Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Dive! Dive! 5 Best Submarine Movies Ever

Ohio-class Submarine
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Wash. (Aug. 14, 2003) -- USS Ohio (SSGN 726) is in dry dock undergoing a conversion from a Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN) to a Guided Missile Submarine (SSGN) designation. Ohio has been out of service since Oct. 29, 2002 for conversion to SSGN at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Four Ohio-class strategic missile submarines, USS Ohio (SSBN 726), USS Michigan (SSBN 727) USS Florida (SSBN 728), and USS Georgia (SSBN 729) have been selected for transformation into a new platform, designated SSGN. The SSGNs will have the capability to support and launch up to 154 Tomahawk missiles, a significant increase in capacity compared to other platforms. The 22 missile tubes also will provide the capability to carry other payloads, such as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and Special Forces equipment. This new platform will also have the capability to carry and support more than 66 Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) and insert them clandestinely into potential conflict areas. U.S. Navy file photo. (RELEASED)

This past weekend, the Naval Order of the United States held its monthly movie night, and the film of choice was the WWII action movie Operation Pacific, starring John Wayne. That inspired me to write this article, naming my highly subjective Top 5 List of Favorite Submarine Movies. It strikes me as a fun follow-up to all the 19FortyFive articles I’ve written on various nations’ real-world submarine forces. Plus, I must admit a bit of familial bias, as my late paternal cousin Clinton Orr was a WWII submariner.  

Operation Pacific (1951)

This aforementioned film is what made me a fan of submarine movies in the first place, way back in circa 1981 at age 6. In a case of art imitating life, “The Duke” plays a character named Duke, more specifically Lt. Cmdr. Duke Gifford, the executive officer and later commanding officer of the USS Thunderfish. In this movie, Duke wages three battles: The first is against the Imperial Japanese Navy and merchant marine. The second is an internal struggle with faulty torpedoes, which mirrored the real-life problem that WWII Vice Adm. Charles Lockwood had to contend with during the early years of the Pacific War. Finally, he was trying to win back the affections of his ex-wife, Navy nurse Lt. j.g. Mary Stuart (portrayed by the lovely Patricia Neal). The film co-stars Wayne’s former USC Trojan football teammate Ward Bond. 

Crimson Tide (1995) 

Some of my friends who were actual submariners (like retired Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Micele) nitpick this movie for technical inaccuracies, but I’ll let that slide for now. The movie stars Oscar laureates Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington, and it also features a slew of now-famous actors before they were household names: James Gandolfini in his pre-Sopranos days, Viggo Mortensen before the Lord of the Rings series, Rocky Carroll before NCIS, and Rick Schroeder in one his first grown-up roles. In this film, set aboard the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama, the newly-minted executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Washington) stages a mutiny to prevent his battle-hardened, old-school skipper, Capt. Frank Ramsey (Hackman) from launching nuclear missiles against rebel forces loyal to a Russian ultranationalist – loosely based on real-world bogeyman Vladimir Zhirinovsky – before confirming his orders to do so. The chase scene with the renegade Russian Akula hunter-killer submarine is especially thrilling, and my fellow former international relations majors will dig the von Clausewitz/”fog of war” discussion scene. 

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Between its $200.5 million worldwide box office gross and the fact that it’s based upon the late great Tom Clancy’s bestselling first novel, this is undoubtedly the most popular submarine movie ever made. I’m admittedly partial to it because it stars Sir Sean Connery, my all-time favorite actor, as Capt. 1st Rank Marko Ramius, skipper of the titular Typhoon-class submarine. With an all-star cast that includes Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, the late Richard Jordan, Scott Glenn, Anne Archer, former U.S. Sen. Fred Dalton Thompson (R-TN), and Joss Ackland, the film keeps viewers in suspense until the very end. The film is directed by John McTiernan, also renowned for directing the original Die Hard (you know, the ultimate Christmas movie). 

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

This one co-stars Harrison Ford and my #2 all-time favorite actor, Liam Neeson. Interestingly, the aforementioned Joss Ackland has a supporting role in this film as well. As I noted in my article about the real-life K-19 incident of July 1961, the movie has its typical fair share of Hollywood embellishments, but on the whole it is faithful to the true story of how the Soviet Union’s first nuclear submarine ran afoul of a malfunctioning nuclear reactor on its maiden voyage, and how the crew had to race to save the ship and prevent a nuclear disaster, sacrificing several of their own lives in the process. Harrison Ford’s Capt. 2nd Rank Alexei Vostrikov character actually bears a fairly close facial resemblance to the boat’s real-life skipper, Capt. 1st Rank Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev. Perhaps because of the historical events depicted, K-19: The Widowmaker has arguably the most poignant ending of all the films on this list. 

Das Boot (1981)

I suppose this is the most obvious choice for a Top 5 Submarine Movies List. It is easily the most critically acclaimed of the bunch with five Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, both to Wolfgang Petersen. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and go with the Director’s Cut with the original German dialogue with the English subtitles, not the English-dubbed version. The utterly harrowing depth charge attack scene alone – and resultant bout of temporary insanity suffered by Obermaschinist Johann (Erwin Leder) – is worth the price of admission. Jürgen Prochnow has the lead role as the Kapitänleutnant in command of the U-boat.


 More From 19FortyFive

Department of Defense: Russia’s PAK DA Stealth Bomber Will Never Fly

Iran to Send More Drones and Missiles to Russia

Is Russia Considering Using Tactical Nuclear Weapons?


Agree or Disagree?

Mea culpa. mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, I know, I know, I omitted several other excellent submarine movies from this list, from Run Silent, Run Deep to Grey Lady Down, The Enemy Below, and Operation Petticoat. Hey, them’s the breaks when you have to narrow it down to five entries. So, if I’ve left your favorite cinematic submarine off the list, please feel free to throw your proverbial rotten tomatoes at me in the Comments section! 

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS). In his spare time, he enjoys shooting, dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.


Want More 19FortyFive articles, news, and analysis on the top military, defense, national security, as well as politics and economics news? Make sure to follow us on Google News, Flipboard, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin. Also, please don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter here. You can also find our code of publishing ethics and standards here

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Steven

    November 3, 2022 at 8:26 am

    Das Boot DC is one of my favorite movies. I love the scene where the crew walks in on the feast, lol.

    • mcswell

      November 3, 2022 at 9:03 pm

      @Steven: And the First Officer is mistaken for the Captain

  2. Darrell

    November 3, 2022 at 9:51 am

    You forgot the best sub movie EVER. Down Periscope!!!! May not be very realistic or accurate but damn it I can watch it (and do because my 6 y/o loves it too) over and over. But on a serious note U-571 should’ve been up there before bloody waters.

  3. Raik W.

    November 3, 2022 at 10:23 am

    Even if I do not know all of them, I agree because 3 out of 5 I know, with hunting Red October and the boat I would like to emphasize the balance. Finally, I would like to see the analytical and objective approach of Jagd auf Roter October for today’s politics.

  4. Brian Baker

    November 3, 2022 at 10:36 am

    Anne Archer wasn’t in Hunt for Red October. She played Jack Ryan’s wife in the Jack Ryan movies that starred Harrison Ford. Gates McFadden played Ryan’s wife in Red October.

  5. Christopher

    November 3, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    Wrong,

    Everyone knows the best submarine movie of all time is “THE Enemy Below”.

    Das Boot 2nd

  6. Rich

    November 3, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    Run Silent Run Deep. Legendary cast with Gable and Lancaster!

  7. Andrew M. Winter

    November 3, 2022 at 2:42 pm

    hrumph
    You left out my personal fave.

    Run Silent Run Deep. Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster. Really really great depiction of what it really takes to “train” for an impossible torpedo shot, and then the discovery of the twist at the end? Man, great story telling there.

  8. jim

    November 3, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    2013’s Phantom with David Duchovny, Ed Harris, and William Fichtner. It was surprisingly good and was filmed in a Soviet-era Diesel submarine.

  9. H.R. Holm

    November 4, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    Don’t forget the 1965 film The Bedford Incident with Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, and others. Cold war plot revolving around U.S. destroyer stalking Soviet sub. Does not end well for either. Possibly inspired in part by the tense standoff between U.S. destroyers and Soviet sub(s) during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962?

  10. Robert Lolley, EMCM(SS) Retired

    November 5, 2022 at 10:19 am

    Grey Lady Down was a joke! All Hollywood, no basis for reality. This movie was VERY loosely based on the novel, “Event 1000” by David Lavallee. The movie follows the book for the first few pages until the collision and sinking. From that point on, the movie goes so far South, I couldn’t stand it. Read the book. It’s great!

    Oh, and I’m basing my opinion on my 20 years service in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service.

  11. Modesta

    November 8, 2022 at 10:26 am

    Great Great Insight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement