October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best horror films that take place on boats is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
I’m not a “large body of water” kind of guy. I do not get the appeal of exploring the sea. The ocean seems to exist to kill humans. It’s very easy to get stranded out there, and if you get stranded at sea you die. Naturally, that means I’m not much of a boat guy. For some, I gather that going out on a boat is a relaxing experience. For me, it’s just begging for a date with death. On a small lake or river where I can see land on all sides of me? I could potentially get on board with that. But if all I can see is water? No, thank you. With that being said, boats make for a great setting for horror films. And since we like to rank things here, we decided to rank the best boat-set horror films.
We must stress that this list is for boats. Submarines, underwater facilities, or any sort of floating apparatus that is stationary doesn’t make the cut. Movies like Leviathan and Underwater, while great aquatic horror, do not qualify. We also looked at movies where a majority of the running time is almost exclusively on boats. Jaws is a great movie with great boat scenes, but it does not meet our criteria for boat horror.
Now that you know the criteria, I must give a shout-out to some honorable mention films. When the idea of doing a boat horror list came to me, three films jumped to mind — Death Ship, Ghost Ship, and Jason Takes Manhattan. Funnily enough, none of those films made the final ten. That’s democracy for you! All three films are very fun in their own right, however. Death Ship features an unhinged George Kennedy (he still made the list!). Ghost Ship has one of the greatest opening scenes in all of horror. And for my thoughts on Jason Takes Manhattan, I will kindly refer you to our top ten Friday the 13th movies.
Enough talk about movies that didn’t make the list. That’s not what you’re here for. Grab your best boater, put on some khaki shorts and your favorite pair of Sperry’s, and prepare to go on a lovely cruise with Rob Hunter, Meg Shields, Brad Gullickson, Jacob Trussell, and yours truly.
10. Sea Fever (2017)
PhD Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) purchases a spot on an Irish fishing trawler so she can study deep-sea faunal behavioral patterns. The trawler, the Niamh Cinn Óir, is manned by a 6-person crew, led by Captain Freya (Connie Nielsen) and her husband-skipper Gerard (Dougray Scott). Desperate for a big haul, Gerard willingly takes the boat into an exclusion zone where they promptly hit an unknown object and become stuck. The crew discovers that what they hit is a parasitic animal that invades the boat’s water supply and begins to infect members of the crew. Sea Fever isn’t quite The Thing on a boat, but it is of that ilk and features exploding eyeballs. The film takes a clever approach to the parasite subgenre (it is a subgenre!). I especially like the way the crew develops new ideas to defeat the parasite, working with limited means. They build their own UV light – it’s neat! A bit of a downer ending, but a nifty, tightly-paced sci-fi thriller. Highly recommended. (Chris Coffel)
9. The Boat (2018)
When I say this sublime masterclass in single-character horror just barely made the cut here, I mean it. Other titles, ones better known, were hot in its wake, but sometimes quality wins. (Of course, maybe seventeen people in the world have seen the damn thing so I’m not actually sure the “quality wins” argument is a good one.) The beautifully shot film sees an unnamed sailor discover an empty sailboat drifting off the coast of Malta, and when he steps aboard to investigate, the craft seems to take on a life of its own — and it seems determined to kill him. It’s a sleek, eighty-eight-minute thriller as our protagonist fights to survive the various ways in which the boat attempts to off him, and the near complete lack of dialogue adds to the claustrophobic thrills. Add in some wit and a grim sense of humor, and you have one of the great boat-set horrors that you’ve most likely never seen. (Rob Hunter)
8. Anaconda (1997)
My anaconda don’t want none unless it’s got Voight, son! Luis Llosa‘s creature feature about a giant snake in the Amazon stars a Fly Girl, a rapper, Eric Stoltz, and Jon Voight. Oh, and Owen Wilson is there too! The ’90s, what a time to be alive! A documentary film crew searching for a long-lost indigenous Amazonian tribe makes the mistake of picking up snake hunter Paul Serone (Voight). Serone says he can help them find the lost tribe, but really he just needs their boat to find a record-breaking green anaconda that he has been hunting. Did I mention that Serone is a Paraguayan? That’s important because as stated, he is played by Jon Voight. Look, Anaconda rules. Yes, some of the CGI is shoddy, but there is also a giant animatronic snake and Voight snarling all over the place. Meanwhile, Stoltz is just in bed the entire time. They don’t make them like they used to. (Chris Coffel)
7. Triangle (2009)
A group of friends head out on a yacht for a good time on the high seas. Unfortunately, an unexpected and powerful storm hits, capsizing the boat. One friend is swept away while the others manage to climb on the overturned boat and wait for the storm to pass. They eventually come across an ocean liner and climb aboard. They initially believe it to be abandoned but then they come across a deadly killer, but is it all as it seems? Triangle is a film that wants to be very smart and mess with your mind. Truthfully, it doesn’t make a lot of sense and any attempt to dig into the story will leave you with something that doesn’t quite add up. With that being said, it’s a highly engrossing movie that will pull you in. And it features a genuinely creepy bag-headed killer and a terrific lead performance from Melissa George. Ignore the nonsensical plot and enjoy the ride. (Chris Coffel)
6. Harpoon (2019)
One of the most slept-on horror comedies in recent memory, Rob Grant’s psychological pleasure craft thriller is a good reminder to buy a satellite phone before you get on your rich friend’s yacht. Those fucker’s can’t be trusted. While this list is well-populated with ghost ships, Lovecraftian beasties, and Bermuda Triangles, it is a truth universally acknowledged that going out to sea with messy, unhinged twentysomethings is the final circle of hell. Also, the boat in this movie is called the “Naughty Buoy,” which earned it some serious brownie points. With a comedic sensibility darker than the Atlantic sea bed, this “things go from bad-to-worse” nightmare follows three young maniacs who get stranded at sea after trying to kill each other. Putting the “can-con” in cannibalism, Harpoon is funny, frightening, and further proof that anyone willing to make amends with a spontaneous cruise is not to be trusted. (Meg Shields)
5. Uninvited (1988)
A genetically altered cat makes his way onto a shady businessman’s luxury yacht and promptly goes on a killing spree. It should be pointed out that this altered cat, escapes from a research facility with the help of another cat, sort of. If that plot sounds wild to you, then this must be your first Greydon Clark movie, because I assure you that this is a standard Greydon Clark movie. In most killer cat movies, the killer cat is the star, but in the case of Uninvited, the cat is outshined by a manic George Kennedy, who would not be denied a spot on this list. It’s bonkers, it’s wild, and it’s a top-three killer cat movie. Best watched with the help of catnip. (Chris Coffel)
4. Project Wolf Hunting (2022)
Project Wolf Hunting is best described as The Raid on a boat meets Frankenstein with a dash of Con Air. A cargo ship is transporting a group of deadly criminals from Manila to Busan. To the surprise of everyone, things go terribly wrong when the criminals form an escape plan. To make matters worse, the ship is also carrying Alpha (Choi Gwi-hwa), a superhuman created from inhumane experiments dating back to World War II. Alpha breaks free and goes on a brutal killing spree, ripping apart criminals, cops, and everyone in between. The highlight of the film is Seo In-guk, who plays a tattooed murderer who is built up to be a real badass. He gets into a showdown with Alpha that proves that maybe he isn’t. The title doesn’t make a lot of sense, which the movie pokes fun at, but other than that this is a pretty flawless film. Brutal, bone-crushing action and a superhuman creature all on one boat. (Chris Coffel)
3. Deep Rising (1998)
I don’t remember many movies my parents and I rented together on Pay-Per-View when I was in middle school. But not every movie is Deep Rising. I was too young to remember the ad campaigns for the film, so when it was made available to rent, I came to it as a blank slate. But the moment those tentacled monsters reared their ugly suckers in the hull of an abandoned cruise ship, I knew I was in love. A blockbuster mashup of Lovecraftian horror with the aesthetics of 80’s-era sci-fi action — all set on an impeccably creepy luxury liner — Deep Rising honestly stood no chance of (sorry) rising to the top of the box office in the late 90s when horror was more interested in self-reference than pure popcorn fun. But in the years since its theatrical debut, audiences have finally come around to the film, moving Deep Rising to its rightful place on the mantle of exquisite aqua-horror movies. (Jacob Trussell)
2. Dead Calm (1989)
If you get on a boat and you see Billy Zane, you immediately get off the boat because the odds are he will be an asshole and you will die. Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman learn that the hard way in Phillip Noyce‘s excellent thriller, Dead Calm. John (Neill) and Rae Ingram (Kidman) attempt to deal with the unspeakable tragedy of losing their son by spending time at sea on their yacht. The hope is that the isolation and time alone will allow them to properly grieve. While floating out in the Pacific, they encounter a man (Zane) on a liferaft who asks for their help. The man says he was on a ship with friends, but they all died from food poisoning, leaving him stranded. The Ingrams are rightfully suspicious. Dead Calm plays like a stage play at sea. Three terrific actors working well off each other and delivering great performances. It’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller that zooms from the opening beat to the explosive finale. (Chris Coffel)
1. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
The Rita isn’t much to look at. She’s a rusty, rotting steamer, but she’ll get her crew down the Amazon and protect them far better than the Orca did her passengers. Captain Lucas is nearly as grizzled as Quint too, and he knows his environment equally. The Rita deposits its expedition into the fabled Black Lagoon, and it’s here where the scientists will confront the Creature.
Anyone who has ever carried the fantasy that they could one day venture into the heart of the jungle and do battle with some ancient beast imagines the Rita. She’s the ultimate jungle cruise vessel, a storybook creation, one step removed from what Wes Anderson would fabricate. It’s perfectly Hollywood, a jewel of production design, set dressing, carpentry, and engineering. River worthy. Dream worthy. (Brad Gullickson)
If you’ve returned safely to land without dying, check out more 31 Days of Horror Lists!