Boats make a movie more fascinating. They can intensify action and tension in the film, usually when you add changing weather conditions or conflict. They aren’t recognized in the ending credits, but sometimes they hold an important role on the big screen.
Titanic (1997) is a testimony to this. It has become a well-established part of pop culture. It was the first film to reach the billion-dollar mark in sales, and remained the highest-grossing film of all time until Avatar (2009) surpassed it in 2010.
Here some of the well-known boats in movie history:
1. Orca from Jaws (1975)
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
This memorable line made Orca one of the most famous fishing boat in film history. In the film, it was smashed by the 25-foot great white shark, with owner Quint (Robert Shaw) eaten alive.
Actually, there were two Orcas used during the production of the film. The first was originally a lobster boat called Warlock, which was purchased in Massachusetts. It was revamped and was named on the set as Orca 1. This was used in most of the regular fishing scenes.
The other boat, the Orca 2, was made of fiberglass molded to the shape of the original boat. This was used in scenes where the boat is sinking or being destroyed.
The Orca 1 was purchased by a Los Angeles fisherman shortly after the filming, but when the movie became a hit, Universal Studios bought Orca 1 back, paying the fisherman 10 times what they sold it for. Its director, Stephen Spielberg himself reportedly became fond of visiting it, but one day it was mysteriously gone.
Meanwhile, Orca 2 was purchased by a local mechanic hired by Hollywood when it came to the set. He placed it on his privately-owned beach in Menemsha, Massachusetts. But as time passed by, parts and pieces became missing because of fans who wanted to take their own piece of film history. In the end, the owner decided to chop the remains of the boat into squares for sale – which were all sold out.
2. African Queen from The African Queen (1951)
This Hollywood film classic was set in 1914, telling a tale of love and adventure wrapped in an intrepid river journey. It was famously known because it starred screen legends Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, but the steamer boat they were riding on – the African Queen – was where most of the action took place. The scenes of the board of the boat were filmed using a large raft with a mockup of the boat on the top. Some parts of the board set were made removable to make room for the large Technicolor camera.
African Queen was built in England in 1912 and was used to shuttle cargo, missionaries and hunting parties by the East Africa British Railways company. It remained in service in Africa for decades, even after being used for the film in 1951, until it was decommissioned in 1968. The boat was brought to the United States and was registered as a National Historic site in 2012.
After its was refurbished in 2012, it was restored to service as a tourist boat in Key Largo, Florida.
3. HMS Surprise from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
In an adaptation of Patrick O’ Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, Master and Commander has a well-documented historical account of the Napoleonic wars. HMS Surprise, a British warship, was the vessel of Captain Jack Aubrey that was ordered to pursue French privateer Archeron into the South Atlantic and round Cape Horn. The film crew spent 10 days at sea in the boat, and some scenes were filmed in a full-scale replica in a tank.
The ship used in the film as HMS Surprise was a former sail-training ship, named Rose. Launched in 1970, it was built in Nova Scotia, Canada as a replica of the original 18th-century British Admiralty drawings. It was certified by the United States Coast Guard and was operated as a sail training vessel during the 80s and 90s. Although it was given the prefix HMS, meaning His (or Her) Majesty’s Ship, it was never used by the British royalty and was never commissioned in the Royal Navy. Therefore, it had no right to use it.
It was in 2001 when it was sold to the 20th Century Fox studio. After the production, HMS Surprise was sold to the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which repaired the ship to sailing condition. For many times a year, it sailed alongside the other ships from the museum. It appeared on the big screen again in 2010 as HMS Providence in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
4. Red October from The Hunt For Red October (1990)
The Hunt For Red October, a Cold War thriller, was one of the best submarine films ever made. Based on Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel of the same title, it became the sixth highest grossing film of 1990 and had Sean Connery speaking Russian with a Scottish accent.
The Red October is one hell of a submarine. As a Typhoon class submarine carrying many ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, it became the partial focus of the drama for the whole story. It was huge and could withstand a full-fledged pistol battle within the weapons hold. It successfully passed through an underwater obstacle course like it was blindfolded, and survived the attacks of both American and Soviet fleets untouched by severe, aggressive damage. The Red October seemed to be capable of starting a war with its eyes closed.
During production, the Navy granted the filmmakers access to some actual submarines and allowed them to take photos of it to use in set and prop design, since the subs were cramped enough on its own so it could not accommodate a film crew. In the exterior shots of USS Dallas, however, the actual USS Houston was used.
5. USS Missouri from Under Siege (1992)
Steven Seagal had the time of his life while playing an ex-Navy seal working as a cook on Missouri in Under Siege, his most critically and financially successful film. The film garnered two Academy Awards nominations and earned $156 million in box office.
The action thriller prominently featured USS Missouri, a 45,000-ton 887-ft. long battleship, which was the third US Navy ship to be named after the state and the last battleship commissioned in the US. Yes, they used the actual ship, but for most sequences the filmmakers used USS Alabama museum ship. For the North Korean submarine, meanwhile, the USS Drum was used.
Ordered in 1940 and commissioned in 1944, Missouri served in the Pacific during the World War II. It also fired its guns against enemy positions during the Korean War in 1951, and fired salvos against Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Gulf War in 1991.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Missouri was decommissioned in 1992, but returned to be part of the US Navy reserve fleet in 1995. Today, she resides at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as a floating museum.
USS Missouri was also featured in another 2012 action film, Battleship, in which it appeared as the hero. Pop singer Cher’s music video for her 1989 hit “If I Could Turn Back Time,” was filmed aboard the ship, but it received criticisms about the singer and the Navy as well due to its sexual nature. Because of the controversy, the Navy since refused to allow any music videos to be filmed aboard its ships.