With the release of the new live-action The Little Mermaid trailer starring Halle Bailey, mermaids have been all everyone has been talking about. The Disney classic remake has rekindled the world’s excitement for the aquatic cryptids, particularly around everyone’s favorite mermaid princess, Ariel. But Ariel is certainly not the only beautiful depiction of a mermaid. Though The Little Mermaid may be the most popular, stories of mermaids have been around for centuries throughout many different cultures and time periods. What better time to explore some of our favorite portrayals of the creatures in film and television? From scaly and devious to sweet and magical, here are a few of the most enchanting mermaids that aren’t Ariel.
Madison in Splash (1984)
Splash, for many, was the iconic 80’s mermaid flick, five years before The Little Mermaid was released. The beloved film was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Then relatively unknown Tom Hanks starred as Allen, a young man still infatuated with the mysterious girl who saved his life as a child. Later, the two are reunited and Allen falls in love with the woman (Daryl Hannah), not knowing she’s secretly a mermaid. Hannah’s goofy but lovable performance as the gorgeous mermaid Madison is absolutely charming, and you can see why Allen falls head over heels for her. She was so beloved that the name Madison spiked in popularity and is now considered one of the most popular girl’s names.
Aquamarine in Aquamarine (2006)
Every 2000s baby was obsessed with Aquamarine at some point in their life. Two best friends, Claire (Emma Roberts) and Hailey (Joanna “JoJo” Levesque), find and befriend a mermaid (Sara Paxton) stranded at a beach resort. The mermaid, on a quest to prove true love exists, enlists the help of the two girls in exchange for granting them a wish. What tween didn’t want a mermaid best friend? Especially one with cool blue streaks in her hair, dolphin friends, and starfish earrings that whisper compliments in your ear. This one is worth the watch simply for that noughties nostalgia.
Cleo, Rikki, and Emma in H2O: Just Add Water
This one goes out to all of us Aussie girls who spent years playing mermaids at the local pool because of H2O: Just Add Water and arguing over who got to be Cleo as she was clearly the coolest. Three best friends Cleo (Phoebe Tonkin), Rikki (Cariba Heine), and Emma (Claire Holt) are stranded on the mysterious Mako Island and, after ending up in a mystical pool on the full moon, the girls are transformed into mermaids with incredible powers over water. This wholesome series was a staple in most young girls’ (and the young boys with taste) adolescence and has endured in popular culture. Did you even have a childhood if you didn’t pretend to be a mermaid and feign a freak-out when water touched your legs? (Oh nauurrrrr!)
Ryn in Siren
Siren is a mature take on the mermaid genre and breathes new life into the creatures. They aren’t quite so sweet and lovey-dovey in this series. In a coastal town known for once being the home for merpeople, the mysterious Ryn (Eline Powell) surfaces and begins to wreak havoc in search of her missing sister. Ryn is a regular fish out of water, predatory and curious about the human world around her, she has a real animalistic quality about her, unlike the usual pretty girl mermaids. Siren is powerful and seductive, luring you in like a sailor at sea, and before you know it, you’ll have sunk to its crushing depths and binged the entire series.
Syrena in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Mermaids and pirates usually go hand in hand, but it isn’t until the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that we finally get to see the bewitching creatures. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is on a quest for the Fountain of Youth, but the Fountain requires a ritual involving mermaid tears. Aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, they successfully capture a mermaid, Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), and along their journey, the gentle Syrena falls for a kind-hearted crewman. Although it’s not the best film in the franchise, the alluring mermaids are a wonderful addition to this fantasy world and everything you could want from the creatures. It’s definitely worth a watch at least for the captivating mermaid battle scene and beautiful rendition of “My Jolly Sailor Bold.”
Mylie and Phoebe in Charmed
Charmed was (and still is) an adored show of the 90’s about feminism, witchcraft, and sisterly love. “A Witch’s Tail,” the Season 5 episode which is split into two parts, focuses on the mermaid Mylie (Jaime Pressly) who must receive a proclamation of love from her human boyfriend within 30 days or lose her immortality to the demonic Sea Hag. In an effort to save Mylie, the sisters cast a spell and accidentally transform Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) into a mermaid. The supernatural series often had the three sister witches transforming into magical creatures (a banshee, a wendigo, a vampire, etc.) and this episode was no different. In all its campy glory, the episode manages to exhibit a sensitive side to this mermaid tale, exploring Phoebe’s difficulties with her divorce and Piper’s (Holly Marie Combs) anxiety about her impending motherhood.
Mermaids in Peter Pan (2003)
The mermaids from the live-action Peter Pan movie are much like those from mythology, enchantingly beautiful but dark, scary creatures. Peter (Jeremy Sumpter) takes Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) to see the mermaids in order to find out if Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) has captured her brothers. Wendy is utterly bewitched by them, though Peter warns they would happily drown her given the chance. They don’t appear for long, but they steal the scene as one of the most beautifully designed mermaids in film history. They have jagged teeth, cold blue skin, and webbed fingers, yet still are so beguiling it’s no wonder Wendy almost followed them into the depths of the ocean.
Shim Cheong in Legend of the Blue Sea
Another addition to the human/mermaid romance tales, The Legend of the Blue Sea is just as endearing, hilarious, and squeal-worthy as any other great K-drama show. Inspired by a classic Joseon legend, the series follows the love story of Shim Cheong (Jun Ji-hyun), a goofy mermaid, and Heo Joon-jae (Lee Min-ho), a conman. Alongside this, their story is contrasted with the story of their Joseon-era incarnations. It has a bit of a slow beginning, as many Korean dramas do, but it’s worth it to see how the story develops and watch the romance unfold. There’s also some beautiful, eye-catching cinematography, particularly in the underwater scenes.
Merliah in Barbie in a Mermaid Tale (2010)
Barbie has truly stood the test of time as an icon in pop culture, especially with the extensive (and ongoing) list of Barbie movies. While the Barbie franchise has had its fair share of mermaid films, there’s no doubting that Barbie in a Mermaid Tale is the greatest addition. Barbie (Kelly Sheridan) stars as Merliah Summers, a surfing champion who discovers that she is part mermaid. However, as her evil Aunt Eris (Kathleen Barr) has taken control of the underwater city of Oceana and wrongfully imprisoned her mother, Merliah sets out with her dolphin friend Zuma (Tabitha St. Germain) to restore peace. While a bit cheesy (as all Barbie movies are), Barbie in a Mermaid Tale is a sweet and heart-warming flick. Besides, who doesn’t love a good mermaid tail fashion montage and some fin-tastic fish-puns?
Mermaids in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
The merpeople in the Harry Potter movies come in a variety of appearances across the Wizarding World, but the ones we get to see in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire are quite different to the beautiful creatures we usually see. During the Triwizard Tournament of the fourth film, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) undergoes the second task which involves diving into the Black Lake to save Ron (Rupert Grint) from its murky depths. There, he encounters the colony of merpeople who guard the four people in an enchanted sleep for the Triwizard champions to rescue. The mermaids are only in a short scene, but they make an impression. The creatures are ugly and fish-like, with hair-like anemones and screechy voices. If anything, they’re the most realistic-looking film depiction of what a real mermaid would look like, especially in an environment as dark and murky as the Black Lake.
Golden and Silver in The Lure (2015)
Put the kids to bed for this one, as this Polish horror musical is one of the darkest retellings of the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale. The Lure tells the story of two sister mermaids, Golden (Michalina Olszańksa) and Silver (Marta Mazurek), who leave the ocean and are adopted into a cabaret. While Golden discovers a thirst for blood after murdering a bar patron, Silver discovers a love for a member of the cabaret’s band. These mermaids aren’t your typical sweet, pretty things, they’re downright vicious. If you’re not a fan of blood and gore, I’d suggest sticking to something tamer. However, The Lure is hauntingly beautiful and heart-wrenching, with a gorgeous original soundtrack that you’ll be listening to long after the film is over.
Mia in Blue My Mind (2017)
Blue My Mind is a dark fantasy, coming-of-age film from Switzerland, using the changes of a teenage girl turning into a mermaid as an allegory for going through puberty. 15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler) seems like your average teenage girl, but as she faces strange body transformations like webbed toes and bruised skin, she desperately tries to halt them as she questions the nature of her existence. For a film about a girl turning into a mermaid, Blue My Mind is brutally relatable and not fit for children. It’s far more comparable to Thirteen than The Little Mermaid, with whimsy and magic replaced with a realistic, minimal approach.