The call is coming from the stern.
Cruises and tourist-laden vessels that set sail for open waters have often been marred by controversy, whether they’re bafflingly colliding or they’re infested with bed bugs. And throughout the decades, their portrayal onscreen has often featured dire, unfortunate situations. So, with that in mind, I present to you the best thrillers and horror flicks that showcase stressed-out characters onboard ships.
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The Bermuda Triangle has been mined for plenty of horror media over the decades, but 2009’s Triangle is perhaps the freshest take. After a few friends on a trip are, via a storm, forced to abandon their boat and hop aboard an abandoned cruise, they are confronted by a stalker with an ax. Things go downhill pretty quickly. The moral of the story here is don’t board or sail on a cruise with a route that passes through or near the Bermuda Triangle because time travel. Or, maybe that’s just a mantra, I’ll stick to. You do you.
'Ghost Ship' (2002)
This arguably now-iconic B-movie—courtesy of the surprising (yet inspired) casting of prestige actress Julianna Margulies—sees a salvage crew decide to board a derelict cruise ship (yeah, there’s a few of those on this list) whose location in international waters allows it to be claimed by whoever delivers it to port. If the ship itself wasn’t enough of a treat, while scoping it out, the crew stumbles across millions of dollars in gold bars. However, shortly after their discovery, the tugboat explodes and one by one (spoiler alert), the cast meets their timely demises at the hands of supernatural entities (and, in one scene, a palatial booby-trapped wire than spans the entirety of the front deck).
'Dead Calm' (1989)
A couple (played by Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman) takes their private luxury boat—OK so, cruise-adjacent, therefore I’m putting it on this list, sorry—out to sea for a much-needed getaway. While sailing away, the two come across a man, Hughie Warriner (played by Billy Zane), on a drifting boat who claims he was on a trip with a crew who all died of food poisoning. The couple allows Hughie to board and, well, lies and deceit abound. I don’t want to spoil anything because this flick is the sort of domestic-like thriller that doesn’t hit theaters anymore and it features Billy Zane in what would be his best, most delicious role until his turn as Satan’s little helper in 1995’s Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight.
'Piranha 3D' (2010)
An actually good horror remake that follows a school of aggressive Jurassic piranhas that are, courtesy of an earthquake, unleashed on a massive group of hooligans at a lakeside resort during Spring Break. Although you may not spot a cruise onscreen, there are many sizeable boats and floats populated with obnoxious partyers on the film’s primary body of water. Honestly, one could argue that the moral to Piranha—like many slasher films before it—is that if you just reigned in your “cruise behavior” (copious tequila shots consumed via bare stomachs, etc.) a little dinosaur fish wouldn’t be so inclined to eat you.
Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, and Jon Voight take what’s basically a river cruse–we love those!—through the Amazonian jungle in an attempt to film a documentary about a long-lost tribe. As fate would have it, though, they stumble upon a record-breaking snake and…yeah. When you’re not distracted by the giant creature in this feature, there’s actually a decent amount of scenery on display that showcases the Amazon in all its glistening glory.
'The Poseidon Adventure' (1972, 2006)
Both the original and the remake (Poseidon) focus on a luxury cruise liner that is overturned at sea by a massive wave during her transatlantic voyage. For a majority of the film, the passengers and crew struggle to escape the vessel while trapped inside. And for a majority of the film, your blood pressure will likely remain high, as the characters literally climb from room to room, attempting to escape the floodwaters. With that said, the films arguably double as a showcase for the layout of a cruise, so if you’re a cruise nerd—y’all exist, I know you do—check this one out!
We all know the classic tale. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall in love, they board a Nice Boat, they network in a car in an onboard garage, there’s fancy jewelry, a giant iceberg, self-sacrifice, and a documentary. It’s a movie that defined a generation. And when I say “a generation,” I mean the lengths James Cameron is willing to fulfill a personal interest in the deep seas.
'Deep Rising' (1998)
“Cruise creature feature” really has a ring to it, don’t you think? Maybe that’s why this not-so-self-serious flick from the director of 1999’s The Mummy has picked up a cult following. The story follows mercenaries intending to rob a luxury cruise ship, but little do they know, the ship is under siege by way of tentacled-creatures who are very hungry for human flesh.