From Barrymore to Led Zeppelin—"Moby Dick"-inspired Art

Tania Thompson
 | Dec 27, 2016
Moby Dick

​Jamie Abelson and ​Kasey Foster in Moby Dick. Photo by Liz Lauren. © Lookingglass Theatre Company and Liz Lauren.

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Movie poster for the 1926 version of The Sea Beast.


​Movie poster of the 1955 classic verion of Moby Dick.


​1982 movie poster for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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​DVD cover for the Dot the Whale movie.


​Rod Steiger in the 1955 version of Moby Dick on Broadway. 


​Dopey Dick, the 1957 Woody Woodpecker cartoon.


The 1967 cartoon, "Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor."


​​A poster for the 1998 television movie.


Led Zeppelin's Moby Dick homage.


​The 2010 Moby Dick opera.


BBC Radio's 2006 broadcast.

Published in 1851, Herman Melville’s epic adventure novel, Moby Dick, inspired numerous works of art—on stage, in film and television, in song, cartoons, graphic novels and more. The Modern Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas, even held a Moby Dick read-a-thon in September 2016 in conjunction with an art exhibit inspired by the great whale. Here are some other novel-inspired works.


  • Cartoonist Gary Larson took on the opening line of Moby Dick—“Call me Ishmael”for his “Farside” comic strip. The ‘toon shows Herman Melville at a desk, beginning to write his novel. Melville is surrounded by discarded sheets of paper with failed opening lines, such as: “Call Me Larry,” “Call Me Warren” and “Call Me Al.”

  • “Ten Classics in 10 Minutes” (1980s; re-released in 2004): A talking book with high-speed-talking actor John Moschitta Jr. His one-minute summation of Moby Dick ends with: “And everybody dies…but the fish…and Ish.”


  • The Sea Beast (1926): A silent film with John Barrymore as Captain Ahab (remade in 1930, with the advent of sound). 

  • Moby Dick—Rehearsed: A play by Orson Welles; a performance was filmed in 1955.

  • Moby Dick (1955): A classic film adaptation starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. John Huston directed, with a screenplay by Ray Bradbury.

  • Moby Dick (1978): A film version with Shakespearean actor Jack Aranson.

  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): A space setting for Moby Dick with the character of Khan as an Ahab-type character (his “whale” is Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise). Khan quotes Melville extensively throughout the film, right up to the last lines: “From Hell's heart...I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

  • Samson & Sally: Song of the Whales (1984): An animated film about a young white whale named Samson who searches for the giant white whale after hearing a legend that Moby-Dick would one day return to save all the whales.

  • Dot and the Whale (1986): Dot embarks on a search for Moby Dick in hope of helping a beached whale.

  • Star Trek: First Contact (1996): Patrick Stewart, as USS Enterprise Captain Picard, seeks revenge against an alien race called the Borg. The script quotes from Melville: “And he piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.”

  • Moby Dick (World Literary Classics series, 1999): A paint-on-glass Russian animated adaptation, later released for the British market with Rod Steiger as the voice of Captain Ahab.

  • Capitaine Achab (2004): A French movie.

  • Moby Dick (2010): Barry Bostwick starring as Captain Ahab.

  • Age of the Dragons (2011): Danny Glover is a mountain-roaming Ahab maimed by fire instead of having a peg-leg, in which the great white whale is a white dragon.

  • In the Heart of the Sea (2015): A film based a non-fiction book of the same name, about the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex in 1820, an event that inspired the novel Moby Dick.


  • Moby Dick—Rehearsed (1955): A two-act play written and directed by Orson Welles. In London, Welles portrayed Captain Ahab; on Broadway, Rod Steiger took on the role.

  • Moby Dick (2000): Jim Burke’s adaptation toured the United Kingdom aboard the Walk-the-Plank Theatre’s ship.

  • Moby Dick (2003): A stage adaptation by Julian Rad.

  • Moby Dick (2008): Morris Panych’s adaptation for Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Canada) was produced on a revolving stage.


  • “Moby Dick” (1954): A film made for the Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology series, with Victor Jory as Captain Ahab and Hugh O’Brian as Starbuck.

  • “Dopey Dick the Pink Whale” (1957): A Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

  • “Tom and Jerry: Dicky Moe” (1962): In this cartoon, an Ahab-like captain is obsessed with hunting the great white whale named Dickey Moe.

  • “Mr. Magoo” (1964): An episode of the cartoon series, voiced by Jim Backus, follows Ishmael Quincey Magoo as he hunts the great white whale.

  • “The Flintstones” (1964): An episode of the cartoon series called “Adobe Dick” has Fred and Barney chasinga “whaleasaurus.”

  • “Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor” (1967): A Hanna-Barbera animated series.

  • “Beet​lejuice Moby Richard” (1991): This episode saw the whale classic cartoonily adapted for Disasterpiece Theatre.

  • “Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick” (1997): A Japanese anime movie that is a science-fiction retelling of the book; Moby Dick is a whale-shaped sentient spaceship with the power to destroy planets.

  • “Moby Dick” (1998): A television movie starring Patrick Stewart as Ahab and Gregory Peck as Father Mapple.

  • “Futurama: Möbius Dick” (2011): An episode of the animated series follows Leela as she becomes obsessed with hunting a four-dimensional space whale.

  • “ThunderCats: Ramlak Rising” (2011): An episode of the animated series that features a ship’s captain obsessively hunting for a creature called a Ramlak.

  • “Moby Dick” (2011): A television film with William Hurt as Captain Ahab and Ethan Hawke as Starbuck.

  • “The Whale” (2013): A British television film based on the real-life Essex whaling disaster that inspired Melville’s novel.


  • “Moby Dick” (1938): A cantata for male soloists, chorus and orchestra, written by Bernard Hermann.

  • “Moby Dick” (1969): Led Zeppelin’s rock homage to the Melville classic, featuring an extended drum solo by John Bonham.

  • “Of Sailors and Whales” (1990): The five movements in this suite for wind band are named after characters from Moby Dick.

  • “Moby Dick: Scenes from an Imaginary Opera” (2004): A chamber opera by Peter Westergaard.

  •  “Leviathan” (2004): An album by the progressive metal band, loosely based on Melville’s novel.

  • “Moby Dick” (2010): An opera by Jake Heggie, with libretto by Gene Scheer.


  • Jackson Pollack had two paintings with themes related to Melville’s novel.

  • Frank Stella had a series of 138 artworks inspired by Moby Dick, between 1985-97.


  • Mercury Summer Theatre (1946): Orson Welles’ broadcast adaptation of Melville. Welles starred as Captain Ahab.

  • NBC’s Favorite Story (1947): A radio adaptation with William Conrad as Captain Ahab and Frank Lovejoy as Starbuck.

  • Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (1949): A radio adaptation with Lorne Greene as Captain Ahab.

  • NBC Star Playhouse (1953): A radio adaptation with Frederick March and Nelson Olmsted.

  • “Round the Horne: Moby Duck” (1966): An episode of the BBC radio series parodied Melville (“the great white Peking Duck ... eighty foot long it be with a two hundred foot wingspan and they do say as how when it lays an egg in the China Seas there be tidal waves at Scarborough!")

  • BBC Radio 4 (2006): A broadcast adaptation with F. Murray Abraham as Ishmael and Fritz Weaver as Captain Ahab.

With thanks to Publishers Weekly, Internet Movie Database and other sources.

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