In the middle part of the last century, no one spent more time onscreen in a swimsuit than Esther Williams. A competitive swimming sensation in her teens, Williams held a number of national swimming records before she began acting in the 1940s. Of all her roles, it was her portrayal of Australian swimming star Annette Kellerman in the musical biopic Million Dollar Mermaid for which she's best remembered. It’s an old-fashioned, melodramatic gem.
The tanned, fit granddaddy of all surfing movies, The Endless Summer is a perfectly simple idea, wonderfully executed. Filmmaker Bruce Brown follows two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, on a trip around the world, as they travel to—and, of course, surf in—places as far-flung as Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii, and South Africa. Their goal? To "follow" summer around the globe. A beautiful movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.
An existential exploration of postwar American ennui? Or just a prime opportunity to see Burt Lancaster hop from pool to pool in a bathing suit for 90 minutes? Either way, this unsettling adaptation of John Cheever's short story, about a middle-aged suburban man who decides to swim his way home from a party through the "river" of backyard pools in his neighborhood, is a remarkable study of wealth, class, obsession, and the raw, mysterious attraction of water.
A ridiculous, hugely entertaining buddy film (of sorts), Point Break stars Keanu Reeves as an FBI agent—with the preposterous name of "Johnny Utah"—who goes undercover to try to catch a gang of nihilistic bank-robbing surfer dudes, led by the philosophy-spouting adrenaline junkie Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). The movie probably would have been twice as good if it were 30 minutes shorter, but it's still a fun, occasionally dramatic ride, with some truly excellent surfing scenes.
Made by Dana Brown, the son of the director and narrator of The Endless Summer, this documentary is another paean to the mystical power and beauty of the ocean, and to the men and women who are pulled back, again and again, to surf its waves.Scenes of surfers riding some of the world's tallest waves, at Cortes Bank off of San Diego, are simply mind-blowing.
At times utterly predictable, and at others surprisingly moving, Soul Surfer charts professional surfer Bethany Hamilton's recovery from a terrifying 2003 shark attack in which her left arm was bitten off. The film features a star-studded cast—AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Carrie Underwood—and more stirring surfing scenes than you can shake a bang stick at. Also notable is the artful way the filmmakers used digital technology to make it appear that Robb had really lost her arm.
This film is a gratifyingly thoughtful biopic about Jay Moriarty, an American surfer and adventurer who died at just 22 years old in a diving accident in the Indian Ocean. Starring Johnny Weston as Moriarty and Gerard Butler as his mentor, Frosty Hesson, the film follows 16-year-old Moriarty as he obsesses about riding (and eventually does ride) the colossal swell that sometimes appears at Mavericks, near California's Half Moon Bay, after winter storms in the Pacific.
Touch the Wall, a documentary about American swimmers Missy Franklin—who, at just 17, won four gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics—and her teammate, friend, one-time mentor and rival, Kara Lynn Joyce, packs more drama and heart into any given 60 seconds than most movies have in their entire running time. If there is one movie that captures what it takes physically, mentally, and especially, emotionally to be a champion swimmer, this is it.