20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
20,000 Leagues under the Sea - movie ad - newspaper1917.jpg
Newspaper advertisement for the film.
Directed byStuart Paton
Produced byCarl Laemmle
Screenplay byStuart Paton
Based onJules Verne novel
StarringAllen Holubar
Jane Gail
CinematographyEugene Gaudio
Distributed byUniversal Film Manufacturing Company
Release date
  • December 24, 1916 (1916-12-24)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent film
English intertitles
Box office$8 million

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1916 American silent film directed by Stuart Paton. The film's storyline is based on the 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. It also incorporates elements from Verne's 1875 novel The Mysterious Island.[1]

On May 4, 2010, a new print of the film was shown accompanied by live performance of an original score by Stephin Merritt at the Castro Theatre, as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.[2] In 2016, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for its National Film Registry. [3] [4]


A strange giant "sea monster" has been rampaging the seas. The United States naval ship Abraham Lincoln is sent to investigate, but the vessel is rammed and damaged by the "monster" which turns out to be Nautilus, the technologically advanced submarine of the enigmatic Captain Nemo. The Abraham Lincoln, now rudderless from the attack, is adrift. Then, in a "strange rescue", Nemo guides his submarine directly beneath four people who had been aboard the American ship and who had fallen into the sea during the attack. Nautilus surfaces and Nemo's own crew now bring the four individuals into the submarine through one of its deck hatches. The four include the master harpooner Ned Land, the French professor Pierre Aronnax, his daughter, and the professor's assistant. Once aboard the submarine, the four are required by Nemo to pledge they will not attempt to escape. The captain then introduces them to his vessel and to the wonders of its underwater realm. He later takes them hunting on the sea floor.

Meanwhile, not far from the submarine, soldiers in a runaway Union Army balloon are marooned on a mysterious island, where they find a wild girl living alone. Soon the yacht of Charles Denver arrives at the island. A former British colonial officer in India, he has been haunted by the ghost of a woman (Princess Daaker) whom he attacked years ago. Rather than submit to him sexually, she had stabbed and killed herself. Denver then fled with her young daughter but later abandoned the child on the island. Long tormented by what he had done, he has returned to find the girl or to determine what happened to her.

One of the Union soldiers schemes and kidnaps the wild girl onto Denver's yacht. Another soldier swims aboard to rescue her. At the same time, Nemo discovers that the yacht belongs to Denver, the enemy he has been seeking all these years. The Nautilus destroys the yacht with a torpedo, but the girl and her rescuer are saved from the water by Captain Nemo.

In elaborate flashback scenes to India, Nemo reveals that he is Prince Daaker, and that he created the Nautilus to seek revenge on Charles Denver. He is overjoyed to discover that the abandoned wild girl is his long-lost daughter, but his emotion is such that he expires. His loyal crew bury him at the ocean bottom. They disband and the Nautilus is left to drift.[5]



This was the first motion picture filmed underwater.[6] The underwater scenes were photographed by the Williamson Submarine Film Corporation in the Bahamas.[7] Actual underwater cameras were not used, but a system of watertight tubes and mirrors allowed the camera to shoot reflected images of underwater scenes staged in shallow sunlit waters.[8]

The film was made by The Universal Film Manufacturing Company (now Universal Pictures), not then known as a major motion picture studio. Yet in 1916, they financed this film's innovative special effects, location photography, large sets, exotic costumes, sailing ships, and full-size navigable mock-up of the surfaced submarine Nautilus.[9] The film took two years to make, at a cost of $500,000.[10] Hal Erickson has said that "the cost of this film was so astronomical that it could not possibly post a profit, putting the kibosh on any subsequent Verne adaptations for the next 12 years".[1]


  1. ^ a b "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916): Synopsis by Hal Erikson". Retrieved May 23, 2016. All Movie Guide review; Review from Hal Erickson, "All Movie Guide".
  2. ^ "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea with Stephin Merritt – San Francisco Film Society". Retrieved May 5, 2007. San Francisco International Film Festival showing.
  3. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  4. ^ "With "20,000 Leagues," the National Film Registry Reaches 700". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  5. ^ Review, synopsis and link to watch the film "A cinema history". Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  6. ^ Krista A. Thompson (February 22, 2007). An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque. Duke University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-8223-8856-2. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  7. ^ Kinnard,Roy (1995). "Horror in Silent Films". McFarland and Company Inc. ISBN 0-7864-0036-6. Page 87.
  8. ^ Library of Congress, A Pioneer Under the Sea by Brian Taves.
  9. ^ "Internet Archive: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1916)". Archived from the original on May 23, 2007. Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  10. ^ Kinnard,Roy (1995). "Horror in Silent Films". McFarland and Company Inc. ISBN 0-7864-0036-6. Page 87.

External links[edit]