Many will quickly find this list of fishing movies to go against the current.
There are a few mainstream titles you’ve no doubt seen, or at the very least heard of, and then there are others that will have most likely never blipped on your radar. If you’re hoping to find movies like “Gone Fishin’”(1997) on this list, then, well, “go fish.”
Some hardened critics will balk at my omission of several standby classics like the 1956 version of “Moby Dick,” starring Gregory Peck and touting a screenplay by one of America’s most treasured storytellers, Ray Bradbury.
Like all fishermen, each of these films share a common but individually unique remark on the nature of the human condition: as no man is born an angler, neither is he born ready for the harrowing trials often required of him in this world. He just learns as he tries.
And you shouldn’t have to try too hard to enjoy these movies about fishing. As an angler, you just will.
1. Low & Clear (2013)
Probably the purest example of the entire fishing genre, this documentary captures the reunion of two former friends when they set off on a final fly-fishing trip. Over casts and flies the two men become aware of the reasons why they grew apart over the years. The saga that ensues reveals the well-known reality of how fishing brings the best, and the worst, out of men. A remarkable film at the very least, the cinematography and breathtaking shots of the British Columbia wilderness in this work of art will have you wishing you were waste deep in steelhead waters. If you don’t believe me, just watch the trailer. You’ll be hooked.
2. The Old Man and the Sea (1999, Animated Short by Alexander Petrov)
Not to be mistaken for the 1958 Warnercolor movie of the same name, this version won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film. Using a paint-on-glass technique that recollects Theodore Wendel-styled brushstrokes, this adoption of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel has a running time of only 20 minutes. Every second of Santiago’s battle with the great marlin, however, is masterfully captured in over 29,000 stunning pastel oil frames hand-painted by director Aleksandr Petrov and his son, Dmitri. You can view the full film below.
3. The Perfect Storm (2000)
“Marky Mark” Wahlberg steals the show of this fishing narrative’s disaster-driven plot. The captain of the F/V Andrea Gail (George Clooney), an Atlantic swordfishing vessel, becomes desperate for cash and steers his crew towards the far-reaches of the Flemish Cap, which he believes to be a billfish honey hole. When an unholy storm puts itself between the boat and port, the fate of the crew lies in the 40-foot swells of the ocean. Based on a true story, “The Perfect Storm” reminds us to ask not what the sea can do for you, but what the sea can do to you.
4. A River Runs Through It (1992)
The story of two fly-fishing brothers whose lives unravel in the sweep of differing currents. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Norman McLean, the tale originates in the babbling streams of early 20th-century Montana, where Norman’s rebellious brother, Paul (Brad Pitt), finds himself drawn to a lifestyle that is anything but the straight and narrow. Much like his knack for catching uncaught trout, Paul’s proclivity for the outcast lifestyle forces even his family’s unfading love to become powerless in saving him.
5. Alamo Bay (1985)
Ed Harris in a gritty 1980’s fishing flick few have ever heard of? Of course that’s on the list. A controversial film set in the coastal waters of a Texas bay town, a vindictive Nam vet goes head-to-head with Vietnamese refugees who encroach on a local fishing industry. Remember “Field of Dreams”? Unless you’d claim that movie was about baseball ghosts encroaching on a farmer’s livelihood, the films have only one thing (and a very good thing) in common—Amy Madigan. Harris and Madigan, a couple on and off the screen, perform beyond the sometimes stilted dialogue to put on an entertaining show about the submerged politics of commercial fishing, the pursuit of the American Dream and the sacrifice required to follow one’s heart—all in the name of fish.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
A fabled “leopard shark” reportedly kills a washed-up marine explorer’s colleague, sparking his sandlot crew of campy oceanographers to embark on a hunt for revenge. A hilarious, quirky spin on the type of marine adventures that made Jacques Cousteau a legend, this deadpan flick sports a stacked cast of director Wes Anderson’s usual suspects: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Willem DaFoe as well as Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum. Chummed with enough witty one-liners and ludicrous aquatic scenarios to sink a ship, “The Life Aquatic” will entertain you into never taking marine biology seriously again.
7. Big Fish (2003)
Not entirely about the actual act of fishing, it revolves instead around the angler’s second greatest passion: exaggeration. Similar to those awkward canoe chats on a father-son fishing trip, this story is about the embellished tales a father, Edward Bloom, spends his whole life spinning for his son. As the father’s health deteriorates, his son sets out to finally catch the truth. A mystical, sometimes trippy Tim Burton flick (sans Johnny Depp), “Big Fish” plays on the allure of the kind of fish every angler understands: “There are some fish that cannot be caught. It’s not that they are faster or stronger than other fish, they’re just touched by something extra.”
8. Jaws (1975)
This one doesn’t need an introduction. If you haven’t seen it, swim out from under your tectonic plate on the bottom of the ocean and get yourself in the know. Immortalized in the fears of every timid ocean-goer upon its release in the summer of 1975, this single film kept vacationers away from the beaches better than an oil spill. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) reminds us what it’s like to own short shorts and stand by a conviction even at the cost of public humiliation. To boot, Captain Quint’s (Robert Shaw) retelling of the infamous sinking of the USS Indianapolis is one of the most sobering moments in movie history.
9. Ondine (2009)
Mermaids are fish, too. “Ondine,” however, doesn’t deal in mermaids; instead, the mysterious woman (Alicja Bachleda) a fisherman finds in his net is believed to be a selkie—a mythological water nymph known to frequent Irish folklore. The young woman brings the fisherman (Colin Farrell) luck every time she sings a peculiar Icelandic tune, but every other part of the fisherman’s life is far from charmed. The real identity of the woman, as the characters eventually discover, makes the fisherman’s tale, for once, more desirable than the truth.
10. Salmon Fishing in Yemen (2011)
The only rom-com on this list, “Salmon Fishing in Yemen” is a date-night movie you can get through without having the urge to dump popcorn salt in your eyes. A fisheries expert, Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), finds himself in the middle of an international publicity stunt to improve troubled British and Middle Eastern relations: introducing salmon fishing to Yemen. The hopeful ambitions of a bankrolling sheikh to bring the fish to the desert unravel a touching story about fly-fishing for the sake of humanity.