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Mermaids in Movies


Mermaids, like many other mythological creatures have been depicted in movies since the 1910’s. The first on-screen mermaid was portrayed by Annette Kellerman in the silent film “The Mermaid” in 1911. Kellerman went on to portray a mermaid in four more films: “Neptune’s Daughter” (1916), “A Daughter of the Gods” (1916), “Queen of the Sea” (1918), and “Venus of the South Seas” (1924). The film “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952) was based on the life of Kellerman.

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Annette Kellerman as a Mermaid

The first popular mermaid film was 1948’s “Miranda,” starring Glynis Johns as Miranda Trewella. Johns went on to portray Miranda again in the 1954 sequel “Mad About Men.” The presence of mermaids in movies decreased in the 60’s and 70’s, but made a huge comeback in the 80’s with films like “Splash” (1984)  and Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (1989).

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The movie poster for “Miranda”

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Still of Glynis Johns in “Miranda”

“Splash” was directed by Hollywood legend Ron Howard, and starred Daryl Hannah as a mermaid named Madison and a young Tom Hanks as the man who falls in love with Madison. The movie was a great financial success and was well received by many critics. Although “Splash” was quite successful, the most successful mermaid film is by far Disney’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale “The Little Mermaid.”

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Daryl Hannah in “Splash”

The 1989 Disney version of “The Little Mermaid” is quite different from the original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. In the original, Ariel cuts out her own tongue and feels immense pain every time she moves on land. Also in the original, The Prince does not marry Ariel and she dies and her body dissolves into sea-foam. This is a far cry from the happy musical we all know as “The Little Mermaid.”

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“The Little Mermaid” Poster

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“The Little Mermaid”

Again mermaids in movies decreased in the 90’s and early 00’s, but resurfaced in the 2006 film “Aquamarine.” “Aquamarine” is the story about 2 girls who befriend a mermaid after she is washed up on land after a terrible storm, and they have to help her find love or else she will have to go back and marry a young merman she does not truly love. The movie stars Sara Paxton as the mermaid and Emma Roberts and singer JoJo as her friends. “Aquamarine” was adapted from the children’s book by Alice Hoffman.

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“Aquamarine” Movie Poster

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Sara Paxton as Aquamarine

The most recent example of mermaids in movies is the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011). While searching for the fountain of youth, Captain Jack Sparrow comes across many mermaids. Mermaids in this film are portrayed as evil temptresses who lure men into the ocean by singing songs. One of the main characters in the film is a mermaid named Syrena portrayed by Astrid Berges-Frisbey. Take a look at some behind the scenes footage of the mermaids in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and be sure to look at the scene from the film.


The hellacious mermaids in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”
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Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

I think it is safe to say mermaids are a huge staple in Hollywood films. As of 2013 there are multiple movies about mermaids in the works. Shane Feste, who directed “Country Strong,” is working on an adaptation of Carolyn Turgeon’s book, “Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale.” Also, director Joe Wright (“Atonement” and “Hanna”) is developing a live action version of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale “The Little Mermaid.”


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