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Non-fiction diving movies



Scuba Diver Editor-in-Chief Mark Evans selects some of the best non-fiction scuba diving – and general diving – movies out there.

Hi Scuba Divers fans, and welcome back.

If you caught our video a couple of weeks back, you will have seen we had a bit of fun and collated a list of the must-watch dive movies from the past few decades.

Well, in that list, I concentrated on fictional stories, but as there are plenty of cracking non-fiction dive films out there, I thought it only right to do another video focusing on them. So as before break out the beers, grab the popcorn and tune in – the perfect way to wash away a few hours when you aren’t actually going diving yourself.

Dive movies are a great way to spend a few hours when you are not underwater yourself, and while the fictional stuff is all good fun – I am talking The Deep, Into the Blue, Fool’s Gold and a few of the Bond movies – there have been some amazing non-fiction dive films over the years, soon to be joined by Ron Howard’s Hollywood treatment of the Thai cave rescue, Thirteen Lives.

Still can’t quite get my head around Viggo Mortenson and Colin Farrell as Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, but it is sure to be a belter if his Apollo 13 movie is anything to go by. So we thought it would be a bit of fun to collate a list of some must-watch non-fiction, or at least factually based, dive films.

Let’s see if your favourites are on the list!

The Big Blue

Luc Besson might be better known these days for his action fodder like Leon, Taken, Lucy and Anna, but back in 1988, he directed what has become a cult classic. Undoubtedly the most-successful French film of the 1980s, The Big Blue follows the friendship and rivalry between two champion freedivers, Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca (though the latter was renamed Molinari in the film). It was shot in the clear warm waters off Greece and is acknowledged as being heavily fictionalized and dramatized – the two divers were not direct competitors, for instance – but heh, it is a movie at the end of the day.


Men of Honour

We mentioned this film in our last video. OK, it is not scuba diving, but this true story of Carl Brashear’s struggle against racism to become the first African-American diver in the US Navy is gripping stuff. Cuba Gooding Jnr does a fine job as Brashear, and even though some of the stand-out scenes in the 2000 film were, shall we say, an embellishment of the truth, it has stood the test of time well and is worth a watch.

When he fights back to fitness after losing a leg and being fitted with a prosthetic limb, you’ll be cheering as he finally walks 12 steps in a Mark 5 dive suit to be reinstated on active duty. Robert DeNiro provides his usual scene-stealing showmanship as his hard-as-nails training officer, who apparently was a composite character of several different people.


Diving into the Unknown

Released in 2016, this film is certainly one to put you off cave diving for life. It follows a team of experienced technical divers as they risk their own lives on a mission to bring back the bodies of their two team mates, who failed to return on a previous dive in a cave system in Norway. The official recovery operation is called off by the Norwegian and British authorities after being too dangerous, and the police closed the caves, leaving the rest of the team to embark on a secret mission to retrieve the bodies themselves.

They are accompanied by a documentary film crew who capture the epic mission on film, using footage from helmet cameras worn by the divers.


Last Breath

This is one of the most-suspenseful films you can watch, and tells the true story of a deep sea diver stranded on the bottom of the North Sea in 2012. Commercial diver Chris Lemons ended up with his umbilical cable – which supplied his breathing gas, hot water for heating, power for his light, and a radio link to the surface – being severed when the support vessel shifted position. He is left trapped 100m below the surface with just a small amount of air in his emergency back-up tank.

What makes Last Breath so gripping is that it combines genuine footage and audio recorded at the time on the divers’ radios and body cameras, with well-shot reconstructed scenes. Even though when you watch it you know he makes it in the end, the scenes where you see him lying seemingly lifeless on the bottom are real heart-in-your-mouth stuff. Perhaps not the best film to watch if you are contemplating going into commercial diving, though…


There are some other movies which, while being fictional stories, are rooted in more-realistic scenarios than some of those in our previous video on dive movies.

The Dive (Dykket)

Non-fiction diving movies 1

These include The Dive, a taut Norwegian thriller from 1989 that revolves around two commercial divers who get trapped in a diving bell on the seabed after an accident – and the subsequent race-against-time to find a way to bring them back to the surface.

Click here to watch the full movie. *Last checked 27-04-2022



There is also Pressure, from 2015, which tells a similar story, this time with four divers stuck in a stricken bell off the coast of Somalia. Of course, got to mention Open Water from 2003, which proclaims on the poster ‘based on a true story’. It is – very loosely – based on the disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan in 1998, who were left behind by a dive boat visiting the Great Barrier Reef. However, given that apart from the fact they were left behind by the boat when it returned to shore, nothing else is known what fate befell the Lonergans – so the vast majority of the movie is pure speculation. And it is pretty pants as a movie anyway, to be honest.

Click here to watch movie on youtube *Last checked 27-April-2022



And let’s not forget some of the documentary films out there which deserve watching, including Blackfish, which focuses on the controversial captivity of killer whales


The Cove

The Cove, which sees activists infiltrate Taiji in Japan, site of horrific dolphin hunts.



Seaspiracy, which while flawed in many ways, does raise awareness of some of the issues with the global fishing industry.

Is your favourite diving movie on the list?

Do you know any other must-watch non-fiction dive films? Leave your comments below, and if you have a question, fire away – if we can’t answer, maybe someone in our community will be able to.

Remember, if you enjoyed this, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and check out our ever-growing playlist for more educational and inspirational videos. As always, stay safe – and if you are going diving, enjoy!

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Picture of Mark Evans
Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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