Actors Hold Breath Underwater

Here are 11 stars who have held their breath underwater for an absurdly long time.

Esther Williams (Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952)

Esther Williams in Million Dollar Mermaid

Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer and actress beloved for a run of films, starting in the mid-1940s, that highlighted her ability to perform gorgeously choreographed routines — often underwater — in films like Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and Dangerous When Wet (1953).

We don’t know exactly how long she could hold her breath underwater, but she clearly pushed herself to the limit: She repeatedly ruptured an eardrum from the hours she spent in studio tanks.

She died in 2013 at the age of 91.

Ricou Browning (Creature From the Black Lagoon, 1954)

The director, actor, producer, screenwriter, underwater cinematographer and stuntman started out performing in water shows, then in underwater newsreels, and was offered the role of Gill-man, aka The Creature From the Black Lagoon, after a film crew asked him to show them around a location — and then to swim for the camera. He ended up starring in the film’s sequels, as well.

Browning told Florida’s Ocala StarBanner newspaper in 2013 that he could hold his breath underwater for up to four minutes, but only in optimal conditions: “If you’re swimming fast or fighting, you use up a lot of oxygen, and it cuts it down to, at the most, two minutes.” Browning died in February at the age of 93.

Shelly Winters (The Poseidon Adventure, 1972)

Shelly Winters reportedly learned to hold her breath for up to four minutes while making the ensemble-cast disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure, about an aging luxury liner overturned by a tsunami. She was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Winters died in 2006 at the age of 85.

Val Kilmer (Top Secret, 1984)

Iceman is dangerous

Top Secret is an absurdist cross between a war movie and an Elvis movie, starring Val Kilmer as American singer Nick Rivers, who goes behind enemy lines and falls in love with a German woman fighting fascists. Its many brilliant set pieces — including a scene shot backwards and a scene where a station pulls away from a train — build up to an underwater Western-style fistfight.

Directors David Zucker and Jim Abrahams told ScreenCrush in 2014 that the actors in the scene held their breath underwater while they shot in 10 or 15 second increments, then returned to the surface.

“The hardest part was not laughing and running out of oxygen,” added Kilmer. “I got my [diving] certificate for that sequence and still enjoy diving today!”

Kurt Russell (Poseidon, 2006)

How long did Kurt Russell hold his breath underwater for this Poseidon Adventure remake? Long enough that he almost fell unconscious.

“There’s a scene where I’m underwater a long time, which means I had to entrust myself to someone to come in and give me air at exactly the right moment. That’s spooky stuff,” he told The Los Angeles Daily News.

“I wanted to see what the experience was like, but, psychologically, that’s hard to do . . . letting go and trusting that you won’t drown.”

Russell added: “The third time, when the guy swam out and put the regulator in my mouth, I don’t remember it. I was that close to the edge.”

Jessica Alba (Into the Blue, 2005)

Jessica Alba and Paul Walker hold their breath underwater in Into the Blue

Jessica Alba took up free diving when she worked on the late ’90s TV show The New Adventures of Flipper, and carried her experience over to Into the Blue, a heist thriller in which she co-starred with the late Paul Walker.

“Free diving is like an extreme sports version of snorkeling,” she told CBS News in 2005. “That’s about 50 feet deep. And basically what you do is you hold your breath and you wear a weight belt and go down as fast as possible and hold your breath for minutes at a time. ”

Alba said she and her fellow actors would compete at it holding their breath underwater: “I think I had the longest breath-hold. It was like one minute, 20 seconds,” she said.

Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, 2015)

Tom Cruise holds his breath in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise explained in an Access Hollywood video when Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation was released that “normally in underwater sequences, people hold their breath for 10 seconds, 15 seconds max.”

But he says he of course learned to hold his breath for six minutes for a sequence in which his super-spy Ethan Hunt has to infiltrate a place to get a thing and of course can’t wear any scuba gear, because.

Long story short, there’s nothing Maverick won’t do to show up Iceman. (Kilmer, of course, played Iceman opposite Cruise’s Maverick in Top Gun, released in 1986.)

Chris Hemsworth in Real Life

A key plot element of the Extraction films (Extraction came out in 2020, and Extraction 2 this year) is that Tyler Rake, the mercenary played by Chris Hemsworth, is very good at holding his breath underwater.

That’s a skill the fictional Rake shares with the real Hemsworth, who earlier this year wowed his Instagram followers with a photo of himself sitting with prayer hands at the bottom of his pool as his children swim up, trying to get his attention. We don’t know exactly how long he can hold his breath underwater, but he definitely looks relaxed.

Sigourney Weaver (Avatar: The Way of Water, 2022)

How long can Sigourney Weaver hold her breath? Longer than Tom Cruise.

Sigourney Weaver explained on Live With Kelly and Ryan (above) that she learned to hold her breath underwater for a six-and-a-half minute “static breath hold,” while making the massive hit Avatar: The Way of Water.

Kate Winslet (Avatar: The Way of Water, 2022)

Kate Winslet as Ronal in Avatar: The Way of Water

Hollywood’s champion of actors who can hold their breath for a long time, Kate Winslet clocked 7 minutes and 14 seconds while making Avatar: The Way of Water, using the same techniques as Sigourney Weaver.

We all have the same question, right? Which is… why Did Kate Winslet and Sigourney Weaver Need to Hold Their Breath for Avatar: The Way of Water? The whole movie is CGI, right? Did they even need to go in the water?

The film’s director of photography, Peter Zuccarini, says yes — the actors needed to appear underwater in order to make their CGI images look good, but air bubbles from scuba gear got in the way of the small markers on the actors’ faces and bodies that allow James Cameron to add CGI later in post-production.

Okay, back to No. 10 on our list…

Mabel Cadena (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, 2022)

Mabel Cadena as Namora

Cadena, who plays Namora in the Black Panther sequel, said in an interview with Screen Rant that she almost broke Kate Winslet’s record for holding one’s breath underwater.

“My first immersion was around 30 seconds, and the same day I [was able to do] six minutes and thirty-five seconds,” Cadena said. “The training was amazing, because in the same day I can have a big difference [from] my first immersion to my second immersion. I’m very competitive, so Chris, my coach, told me, ‘Kate Winslet has the record, so if you want to be the winner, you need to learn a lot of things.'”

What Is the Record for Holding Your Breath Underwater?

It isn’t held by Kate Winslet, Sigourney Weaver or Tom Cruise, but rather by a professional diver: Budimir Šobat’s holds the improbable world record of 24 minutes and 37 seconds, which you can read more about here.

OK, but how many Oscar nominations does he have?

Main image: Jessica Alba in Into the Blue