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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954 film)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Walt Disney (uncredited)
Screenplay by Earl Felton
Based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea 
by Jules Verne
Music by Paul Smith
Cinematography Franz Planer
Edited by Elmo Williams
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • December 23, 1954 (1954-12-23)
Running time
127 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million[1]
Box office $28,200,000[citation needed]

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1954 American Technicolor adventure film starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre. It was the first CinemaScope science fiction film and was produced by Walt Disney Productions, as well as the only science fiction film personally produced by Walt Disney.[2] It was also the first feature-length Disney film to be distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. The film is adapted from Jules Verne's 19th century novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and is considered an early example of the steampunk genre.[3] This film is also Disney's fifth live-action film overall.


In 1868, rumors of a sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean have created apprehension and fear among sailors, disrupting shipping lanes. The United States government invites Professor Pierre M. Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), onto an expedition to prove or disprove the monster's existence. On board with them is the cocky master harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas).

After months of searching, the "monster" is spotted. Though the ship fires at it with cannons, the monster rams the ship. Ned and Aronnax are thrown overboard, and Conseil goes in after Aronnax. The warship, burning and helpless, drifts silently and no one on board answers when the overboard passengers cry for help. The three drift in the ocean, eventually finding a strange-looking metal vessel, and realize the "monster" is a man-made "submerging boat" that appears deserted. Inside, Aronnax finds a viewing window and sees an underwater funeral.

Ned, Aronnax and Conseil then attempt to leave in their lifeboat, but the submarine crew returns to their ship, capturing the castaways. The captain introduces himself as Nemo (James Mason), master of the Nautilus. He returns Ned and Conseil to the deck, while offering Aronnax, whom he recognizes for his work and research, the chance to stay. When Nemo discovers that Aronnax is willing to die with his companions, he allows Ned and Conseil to board the submarine.

Nemo takes Aronnax to the penal colony island of Rura Penthe. Nemo reveals he was once a prisoner there, as were many of his crew. The prisoners are loading an ammunitions ship. The Nautilus rams the ship, destroying its cargo and killing the crew. An anguished Nemo tells Arronax that his actions have saved thousands from death in war; he also discloses that this "hated nation" tortured his wife and son to death while attempting to force him to reveal the secrets of his work. Ned discovers the coordinates of Nemo's secret island base, Vulcania, and releases messages in bottles, hoping somebody will find them and free him from captivity.

Off the coast of New Guinea, the Nautilus becomes stranded on a reef. Ned is surprised when Nemo allows him to go ashore with Conseil, ostensibly to collect specimens. Ned goes off alone to explore avenues of escape. While kneeling at a pool to drink he sees a number of human skulls on stakes. Realizing his danger, Ned runs for his life and rejoins Conseil as they are chased back to the Nautilus by cannibals. Despite remaining aground, Nemo is unconcerned and the cannibals are repelled from the ship by electrical charges circulated on its hull. Nemo is furious with Ned for not following his orders, and confines him to the submarine's brig.

A warship approaches, firing upon the submarine. It descends into the depths, where it attracts the attentions of a giant squid. The electric charge fails to repel the monster, so Nemo and his men surface to dislodge the beast. Nemo is caught in one of the squid's tentacles. Ned, having escaped from captivity during the struggle, jumps to Nemo's rescue, saving his captor's life. As a result, Nemo has a change of heart; he claims now to want to make peace with the outer world.

As the Nautilus nears Vulcania, Nemo finds the island surrounded by warships whose marines are converging on his hideout. As Nemo goes ashore, Ned attempts to identify himself as the author of the bottled messages. Aronnax realizes this and becomes furious, recognizing that Nemo will destroy all evidence of his discoveries. Nemo plants a bomb in his hideout, but is mortally wounded from a slug to the back while returning to the Nautilus. After haphazardly navigating the submarine away from Vulcania, Nemo announces he will be "taking the Nautilus down for the last time". Nemo's crew declare they will accompany their captain in death.

Aronnax, Conseil and Ned are confined to their cabins. The Nautilus's crew also retreat to their cabins at Nemo's instructions. Ned breaks loose and manages to surface the Nautilus, hitting a reef in the process and causing the ship to begin flooding. Nemo staggers to a viewing window and watches his beloved ocean as he dies.

Aronnax tries to retrieve his journal, which contains an account of the voyage, but the urgency of their escape obliges Ned to knock him unconscious and carry him out. The companions witness Vulcania destroyed in an explosion, and Ned apologizes to Aronnax for hitting him. As the Nautilus disappears beneath the waves, Nemo's last words to Aronnax echo: "There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass, in God's good time."


Dinner aboard the Nautilus. From left to right: James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, and Paul Lukas.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was filmed at various locations in The Bahamas and Jamaica, with the cave scenes filmed beneath what is now the Xtabi Resort on the cliffs of Negril.[4] Filming began in spring of 1954.[5] Some of the location filming sequences were so complex that they required a technical crew of more than 400 people. The film presented many other challenges, as well. The famous giant squid attack sequence had to be entirely re-shot, as it was originally filmed as taking place at dusk and in a calm sea.[6] [Note 1] The sequence was filmed again, this time taking place at night and during a huge gale, both to increase the drama and to better hide the cables and other mechanical workings of the animatronic squid.[7]

Cost overruns during production made the film very expensive for a Disney production, although by no means as expensive as other recent releases: Joan of Arc (1948) had cost $4.6 million; Quo Vadis (1951) had an estimated budget of $7.6 million.[8]


The Nautilus as envisioned by Harper Goff for the 1954 Walt Disney film.

Upon the film's original release, The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a generally positive review by stating that, "As fabulous and fantastic as anything he has ever done in cartoons is Walt Disney's "live action" movie made from Jules Verne's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.' Turned out in CinemaScope and color, it is as broad, fictitiously, as it is long (128 minutes), and should prove a sensation—at least with the kids."[9] In his controversial 1967 biography The Disney Version, the usually prickly critic Richard Schickel, stated that James Mason was "superbly cast as the mad inventor Captain Nemo".[10]

Audiences remember it primarily for its giant-squid battle sequence as well as the Nautilus itself and James Mason's portrayal of Nemo.[11] The film currently holds an 89% approval rating at the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being: "One of Disney's finest live-action adventures, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea brings Jules Verne's classic sci-fi tale to vivid life, and features an awesome giant squid."[12]

The film was also highly praised for the performances of the leading actors.[13] This was the first time that major international stars such as Kirk Douglas, James Mason, and Peter Lorre had appeared in a Disney film, although Robert Newton, a well-known actor in British films, had played Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island (1950), and Richard Todd, another well-known star of British films, had appeared in a Disney Technicolor live-action version of The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). Mason especially was singled out for his performance of Captain Nemo. Many people who had first seen him on-screen in the film identify him most strongly with this role.[14][15]

Modern-day film critic Steve Biodrowski said that the film is "far superior to the majority of genre efforts from the period (or any period, for that matter), with production design and technical effects that have dated hardly at all." Biodrowski also added that the film "may occasionally succumb to some of the problems inherent in the source material (the episodic nature does slow the pace), but the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, making this one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made."[16]

Disneyland used the original sets as a walk-through attraction from 1955 to 1966. Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom also had a dark ride named 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage from 1971 to 1994 which consisted of a submarine ride, complete with the giant squid attack. For this ride, voice artist Peter Renaday stood in for James Mason in the role of Captain Nemo.[17] In 1994, a walkthrough attraction at Disneyland Paris, named Les Mystères du Nautilus, opened,[18] and a dark ride at Tokyo DisneySea was created in 2001.[19]

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea received positive reviews from critics, and was the second highest grossing film of the year (behind White Christmas), earning $8 million in box office attendance in North America[20] and has become a notable classic film of the Disney corporation.

Awards and nominations

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for one more.[21]

Won: Best Art Direction – Color (John Meehan, Emile Kuri)
Won: Best Special Effects (John Hench, Joshua Meador)
Nominated: Best Film Editing (Elmo Williams)

The film's primary art designer, Harper Goff, who designed the Nautilus, was not a member of the Art Directors Union in 1954 and therefore, under a bylaw within the Academy of Motion Pictures, he was unable to receive his Academy Award for Art Direction.[22]

American Film Institute recognition

Record albums

Rather than an authentic soundtrack recording of the film's score or dialogue, two vinyl studio cast record albums were released to coincide with the film's first two releases. Both albums contained condensed and heavily altered versions of the film's script without the usage of any of the film's cast for character voices. In addition, both albums were narrated by Ned Land as opposed to Aronnax, who narrated the film and the original novel. Neither album mentioned Nemo as actually being "cracked" (i.e. insane), as the film does, and considerably sanitized the character by omitting any mention of him killing anyone and even having him sing sea chanties with his crew. The albums also had Nemo surviving at the end and releasing Ned, Arronax, and Conseil out of gratitude for their saving his life.[25] In this version, Ned, Aronnax and Consel were not shipwrecked because the Nautilus rammed the ship they were on, but because a hurricane came up.[26]

The first album was issued in 1954 in conjunction with the film's original release, and starred William Redfield as the voice of Ned. This album, a book-and-record set, was issued as part of RCA Victor's Little Nipper series on two 45-RPM records.[27] The second album, released by Disneyland Records in 1963 in conjunction with the film's first re-release,[28] was issued on one 3313 RPM 12-inch LP with no accompanying booklet and no liner notes – the usual practice with most Disneyland label albums. It contained much more of the film's plot, but with many of the same alterations as the first album, so this recording was technically a remake of the earlier one. The cast for the 1963 album was uncredited. Neither album listed the film's credits or made any mention of the film's cast.

A single for the film's most memorable song "A Whale of a Tale", written by Norman Gimbel and Al Hoffman and sung by Kirk Douglas, was also released in 1954 under the Decca Children's Series label. The song "And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter", which Douglas had sung in the movie Man Without a Star (written by Lou Singer and Jimmy Kennedy), was the B-side. Both songs can be found on the 2008 digital release of the film's soundtrack.[29] In the film, Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor is played by Nemo on the Nautilus's organ, but James Mason's playing is actually dubbed by an anonymous organist.

Official soundtrack

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released January 29, 2008
Genre Soundtrack
Length 1:18:23
Label Walt Disney
Producer Randy Thorton

On January 29, 2008, Walt Disney Records released a 26-track digital album containing the music of Paul Smith's original soundtrack score to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea plus both sides of the "A Whale of a Tale" single, as well as a digital booklet companion that explores the music of the film. This was the first official release of the film score and was initially available only through the iTunes Store.[29][30] Intrada released the same soundtrack on CD in 2011.[31]

Track listing
No. TitleArtist Length
1. "Main Title (Captain Nemo’s Theme)"  Paul Smith 2:26
2. "Street Fight"  Paul Smith 1:04
3. "Aboard the Abraham Lincoln / Hunting the Monster"  Paul Smith 2:28
4. "A Whale of a Tale"  Kirk Douglas 2:09
5. "The Monster Attacks"  Paul Smith 2:21
6. "Deserted Sub / Burial / Captured"  Paul Smith 9:14
7. "Fifty Fathoms / The Island of Crespo"  Paul Smith 8:45
8. "Storm at Sea / Nemo Plays"  Paul Smith 2:25
9. "Strange Man of the Seas"  Paul Smith 4:04
10. "Nemo’s Torment"  Paul Smith 0:59
11. "Justified Hate"  Paul Smith 1:29
12. "Searching Nemo’s Cabin"  Paul Smith 4:02
13. "Ned’s Bottles"  Paul Smith 0:43
14. "Ashore at New Guinea"  Paul Smith 2:54
15. "Native Drums / Back to the Nautilus"  Paul Smith 3:08
16. "Submerge"  Paul Smith 1:45
17. "The Giant Squid"  Paul Smith 6:53
18. "Ambush at Vulcania"  Paul Smith 4:47
19. "Nemo Wounded"  Paul Smith 2:43
20. "Escape from Vulcania"  Paul Smith 3:41
21. "Finale / Deep Is the Mighty Ocean"  Paul Smith 0:56
22. "A Whale of a Tale (Single)"  Kirk Douglas 2:11
23. "And the Moon Grew Brighter and Brighter (Single B-Side)"  Kirk Douglas 2:35
24. "A Whale of a Tale"  Bill Kanady 2:24
25. "A Whale of a Tale"  The Wellingtons 2:07
26. "A Whale of a Tale (Reprise)"  Kirk Douglas 0:11
Total length:

Home media

The film has been released on VHS and DVD. An HD version was released on iTunes.[32]


On January 6, 2009, Variety reported that a remake entitled 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo was being planned with Joseph McGinty Nichol, a.k.a. "McG", attached to direct. The film serves as an origin story for the central character, Captain Nemo, as he builds his warship, the Nautilus.[33] McG has remarked that it will be "much more in keeping with the spirit of the novel" than Richard Fleischer's film, in which it will reveal "what Aronnax is up to and the becoming of Captain Nemo, and how the man became at war with war itself." It was written by Bill Marsilli, with Justin Marks and Randall Wallace brought in to do rewrites.[34] The film was to be produced by Sean Bailey with McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision.[35]

McG once suggested that he wanted Will Smith for the Captain Nemo role, but he has reportedly turned down the part.[36][37] As a second possible choice, McG had mentioned Sam Worthington, whom he worked with on Terminator Salvation, though they did not ever discuss it seriously. The project was later shelved in November 2009 with McG backing out of directing.[38]

During the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, director David Fincher announced plans of directing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Walt Disney Pictures based on a script by Scott Z. Burns.[39] While Fincher was wrapping up The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), it was speculated that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would enter principal photography by late 2012.[40] In the meantime, Fincher began courting Brad Pitt to play the role of Ned Land while the film was kept on hold.[41] However in February 2013, it was announced that Pitt had officially turned down the role.[42]

In April 2013, it was announced that the Australian government will provide a one-off incentive of $20 million in order to secure the production.[43] Despite this, the film was put on hold again the following month due to complications in casting a lead.[44] On July 17, 2013, Fincher dropped out of the film to direct the adaptation of Gone Girl.[45] Fincher revealed in an interview that he left the film because he wanted Channing Tatum for Ned Land, but Disney wanted Chris Hemsworth for the role.[46][47] Additionally, the money originally allocated for the production of this film was redirected towards Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.[48]

See also



  1. ^ Footage of the original, rejected giant squid attack sequence shows details of the filming.


  1. ^ "Box Office Information for '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." The Numbers. Retrieved: April 15, 2013.
  2. ^ "Walt Disney filmography." Film Reference. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  3. ^ Higham, William. "What The Hell Is Steampunk?" Huffington Post, February 17, 2012. Retrieved: February 15, 2012.
  4. ^ "Movie location information: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." IMDB. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  5. ^ "In a league of its own." The Walt Disney Company, December 3, 2009. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  6. ^ Sunset Squid Fight– 20,000 Leagues – unused monster sequence‏ on YouTube
  7. ^ Bourne, Mark. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Special Edition DVD." The DVD Journal, 2003. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  8. ^ "The Making of '20000 Leagues Under the Sea' (Young, Mark (writer) and John Rhys-Davies, (narrator)." IMDb, May 20, 2003. Retrieved: August 18, 2010.
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Movie Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954); The Screen in Review; '20,000 Leagues' in 128 Fantastic Minutes." The New York Times, December 24, 1954.
  10. ^ Schickel 1997, p. 300.
  11. ^ "The CinemaScope Wing 3." Widescreen Museum. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  12. ^ "Movie Reviews: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved: July 30, 2010.
  13. ^ Erickson, Glenn. "'20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Special Edition'." DVD Talk, May 12, 2003. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  14. ^ "Overview: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." Solar Navigator (Max Energy Limited), 2013. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  15. ^ "Overview: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." Eccentric Cinema, May 26, 2003. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  16. ^ Biodrowski, Steve. "Hollywood Gothique: Captain Nemo Double Bill.", August 25, 2007.
  17. ^ "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." 20K Ride. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  18. ^ "Les Mystères du Nautilus." Photos Magiques. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  19. ^ Wilson, Shellie. "Review: Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea – Part 2: Tokyo DisneySea." Craft Gossip, June 10, 2012. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  20. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs." Variety, January 6, 1960, p. 34.
  21. ^ "Academy Awards: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The New York Times. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  22. ^ "Spotlight: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  23. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees." Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  24. ^ "AFI'S 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees." Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  25. ^ Video on YouTube
  26. ^ "More Golden Age Classics: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Kidde Records, July 15, 2011. Retrieved: May 31, 2013.
  27. ^ "Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Little Nipper Story Book Album)." Amazon. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  28. ^ [1] "Label: Disneyland Records."] Rate Your Music. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  29. ^ a b "Soundtrack Details: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." Soundtrack Collector. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  30. ^ "Soundtrack: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' by Various Artists." iTunes Store. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  31. ^ "Soundtrack Details: '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." Intrada. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  32. ^ Leagues Under The Sea – iTunes HD Review
  33. ^ Fleming. Michael. "McG to direct Disney's 'Leagues'." Variety, January 6, 2009. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  34. ^ "Randall Wallace to Rewrite 'Captain Nemo'.", July 8, 2009. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  35. ^ Graser, Marc. "Justin Marks rewriting 'Nemo'." Variety, February 11, 2009.
  36. ^ Vejvoda, Jim. "Finding McG's Nemo." IGN, January 15, 2009. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  37. ^ Morris, Clint. "Exclusive: Sam downplays 'Nemo'.", August 21, 2009. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  38. ^ Goldman, Eric. "McG Talks T5." IGN, August 7, 2009. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  39. ^ Rosenberg, Adam."Exclusive: David Fincher Confirms That Work Continues On '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'." MTV Movies Blog. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  40. ^ Davis, Edward."Sony Officially Plans To Make 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequels, But David Fincher Is Looking To Direct '20,000 Leagues' Instead." IndieWire, January 9, 2012. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  41. ^ Sneider, Jeff. "Director courts frequent collaborator for role of harpoonist Ned Land." Variety, October 18, 2012. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  42. ^ Dibdin, Emma. "Brad Pitt 'turns down David Fincher's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'." Digital Spy, February 12, 2013. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  43. ^ Bullbeck, Pip. "Disney’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ Confirmed For Australia Shoot'." The Hollywood Reporter, April 2, 2013. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  44. ^ Child, Ben. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake put on hold." The Guardian, May 20, 2013. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  45. ^ Davis, Edwatd. "Exclusive: Andrew Kevin Walker Rewriting ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Sequel; David Fincher's ‘20,000 Leagues’ Is Dead." IndieWire, July 17, 2013. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  46. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin. "David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'." Indie Wire, September 15, 2014. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  47. ^ Jagernauth, Jenkins. "David Fincher." Indie Wire, September 16, 2014. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.
  48. ^ Child, Ben. "Pirates of the Caribbean 5 gets green light to shoot in Australia." The Guardian, September 1, 2014. Retrieved: January 9, 2015.


  • Schickel, Richard. The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney (Third ed.). Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997. ISBN 978-1-56663-158-7.

External links