THE BLOG
08/18/2010 03:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Water in the Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Ok movie buffs and water buffs. Here's your chance to shine:

I've worked on water issues for three decades. And I love movies. So... I'm building a list of movies where water, water politics, and water conflict all come together. Here is part of my list, but please weigh in with corrections and additions. If you have additions, I'd love the Title, Year, and a SHORT precis of how water is centrally involved. Documentaries, sci-fiction, westerns, action... but water has to play a central role in the plot, somehow.

Peter Gleick's PartialList of Movies and Water

Three Word Brand (1921): Paul and Brand (twins separated at birth, played by William S. Hart) become governor of Utah and a partner in a ranch where neighboring ranchers are trying to get control of local water rights.

Riders of Destiny (1933): Government agent Saunders (John Wayne) fights local rancher who controls the local water supply and is trying to force other ranchers into contracts for water at exorbitant rates.

King of the Pecos (1936): John Wayne in a classic battle over western water rights and land in the Pecos River country.

Law of the Ranger (1937): Another western with a monopolistic rancher claiming local water rights. Bill Nash (John Merton), owner of the local water company and town boss tries to control the valley's water rights by building a reservoir, but he must get control of the key property and murders the rightful owner.

Oklahoma Frontier (1939): Land rush leads to an attempt to control the water rights in the Cherokee Strip, with Johnny Mack Brown.

Stampede (1949): Brothers Mike and Tim McCall (Rod Cameron and Don Castle) own a large ranch in Arizona. Stanley Cox (John Eldredge) and LeRoy Stanton (Donald Curtis) sell land to settlers who arrive to find the McCall's control all water.

The Big Country (1958): Retired, wealthy sea Captain Jame McKay (Gregory Peck) arrives in the west to marry fiancee Pat Terrill. Pat's father, Major Henry Terrill (Charles Bickford) is involved in a ruthless civil war over watering rights for cattle.

Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): U.S. Air Force General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) goes off the deep end and sends bombers to destroy the U.S.S.R because he suspects that the communists are conspiring to pollute the water supply and the "precious bodily fluids" of the American people. Also, of course, with George C. Scott and Peter Sellers.

El Dorado (1966): John Wayne plays Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire who joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara (played by Robert Mitchum) to help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher trying to steal their water.

The classic, Chinatown (1974): a murder mystery centered around the political manipulations of water and land in turn-of-the twentieth century Los Angeles.

The Crazies (1978): George A. Romero's low-budget story of a town affected by the accidental dumping of bio-weapons in their water supply - lunacy, murder, and a military crackdown.

Pale Rider (1985): Clint Eastwood as a mysterious preacher who comes to a gold mining camp near a small town in the mountains. The miners are facing a ruthless landowner who cuts off the water to drive them from their land and their gold claims. Eastwood kicks their butts, of course.

Water (1985): A tiny and impoverished Caribbean island (the island's Governor is played by Michael Caine) is completely forgotten by its British colonial masters, until an oil well strikes mineral water. Suddenly the British, Americans, Cubans, French and an incompetent local rebel are struggling for control of the island.

Solarbabies (1986): In the future, a nuclear war has left the Earth as a desert wasteland where the ocean has dried up leaving the Earth as a vast desert landscape. Most of the water supplies are controlled by the elite corporation E-Protectorate, which takes children away from their families.

Xian dai hao xia zhuan (1993): Set after a city has been devastated by nuclear attack, an evil deformed villain controls the city's scarce water supply. Three heroes work to avert a military takeover and find clean waters to save the city.

Tank Girl (1995): Based on a British cult comic, a tank-riding anti-heroine (Lori Petty) fights a mega-corporation "Water and Power," which controls the world's water supply.

Waterworld (1995): Kevin Costner in, uh, a long series of post-apocalyptic world where the control of water is a key plot element (see The Book of Eli, Mad Max and sequels, and the zillions of others).

Johnson and Bent's film Christie Malry's Own Double Entry (2000): A disaffected young man who starts to revenge himself against society for perceived slights, escalating to environmental terrorism and poisoning London's water supplies.

Sabaku no kaizoku! Captain Kuppa (2001): Japanese anime. Sometime in the future, the world is completely dried up and water has become the most valuable thing on the world. Whoever controls water will control the world.

The Tuxedo (2002): Wilson and Leeson's movie with Jackie Chan and a power hungry bottled-water mogul trying to destroy the world's natural water supply to force everyone to drink his bottled water.

Batman Begins (2005): portrays a terrorist attempt to destroy Gotham by introducing a vapor-borne hallucinogen into the water system.

Ben Rekhi's independent film, Waterborne (2005): which follows the fictional aftermath of a bio-terrorist attack on the water supply of Los Angeles.

V for Vendetta (2006): features corrupt government leaders contaminating London's water supply to kill people, spread fear, and consolidate power.

Quantum of Solace (2008): James Bond vs. terrorists gaining control over Bolivia's water resources.

The Book of Eli (2010): Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman in, uh, yet another post-apocalyptic world where the control of water is a key plot element (see also, Waterworld, Mad Max and sequels, and others).

OK, what else? Comments welcome!

Peter Gleick
Pacific Institute

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