Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, the biopic about Howard Hughes, has garnered a great deal of attention the last few months. Noted in the film is that the original source of Hughes' fortune was the drill bit invented by his father, whose company he inherited. This piece of trivia prompted some investigation into other pictures in which the drilling industry makes an appearance.
Most of the movies the subsequent research uncovered do not pertain to water well drilling. However, drilling of some sort, whether central to the plot or cast in a more supporting role, whether realistic or futuristic, is featured in many films. Played as the good guy, the bad guy and everywhere in-between, how the industry is depicted runs the gamut.
Scores of movies have involved drilling to some degree; unfortunately, not all of them could be included. Instead, a select few were chosen to demonstrate the breadth of coverage the industry has received. So, with a nod to the Oscars, here is a representative list of drilling-related movies - from old B westerns to science fiction blockbusters to award-winning classics - that might be of interest to you. The films denoted with an asterisk (*) were nominated for an Academy Award in at least one category.
*The Abyss (1989) - The crew aboard an underwater oilrig makes an astonishing discovery in this movie directed by James Cameron.
Apache Rose (1947) - A battle over oil drilling rights.
*Armageddon (1998) - In this flick, drillers are sent to space to save the Earth from certain destruction.
At the Earth's Core (1976) - A powerful drilling machine is used to bore into the center of the Earth.
*The Aviator (2004) - This award-winner outlines Howard Hughes' rise to fame and begs the question: without drill bits, where would he have been?
The Big Gusher (1951) - In this movie, oil must be struck in two months' time, or the drillers' land is forfeit.
Born In Freedom: The Story of Colonel Drake (1955) - The origin of the oil industry.
Colt Comrades (1943) - A territory battle over water rights ensues in this Hopalong Cassidy picture.
The Core (2003) - This movie entails a mission to “restart” the Earth's core, which involves developing a laser-drilling machine for a journey to the center of the planet.
The Fighting Texans (1933) - A new oil well is being drilled, and the community invests in the project. Trouble brews when the prospector skips town.
*Five Easy Pieces (1970) - In this film, Jack Nicholson is excellent as Robert Dupea, an oil rigger who confronts his past when he returns home to visit his dying father.
Flight of the Phoenix (2004) - The plane carrying an oil-drilling crew crashes in the Gobi Desert.
*Giant (1956) - Set primarily in Texas, this epic chronicles the lives of the Benedict family against the backdrop of cattle and oilrigs.
Ryan's Well (2001) - A documentary of one little boy's inspiring efforts to get a water well drilled in Africa.
Thunder Bay (1953) - James Stewart stars in this movie about the conflict that arises between oil drillers and fishermen when the former begin building a rig offshore.
Some of the films listed here may prove more difficult to find than others. Many will be available on cable movie channels or at your local video rental store; the older or more obscure ones you might be able to find only online, at a film festival or in a specialty shop, if at all. Yet, should you come across any of them, seeing how drilling is portrayed could be entertaining and time well spent.
If you had to choose one of the above movies to see, allow me to recommend Giant. Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Mercedes McCambridge and a young Dennis Hopper all are superb in this film, with Dean giving what some consider the finest performance of his short career. Particularly memorable is the scene in which oil is struck. Nominated for nine Academy Awards and the recipient of the Oscar for Best Director for 1956, Giant also ranks among the American Film Institute's 100 greatest American movies of all time.