10 Best Sailing Movies of All Time

From All Is Lost to Maiden, these are the films we keep coming back to watch again and again.
Robert Redford
All is Lost Courtesy IMDB

Making a list of the 10 Best Sailing Movies of All Time is kind of like making a list of the 10 best ways to eat chocolate. Some people prefer the chomp of a candy bar. Other people love the miniature chips baked into cookies. Still other people go for temperature, reaching for ice cream or for a bomb to drop into a hot mug of milk.

For us, the 10 Best Sailing Movies of All Time are the ones we’re happy to go back and watch again and again. Each of them captures something special about being out on the water, and gives us a memorable insight into the human spirit that sailing brings alive.

Here’s a list of our favorites. We look forward to hearing from you in the comments about your favorites, too.

10. White Squall

White Squall movie poster
White Squall Courtesy IMDB

Ridley Scott, more recently known for the hits Napoleon and The Martian, directed this 1996 movie about teenage boys who discover discipline and camaraderie after facing a severe storm while training aboard a brigantine. The story is based on real events aboard the Albatross, which sank in 1961. Jeff Bridges stars as “Skipper,” teaching the boys through tough love and discipline.

9. Morning Light

This 2008 documentary focuses on the sloop Morning Light and 15 rookie sailors who want to crew in the Transpac Yacht Race. All the crew members were between 18 and 23 years old. Filming took place during training and the actual sailing of the race aboard Morning Light in 2007. Roy E. Disney held a private screening for US Sailing prior to the film’s release.

8. Kon-Tiki

Thor Heyerdahl’s epic 4,300-mile crossing of the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947 is the subject of this 2012 film—which was 2012’s highest-grossing film in Norway. It was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, and for a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe, marking the first time a Norwegian film was nominated for both major Hollywood prizes.

7. Adrift

movie poster
Adrift Courtesy IMDB

Released in 2018, Adrift focuses on a couple facing a catastrophic hurricane. The story is based on the 2002 book Red Sky in Mourning by Tami Oldham Ashcraft, and is set in 1983, during Hurricane Raymond. The film stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, who end up adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, trying to get to Hawaii with a damaged boat and no radio.

6. True Spirit

This 2023 drama is about Australian teenager Jessica Watson, the youngest person ever to sail solo nonstop around the world. As the reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: “This is a family-friendly picture, wholesome and tailored for the American market—although I suspect that director Sarah Spillane also shaped it to inspire teenage girls, in particular.”

5. Maiden

This 2018 documentary tells the story of Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on charter boats who became the skipper of the first ever all-female crew to enter the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989. They finished second in Maiden’s class, winning two out of six individual legs of the race. In 1990, Edwards detailed her story in the book Maiden, co-written by Tim Madge.

4. Captain Ron

You know you love this 1992 comedy just as much as we do. Kurt Russell stars as a quirky sailor with a questionable past who takes Martin Short and his family through the Caribbean on an inherited sailboat. We know it’s fiction, but we see a lot of reality in this film. If you’ve spent even a little bit of time on boats in the islands, then we’re guessing you see it, too.

3. All Is Lost

All is Lost movie poster
Courtesy IMDB

Robert Redford stars in this 2013 film about a resourceful sailor who collides with a shipping container at sea, and ends up face-to-face with his own mortality. Redford is the only cast member in the entire film, which includes just fifty-one spoken words. The title of the film is a nod to E. W. Hornung’s observation that when courage is lost, all is lost.

2. The Mercy

The story of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst and his solo attempt to circumnavigate the globe are at the heart of this 2018 film. The struggles he confronted on the journey while his family awaited his return are one of the most enduring mysteries of recent times. Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz star as Donald and Clare Crowhurst.

1. In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea movie poster
In the Heart of the Sea Courtesy IMDB

This 2015 film recounts how a whale sank a New England whaling ship in 1820, later inspiring the novel Moby-Dick. It’s directed and produced by Ron Howard, based on the book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. The film’s stars include Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland, a who’s who of today’s biggest Hollywood names.