The 11 Greatest Underwater Cities of Science Fiction

Space might be the final frontier, but science fiction has always harbored a fascination with worlds under the waves. Here are 11 great examples of scifi's submerged cities.

Lyonesse, War-Gods of the Deep


Based loosely on a Poe poem, War-Gods of the Deep features Vincent Price as Captain Sir Hugh Tregathian, the maniacal ruler of a underwater city off the coast of Cornwall. It's vast, ancient metropolis, empty, decayed, and easily seized by the foremost B-movie villain of his time. He's made the native Gill Men his lackeys, sending them on errands like capturing a beautiful surface-dweller who catches his eye. A nearby volcano emits breathable oxygen, which also mysterious preserves Price and his human crew for more than a century, ensuring they don't age a day.

Atlantis, Stargate Atlantis

As the series begins, the Ancients' flying city is completely submerged. Outmatched and besieged, the ultra-wise race parked Atlantis on the ocean floor, turned out the lights, and gated back to Earth, leaving the ship hidden in the watery depths. When the team arrives from Stargate Command, their presence proves too great a strain on the city's resources. The shield keeping out the water fails, and the whole structure surfaces—and that's just the first episode.

Otoh Gunga, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan need help for the besieged Naboo. So when they rescue Jar Jar Binks, they demand he take them to his leaders, who turn out to be a frog-like bunch who live in a city of air bubbles. The Gungans don't feel like assisting their humanoid neighbors, but they are willing to give the Jedi a ride through the planet's watery core, to their destination at Theed. The concept's a little silly, but the visual execution is one of Phantom Menace's bright spots. It's certainly the best part of the movie involving Jar Jar Binks.


Aphrodite, Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus

Before it turned out the cloud cover was made of sulfuric acid, scifi writers loved using Venus as a setting. Asimov wrote this YA adventure novel in 1954, imagining a network of domed cities housing millions under the Venusian seas. Aphrodite is the biggest, and that's where he sends his space-faring Lone Ranger-style hero, Lucky Starr, to investigate some funny business involving his old roommate from the Science Academy. Starr finds an oddly precarious city. One major plot point revolves around a man's threat to open an airlock and flood Aphrodite. Nothing's unsinkable, but you'd expect more thorough safety precautions, all things considered.


The Lost City of Atlanta, Futurama


The crew goes fishing, hooks a Gargantuan Mouth Bass, and lands on the ocean floor. After some brief exploring, they find the sunken remnants of a city best remembered as a giant Delta hub: Atlanta. A number by folk-rock legend Donovan explains how a landlocked city wound up on the bottom of the Atlantic. Chasing tourist dollars and hoping to become an even bigger Delta hub, the city fathers decided to move the whole operation out to sea. Overdevelopment sinks the island, and those left behind gradually evolve into drawling merfolk. Fry boils it down best: "It's two-for-one Tuesdays at Krispy Kreme. Plus there's mermaids!"


ORCA, Ocean Girl

If you're an older millennial, you might remember that the pre-Miley Disney Channel used to feature weird Australian kids' shows in the afternoon. Among them was Ocean Girl, which followed the aquatic adventures of Neri, a preternaturally tan alien girl capable of speaking to whales. She hung out with two boys who lived with their whale-watching mother on ORCA, a nearby underwater research station. A shady corporation wanted to expand the installation to ORCA city, threatening the surrounding marine environment, but Neri and company put a stop to that.


Sealab, Sealab 2020/2021

In the 70s, Hanna-Barbera produced a short-lived cartoon about a massive underwater research base. It didn't even last a month. Then, in 2000, Cartoon Network got hold of the footage and remixed it into something so full of non-sequiturs it borders on Dada. Sealab is gigantic but almost empty. It blows up on a regular basis. The crew does zero work and has little contact with the outside world. The isolated station is really just an expensive excuse for shenanigans.


Titanica, Stingray

The underwater world of Stingray matches the other Golden Age scifi stories on this list. Square-jawed heroes jet around the ocean in the super-submarine that gives the show its name. They battle amphibious alien monsters from the underwater city of Titanica. It's basically space opera relocated to the deep sea. But instead of a human cast, it's all done with marionettes. Yes, that's right: puppets.


Yes, this was a poor post-Oscar decision for Kevin Costner. No, it is not a very good movie. But there is a single scene that's fairly memorable in its attempt to show what happened to the old world. Costner's character, the Mariner, goes diving for dirt, a valuable commodity in this post-apocalyptic society.The city's name is long forgotten, and there's just a couple of bizarrely well-preserved issues of National Geographic to signal this used to be our world. But now it's all gone, thanks to the melting polar ice caps, and people are stuck recycling their urine for drinking water. Bummer.


Atlantis, Doctor Who


The Doctor has visited Atlantis more than once, finding the most traditional rendition in "The Underwater Menace." The second Doctor and his companions land on an extinct volcano, only to be snatched and carried deep into the Earth by what's left of the Atlanteans. But this isn't the enlightened bunch we've come to expect. Some are surgically altered into Fish People and made to work on plankton farms, and the whole population is in thrall to a mad scientist, Professor Zaroff. He's convinced them he can raise the island, but it's all a plot to blow up Earth. The attempt to stop Zaroff floods the city, though the Atlanteans do escape.


Sub Diego, Aquaman

An artificially-triggered earthquake sends half of San Diego into the sea, but instead of drowning, the inhabitants miraculously develop the ability to breath underwater. Aquaman operates out of the submerged city starting with the "American Tidal" storyline, and he even relocates a number of Atlantean refugees there. It's also the home city of the second Aquagirl, who luckily retains her ability to breathe air.


Additional reporting by Alasdair Wilkins

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