These 10 fishing films made it to the Oscar stage, maybe not winning, but recognized all the same.
With the 86th Annual Academy Awards broadcast last Sunday, we started looking back through the annals of Oscar nominees and winners that tell stories involving one of our favored pastimes: fishing.
Surprisingly, not that many films have been made about the sport of fishing, and even fewer of them have gotten Academy recognition. This year, the closest we got was a cargo ship besieged by Somali pirates in the Tom Hanks-starring Captain Phillips.
Still, we’ve compiled a list of our 10 favorite Oscar nominated films that involve fishing. We’ve got everything from the serious “to be expected” choices to examples where we take the word “involve” in pretty loose fashion. We hope you will enjoy both sides of the coin.
View the slideshow to see the movies, and remind us of any we’ve forgotten in the comments.
A River Runs Through It (1992)
We’ll start with the ultimate fishing movie – and the fly-fisherman’s manifesto – A River Runs Through It. Directed by Oscar-winner Robert Redford and featuring powerful performances from Craig Sheffer (in the lead role) and a pre-fame Brad Pitt (as the loose cannon brother), A River Runs Through It is probably the one film that every fisherman needs to see. While the fly-fishing basis will draw you in, it’s the poignant coming of age tale and the touching revelations about brotherhood that truly resonate. The film only won a single Oscar – for its beautiful nature-filled cinematography – but nominations for the musical score and the screenplay still make A River Runs Through It one of the most recognized fishing films in Oscar history.
Considered today as the prototypical summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller tells the story of a police chief who recruits a marine biologist and a local fisherman to wage war against a massive shark. It’s not exactly the kind of film that makes you want to get out on a fishing trip after you watch it, but iconic lines like “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” have undoubtedly been uttered on millions of fishing boats since this film hit theaters. Though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn’t known for recognizing blockbusters, Jaws ultimately became too big to ignore, winning prizes for film editing, sound, and for John Williams’ iconic score. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, though Spielberg himself was snubbed for Best Director – a fact that he long resented. However, Spielberg has since won two Best Director Oscars (for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan), been nominated for numerous others, and frequently presented the Best Picture prize, so it’s fair to say that he and the Academy have buried the hatchet.
The Cove (2009)
The winner of the 2009 Best Documentary Feature Oscar, The Cove is a stirring and sobering look at the reckless dolphin hunting practices engendered by the Japanese whaling industry. It’s not an easy film to watch, but The Cove asks thoughtful questions about mass animal killings, mercury poisoning, and the commercial fishing industry in general.
On Golden Pond (1981)
A Best Picture nominee in 1981 – it lost to Chariots of Fire – On Golden Pond is a classic film that beautifully captures the way that fishing can form a silent bond between two people who have virtually nothing else in common. The film was nominated for an impressive 10 Oscars, winning three of them, including a Best Supporting Actress trophy for the legendary Katherine Hepburn and a Best Actor prize for Peter Fonda in his final film role.
The Old Man and the Sea (1958)
You will probably never see a list of great fishing films without this one included. Considered one of the closest book-to-film adaptations in Hollywood history, the film captures every vestige of Ernest Hemingway’s legendary novel that can possibly be captured on screen. Anglers, as well as film and literary critics, will debate until the end of time on the quality of the film, with many stating that Hemingway’s prose could never be captured or translated onto celluloid. However, the Oscar-nominated lead performance – from a magnetic Spencer Tracy – is enough to make the film worth a look.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
The Perfect Storm is not a great film, but it is an example of just how much splendor special effects can add to a picture. Telling the tale of a doomed fishing expedition in the worst weather conditions imaginable, The Perfect Storm had the star power (George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg play the lead roles) and the budget to become an obvious descendent of the summer blockbuster lineage that Jaws had started. However, the biggest stars of the film are the visual and sound effects artists, a fact that the Academy recognized with a pair of Oscar nomination.
Starring Tom Hanks in one of the all-time great performances, Castaway is hardly a fishing film, but it does feature a great scene where Hanks manages to catch a fish with a well-aimed spear throw. That scene is just one treasure in a film full of them, a film that relies almost entirely on Hanks’ acting chops as he makes fire, forms a friendship with a volleyball, and builds an escape raft. Though he ultimately lost the prize to Russell Crowe (for Gladiator), Hanks seriously contended for his third Best Actor Oscar here.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Here’s another film where the fishing is largely confined to a single scene, but the scene is such a classic that it bears mentioning here. The scene, where the character of Smeagol (or Gollum, as he is more widely know) wriggles through a rock creek in an attempt to catch a fish, was actually performed in a motion capture suit by actor Andy Serkis. The scene is a shining example of Serkis’s commitment to the crazy role of Gollum, and is often pinpointed by those who believe the actor should have earned some Oscar recognition for this film. The film itself had a disappointing showing at the 2002 Academy Awards, despite a Best Picture nomination and a few other nods. However, The Lord of the Rings would come back the following year to sweep the awards with a record-tying 11 statues for its concluding chapter, The Return of the King.
Finding Nemo (2003)
There are probably a few (cynical) anglers and commercial fishermen who don’t like this film, if only because of how it humanizes fish and paints the humans as villains. However, Finding Nemo is an endlessly charming and funny film that stands as one of many triumphs from Pixar Animation Studios. It’s also a film that can be enjoyed equally by adults and kids, a film that features one of the all-time great voice casts (including Ellen Degeneres, this year’s Oscar host, as a Blue Tang fish with short-term memory problems), and a film that earned four Oscar nominations. Nemo won Best Animated Feature Film, but the more notable Oscar attention for the film came with its nomination for Best Original Screenplay, a category that normally honors “serious” live action drama films.
Big Fish (2003)
A truly great and underrated film, Big Fish uses the concept of catching an enormous “uncatchable” fish as a metaphor for life. It’s a lovely film, full of tall tales, striking visuals, and poignant realizations about family and father-son relationships. There aren’t a lot of angling scenes – though there is one where the protagonist tries to score the aforementioned “big fish” by baiting it with his wedding ring – but there are plenty of other enjoyable facets to latch onto here. And since the Oscars threw the film a nomination for its Danny Elfman score, we get to include it on our list.