20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1954 film personally produced by Walt Disney through Walt Disney productions starring Peter Lorre, James Mason, Kirk Douglas, and Paul Lukas. The movie is based on an 1870s novel by Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The film is remembered for its splendid performances and received both critical and commercial success. 

This was a time when Disney was releasing a streak of hit movies including, Peter Pan a year earlier. Considering its success and popularity, it is only right that we remember one of the best Disney movies ever made.


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The movie begins in 1869 when rumors of a sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean start to float. To investigate the problem, Professor Aronnax and his assistant, Conseil, board a U.S Navy Ship. After spending several months patrolling, a nearby steamship explodes and the monster is spotted. 

The U.S warship fires at the monster, which rams the warship, throwing Ned, the master harpooner, Conseil, and Aronnax overboard. The crippled frigate drifts away while ignoring their cries for help. Aronnax and Conseil while clinging to flotsam realize that the so-called monster is a man-made submarine that looks deserted. 

As they hop overboard, Aronnax comes across a viewport and a funeral taking place underwater. Meanwhile, Ned reaches the ship on an overturned longboat. Aronnax spends a bit of time on the submarine while resisting to leave. As a result, the crew spots him.

While Ned, Conseil, and Aronnax attempt to leave, the crew stops them. The captain introduces himself as Nemo, master of the Nautilus. While he offers Ned and Conseil to return to the deck, Aronnax is offered to stay. Upon Aronnax proving that he is willing to die for his group, Nemo allows both Ned and Conseil to remain aboard as well. 

Nemo takes the crew to the penal colony of Rura Penthe and watches prisoners loading a munitions ship. Nautilus rams the ship, destroying it and killing the crew. During the process, Nemo shares saving thousands from death in war and that “this” hated nation tortured his wife and son to death. At the same time, Ned discovers the coordinates to Nemo’s secret island base, Vulcania, and starts releasing bottled messages. 

Off the coast of New Guinea, Nautilus becomes stranded on a reef while Nemo orders Ned and Conseil to go ashore to collect specimens. Ned takes off to find an escape and comes across human skulls posted on stakes. After a while, Ned rejoins Conseil who are persuaded away by cannibals. Once aboard the Nautilus, the cannibals are repelled by electric charges sent through the hull of the ship. Afterward, Nemo calls out Ned for disobeying orders. 

Then, a warship fires at the Nautilus, causing it to submerge. Underwater, the ship encounters a giant squid and the ship fails to repel it using the electric shock. As a result, Nemo along with his men resurface during a storm while Nemo is caught in one of the tentacles of the squid. 

Ned, having escaped, uses his harpoon to strike the squid’s eye, leading to Nemo’s escape. As a result, Nemo has a change of heart and states that he wants to make peace with the world. 

As Nautilus nears Vulcania, the crew observes that the island is surrounded by warships. Ned while on the deck tries to identify himself to the warships, which makes Arronax furious about Nemo destroying all his discoveries. Nemo again submerges to enter the base and goes ashore to activate a pre-arranged time bomb. 

However, he is hit with a bullet in the back. Upon navigating the ship away from Vulcania, Nemo announces that he will be taking down the Nautilus for the last time. Meanwhile, his crew promises to follow their captain. 

Nemo instructs his crew to return to their cabins while Arronax, Ned, and Conseil are also confined to their cabins. However, Ned manages to escape and resurfaces the ship, which hits a reef in the process. This causes the ship to flood while Nemo dies viewing his beloved ship go underwater. Aronnax tries to retrieve Nemo’s journal but Ned knocks him out unconscious. 

Meanwhile, Nemo’s three companions along with his pet sea lion witness a billowing mushroom cloud rising about Vulcania while it explodes. Ned apologizes for hitting Aronnax but Aronnax states that the loss of the journal might have been for the best. 

As the Nautilus sinks, 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”. 



The movie was able to earn $8 million in distributor rentals in North America at the box office. This made it the third highest-grossing film of 1954.
Apart from performing well at the box office, the movie received positive reviews from critics as well. For instance, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that the movie was nothing less than a sensational experience. The cast along with the storytelling could not have been done better. 

The movie’s underwater scenes shot in the Bahamas received the most critical acclaim leading to the movie being termed a masterpiece from a production point of view.

Modern-day film critic Steve Biodrowski said that the film is far superior both in terms of production design and technical effects to other movies made during that era. The film is also termed one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. 


In 2009, Variety reported that a remake of the film was underway. Will Smith was offered to play the role of Captain Nemo but he reportedly turned down. Then, Joseph McGinty Nichol who had worked with Sam Worthington on Terminator Salvation shared his plan with the actor but never took it seriously. 

After spending around $10 million on pre-production work, both Bailey and McG were notified of the project’s cancellation. Although multiple attempts were made to remake the movie but nothing was actually done.

Final Word

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has unarguably gone down as one of the best Disney films ever made. The film followed the novel and hardly featured any major changes. Plus, Disneyland used the original sets as a walk-through attraction from 1955 to 1966. It also added to the popularity of famous actors such as Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre. Considering the hype surrounding its remake, only time can tell whether the project turns into reality in the future or not.

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