Water at the Movies

Originally posted on Peter Gleick's "Significant Figures" blog at Scienceblogs.

Water is a theme that runs through all forms of popular culture, from books to myths to Hollywood and international films, with a growing number of shorter video pieces posted online at YouTube and similar sites. Having trouble keeping your Netflix list populated? Below are some classic (good and bad) movies – good and bad – with some kind of water theme: conflict over water in classic western movies; science-fiction thrillers with a water component; visions of the apocalypse where water access or contamination plays a role; and more. (An early version of this list was published in the last volume of our biennial water book "The World’s Water Volume 7.") [The opinions and comments on the films below are my own. I know people have strong feelings about movies…]
A later blog post will offer some of the many water documentaries and videos out there, and some interesting TV episodes as well.


  • Three Word Brand(1921): Paul and Brand (twins separated at birth, played by William S. Hart) become, respectively, 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 a 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 stars 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 to do so.

This is a partial list. To see the full (and growing) list of 37 films, or to add a film to the list, check out the original posting at Gleick's "Significant Figures" blog at ScienceBlogs.