Cinematic Voyages: 20 Unforgettable Cruise Ship Movies

Are you looking for inspiration to book your next cruise? Take a cinematic voyage with my pick of movies set on a cruise ship.

Not all of these cruise ship movies are masterpieces (although there are a few that are). A few are utter stinkers. However, each of them showcases aspects of life on the high seas.

Although I have indicated the availability of these films on Netflix and Amazon Prime there may be regional variations. Information here relates to the UK market in January 2023.

hull of norwegian epic cruise ship berthed in port

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Classic Movies About Cruise Ships

Let’s start with the best movies about cruise ships, from films from Hollywood’s Golden Age to a science fiction classic.

Now, Voyager (1942)

Now, Voyager is not only one of the best movies set on a cruise ship but it is also one of my favourite films of all time. I blub like a baby each time I watch it.

Cowed by her domineering mother, middle-aged neurotic Boston heiress Charlotte Vale (a stupendous Bette Davis) takes a cruise after a restorative stay in a sanatorium. Whilst on board, she falls in love with the married Jerry (Paul Henreid).

The movie is famous for an iconic scene where Paul Henreid’s character lights two cigarettes and gives one to Bette Davis. 

A masterpiece of a movie.

  • Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 91%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here.

An Affair to Remember (1957)

This melodrama directed by Leo McCarey and starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr is considered to be one of the most romantic films of all time.

Playboy Nickie (Grant) and Terry (Kerr) fall in love on a transatlantic cruise to New York. Despite being engaged to other people, they agree to meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building. But will all go to plan?

An Affair to Remember was introduced to a new generation of cinema-goers when it was featured in the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle.

  • Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 65%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Death on the Nile (1978)

Agatha Christie’s 1937 murder mystery has been adapted for the silver screen three times but the original film version is the best of the bunch (don’t go near Kenneth Branagh’s woeful 2022 remake).

Directed by John Guillermin, Death on the Nile was Peter Ustinov’s first appearance as Hercule Poirot and perhaps his best. Soon after Poirot boards a ship for a luxurious cruise down the Nile, a newlywed heiress is discovered murdered on board. Who is her murderer?

  • Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 78%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 79%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

The Fifth Element (1997)

Welcome to a cruise ship of the future.

For my money, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is up there with the best science fiction movies of all time. Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis giving one of his finest performances) is a 23rd Century cab driver who is unwittingly pulled into a search for a mysterious fifth element that will prevent an apocalyptic event.

Much of the action in the final third of the movie takes place on Fhloston Paradise, a space cruise ship patronised by the rich and powerful. This superliner features twelve swimming pools with two VIP pools, dozens of high-end restaurants and a concert hall.

A glimpse of the future of cruising? Minus the giant fireball of course.

costume of large alien lifeform from the movie the fifth element
Mondoshawan from the Fifth Element
  • Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 91%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Disaster Movies Set on a Cruise Ship

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The 1970s was the decade for disaster movies featuring all-star ensemble casts and The Poseidon Adventure gets my vote as the best disaster film set on a cruise ship.

This multi-nominated movie – it went on to win two Oscars – centres on the ageing SS Poseidon on her final voyage from New York to Athens. After it is upended by a tsunami on New Year’s Day, it’s a race against time to bring the survivors to safety.

Spoiler alert; not many passengers make it.

  • Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 81%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 76%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Titanic (1997)

The Oscar-winning, multi-nominated Titanic is one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Directed by James Cameron and starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, this epic movie about one of the most famous cruise ships in history is also one of the most expensive movies ever made.

The sinking of the Titanic is viewed through the lens of a fictional relationship across the social divide between Rose (Winslet), and Jack (DiCaprio).

  • Running time: 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 87%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 69%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

A Night to Remember (1958)

Despite Titanic’s many gongs, I far prefer this treatment of the sinking of the ill-fated cruise ship.

Filmed in a semi-documentary style, A Night to Remember sticks closely to the facts of the ship’s sinking, unimpeded by fictional sub-plots. This riveting film portrays the events of the fateful night of 15th April 1912 from the perspective of the luxury liner’s second officer, Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More). 

  • Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime with a BritBox trial here

Cruise Ship Movies to Make You Laugh

Monkey Business (1931)

lobby card of monkey business one of the best cruise ship movies showing 3 of the marx brotheres
Paramount, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Monkey Business was the Marx Brothers’ third feature comedy and takes place on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic to the USA.

Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo play four stowaways who are forced to work for a pair of feuding gangsters in an attempt to evade capture by the ship’s crew. After the ship docks, the zany quartet become unlikely heroes when one of the gangsters kidnaps the other’s daughter.

  • Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 89%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Out to Sea (1997)

Out to Sea is not Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon’s finest cinematic outing by any stretch of the imagination but it is a harmless bit of escapist fun.

Hunting for lonely women with hefty bank balances, Charlie (Matthau) coaxes his widower brother-in-law Herb (Lemmon) into working with him as a dance host on an all-expenses-paid luxury cruise. Under the watchful eye of the cruise director (played by Brent Spiner from Star Trek), Charlie pursues wealthy socialite Liz (Dyan Cannon) and Herb unexpectedly falls for Vivian (Gloria DeHaven).

  • Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 36%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 52%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

The Parent Trap (1998)

This romantic comedy directed and co-written by Nancy Meyers stars Lindsay Lohan playing the role of identical twins who discover their relationship when they are sent to the same summer camp. The twins then set to work trying to reunite their parents.

While much of The Parent Trap takes place on land, there are some scenes set aboard Cunard’s now-retired Queen Elizabeth 2 (they were actually filmed on Queen Mary, which is docked in Long Beach, California).

  • Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 86%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 70%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Like Father (2018)

In this predictable rom-com, jilted bride Rachel (Kristen Bell) ends up on her honeymoon Caribbean cruise with her estranged father Harry (Kelsey Grammer).

Like Father is set aboard Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, so lovingly filmed that it feels like an infomercial at times.

  • Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 46%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 47%
  • Available for streaming on Netflix

Carry on Cruising (1962)

Carry on films are a guilty pleasure for me. Cinematic masterpieces they are not but they are silly fun from a more innocent time.

Carry on Cruising is very much in this mould.

Sid James plays Wellington Crowther, the captain of SS Happy Wanderer, who is forced to replace five absent crew members at short notice. Not only are these the most incompetent shipmates ever to set foot on deck, but the passengers are no picnic either.

  • Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: N/A
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 51%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Musicals Set on Cruise Ships

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Shot in glorious Technicolor and featuring a razor-sharp screenplay, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of the best musical comedies set on the seven seas.

Showgirl Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) sets sail for Paris with her friend Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), where she plans to marry her wealthy beau, Gus Esmond Jr. However, her plan is placed in jeopardy by the watchful eye of a private detective hired by Mr Esmund Sr. and by Lorelei’s love of diamonds.

  • Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 98%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Royal Wedding (1951)

screenshot showing fred astaire and jane powell in royal wedding one of the best movies set on a cruise sip
Royal Wedding (1951) screenshot (MGM), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you fancy on-board entertainment Hollywood-style?

In the run-up to the wedding between the then Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, an American brother-and-sister song-and-dance team Tom (Fred Astaire) and Ellen Bowen (Jane Powell) set sail for London. Then love intervenes for both siblings.

  • Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 92%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 69%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Shall We Dance? (1937)

Was there ever a more perfect recipe than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performing to the sublime music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin?

Set on a transatlantic sailing from Paris to New York, Shall We Dance? features Astaire as Pete “Petrov” Peters, a Russian ballet dancer, and Rogers as Linda Keene, a musical-comedy star. As a publicity stunt to prolong Linda’s career, her agent leaks to the press that the two performers are married. 

Will a fake marriage turn into the real thing?

This exhilarating musical features some of the greatest songs ever composed, including They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.

  • Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 89%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Romance on the High Seas (1948)

Starring Doris Day in her film debut and choreographed by Busby Berkeley, Romance on the High Seas is a farce with romantic misunderstandings at its heart. Georgia Garret (Day) is a nightclub singer who is hired to assume the identity of a socialite, Elvira Kent, on a cruise to Rio de Janeiro to allow Kent to remain at home to spy on her suspected unfaithful husband,

Filming locations for Romance on the High Seas included Rio de Janeiro and Cartegena in Colombia.

  • Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 88%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 61%
  • Available to buy on Blu-Ray here

Dramatic Movies Set on a Cruise Ship

Ship of Fools (1965)

This eclectic group of passengers on a cruise ship bound for pre-war Germany from Mexico represents a microcosm of 1930s society. Picking up eight Oscar nominations and directed by Stanley Kramer, Ship of Fools features a stellar ensemble cast including Vivien Leigh (in her final film role), Lee Marvin and George Segal.  

Although the action takes place almost entirely on an ocean liner, the movie was filmed on a soundstage at Paramount Studios.

  • Running time: 2 hours 29 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 64%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 77%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

Table for Five (1983)

In this poignant melodrama, divorced father J.P. Tannen (Jon Voight) takes his three children on a Mediterranean cruise in an attempt to reconnect with them. However, he quickly realises that this is not that easy and is faced with an impossible decision when he learns of a tragedy back home.

Partly filmed on MS Vistafjord (built for the now defunct Norwegian American Line), shooting locations for Table for Five included Rome, Genoa, Haifa in Israel, Athens and Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt.

  • Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 67%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 59%
  • Not currently for streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime or to buy on DVD or Blu-Ray

Speed 2 Cruise Control (1997)

Keanu Reeves was wise to decline the lead role in this lame sequel to Speed. In his place, Jason Patric teamed up with Sandra Bullock as they battled to get all of the passengers on a Caribbean cruise to safety when disaster strikes.

Seabourn Legend was rented for six weeks to film the movies and its multiple filming locations were used including those in the USA, the Caribbean and France.

  • Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 4%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 16%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

And the Award for the Worst Cruise Movie Ever Made Goes to …

Jack and Jill (2011)

If you thought that Speed 2 Cruise Control was bad, this is the cinematic turkey to beat all cinematic turkeys.

Improbably, Adam Sandler plays twins Jack and Jill who join their family on a cruise vacation. Jack and Jill is so unfunny and its plot so preposterous, that I don’t have the will to say any more about it.

This became the first film to sweep the board of the Razzies, winning in each category including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and Worst Screenplay. The cruise ship scenes were filmed aboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

  • Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 3%
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 36%
  • Available for streaming on Amazon Prime here

And that’s a wrap.

Whether you are looking for inspiration to plan a cruise or are simply looking for recommendations for a sofa and popcorn night at home, I hope that this cruise ship movies list hits the spot.

Watch, dream and book that cruise.