The submarine film is a subgenre of war film in which the majority of the plot revolves around a submarine below the ocean's surface. Films of this subgenre typically focus on a small but determined crew of submariners battling against enemy submarines or submarine-hunter ships, or against other problems ranging from disputes amongst the crew, threats of mutiny, life-threatening mechanical breakdowns, or the daily difficulties of living on a submarine.
The genre plays on the psychological tension of the submarine's crew and their unseen enemy, signified by a soundscape that may feature explosions, the ping of sonar, the creaking of the submarine's hull under extreme pressure, the alarm ordering the submarine to dive, and the threatening sound signatures of a destroyer's propellor or of an approaching torpedo.
Some 150 films have been made in the submarine genre between 1910 and 2010, variously depicting submarines in relatively realistic stories about World War I, World War II or the Cold War, or purely fictional and fantastic scenarios.
The cramped, equipment-filled setting of a submarine film (Das Boot, 1981)
Submarine films have their own particular semantics and syntax, creating a film genre concerned specifically with submarine warfare. A distinctive element in this genre is the soundtrack, which attempts to bring home the emotional and dramatic nature of conflict under the sea. For example, in the 1981 Das Boot, the sound design works together with the hours-long film format to depict lengthy pursuit with depth charges, and as the critic Linda Maria Koldau writes,
again and again, the mortal threat of the [sonar] ping, which signifies [the crew's] helpless exposure to the enemy.
Koldau identifies the basic syntactic structure of the submarine genre as "outside is bad, inside is good." The unseen outside means the enemy: this may be from nature, with elements such as water pressure threatening to crush the hull, sea monsters, or underwater rocks; or human opponents. Meanwhile, the inside of the submarine represents the human warmth and trust of the crew for each other and for their captain, their lives bound together by the situation. To this scenario can be added elements from within such as mutiny, fire, discord, or accidents including radiation leakage; and from outside such as water, terrorism, disease, and weapons, while the plot may feature sudden switches from being the hunter to being the hunted.
The soundscape may depict the creaking of the hull under pressure: as Koldau observes, this is both realistic and metaphoric, standing in for the fear and the responsibility on the shoulders of the crew. Stress may further be expressed in the acoustic signature of specifically submarine threats, such as the swelling sound of an approaching destroyer's propellor, the soft buzz of an enemy torpedo, or the submarine's own alarm ordering an immediate dive.
Another element of the soundscape less often remarked upon is simply silence, which can mean both safety (nothing is happening) and unseen danger, creating tension.
List of submarine movies
This is a list of movies, grouped by the era in which they were made, in which a submarine plays a significant role in the storyline. From 1910 to 2010, some 150 fictional films about submarines have been made. Many of these are set in World War I, World War II, or the Cold War; others depict relatively "authentic" terrorist scenarios.
Some movies depict historical events from actual battles or incidents, such as Above Us the Waves, a 1955 film which depicts the true story of the British Royal Navy's midget submarines attacks on the Tirpitz. Other submarine movies develop a fictional plot created using more or less realistic details of naval warfare, such as the film U-571, which tells the story of a fictional U-boat in World War II.
Other submarine films from the fantasy, science fiction or occasionally horror film genres depict entirely fictitious events, such as the various film versions of Jules Verne's novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The Little American (1917) – US action-drama directed by Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Levering, depicting ship of young Americans returning to ancestral French home torpedoed by a German U-boat and witness to German brutality while imprisoned; a.k.a. A Pequena Americana, a.k.a. La petite américaine
On the Jump (1918) – US comedy directed by Raoul Walsh, depicting US reporter who joins Liberty Loan campaign before he must rescue his girlfriend and stolen secret fuel formula from German agent rendezvousing with a German U-boat
Patriotism (1918) – US mystery-drama directed by Raymond B. West, depicting search in Scotland for German agent sending vital information to German U-boat fleet off the Scottish coast
Behind the Door (1919) – US action-drama directed by Irvin Willat, depicting German-American naval officer who takes revenge against the German U-boat commander who brutalized his wife after sinking his ship; a.k.a. Detrás de la puerta
The False Faces (1919) – US espionage-drama directed by Irvin Willat, depicting a thief who becomes a reluctant US agent and infiltrates German U-boat to deliver vital enemy information; a.k.a. The Lone Wolf
Submarine Command (1951) – US drama directed by John Farrow, depicting a US submarine commander forced to confront the consequences of sudden high-sea submersion while the crew remain outside the submarine
The Enemy Below (1957) – US action-drama directed by Dick Powell, depicting a duel between an American destroyer escort and a German U-boat in South Atlantic
Sea Wife (1957) – US action-drama directed by Bob McNaught and starring Richard Burton and Joan Collins, depicting a cargo ship dangerously jammed to excess capacity with evacuees fleeing the 1942 Japanese invasion and Battle of Singapore that is sunk by a Japanese Imperial Navy submarine; one scene depicts the submarine underwater while another scene shows the submarine on the surface
Up Periscope (1959) – US drama directed by Gordon Douglas, depicting a US Navy frogman on mission aboard a submarine to be smuggled into Japanese-held island; a.k.a. Up Periscope!
McHale's Navy (TV series), McHale and His Schweinhunds [Season 2, Episode 3] (1963) – US comedy episode directed by Sidney Lanfield, depicting a PT boat crew destroying a German U-boat rendezvousing with a Japanese patrol
Ghostboat (2006) – mystery-thriller based on George E. Simpson and Neal R. Burger novel, directed by Stuart Orme, depicting fictional HMS Scorpion lost during World War II and resurfacing near the end of the Cold War
真夏のオリオン (Battle under Orion) (2009) – Japanese action-drama directed by Tetsuo Shinohara, depicting an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine against a US destroyer near the end of the war; a.k.a. Manatsu no Orion, Last Operations Under the Orion
The Sinking of the Laconia (2010) – British-German historical drama directed by Uwe Janson about the sinking of the former British ocean liner RMS Laconia by U-156, which then, with three other U-boats (including U-507) and an Italian submarine, attempted to rescue nearly 2,000 passengers
Le voyage à travers l'impossible (An Impossible Voyage) (1904) – French adventure-comedy silent short directed by Georges Méliès, depicting Geographic Society members on an around-the-world journey using various modes of transport including a submarine; a.k.a. The Voyage Across the Impossible, a.k.a. The Impossible Voyage; predecessor to 1907 silent film 20000 lieues sous les mere
Stingray (1964-1965) – adventures of the WASPs (the World Aquanaut Security Patrol) (Supermarionation)
Fantastic Voyage (1966) – set in the near future, an experimental submarine with special medical team aboard are reduced to microscopic size and injected into body of a brain-damaged scientist possessing military secrets in an attempt to repair his injury
Batman is a 1966 American superhero film based on the Batman television series, and the first full-length theatrical adaptation of the DC Comics character Batman. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The film hit theaters two months after the last episode of the first season of the television series. The film includes most members of the original TV cast, with the exception of Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, the character previously played by Julie Newmar in two episodes of the series' first season.
Crash Dive is a World War II film in Technicolor released in 1943. It was directed by Archie Mayo, written by Jo Swerling and W.R. Burnett, and starred Tyrone Power, Dana Andrews and Anne Baxter. The film was the last for Power, already enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, before assignment to recruit training.
Crimson Tide is a 1995 American submarine film directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. It takes place during a period of political turmoil in the Russian Federation, in which ultranationalists threaten to launch nuclear missiles at the United States and Japan. It focuses on a clash of wills between the new executive officer (Denzel Washington) of a U.S. nuclear missile submarine and its seasoned commanding officer (Gene Hackman), arising from conflicting interpretations of an order to launch their missiles. Its story parallels a real incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis, albeit aboard a Soviet rather than U.S. submarine.
The film was scored by Hans Zimmer, who won a Grammy Award for the main theme, which makes heavy use of synthesizers in place of traditional orchestral instruments.
An extended cut, which incorporated seven minutes of deleted scenes, was released on DVD in 2006. When the film was released on Blu-ray two years later, however, the film was restored to the theatrical version.
Deep Shock is a 2003 American science-fiction-horror film that debuted as a Sci Fi Pictures TV-movie on the Sci Fi Channel. Its plot concerns an unknown underwater object that disables an American nuclear-powered submarine and attacks a submerged Arctic research complex.The monsters of the movie are giant intelligent electric eels.
Destination Tokyo is a 1943 black and white American submarine war film. It was directed by Delmer Daves in his directorial debut, and the screenplay was written by Daves and Albert Maltz, based on an original story by former submariner Steve Fisher. The film stars Cary Grant and John Garfield and features Dane Clark, Robert Hutton, and Warner Anderson, along with John Ridgely, Alan Hale Sr., and William Prince. Production began on June 21, 1943 and continued through September 4 of that year. The film premiered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 15, 1943 as a benefit for crippled children, and was released generally in the U.S. on December 31, 1943.
Destination Tokyo has been called "the granddaddy of submarine films like Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), Das Boot (1981), and U-571 (2000)".
Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 American science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer and written by Harry Kleiner, based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. The film is about a submarine crew who are shrunk to microscopic size and venture into the body of an injured scientist to repair damage to his brain. The original story took place in the 19th century and was meant to be a Jules Verne-style adventure with a sense of wonder. Kleiner abandoned all but the concept of miniaturization and added a Cold War element. The film starred Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, Donald Pleasence, and Arthur Kennedy.
Bantam Books obtained the rights for a paperback novelization based on the screenplay and approached Isaac Asimov to write it.
Because the novelization was released six months before the movie, many people mistakenly believed that the film was based on Asimov's book.
Gung Ho! (full title: Gung Ho!: The Story of Carlson's Makin Island Raiders) is a 1943 American war film directed by Ray Enright and starring Randolph Scott. The story is based on the real-life World War II Makin Island raid led by Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson's 2nd Marine Raider Battalion.
Hell Below is a 1933 American MGM pre-Code film set in the Adriatic Sea during World War I about submarine warfare based on Commander Edward Ellsberg's novel Pigboats, starring Robert Montgomery, Walter Huston, Robert Young, Madge Evans, and Jimmy Durante.
Latitude Zero (緯度0大作戦, Ido zero daisakusen), is a 1969 science fiction film. It was directed by Ishirō Honda and written by Ted Sherdeman, based on his radio serial of the same name. The film stars both American and Japanese actors including Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Akira Takarada, Masumi Okada, Richard Jaeckel, Patricia Medina, and Akihiko Hirata.
Men Without Women is an American 1930 pre-Code drama film directed and written by John Ford, from the script by James Kevin McGuinness. The film also starred Kenneth MacKenna, Frank Albertson, and J. Farrell MacDonald. The sound version is now lost. Only a print of the "International Sound Version", held by the Museum of Modern Art, survives.
Submarine is a 1928 silent drama film directed by Frank Capra. It was produced by Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures, and released with a synchronized music score and sound effects. This was Capra's first attempt to make an "A-picture".
Submarine Patrol is a 1938 film directed by John Ford and starring Richard Greene and Nancy Kelly. The supporting cast includes Preston Foster and George Bancroft. The movie was partly written by William Faulkner.
The Flying Missile is a 1950 black-and-white Cold War era Columbia Pictures film starring Glenn Ford and Viveca Lindfors. Made with the cooperation of the US Navy it tells a fictionalised story of the then recently revealed story of the US Navy's first mounting and firing submarine-launched cruise missiles such as the Loon off the deck of submarines.
The Meg is a 2018 science fiction action film directed by Jon Turteltaub with a screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, loosely based on the 1997 book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten. The film stars Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, and Cliff Curtis. The film follows a group of scientists who encounter a 75-foot-long (23 m) megalodon shark while on a rescue mission at the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
Walt Disney Studios originally purchased the film rights to the book in the 1990s, but after several years in development hell, the rights landed at Warner Bros. The movie was eventually greenlit in 2015. Turteltaub and much of the cast joined by September 2016, and filming began the following month in New Zealand and ended in Sanya, China, in January 2017.
A Chinese-American co-production, The Meg was released in both countries on August 10, 2018, in RealD 3D. It grossed over $530 million worldwide and received mixed reviews from critics, with some describing it as an entertaining movie and others calling it "neither good enough nor bad enough" to be fun.
Torpedo Run is a 1958 American war film directed by Joseph Pevney and starring Glenn Ford as a World War II submarine commander in the Pacific who is obsessed with sinking a particular Japanese aircraft carrier. It was filmed in Metrocolor CinemaScope.
A. Arnold Gillespie and Harold Humbrock were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Up Periscope is a 1959 World War II film drama directed by Gordon Douglas and starring James Garner, Edmond O'Brien, Andra Martin and Alan Hale, Jr. The film was made in WarnerScope and Technicolor, distributed by Warner Bros., and produced by Aubrey Schenck. The film's screenplay was written by Richard H. Landau and Robb White, having been adapted from White's novel.
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