Best Sailing Movies Ever

24 Sep

Sailors are always moaning about how the rest of America doesn't really care about their sport. And they don't. So it is no surprise that sailing and sailboats are not exactly a preoccupation in Hollywood, or regular fodder for big screen blockbusters.

But in a world where even animal crush videos have a fan base, the odd sailing movie sometimes makes its way to the movie theater. And sailors naturally like to obsess over which ones are worthy.

The latest effort to celebrate the small archive of decent sailing movies (it's like the joke about the Thinnest Book, featuring titles such as "Great Italian Naval Victories") is over on Sailing Anarchy, which has ranked the top 10 sailing films of all time.

Predictably, WIND gets the top ranking. The trailer will take you back to the world of Whompers and Ted Turner caricatures:

And here is SA's argument for WIND:

Still the gold standard by which all other crappy sailing movies are judged, Wind succeeds for sailors because a) it’s our only real ‘sports/drama’ movie and it loosely follows the reality from 1983 to 1987, and b) because of the utter ridiculousness spewed in nearly every scene.  From the sail that goes “Whomp” to the pickup truck/salt flat wind tunnel tests to the stupid Geronimo dance, it keeps you laughing even as you check out Jennifer Grey’s sailor chick credentials.  We don’t need no stinkin’ rules for yacht racing, do we?  Not when it goes from flat calm to ocean gale in the middle of a single buoy race!  For all of its substantial stupidity, Wind was still the first movie to really capture some of the excitement of sailing that Hollywood’s ever seen; the 14-foot skiff (a/k/a I-14) footage is breathtaking, and some of the AC racing scenes in the big stuff will be remembered forever.  And as long as we keep it alive for the next generation, there will be Whompers in the sail locker for another 50 years.  Bonus Fact:  Iconic lifetime yachting commentator Peter Montgomery does most of the ‘TV commentary” in the movie.

Some of the other movies on the list are also not terribly inspired, like Pirates Of The Caribbean, but as noted above, it's not like there is a huge choice of titles to debate. And the list does at least include three movies which I consider the core of the sailing film canon.

The first is Dead Calm, starring a young Nicole Kidman, a crazed Billy Zane, and a bumbling Sam Neill. A great horror movie made even better by the fact that all the action takes place aboard two yachts.

The next is a documentary, 180 South: Conquerors of the Useless, which features a voyage in search of meaning. It does not stay focused on sailing, but the big questions about the ocean, happiness, and humanity are questions that every sailor has lurking somewhere deep inside.

And, finally, another documentary, about the most tragic and mysterious figure ever to step aboard a sailboat: Donald Crowhurst. The movie is called Deep Water, and if you haven't seen it then I envy you because it lies in your future.

Check out the rest of Sailing Anarchy's list here. What is missing? Maybe there is a gem out there that no one ever noticed.

BONUS: Scuttlebutt has a great two-part series on the making of WIND, written by SAILfeed contributor Kimball Livingston.


  1. Kevin Kerwin

    How about “Masquerade” with Rob Lowe? Although the actual sailing time is limited, it portrays the upper end of racing and the culture in an interesting way. As for the best-Dead Calm and the scene in Das Boot where the two subs meet on the surface in a gale.

  2. Mike W.

    “Kill Cruise”. Two women, one sailor. A terrifying crossing to paradise. Elizabeth Hurley, Jurgen Prochnow and Patsy Kensit. Pretty darn good for a buck. One of those dollar DVDs.

  3. James (Jimmy) Cansler

    Does anyone remember the excellent sailing movie & true story titled “The Dove” starring Joseph Bottoms & Deborah Raffin? I actually read the book in the 1970’s while still in high school. The movie came out approx. a year or a year & a half later as it was a very enjoyable story of Robin Lee Graham who sailed around the world single handed when he was a teenager. Excellent movie & book!

  4. Scott Ehrich

    Just watched Captains Courageous, some great scenes of Grand Banks sailing from the early 1900’s. Well done movie.

  5. Teanna Byerts

    Oh come one guys… after Master and Commander (class act), the Disney “Pirates” films got more people on board tall ships than any other… dah, dah, dahdahdah dah-DAH!

  6. Smokey

    Come on guys

    Capt Ron best comedy involving a sailboat
    Knife in the water B&W classic suspense movie
    Dead Calm Nicole Kidman
    Deepwater The Donald Crowhurst documentary, very well done.

  7. Sandy gens

    Just finished watching All Is Lost and it was laughably pitiful. Don’t watch this movie if you want to learn anything about sailing or survival. Everything that he does leaves you scratching your head wondering.

  8. Sheralee

    There are two Kon Tiki movies, the original documentary in black and white AND there is the remake in color.. good movie, worth sitting down and watching.

  9. Sheralee

    “White Squall” I think it is called.. about a group of teens on a character building clipper ship..

  10. sailon

    One thing for sure, All Is Lost is not on my list of best sailing movies. White Squall, Dead Calm, & Wind are, though definitely not All is Lost. While viewing ALL IS LOST, it completely lost me in the opening scene, so completely and stupid and unrealistic were the actions by a supposedly experienced single-handing ocean cruising sailor. All was Lost About Sailing in the making of this really bad movie somehow getting incredibly great reviews.

  11. Gary

    Morning Light is AWESOME!! I think I have to watch it again, because I don’t remember it being Jersey Shore-like. Stupid indecisiveness…

  12. chas h

    The 1937 B&W film Captains Courageous starring Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Melvin Douglas and a young Mickey Rooney is a wonderful New England Cod fishing story with great footage of fishing schooners flying tops’ls and washing their decks off the Grand Banks.

  13. Chuck Race

    Check out “Message in a Bottle” featuring an Alden Malabar II schooner. Filmed off Popham Beach and other locations in midcoast Maine.

  14. William Berry

    Consider “White Squall” directed by Ridley Scott with Jeff Bridges, Caroline Goodall, John Savage, Scott Wolf.

  15. LenP

    What? No love for the clean cut, disneyfied, version of Jersey Shore on a TP52, otherwise known as Morning Light?

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