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Top 10 Films That Screw With an Aquaphobe’s Head


Yes, Sanctum hits today. And it’s obvious, given the amount of water involved in the film that James Cameron was going to be involved in some form or fashion. I think that’s a law or something. It’s also clear from the trailer that I may have some moments of WTF while watching it. That’s because I am a recovering aquaphobe.

That’s right: I’m afraid of water. And before you make a joke about my bathing habits: no, I’m not that bad off. I’ve heard of some people who literally can’t put their heads under the spray in the shower. No, I just have had a problem in the past with deep water. This due to the fact that I almost drowned twice when I was a very small Widglet. It took me forever to learn to swim because of this (you sort of need to get your face wet) and as a kid I learned the hard way that hydrophobia and aquaphobia are two completely different things–introducing your affliction with the wrong terminology can cause quite the kerfuffle.

Anyway, this problem has mellowed with time. I’m fine with swimming pools now but I still don’t like to run around in the ocean because, well, things live out there. Sea life doesn’t come pester me in the TechnoCave–it only seems fair that I don’t go bother it where it lives, you know?

[ad#longpost]One thing that lingered for a long time–and I’ll be interested to see how I do with this–was feeling a little anxious whenever I was watching a film that went underwater on a big screen. As part of my therapy, I decided to put together a list of the film that used to screw with my head the most. Some of these descriptions contain spoilers, because it’s hard to talk about specifics otherwise.

One notable exclusion, in case anyone wonders about it: Thunderball? Honestly, the scuba fight at the end went on for three days, so I quickly just became numb to the environment.

Anyway, here we go. These are not films I am unable to watch. These are not films I dislike. Some of them I like a great deal. They just really give me the willies at certain points. Join me in my mental instability, won’t you?

10. Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Yes, let’s just get your gale force laughter out of the way first. Yes, it’s a Disney film. Yes, while the FX were charming at the time, it was fairly obvious how the underwater sequences were filmed. Yes, logically I knew it wasn’t anywhere near being Angela Lansbury and company submerged. But it was so unnatural that, on some level, that bit always disturbed me. Later animated films like Finding Nemo are fine–so no clue why this one would always do weird things to my head. Give me the animated armor and such at the end any day of the week, though.

9. Das Boot. Claustrophobia on top of aquaphobia? Fun! You’re in an utterly submerged tin can while in danger of the tin can rupturing and making the ocean come in and say hi. Hilariously, I remember in high school there was some sort of military aptitude test that we took. Apparently however I scored on the thing prompted the U.S. Navy to send me a letter offering me a place on a nuclear submarine. I was flattered but yeah. No.

8. The Hunt for Red October. Take everything I sad about the above and add the bit where Alec Baldwin willingly (willingly!!) leaps into the ocean with the hope that the submarine crew will fish his ass out of it again. Utter madness. Our DVD review is here.

7. Alien: Resurrection. Yes, I know. The film was a disappointment. There were some high points, like the basketball sequence and I did enjoy Sigourney‘s Ripley v.2. But the bit that was really nail biting was take the Aliens you know and love and put them underwater. That part didn’t work for you? Worked like hell for me.

Direct link for the feedreaders.

6. The Bermuda Depths. Probably the most obscure film on this list. Some of you, however, will react when I dub it “that TV movie with the giant turtle.” Almost unfathomly bizarre (no pun intended), you can check out a write-up of the film here. I didn’t know that it was a Rankin-Bass production, for example. Anyway, beyond just the involvement of Connie Sellecca, Carl Weathers and Burl Ives…it featured a giant turtle dragging a guy underwater to his doom. This was from 1978. Which means I was six. You figure out why that image stuck with me.

5. Alligator. In this film there’s a sequence in which a young boy is taken in the back yard while at a party. He’s blindfolded and led up onto a diving board over the deep end of a pool. And, well, if you don’t already know what I’m talking about…here:

Direct link for the feedreaders.

Dark swimming pools. I don’t like them. Neither should you.

4. Jaws. Of course Jaws. Like I have to explain. This is the epitome of “Stay out of the freaking water, you morons.” I was always bothered by what lived in the water almost if not more than the water itself. Which is probably why I’m fine in showers. Unless I’m in an SNL sketch, no danger of being bothered by a shark in my bathroom.

3. The Big Blue. This really messed with my head: people actually would hold onto a weighted sled-thing and let it drag them down into great depths…with no breathing apparatus…willingly! Nobody holding a gun to their heads or anything. What in the hell is that about? And not only that, but they have competitions about it, trying to out not-breathe each other! Has the world gone mad?

2. Anything IMAX. You want to talk about an immersive experience? As I mentioned previously, the IMAX where I grew up was the Spacedome at the Space and Rocket Center. Watching an underwater movie on that was amazing. But I literally would grab onto the arms of the seat and hold on. If you don’t have IMAX near you, grab Blue Planet and watch it and just imagine that but much, much bigger.

1. The Abyss. Why does this win? Is it because this is a James Cameron-themed tie-in jump on the bandwagon post? Actually and honestly: no. It’s because this film not only had Ed Harris swimming with no air from one access point to another, not only had Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s sacrifice (which would have been enough) but actually has a method of using liquid to breathe? The concept of this freaked me out to no end. One of my favorite movies filled with lots of “Oh shit” moments but there were more for me than for most.

Got any favorites I missed? Have a phobia of your own that makes your cinema viewing interesting? Share in the comments. Thanks for joining me on this trip down Trauma Lane.


  • I actually loved the whole thing, right up until the squishy-useless-alien-human-worm-baby coming in at five minutes from the end of the film.

  • your aquaphobe problem sounds a lot like my acrophobia problem — I feel ‘uneasy’ when I see parachuting/skydiving on screen…

    I’ve actually been parachuting twice, but I knew my second time up was going to be my last — and nothing was going to change that when a week after my last jump, the younger brother of an elementary school classmate died in a tandem jump which also claimed the lives of the instructor and their photographer…

  • Bloody hell, Wayne. Yeah, I’ve never known anyone personally who drowned or was eaten by a sea creature.

    Don’t know that I could ever jump, myself. Heard the story of a manager I used to work for. He was parachuting with a friend of his. My manager had pulled his chute–nothing. Pulled his backup–nothing. His friend was able to secure the two of them together and use his chute to get them down safely. Not smoothly but at least safely. If the friend had pulled his chute before my manager, my manager would have gone the way of his vanity license plate: “SPLAT.”

    Of course, he was always insane anyway. But in a good way.

    Not a fan of heights myself. But no problem with it on the screen and, oddly enough, if I can fool my brain into thinking I’m not high up, I’m fine. The coves above the theatre seats at my high school were probably eighty feet or so with only chicken wire and asbestos between you and them…but I was totally comfortable. Put me on the grid above the stage, though–where I can see the floor–and could barely move.

  • Loved the crew. Loved the basketball scene and the fight. “I died.” All of that, great. It just didn’t gel for me overall.

  • the first time I jumped it was scary but it was all about adrenaline, the second time up the adrenaline wasn’t there and I realized ‘this is stupid’ and that was it…

    for me, it’s not really about the heights, it’s the possibility of falling that’s the real issue… I used to work at the CN Tower in Toronto and probably went up more than 1000 times and it NEVER bothered me, not even when I went out on the Observation Deck that was exposed to the environment but enclosed by a metal cage… since that time, at least one person threatened to commit suicide by somehow forcing the bars apart and squeezing through and another threatened (or so the authorities believed) to crash his small plane into the tower and after 9/11, I began to wonder if the entire top of the tower could be broken off by a plane hitting it…

    strange, I can watch a movie like ‘The Longest Day’ and not be bothered by those paratrooper scenes but I have been bothered by similar scenes in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Heartbreak Ridge’… it might be a POV situation and being able to see the ground from the plane in the HR scenes…