If you are interested in mermaids, chances are you’re interested in mermaid movies. From animated children’s classics to schlock horror to blockbusters, mermaid fans have so much to choose from.
We’ve assembled a list of the best mermaid movies, putting them in no particular order. We wanted to spread the love around, so while you’ve certainly heard of some movies on this list, we know that you’ll find something new.
And what do you know, we’ve picked seven — enough to go for a week-long mermaid movie marathon.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
This Disney classic is what most everyone thinks of first when they think of mermaids. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid is the perfect nostalgia trip down under the sea. You remember the songs and characters, and you still have nightmares about Ursula and her eels — but when was the last time you revisited this classic?
The short runtime is chock full of romance, wishes, and spells, all centered on one mermaid longing for a different life. It’s as powerful today as it was at release.
The Little Mermaid also has an important place in film history, kicking off the Disney Renaissance. Throughout the eighties, Disney’s full length animated features were routinely being beaten out by the films of ex-Disney animator Don Bluth. It was The Little Mermaid that turned the tide and brought Disney back to prominence through the nineties. I think they’re still doing pretty well today.
In Ponyo, the world master of animation Hiyao Miyasaki tackles mermaids (well, a Japanese fantasy creature ningyo who wants to become a human, so close enough). This masterpiece balances cute characters that are relatable to children with a depth of feeling and sophistication that keeps viewers of all ages engaged and occasionally moved to tears.
Studio Ghibli (Miyasaki’s production company) shut down their CGI department before Ponyo began production, and they redoubled their efforts at traditional, hand drawn animation. The animators were inspired by the attention to detail given by painters like John William Waterhouse, leading to an incredible 170,000 images created for Ponyo.
This meticulous process runs through the entire movie, with Miyasaki even insisting that he personally animate every wave in the ocean. The enchantment of a fully hand drawn world brings us close to a child’s eye view of life.
Night Tide (1963)
This is an unsung classic of mermaid movies, and if you haven’t seen it, this should be at the top of your list. Night Tide has everything you could want: mermaids, terror, and a tarot card reading scene. Still not convinced? It stars Dennis Hopper as sailor Johnny Drake who falls in love with a mysterious woman named Mona as played by Linda Lawson. But nothing is as it seems in this Santa Monica setting.
The film delves into the psychology of control, delusion, and codependency, but keeps out of its own way enough to have a great time. The tempestuous romance at the heart of Night Tide brings out all the drama and dark glamor one could hope for from a sixties thriller about mermaids.
It’s initial release was mired by legal trouble after the production company defaulted on a loan, but it finally received a general release two years after its premiere. That messy start has haunted the film ever since — leaving Night Tide criminally underrated.
You knew it was coming, and so here it is. No list of mermaid films would be complete without this eighties hit starring Tom Hanks (before he was the Tom Hanks) and Daryl Hannah. A highly referenced milestone of pop culture, it has gone on to endure as a beloved romantic comedy for its quirkiness.
Technically a Disney film, Splash was the company’s first feature under Touchstone Pictures, created to make movies for adult audiences. They chose Ron Howard to direct this high concept rom-com that takes the fish out of water concept to embarrassingly literal levels.
If you haven’t seen Splash, it’s well worth the watch. It’s not only a great mermaid movie but also a delightful artifact of eighties pop culture.
The third (and last, I swear) Disney film on the list! This is the juggernaut of all mermaid movies, racing to over $1 billion at the box office. The film centers around everyone’s favorite pirate Captain Jack Sparrow as he searches for the Fountain of Youth. Never one for smooth sailing, he encounters the legendary Blackbeard who acts as antagonist.
While this film isn’t centered around mermaids, they make a critical appearance — a subplot that is likely the most expensive rendering of mermaid effects in human history. It isn’t an art house classic, but it is swashbuckling good fun.
It’s time for some real horror on this list. Dagon is loosely adapted from H.P. Lovecraft novella The Shadow over Innsmouth (Lovecraft confusingly also has a short story named “Dagon,” but I digress). Directed by horror maestro Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame, Dagon is campy, over-the-top fun.
Set in Spain, travellers on a wrecked yacht must go to the nearby port town to seek help. But what they find is something very fishy, indeed. What follows is mad dash run through violence, sex, cults, prophetic fever dreams, and monsters that are part human, part fish.
While Dagon didn’t exactly set box offices on fire, it has gained something of a cult following in the years since. Its use of stellar practical effects and dated CG, along with cheesy dialogue make it a perfect party movie.
The Mermaid (2016)
This beloved Chinese film brings high production value, a rich color palette, and hilarity to the mermaid movie genre. At first glance, it seems to be a remake of Splash: a mopey businessman winds up with a mermaid in his house. But the film goes far and beyond the scope of it’s mermaid rom-com predecessor.
With environmentalist themes, imaginative turn of events, and impeccable production design, The Mermaid blows most other mermaid films out of the water. It balances out all that bombast with comedy that grounds the film.
The Mermaid was met with extreme box office success in China and near universal positive reviews, and yet Western audiences have, for the most part, not watched this one yet. Don’t make the same mistake.