be a good time. A good sailing movie can be perfect given that you'll hear a few lines that you're already familiar with when on the dock or setting sail.

This can be a perfect time to binge-watch some of the best sailing movies.

So in no particular order, we'll highlight 20 of the best sailing movies of all time. From the brutal and dramatic tales of man vs. sea to inspirational explorations and expeditions, we've covered it all. Keep reading and you'll be inspired while waiting to get off dry land when it's safe to do so.


Table of contents

All is Lost (2013)

For lone sailors, All is Lost is probably the best movie to give you a glimpse of what might go wrong for you if you decide to sail the big blue ocean alone. With a near-mute performance as an old man who loves sailing alone, Robert Redford puts in an almost quasi-silent performance by portraying the ordeal of what a lone sailor can undergo when the sea turns on you.

Directed by JC Chandor, there's only one person on the screen throughout the film. He's all alone in the vast sea with his damaged boat. He has to become tough, resourceful, and calm even when things turn against him. Single-character movies are a rarity even today but this is a great survival film that perfectly depicts what could happen even to the hardest lone sailors out there.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Directed by the talented Peter Weir, this critically-acclaimed movie was nominated for 10 Oscars and won for best cinematography and sound editing. Depicting the return of the high-seas adventure, this movie is skillfully and meticulously adapted from the historical novel by Patrick O'Brian set during the Napoleonic Wars and starring Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays an arrogant captain who pushes his ship crew to the limits while trying to capture a French warship. This movie offers action-packed battle scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This movie gives you an insight of what sailors undergo in their struggles to make it through the high-seas alive.

Captain Ron (1992)

With little sailing experience but with an inherited yacht moored on an offshore island Martin Short hires charismatic Captain Ron to take them back to Florida. The voyage isn't as easy as they expected as they have to face pirates, breakdowns, and other obstacles. They all get more than what they bargained for.

Portrayed by Kurt Russell, Captain Ron depicts the misadventures of a nominal sailing character that is hired by an upper-middle-class father to guide a yacht through the Caribbean. From the marine accidents, pirates, guerilla carnivals to malfunctioning equipment, and Russell's croaked absurdities, this movie is just full of double humor and worthy performance. 

Wind (1992)

As one of the biggest races in competitive sailing, America's Cup is often associated with rich people competing in weird-looking boats. But this movie changes this as it takes viewers through the eyes of tanned and rugged Will Parker as played by Matthew Modine. He's hired by a self-made millionaire (Cliff Robertson) to lead his crew in the competition.

Together with his girlfriend Kate who is an equally skilled sailor, Parker intends to win America's Cup but Kate is thrown off the crew leaving Parker angry. When the crew loses America's Cup to the Australians, Parker decides to form his own syndicate to win back the cup. 

White Squall (1996)

This movie follows a young man's adventure movie that follows a group of high school students who boards the brigantine ship called Albatross for their senior year at sea. They sail to the tip of South America and back. They get to accept responsibility, learn how to be sailors, and grow up.

The skipper of the ship, Christopher Sheldon together with the 13 teenage boys set sail for an eight-month voyage. The boys soon discover Sheldon's psyche gradations, rattling tension, and freak storms that sink the ship. As a sailor, you'll be disturbed by the fact that four students and two crew members drown, leaving skipper Sheldon facing a fierce tribunal, tortured conscience, and grieving parents and students.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

As one of the greatest epic movies of the 1960s, English Captain Bligh is on a sea voyage to transport breadfruit from England to Jamaica. He is so abusive that he gets on the nerves of his crew members, especially 1st Lieutenant, Fletcher Christian.

Tension eases when they reach Jamaica and the crew indulges in the island's lifestyle but the captain claps some members of his crew in irons as they try to desert. Further abuses lead Fletcher to inspire a mutiny against the Captain. Fletcher and his men set the Captain and his loyal members afloat in a rowboat. This movie offers a realistic depiction of a larger-than-life character that most sailors are known for. 

Dead Calm (1989)

Starring Billy Zane, Nicole Kidman, Sam Neil, and a gorgeous 60 ft. ketch, Dead Calm revolves around a mass-murderer who kidnaps and seduces a young beautiful woman after leaving a husband to die on a vessel whose crew he has just murdered.

This movie was filmed in the Whitsundays Islands of Australia, which is one of the best sailing destinations in the world. Bringing forth an epic combination of deadly sailing conditions, complete isolation from the rest of the world, and a skillful villain aboard the vessel, this movie is thrilling and will leave you looking behind your back whenever you're out there on the sea.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

This adventure-comedy follows the high journeys of Steve Zissou, a character adaptation of French oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. It follows his ocean expedition when tracking the ‘jaguar shark' that apparently ate his partner, Esteban.

Esteban had been working with Zissou on a documentary about mysterious circumstances by a shark. This is a sharp film with lots of fun and adventure on the sea.

Kon-Tiki (2012)

Legendary Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl believes that the South Sea Islands were originally colonized by South Americans. Thor, who fears water and doesn't know how to swim, partakes on a voyage in 1947 to prove his belief. Together with five crew members, set sail from Peru on a balsa-wood ancient raft.

Even though their only modern equipment is a radio, they have to navigate through the ocean while relying on stars and ocean currents and they achieve the impossible after exhausting three months at the sea. This is a very spirited adventure that depicts what's possible when we believe in our dreams. 

Maidentrip (2013)

A 14-year-old sailor by the name Laura Dekker sets sail on a two-year voyage in pursuit of her dream to become the world's youngest sailor. Laura sets out from Holland and sails throughout the world. Apart from the occasional foul language that Laura uses now and then on the documentary, this is an excellent film that shows what one can achieve when he/she lives her dream and works hard towards achieving it.

The documentary, however, doesn't suggest that Laura is alarmingly young to sail across the unforgiving Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Instead, she's depicted as an independent outsider who is looking for paradise in a never-ending sea. 

Adrift (2018)

In most cases, sailors seem to never anticipate that they may sail directly into a catastrophic hurricane and this is exactly what Richard Sharp and Tami Oldham do when they sail directly in one of the worst hurricanes ever recorded in history.

Tami awakes in the aftermath of the hurricane to find their boat in ruins and Richard is badly injured. And because they do not have any hope that they would ever get help or get rescued, Tami is left with two options: sit there and perish or find strength and determination to save herself as well as the only man she's ever loved.

Turning Tide (En Solitaire) (2013)

In this daring tale, this movie portrays how a fearless sailor known as Yann Kermadec finds a lot of obstacles in his biggest race as a two-hander named Turning Tide falls flat. In a nail-biting tension, the story begins when Kermadec replaces the main skipper in the Vendee Globe on short notice.

After some smooth sailing, things go eerily wrong for the sailor as his ship is damaged and he's forced to anchor off the Canary Islands to repair it. When he gets back on his journey, he soon discovers that a Mauritanian teenage boy has sneaked inside the boat and he has no option but to sail with him at least until they cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The Old Man and the Sea (1958)

An old Cuban angler known as Spencer Tracy is so unlucky that he hasn't caught any fish in 84 days. And despite the commitment of a young boy to bring him food, the angler fears that he's forever lucky but catches a small fish on his 85th day, so he decides to keep fishing.

When one of his many fishing lines hooks a large marlin, he decides not to go back to the shore until he reels it in. For almost two days and nights, he has no choice but to sit there and do everything he can to redeem himself from what seems like a perpetual failure.

Morning Light (2008)

By entering the TRANSPAC, which is one of the world's best open-ocean competitions, 15 young men and women prepare for a sailing adventure of their lives. With world-class teachers, these sailors begin intense training in Hawaii but only reach a climax in an elimination process that comes in the form of who-stays-and-who-goes process.

This documentary follows these sailors for six months as they embark on a 2,300-mile sailing ordeal, which starts in Los Angeles and ends in Honolulu.

The Perfect Storm (2000)

Created by Wolfgang Petersen, The Perfect Storm is a blockbuster that's big on visuals and depicts an action-packed escapade on the water as Captain Billy Tyne and his crew set on a fishing expedition aboard a ship known as Andrea Gail.

They're soon caught up in a catastrophic destructive storm when they decide to risk the storm and have to deal with a very powerful hurricane. At the height of their fishing expedition, their ice machine breaks down and the only way to ensure that their catch doesn't go stale is by hurrying back to the shore to sell their catch. This is exactly why they decide to risk their lives and it doesn't turn out as they expected.

Captain Phillips (2013)

When Captain Richard Phillips takes command of an unarmed container ship known as MV Maersk Alabama from the port of Salalah in Oman, they anticipate that they'll be attacked by Somali Pirates on their way to Mombasa, Kenya.

They attack the ship and Captain Phillips has to use his wits and diplomacy to negotiate with the pirates and save his crew. 

Maiden (2018)

As the saying goes; what a man can do a woman can do even better. This is exactly what's depicted by this sailing movie that follows the life of Tracy Edwards as she leads the first all-female crew when competing in the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Covering 33,000 miles and lasting for nine months, this is a truly grueling race that depicts the corrosive sexism that still exists in the sailing world as well as the ocean terrors that sailors have to deal with during voyages or competitions. 

Chasing Bubbles (2016)

This is a captivating documentary that follows the journey of Alex Rust who is a free spirit who gives the normal life to sail around the world. Alex is brought up as a farm boy but becomes a stock trader in Indiana. At the age of 25, he decides to abandon his life in Chicago, buys a modest sailboat known as Bubbles and embarks on a very unique free-spirited voyage. It takes him three years to sail around the world and to quench his insatiable curiosity while meeting great people and fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a free soul.

This is a breathtaking travelogue that depicts the sailing life of a truly absorbing character.

180° South (2010)

Directed by Chris Malloy, this is a sailing documentary that covers the journey of Jeff Johnson as he travels from Ventura, California to Patagonia in Chile. He does this to retrace the same trip covered by Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins in 1968.

While the two initial explorers made the journey on the land, Johnson travels by sea using a small boat.

Deep Water (2006)

This movie follows the true-life story of Donald Crowhurst, an inexperienced British sailor who enters the Golden Globe, which is the first nonstop boat race in the world. Donald puts up his home as collateral to gain financial backing to compete in the race but soon finds himself on the wrong end of things as he enters the race under-prepared.

20 Best Sailing Movies of all Time
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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