Boats and ships have always fascinated filmmakers. They provide a ready-made theatre, compacting the action and heightening the tension in rapidly changing weather conditions or conflict.
Titanic (1997) provided just such a stage, similarly the stormy North Atlantic was a major character in Sink the Bismarck! (1960).
Sometimes the ship doesn't even have to be on the water – take the extraordinary journey of the 320-ton steamship Molly Aida over an Andean mountain in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982).
Life mirrors art, and perhaps the Superyacht culture of Wolf of Wall Street (2013) inspired speed rise in boat sales over the past three years? Buyers are turning to trusted auction sites like Catawiki to find extraordinary boats of their own.
Here we give you a potted history of some of the most famous ships and boats, real or imagined, ever to reach the silver screen...
Orca from Jaws (1975)
The last we see of this famous New-England fishing boat in Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning blockbuster is its mast sinking beneath the sea, as police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) swims away. This is the end of the valiant vessel after it’s smashed by the eponymous 25-foot great white shark and its owner Quint (Robert Shaw) is eaten alive. There were actually two Orcas. The first, Orca 1, was purchased from a local lobster fisherman, and Orca 2, a glass-fibre replica, was used for the shark scenes. It was later cut up by the studio and sold to film fans.
African Queen from The African Queen (1951)
Set in Africa at the beginning of the First World War, the waterborne star of The African Queen is a steam-powered, riveted-iron sheet boat used to escape the Germans by sailing down the Ulanga River under the command of captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) and his passenger/love interest, Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn). Built in the UK in 1912 for the British East Africa Railway company, the African Queen had already had one half-century career as a cargo and passenger boat on the Ruki River in Congo before becoming a film star. Allnut unsuccessfully converts her into a torpedo boat to sink the German Königin Luise steamer, which rams and sinks the African Queen, but she has her revenge and the German steamer hits her upturned hull which triggers the torpedoes. Purchased by a Florida collector, the boat toured the world for many years but fell into disrepair and was found and completely restored in 2012.
PT 109 from PT 109 (1963)
A great story and all true – future US president John F Kennedy commands an American patrol torpedo boat, which is sunk by a Japanese cruiser. Through his athletic swimming prowess and great leadership, JFK evades capture and leads his crew to safety and eventual rescue.Those US Navy PT boats were extraordinary. Fragile plywood-hulled craft, they weighed 50 tons when armed with torpedoes and machine guns. Mustering 4,500bhp, they carried their brave crews into battle at 50 knots (42mph) with three 42-litre Packard engines wolfing down 500 gallons of aviation spirit an hour. Crews would approach fast, let go the torpedoes and then turned as the enemy opened up with everything it had. The wreck of PT 109 was discovered in 2002 and lies undisturbed as an official war grave. The original flag is kept at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Willie in Steam Boat Willie (1928)
Seven minutes and 42 seconds of black-and-white cinematic history, this is Walt Disney’s first-ever animated cartoon. The eponymous Willie is a paddle steamer, but while all the action takes place on her decks, she plays third fiddle to what is considered the screen debut of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, although they had already appeared in a silent movie, Plane Crazy, released the following year. First shown in New York’s Broadway Theatre, it's actually a pretty terrible film and Willie doesn't do a lot, although Mickey takes the helm.
USS Missouri from Under Siege (1992)
Steven Seagal's finest hour came while playing an ex-Navy Seal who's working as a cook on the Missouri. The film took $156 million and garnered two Academy Award nominations, but it couldn't outdo “Big Mo”, the 45,000-ton, 887ft long man of war, which is the third ship in the US navy to named after the State and the last-ever battleship commissioned in the US. She was ordered in 1940, commissioned in 1944, saw active service in the Pacific in the Second World War, in the Korean War and, after a period in the US mothball fleet, her nine 16-inch guns fired salvoes against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the 1991 Iraq War. She was decommissioned into the reserve fleet in 1992 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995. She now resides in Pearl Harbour as a floating museum.
HMS Surprise from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
A former sail-training ship, the 500-ton, 180ft HMS Rose was launched in 1970, and built by the Smith and Rhuland yard in Nova Scotia, based on a 20-gun frigate built in 1757. She isn’t actually entitled to the HMS (Her Majesty's Ship) prefix because she doesn’t hold a royal warrant. In 2001, she was sold to 20th Century Fox for the making of the film in which she played HMS Surprise, the name under which she was subsequently re-registered. With Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) as master, she pursues the French privateer, Acheron, into the South Atlantic and round Cape Horn. The film crew actually only spent 10 days at sea in the boat, with the balance of scenes filmed in a full-scale replica in a tank. HMS Surprise is now moored in San Diego at the Maritime Museum and is sailed several times a year.
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