If you have seen the trailers for upcoming thriller Hunter Killer – you’ll know it promises excessive explosions and high-octane underwater action. And whilst being trapped under the pressure of the ocean in a metal container isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time, this means a submarine has always been a great way of increasing tension in a movie. Hunter Killer will be joining a long history of films that have been enriched by the submarine! So let’s take a look at some other submarines in movies…
Black Sea (2014)
Submarines can often be utilized as a vehicle to explore the unknown and mysterious – which is seen clearly in a film like Black Sea. And whilst the premise that one of Hitler’s sunken U-Boats is discovered later full of gold is an uncomfortable clash of history and pirate tales – the atmosphere of the bleak, dark isolation of the submarine is gripping and relentless.
This eerie ambiance of the dark, quiet water surrounding the submarine seemingly builds pressure on the crew, as fissures begin to appear between the half-British half-Russian squad. As tensions rise (and Jude Law’s Scottish accent intensifies), the submarine becomes a no-way-out prison where the claustrophobic nature aggravates the environment. The building anxiety of the crew results in murder and betrayal and soon the hunt for gold becomes a fight to survive. Proving that a submarine is the perfect setting for a thriller, but probably the last place you’d want to host a stag party.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
If it is submarine’s you are looking for, films don’t get more sub-centric than Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Based on Clancy’s iconic book of the same name, the feature is based largely around the fictional Red October submarine, against the high-stakes backdrop of the cold war. Not your average sub, the Red October is super sneaky and incredibly tricky to detect which works in the favour of captain Marko Ramius – played by Sean Connery – when he decides to go rogue.
In a nerve-racking plot where the deadly nature of the threats underwater are visual manifestations of the complex and global political threats above the water, the Red October comes to represent much more than a submarine. Once again, internal battles break out as the confined nature of the submarine pushes relationships to breaking point within the vessel. With shifting alliances and layers of deception, the boat becomes a focus for the power-struggle between Russia and the US. And so Red October demonstrates again that if you want to safely navigate a sub, you’ll need to make sure you have a crew that all agree on everything first.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
With Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson playing lead roles in K19: The Widowmaker – this submarine has some serious star-appeal from the outset. However, this is as far as good fortune goes for the K19, which surely takes the crown for the unluckiest sub in cinematic history. Based on a real-life vessel, the K19’s ill-fated journey has a foreboding start with a champagne bottle failing to break on the side of the boat – a clear sign of bad luck at sea. As in all tense thrillers, the crew ignore any foreshadowing and head out into the middle of the Atlantic ocean – with already troubling relationships between the crew and their captain and a large amount of volatile radioactive material on board.
And if you think this sounds like a recipe for disaster – you would be correct. Whilst the submarine and its crew do well to narrowly avoid instigating nuclear war and stubbornly allude the assistance of the Americans, there is very little else to be salvaged from this disastrous voyage. Again, we see the submarine evolve from a protective vessel to a pressurized metal tomb as the crew slowly die from radiation poisoning and fight amongst themselves. Soon the threat of the Americans pales in comparison to the threat of the submarine itself and gives us another reason never to get into one.
Crimson Tide (1995)
Returning swiftly back to the submarine film’s bread and butter – Crimson Tide focuses on the popular trope of nuclear war. Much like many of the films in this list, tensions between the crew on the boat serve to make the submarine a more dangerous vessel. With leaders Hunter and Ramsey – played by Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman – at odds on whether to launch a missile strike against the Russians after an interrupted radio transmission, a dangerous power-play ensues where one submarine has the ability to start or avoid nuclear war.
Like in The Hunt for Red October, the submerged status of the submarine seems to render it the perfect vehicle for visualizing invisible political tensions. As the friction between the two men reaches boiling point, the claustrophobic nature of the sub intensifies their battle of wills – a battle which will ultimately dictate whether or not nuclear war ensues. Which we can all agree is a much more exciting way of exploring the Cold War than watching political leaders post some threatening letters.
Das Boot (1981)
A refreshing take on the German experience of World War II, Das Boot is a significant feature that utilises the small community of the submarine to humanise the German soldiers that make up its crew. Whereas many of the submarine films on this list focus on inspiring national pride in the US, Das Boot is a very down-to-earth look at war on a personal level.
Much like K19, the sub in Das Boot navigates from disaster to disaster with a crew that becomes more and more demoralised as they fight to survive. Instead of dividing them, the environment of the submarine seems to bring the crew together as a community – which intensifies their highs and lows. This journey, which is steeped in emotion and suspense, takes the German soldiers away from the territory of their country and portrays them on a human-level. It is no wonder this feature is considered one of the greatest German movies of all time and therefore, undoubtedly, one of the best submarine movies too!
So there we have our run down of some iconic submarine films – would you sub-stitute in any others? If so, leave a sub-stantial comment below!