Mystical & Magical: Mermaids in the Movies

SPLASH, Daryl Hannah, 1984.
Buena Vista Pictures/ Courtesy Everett Collection

Like bell-bottoms and scrunchies, mermaids seem to be back in style!

Everyone knows about the hit 1989 Disney animated film The Little Mermaid, which was based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, but mermaids have been in and out of pop culture for a while now. Remember those Sea-Wee bath toys? Now with Ariel heading back to the big screen in a new live-action remake starring Halle Bailey and Javier Bardem this upcoming Memorial Day weekend and Netflix’s new documentary series about professional mermaiding, MerPeople, we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the most popular films involving these underwater temptresses.


In the 1984 romantic comedy Splash, starring a young Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, a man is reunited with a mermaid who saved him from drowning as a boy and falls in love with her.


AQUAMARINE, Sara Paxton, 2006Two teenagers find a mermaid hiding in their beach club’s swimming pool in the 2006 family comedy Aquamarine.

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid

MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID, Ann Blyth, William Powell, 1948

Going all the way back to 1948, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid follows a middle-aged Bostonian (William Powell) on vacation with his wife (Irene Hervey) in the Caribbean as he catches a mermaid (Ann Blyth) while fishing. Despite the mermaid being voiceless, he falls in love with her.


MIRANDA, poster art, Glynis Johns, 1948

Courtesy Everett Collection

Also in 1948, there was a film called Miranda, based on a Peter Blackmore play, about a married doctor (Griffith Jones) held captive by a flirtatious mermaid (Glynis Johns).

Mad About Men

MAD ABOUT MEN, Glynis Johns, Margaret Rutherford, 1954

Glynis Johns returned as the flirtatious mermaid Miranda in a 1954 film called Mad About Men, in which she swapped places with a schoolteacher gone on vacation.

The Glass Bottom Boat


Doris Day starred in the 1966 comedy The Glass Bottom Boat; she was not an actual mermaid, however — only someone dressed in a mermaid costume then later mistaken for a Russian spy.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, 2nd from left: Toni Busker, 3rd from left: Gemma Ward, 3rd from right: Astrid Berges-Frisbey, 2011In the 2011 film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, mermaids appear like the sirens in Homer’s The Odyssey, entrancing their prey with music.

Peter Pan

PETER PAN, Peter Pan (top), Wendy Darling (right), 1953

Courtesy Everett Collection

Fellow Disney classic Peter Pan features some mermaids too! They live in a lagoon in Neverland, devoted to Peter. When they see Wendy, they get jealous and try to drown her.


Winona Ryder, Cher, Christina Ricci in publicity portrait for the film 'Mermaids', 1990.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

This is a feel-good, coming-of-age, mother-daughter flick set in the ’50s and stars Cher, Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci in her first major picture. However, this movie has nothing to do with mermaids other than Ricci’s obsession with holding her breath underwater and Cher dressing like one for a holiday party.


Sinister Sirens

NIGHT TIDE, US poster art, 1961

Courtesy Everett Collection

Though there will never be an end to mermaids on screen, to end this list, a young sailor (Dennis Hopper) falls in love with a mysterious woman performing as a mermaid in the 1961 film Night Tide, and, of course, there are the merpeople of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

If you haven’t had enough of mermaids yet, go check out the new live-action premiere, in theaters May 26!

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August 2021

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