The Ten Best Fish-Out-of-Water Movies
01.14.14 by Sean
When Michael "The Angry Ginger," his Mema, and the rest of their family moved to Hollywood it was a classic fish-out-of-water story. In honor of REELZ' upcoming reatlity series, Hollywood Hillbillies, we decided to make a list of our 10 favorite fish-out-of-water flicks.
Putting the Highfalutin in their place
Tuesdays 9p ET/PT
Way back in the distant past, so long ago it can be difficult to remember (that is to say the 1980s), Eddie Murphy made good movies. Coming to America was one of the highlights of that difficult-to-believe-existed period in his career, with Murphy starring as the crown prince of a fictional African country who arrives in America in the hope of finding a wife who won't cowtow to his every demand. On his arrival to the States, he finds a whole lot more waiting for him, and spends much of the picture working fast food rather than issuing royal decrees.
In some ways the entire Cornetto Trilogy is a series of fish-out-of-water stories, but the most traditional of these is the second entry, Hot Fuzz, which has Simon Pegg as a supercop being taken out of London and thrown into the lazy and corrupt police force of a provincial British town. To say that he doesn't fit in well would be an understatement, but his desire to actually fight crime is what ultimately helps overthrow the town's repressive, conservative regime.
Most of the characters in these movies fit in somewhere, but Edward Scissorhands is different. There's no society in which he'd be normal, and in effect he's a fish-out-of-water simply by existing. As a man-made creation in a world of men, he has difficulty finding those who will accept him, and those who do become outcasts as well. Where other movies on this list found comedy, Edward Scissorhands dwells in the pathos and pain of being ostracized for surface differences.
Frank Capra's 1939 flick is one of the greatest movies about politics ever made, and better yet one of the few that won't put you to sleep. Jimmy Stewart, a man who couldn't care less about politics except for how it helps the people he cares about, stumbles into becoming a U.S. Senator only to find that the world of Washington D.C. is filled with corruption and graft. As an outsider, he's able to get the job done in a way that no insider was willing to try, and more or less introduced the word filibuster to the national vocabulary.
Perhaps the most literal fish-out-of-water flick ever made (ok, maybe Splash could give it a run for its money), the first great animated feature of Disney's late-80s revival concerns a Mermaid becoming a human. You probably know the rest by heart, so we won't bother summarizing the whole picture, but suffice to say this flick could make our best-of list for "Under the Sea" alone.
A musical remake of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, My Fair Lady concerns a wager that anyone can be accepted into high society so long as they have the right tone of voice and a few correct manners. While the entire film is an insightful comedy of manners, it's Audrey Hepburn's performance as Eliza Doolittle, the simple flower saleswoman thrown suddenly into high society, that makes the movie unforgettable, even if her singing voice never made the final soundtrack.
Just because you're a fish out of water doesn't mean you can't be fish out of water together. That's the case in Lost in Translation, which features Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray's characters feeling strangely out of place in Japan, but within this isolation finding affection for each other. This haunting quasi-romance remains one of Murray's best features, which is certainly saying something.
When Borat came to America, the joke wasn't on him, but rather us and the ridiculous way America treats outsiders. Not that there weren't plenty of staged setpieces within Borat, but the best parts of the movie came from the unscripted moments, when everyone around Borat was reacting to his frequently horrible comments with even worse behavior.
If this list were being award for sheer sweetness, Elf would be at the top, and as it stands the film is still pretty close. One of the few times in his life that Will Ferrell didn't act like just another "Will Ferrell Character," Buddy is his finest creation and his world of Christmas optimism is absolutely infectious. Buddy's that fish-out-of-water who inspires the rest of the world with his uplifting spirit, making for the best modern Christmas movie, period.
While the rest of these movies are about characters not fitting in with a specific place, Back to the Future is the only feature about not fitting in with a specific time. There's no finer fish-out-of-water story than Marty McFly's original journey back to 1955, where he navigates this strange world in the hope of changing the past for the better before heading back to the present day (well, present when the movie was made). With an 80s-tastic soundtrack in tow and Michael J. Fox's finest screen performance, there's no denying this classic is the best the genre has to offer.