While it's true that there's not many speargun battles or fist fights over sunken treasure are going on these days — at least that I know of — it was this level of adventure that captivated audiences decades ago. Whether it was Navy frogman Mike Nelson outwitting villains, British secret agent 007 unearthing nefarious plots on scuba, or the legendary Jacques Cousteau actually exploring the deep blue sea, a generation of divers were undeniably entranced by these underwater adventures.
It seems these days, the majority of underwater programming is either nature documentary — like the great work done by BBC with Blue Planet II — or B-rated horror flick — like the scuba-themed scream fest 47 Meters Down. Here's a list of six TV series and movies that showcased the underwater realm so effectively, millions took the plunge and became scuba divers as a result.
This conversation has to start with Sea Hunt. The series featured 155 episodes of pure underwater thrills from 1958 to 1961. Lloyd Bridges plays former Navy frogman Mike Nelson, who is more than willing to step up to the challenge when dangerous nautical adventures arise. The underwater scenes were filmed in the Bahamas, California and Florida, and Bridges himself would sometimes challenge the audience to help protect the marine environment at the end of episodes. The series made such a lasting impact that divers don vintage gear and re-enact scenes each year in Florida at an event called Sea Hunt Forever.
Thunderball (James Bond)
Who can forget the underwater scenes from Thunderball? In fact, you can still dive part of the set used to film this James Bond film off New Providence Island in the Bahamas. Bond, played by Sean Connery in the 1965 film, uncovers a devious plot from SPECTRE that includes the use of atomic bombs. An epic underwater battle scene ensues — one that would inspire filmmakers to look beneath the waves for decades to come. Anything Bond does is going to be imitated, and this movie took diving to the next level in terms cool factor.
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Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom
This landmark wildlife TV program had a long original run from 1963 to 1988 — it was later revived in the early 2000s — and for good reason. Hosted by Marlin Perkins, this series inspired people to strive for exploration and discover some of Earth's natural wonders. It was seen as appointment viewing for those with an interest in wildlife or a bit of wanderlust in their hearts.
The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
Cousteau is one of the most legendary underwater explorers to live, and he brought TV viewers along for the adventure in this series that ran from 1968 until 1975. This show took you aboard Calypso, featuring groundbreaking footage from around the world. The U.S. version was also narrated by Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame.
This children's show was typically shown in short clips, as Diver Dan — donning a vintage diving helmet — walked along the ocean floor, chatting with fish and even a mermaid as he explored. For the children who caught this show in the early '60s, the ocean was a new world of possibilities.
Beneath the 12 Mile Reef
This 1953 film — starring Robert Wagner, Terry Moore and Gilbert Roland — was inspired by the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet. Except the two rival families in this story feature sponge divers who live in Florida. This classic flick was even nominated for the Best Color Cinematography Academy Award.