It premiered in New York City on December 7, 2015 and was released in cinemas in the United States on December 11, 2015 by Warner Bros. Pictures. In the Heart of the Sea received mixed reviews from critics, and grossed $93 million against a $100 million budget.
In 1850, author Herman Melville visits innkeeper Thomas Nickerson, the last survivor of the sinking of the whaleship Essex, offering money in return for his story. Nickerson initially refuses, but finally agrees when his wife intervenes.
The story turns to 1820: a whaling company in Nantucket has refitted the Essex to participate in the lucrative whale oil trade, and 14-year-old Nickerson signs on as a cabin boy. The owners hire veteran whaler Owen Chase as first mate, though he is disappointed not to receive a captain's commission. The captain is George Pollard, an inexperienced mariner from an established whaling family who envies Chase's skill and popularity. Chase and Pollard clash, leading Pollard to sail into a storm against Chase's advice. The two agree to put their differences aside, rather than risking their reputations by returning to port without profit, and soon, the crew kills their first bull sperm whale.
Three months pass with no further successes, and Pollard realizes that the Atlantic Ocean holds no sighting of whales. The Essex sails past Cape Horn to the Pacific, hoping for better luck in catching one. In Atacames, Ecuador, the officers meet a Spanish captain who tells them his crew found the bountiful "Offshore Grounds" 2,000 miles to the west, but claims that a vengeful "white whale" destroyed his ship, killing six of his men. Denying the story as a myth, Pollard and Chase lead the expedition west. They find the undisturbed grounds, but when they launch the whaling boats, the white whale, a massive albino bull sperm whale attacks, damaging the boats and turning on the ship.
Chase harpoons it from the Essex's deck, but the whale staves the ship in half, killing two men. The crew abandons the sinking Essex in the three intact whaling boats, and must sail hundreds of miles to shore with very limited supplies. The whale follows and attacks again, but they escape to the tiny Henderson Island. While gathering food, Chase discovers the corpses of earlier castaways, and concludes that the crew will soon die on the island before another ship passes by. Four men decide to stay, while the rest set sail again on the boats with hopes to find land. Soon after, one of the men dies, and the remaining crew reluctantly decide to cannibalize him.
The older Nickerson is overcome by emotion and stops his story; however, when his wife comforts him, he feels encouraged enough to finish. Back in the 1820s, the three boats separate and one is lost. The other two further resort to cannibalism to survive, with Pollard's cousin Henry Coffin sacrificing himself.
The whale returns, and Chase gets into position for a final attack. The whale breaches for a moment, allowing Chase to observe a portion of his previously thrown harpoon still embedded in the whale's skull. Chase hesitates, and stares into the whale's left eye. He decides not to attack. Following this encounter, the whale swims away peacefully, and is never seen again.
A passing ship rescues Pollard's boat, but Chase's boat continues to drift with no food or water. Finally, with the survivors on the verge of death, they reach land. The survivors return to Nantucket and finally reunite with their distraught families. The ship's owners ask Pollard and Chase to cover up the story to protect the industry, but after Chase refuses to go along, Pollard reveals the truth in the inquiry.
Nickerson relates that Chase continued sailing the seas and became a merchant captain, while Pollard led another expedition to kill the whale, but the ship wrecked and he was forced to retire. Melville departs, to compose his novel, Moby-Dick, beginning by writing its first line: "Call me Ishmael".Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase, the first mate
Benjamin Walker as Captain George Pollard Jr.
Cillian Murphy as Matthew Joy, the second mate
Tom Holland as young Thomas Nickerson, the cabin boy
Brendan Gleeson as old Thomas Nickerson
Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville
Michelle Fairley as Mrs. Nickerson
Gary Beadle as William Bond
Frank Dillane as Henry Coffin
Edward Ashley as Barzallai Ray
Charlotte Riley as Peggy Gardner Chase
Donald Sumpter as Paul Macy
Brooke Dimmock as Phoebe Chase
Jamie Sives as Isaac Cole
Joseph Mawle as Benjamin Lawrence
Paul Anderson as Caleb Chappel
Luca Tosi as William Wright
Chris Hemsworth was cast to play the lead, Owen Chase, in June 2012. Tom Holland won the role of young Nickerson in April 2013. Cillian Murphy signed on as Matthew Joy in June. Before Benjamin Walker was set to play the Captain, other actors that were considered included Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and Henry Cavill. The film was in development back in 2000, with Barry Levinson set to direct for Miramax Films.
Principal photography began in September 2013 in London and at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, England. It was also shot on location on the island of La Gomera (plus some scenes on Lanzarote) in the Canary Islands, Spain. For the storm scenes, the production team built a water tank at Leavesden Studios, where a deck was built on top of a gimbal to mimic the pitch of a storm. To get the right effect, 500 gallons of icy water were poured from cannons.
During one point of filming, the cast and crew were forced to retreat to their hotel by a storm off the Canary Islands, which turned into a rare flash flood. The production shut down for a day and a half, expanding the shoot to 73 days, exactly as filmmakers expected.
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Hemsworth stated that to prepare for the role of starving sailors, the cast were on a diet of 500–600 calories a day to lose weight. Hemsworth also had to drop his weight from 215 to 175 pounds to play Owen, saying that In the Heart of the Sea is "physically and emotionally the hardest movie that I've been a part of... Losing the weight to this length, I just never want to do it again, but it had such an emotional effect on us... in some small way, we felt like we were doing what these men went through justice."
Roque Baños composed the film score.
For its release in the United States and Canada, the film was originally scheduled for March 13, 2015, but was later pushed back to December 11, in order to convert the film into 3D, as well as giving it higher chances of being an awards season contender. Internationally, Warner Bros. decided to open the film early overseas—a week before its United States December 11 opening—to avoid competition with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which began its theatrical overseas from December 16. The film was released in the Dolby Vision format in Dolby Cinema in North America.
In the Heart of the Sea was released on DVD, Blu-ray & Blu-ray 3D on March 8, 2016. It was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on May 17, 2016.
In the Heart of the Sea was one of two flops released by Warner Bros in 2015, the other being Pan. It grossed $25 million in North America and $68.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $93.9 million, against a production budget of $100 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film opened on December 11, 2015 in 3,103 theaters, including a number of 3D and IMAX theaters. Box Office Mojo projected an opening weekend gross of $18 million, noting that the film's only competition was with the holdover of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (in its fourth weekend of play). The film earned $3.8 million on its opening day, including $575,000 from its early Thursday night showings. In its opening weekend, it earned $11.1 million, finishing below expectations and narrowly losing to Mockingjay – Part 2, which earned $11.4 million. Many box office analysts said the low opening was because audiences' enthusiasm was focused on the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens the following week. Regarding the film's disappointing opening, Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president said, "We stand behind Ron and his vision for the story, we believe in him. He's a terrific filmmaker. But some movies work and unfortunately some movies don't." In its third weekend the film was pulled from 72.3% of theaters (3,103 to 685), the 4th biggest drop in history at the time.
In the Heart of the Sea was released internationally a week prior to its United States opening in 38 markets and grossed a total of $18.5 million with 3.3 million admissions on over 9,500 screens. 50% of the plays were in 3D with 156 IMAX theaters which accounted for 7% of the total opening. It went No. 1 in Russia and the CIS ($2 million), Italy ($1.7 million) and several other Asian markets such as Thailand and Taiwan and No. 2 in South Korea with $2.6 million, behind local hit Inside Men, Mexico with $1.9 million, behind The Good Dinosaur and Brazil with $1.3 million, behind The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 42% based on 214 reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The admirably old-fashioned In the Heart of the Sea boasts thoughtful storytelling to match its visual panache, even if it can't claim the depth or epic sweep to which it so clearly aspires." Another review aggregator, Metacritic gives it an average score of 47 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". CinemaScore reports that mainstream audiences gave the film an average grade of "B+", on an A+ to F scale.