The 1950s and 1960s were a great time for diving in popular culture. Scuba divers were the focus of TV shows, movies, and commercials, considered sleek and exciting action heroes. In honor of International Men’s Day, and just because we want to relive the Golden Age of scuba media, here are three of our top picks for most iconic male diving stars:
James Bond, Thunderball (1965)
James Bond, originally played by Sean Connery, is one of the most famous movie characters of all time. The James Bond franchise has had 26 movies and 12 different actors since its first film in 1962. There’s no doubt that Bond is a huge cultural icon. But while many Bond films have a diving scene or two, the 1965 film Thunderball was the first to really focus on scuba diving, spending about one fourth of its screen time underwater. The movie culminates in an underwater battle where Bond faces off against enemy agents in an underwater spear fight – and there are plenty of other underwater action scenes along the way. The underwater scenes really struck a chord with audiences, and Thunderball remains the second-highest performing Bond film of the franchise.
Captain Nemo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Captain Nemo is the builder and commander of the submarine the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The movie, based on the novel by Jules Verne, follows Professor Pierre Annorax as he sets out to find a sea monster that turns out to be Nemo’s ship. From there, Captain Nemo steals the show with his enigmatic character. Nemo, who’s name means “no one,” created a submarine so that he could live underwater forever after a tragic past drove him to distrust humanity. With his small crew, he spent years sailing around the world doing marine research, finding treasure in sunken ships, and occasionally surfacing to fund uprisings against oppressive governments. His futuristic submarine, mysterious past, and eccentric personality make Captain Nemo an unforgettable character.
Mike Nelson, Sea Hunt (1958-1961)
Sea Hunt was the first TV show centered around underwater adventures, and an incredibly popular show back in the 1960s. Lloyd Bridges stars as Mike Nelson, a freelance scuba diver who’s called on for all kinds of dangerous and unique missions. While the actor started off knowing nothing about diving, he quickly fell in love with the activity. During the four season run of the show, Mike Nelson rescued children from underwater caves, searched for downed satellites, prevented murders, and more.
As the seasons went on, more and more of each episode was spent underwater, with Bridges narrating his thoughts and actions to the audience. At the end of each episode, the actor appeared as himself and spoke directly to the audience, frequently urging viewers to take an interest in marine conservation. Due to the popularity of the show and exciting plots, Sea Hunt remains a cornerstone of diving media. Lloyd Bridges passion for diving and the ocean shines through each episode, making him an unforgettable member of the dive community. Many divers even credit their interest in learning to dive to Sea Hunt.
While diving movies are still being made today, like Sanctum and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the 50s and 60s are unmatched in how iconic and adored diving was in popular culture. The leading actors in these movies created exciting characters that acted as the face of diving for years, with many divers still coming into the activity because of inspiration from the screen.
Have any favorite diving stars we missed? Let us know!
Also, check out our article, 16 Scuba Diving Celebrities.