The mermaid Madison (played by Daryl Hannah) is seen from shoulders up below the surface of the blue water, her blond hair floating wildly around her head. She’s wearing an elaborate necklace studded with sealife-themed charms, beads, and coins.

Splash: Making Waves for 40 Years!

By Christina Pappous and Francesca Scrimgeour, Walt Disney Archives

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Splash on March 9, 1984, when audiences first dove into the adventure-filled story of Madison (played by Daryl Hannah) and Allen Bauer (played by Tom Hanks). As the first film to be released by The Walt Disney Company’s new Touchstone Pictures, Splash was not the typical Disney release, as the film banner would introduce more mature themes than the standard film put out under the Walt Disney banner. The tagline for Splash perfectly captures the tone of the film and its newly formed film label, declaring: “She was the woman of Allen’s dreams. She had large dark eyes, a beautiful smile, and a great pair of fins.”

Speaking of fins, what better way to celebrate this fin-tastic milestone than by showcasing some behind-the-scenes sunken treasure: a mermaid in her natural environment!

An underwater cinematographer, on the left, operating a waterproof camera, films the mermaid Madison (Daryl Hannah), on the right, swimming by a barnacle-encrusted shipwreck on the sandy bottom of the ocean, where corals are growing.
An underwater cinematographer captures Madison (Daryl Hannah) swimming by a shipwreck.

It took more than a little movie magic to show the inquisitive mermaid Madison frolicking around in the reefs and swimming through shipwrecks. Producer Brian Grazer knew that creating a believable underwater world for Madison on film would be a challenge, but he and director Ron Howard decided the most realistic-looking option would be to shoot underwater in The Bahamas. Underwater cinematographer Jordan Klein meticulously mapped out every scene through storyboards to ensure that not a single moment was wasted during the 16 days of filming in the Caribbean waters. The actors underwent a great deal of preparatory training, as they would be diving down some 50 feet below turbulent ocean waves. Additionally, they had to adapt to not using standard diving equipment while in costume.

As the mermaid “who has legs on land, fins underwater, and makes waves wherever she goes,” Daryl Hannah particularly impressed both Howard and Grazer with her natural swimming skills when pre-testing her mermaid tail underwater. Hannah’s natural swimming abilities and aquatic endurance surpassed those of her stunt double. She ultimately agreed to perform all underwater stunts herself, which added more credibility to the film.

Daryl Hannah, in costume as the mermaid Madison, swim though a colorful Bahamian coral reef alongside schools of fish. The surface of the ocean shimmers above her.
Madison (Daryl Hannah) swims though a Bahamian coral reef alongside schools of fish.

While Daryl Hannah found the underwater mermaid sequences to be “magical,” an incredible amount of work had to be done behind the scenes to make it look effortless. Donning Madison’s mermaid tail took around five hours, and during the six-hour stretches of underwater shooting, Hannah had to hold her breath as well as manage her limited movement and vision in the ocean.

Despite those challenges, Hannah proved that she could go the nautical distance, gracefully swimming as far as 120 feet with her mermaid tail. The film’s renowned stunt swimmer, Mike Nomad, recognized that she was at home in the water, even without a mask. Toward the end of filming in the water, Nomad recalled that Hannah “turned to me and said, ‘I don’t know how people can swim with just feet. I’ve gotten so used to the tail that I’ve forgotten how to swim without it.’”

Madison (Daryl Hannah) and Allen Bauer (Tom Hanks) swim side by side far underwater, in the shadow of a tower of Bahamian coral.
Madison (Daryl Hannah) and Allen Bauer (Tom Hanks) swim side by side through Bahamian coral reefs.

By collecting important props, costumes, and documentation from the production of Splash, the Walt Disney Archives plays a significant role in preserving the film’s legacy for future generations to enjoy. After a film wraps production, the Walt Disney Archives typically has the opportunity to acquire iconic objects and materials for reference, preservation, and potential future display.

One such prop that found a home in our collection is Madison’s necklace, pictured in the photograph below and at the top of this story. The necklace is adorned with colorful beads, seahorse charms, and ancient coins along with its focal point: a bronze-colored medallion with a lion’s head.

The necklace worn by Madison (Daryl Hannah), pictured around her neck in the image at the top of this story, is seen here displayed against a white background. The beaded necklace, now in the care of the Walt Disney Archives. is adorned with seahorse charms, and ancient coins, along with a bronze-colored medallion depicting a lion’s head.
The necklace worn by Madison (Daryl Hannah) is now in the care of the Walt Disney Archives.

Happy anniversary to this romantic catch of a film, with its splashes of humor that still give audiences waves of joy to this day—hook, line, and sinker!

Splash (1984) is now available to watch on Disney+ and other streaming and home entertainment platforms.