You could say that Mermaid Movies are my specialist subject, I wrote my dissertation on them at University. ‘Why?’, you might ask? For a start, everyone was waiting about vampires and I wanted to be different. But also, I suppose mermaids have always meant freedom and escape to me – the wild thrill of the sea, wrapped up with grace and beauty…plus a side order of danger. Mermaids can be beguiling, inviting, sweet. They can also lure humans to their death. This knife-edge between good and evil is endlessly intriguing (certainly compared to those big-toothed, sun-avoiding vampires).
And so, here I present my favourite Mermaid Movies. Each one handpicked for a different kind of mer-love.
This almost-forgotten beauty is a film that gives me great joy. When I studied it at University, and the only way to see it was to go into the depths of the BFI and be shown how an old school projector works. It is now available on youtube – happy days!
This light comedy came out post-war just when everyone really needed a good old laugh. Glynis Johns plays Miranda Trewella, the titular mermaid who beguiles poor, simple earth fellows with her playful nature. Firstly, she traps a married man in a cave and persuades him to take her to London so she can see the big smoke. He wisely has some dresses made for her by his wife’s couturier, to hide her tail. How fabulous is that? Speaking of which…why don’t I have a couturier…OR a tail? Goddamit.
He disguises Miranda as an invalid and his wife begrudgingly allows her to stay. I insist you watch it to see what she gets up to during her stay. In short, this film is very silly, very twee and a very enjoyable way to pass a lazy afternoon.
Director: Ken Annakin
If you haven’t seen this film, who even are you?! Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah takes the leads as star-crossed lovers who refuse to let a giant orange tail come between them. The story is simple: boy meets girl, girl is fish, scientists try to capture fish-girl for experiments…. You know the rest. This film is currently streaming on Disney Plus and frankly, would be the most warm and cuddly way I could think of to spend your day. It exists in the same world as 80s classics Mannequin, Turner & Hooch, Big Business.
John Candy and Eugene Levy are the most excellent supporting cast you could ask for, and the film carries you along with its joy and escapism. This was one of Ron Howard’s earliest features as director, and gave a glimpse of the talent he went on to fulfil. A family-friendly delight of a film. To be honest, splash is worth a watch just for her exceptionally envy-inducing tail alone.
Director: Ron Howard
THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)
O.K. FINE, I’ll include it in my list of Mermaid Movies, but I’m not happy about it. I’ve always felt that TLM was the least exciting of all mermaid tales, but yet the one that gets the most attention. However, it must be admitted that this adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale is charming. Look at the singing seafood! Ignore the slightly unnerving message about a girl who gives everything up for a man she has barely met! To be fair, at least Walt Disney gives her a happy ending.
Ariel was the first non-human Disney princess and the only one to become a mother to her own child. And now she’s about to be reinvented, with a new live-action film starring the luminous Halle Bailey. More importantly, Melissa McCarthy is playing Ursula – a casting I have long dreamed of, and I would just like to say right now that I am available to write OR direct Ursula’s origin story. McCarthy is all we need.
Directors: Ron Clements & Jon Musker
As with all the Studio Ghibli films, Ponyo is an immersive journey into the imagination. This one begins with a sea of jellyfish and a very small, very cute creature starting a journey. Ponyo is a goldfish princess who meets a little boy, Sôsuke, and decides to become a human girl so she can experience life on land. Cue, transformation and watching her try all sorts of new things she hasn’t tried before – like ramen. YUM! There’s also the lovely story of Sôsuke and his Mum, who take care of one another while his Dad is away.
Ponyo is available on Netflix and should you need to put on the English version for little ones, the voices are immense: Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Betty White!! What the what?!
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
BLUE MY MIND (2017)
If Mermaid Movies were my babies, Blue My Mind would be by far my favourite one, which I realise you’re not supposed to have. If you’ve seen it, you may understand why. A story of teenage rebellion-meets-metamorphosis, it follows the journey of Mia, a girl whose body seems to be reflecting her inner turmoil. As she watches the changes to her skin and appetite with horror she comes to accept that nature is stronger than her desire to fit in.
This film is beautifully shot in grey-blue ocean tones, and relies on prosthetics more than CGI, which lends it a sense of realism despite the fantastical premise. The teenage girl dynamics are exquisitely realised – tension, sexuality, recklessness all play their part against Mia’s identity struggles. This film moved me hugely and still remains one of the most underrated films I’ve ever seen. Perhaps you have to be a mermaid nerd to love it, but for me it ranks alongside the likes of The Fly in how it depicts body horror. A must-watch.
Director: Lisa Brühlman
SONG OF THE SEA (2015)
Song of the Sea, (Irish translation: Amhrán na Mara) is of the most gorgeous animated films I’ve ever seen. It is a film about a selkie, which is a special kind of mermaid – half-human, half-seal. The Selkie myth has been part of Irish folklore for centuries and this is a perfect iteration. It won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2015, as well as a raft of other awards. Rightly so.
The film tells the story of a young boy, Ben, who blames his little sister Saoirse for his mother’s death… but he doesn’t know there is far more magic and mystery to it than that. Haunting music, charming animation and a beautifully paced story throughout. Oh and Brendan Geeson lends his ever soothing tones to the character of their Father. You will shed a tear watching this one. Cartoon Salon who created it, also made the wonderful Wolfwalkers, which also won the Oscar Best Animated Film, so if that’s not pedigree I don’t know what is. On Disney Plus.
Director: Tomm Moore
Undine are elemental beings associated with water…destined to fall in love and die if they lose that love. Not so different from the run of the mill mermaid, and yet…this is a much more adult movie than many of the others on this list. A smash hit at festivals last year, it is about a historian in Berlin who has her heartbroken, only to discover that he inner power is not what she thought it was. She faces a tough decision about how to deal with her newfound mythological status. Is her destiny cursed or charmed? You’ll have to watch it to find out!
Director: Chrisian Petzold
There we go – 7 Mermaid Movies!
So there you have it, our favourite Mermaid Movies list. These do sometimes break the mould of cutesy/kid-friendly and are a surprisingly popular movie genre. They are almost always associated with romance and love, but when we dig deeper…all sorts of human desire and pain lies at the bottom of the deep blue sea! If you know of any more films about these wonderful creatures, please do get in touch – email@example.com or on our socials.