Its message may have been in some ways, erm, questionable. (Who needs a voice to lure a love interest when you’ve got gams?) But it’s also the movie that, in 1989, brought Disney animation back from the brink of ruin and inspired legions of us to play mermaids in the swimming pool.
Impactful as it may have been, the Disney-fied retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s (much darker) fairytale is a far cry from historic depictions of mermaids. Most sea-faring cultures around the world feature some version of merfolk in their folklore, and they aren’t exactly Dinglehopper-loving Ariels.
From Atargatis, the (accidentally) murderous Assyrian goddess-turned-mermaid, to the sirens of Ancient Greece that lured sailors to watery graves, most mermaids of myth are deadly, deceptive creatures. And there are plenty of mermaid movies that lean into that.
Whether you’re looking for something light and fun or movies that paint mermaids in a more mysterious light, we’ve rounded up the 18 best mermaid movies to choose from.
1. The Thirteenth Year (1999)
“Cody’s not just growing up… he’s growing fins!” So reads the tagline for this Disney Channel Original Movie about an adopted teen who, on his 13th birthday, begins to sprout scales and soon discovers that his birth mother is actually a mermaid.
It’s a coming-of-age story that makes a not-so-subtle nod at puberty and the unexpected ways our bodies change during it, and it’s also the product of a particularly good time for Disney Channel Original Movies. (Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, Smart House, Don’t Look Under the Bed and The Thirteenth Year all came out in 1999!)
2. Mermaids (1990)
Okay, okay. We realize that, rather than being a film about mermaids, this movie got its name for featuring Cher in mermaid costume for all of five minutes. (But, we mean — Cher! In mermaid getup! What a gift.) In this dramedy, Cher plays an offbeat, sex-positive single mom who’s constantly moving her two daughters, Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and Kate (Christina Ricci), from town to town.
In contrast to her liberated mom, Catholicism-obsessed Charlotte is bent on becoming a nun, and the performance earned Ryder a Golden Globe nomination.
3. Aquamarine (2006)
Emma Roberts, JoJo, and Sara Paxton star in this teen flick about two best friends in Florida who, while enjoying the last days of summer vacation, discover a mermaid in their pool. The mermaid, Aquamarine (Paxton), tells the girls that she’s run away from home in order to escape an arranged marriage.
If she’s really going to get out of it, though, she’ll have to first prove to her mer-dad that true love exists. So, the duo set off in pursuit of helping Aquamarine woo the local lifeguard, Raymond.
4. Killer Mermaid (2014)
A group of friends’ carefree summer vacation in the Mediterranean goes awry when they discover an island that’s home to an abandoned military fort — and host to something a lot more sinister in its waters.
Those expecting a campy Killer Creature movie, in the style of Sharkenstein or Mansquito, may be let down; we honestly wish that’s what Killer Mermaid was. But if you’re a fan of slasher films and, separately, of mermaids, it’s probably worth seeing the two combined!
5. The Shape of Water (2017)
The Creature From the Black Lagoon-esque amphibian at the heart of Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film may not technically be a merperson. But this Oscar-winning, unconventional love story, about a mute janitor who falls in love with a so-called monster held at the Cold War-era lab where she works, falls sufficiently within the mysterious aquatic critter realm to work.
6. Lu Over the Wall (2017)
This Japanese anime film tells the story of Kai, an angsty middle schooler with a rock band who one day finds himself exploring Merfolk Island. There he meets Lu, a Ningyo girl; often translated as “mermaid,” the Ningyo are fish-like creatures in Japanese folklore that, if caught, bring misfortune and storms.
The preteen duo discover that music helps turn Lu’s fin to legs, and off they set on adventures about town. Bonus: It’s one of the few mermaid movies on Netflix!
7. Lady in the Water (2006)
In this M. Night Shyamalan-directed psychological thriller, Cleveland (Paul Giamatti) rescues a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from the pool of the apartment building where he’s superintendent. Turns out, she’s a water nymph hailing from a place called the Blue World, and she’s here to save humanity.
Be warned: the movie has a whopping 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so you may want to temper your expectations accordingly. Having turned just $2 million in profit, it’s not exactly the Sixth Sense director’s best-received movie. But, water nymphs!
8. Mermaid: Lake of the Dead (2018)
This Russian horror-fantasy movie is inspired by Slavic mythology. According to legend, unmarried girls who drowned would turn into evil, mermaid-like entities called Rusalkas, doomed to haunt rivers and lakes. In Mermaid: Lake of the Dead, one such mermaid slash ghoul falls in love with an unsuspecting dude, Roma, and is bent on dragging him to her underwater lair for eternity.
9. Sabrina Down Under (1999)
Fans of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are probably at least familiar with its sitcom-y older sister, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, starring Melissa Joan Hart. That series spawned a few made-for-TV movie specials, including Sabrina Down Under, which sees Sabrina and Salem head to the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to save a mermaid colony from pollution and capitalism. Also, Sabrina gets the hots for a merman named Barnaby.
10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
The fourth movie in the Harry Potter franchise was likely the introduction to mermaids as nefarious, un-Ariel-like entities for a lot of us. (To note: It’s not actually mermaids living in the Black Lake but selkies, the Irish and Scottish folklore equivalent.) In the book, J.K. Rowling describes them as having grey skin, yellow eyes and broken teeth — no seashell bras happening here!
Summary Mermaid Movies
These mermaid movies are the best out here and trust me you would regret if you don’t watch those exciting moments parked full in this film.