Submarines are among the most secretive military vessels, with only a small percentage of individuals having experienced what life’s like beneath the surface of the ocean for months at a time. The majority of civilians will likely never board one outside of a museum ship setting. Thankfully, the following 10 movies are the best at showing what life is like on a submarine.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Based on the best-selling novel by Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October (1990) takes place in 1984, at the height of the Cold War. The film follows Soviet Capt. Marko Ramius, portrayed by Sean Connery, who disobeys orders and forces his high-tech submarine Red October to head to the East Coast of the United States.
Meanwhile, CIA agent Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) begins to speculate that the Soviet submarine might be planning an attack and must decipher Ramius’ motives. While he concludes the submarine captain intends to defect to the US, the Russians send a second vessel to stop the rogue Red October.
The stunning cinematography and intense plot make The Hunt for Red October one of the most iconic and best submarine movies of all time.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
Cold War drama K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) tells the true story of Russia’s first nuclear submarine as it malfunctions and quickly descends into nuclear meltdown during her maiden voyage – think Chernobyl, but inside a submarine. Starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, the film provides a glimpse into the near-nuclear disaster that almost became a reality in 1961.
While K-19: The Widowmaker is an entertaining and gripping depiction of the incident, many of the real-life surviving crew members wrote several letters to Ford and the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, complaining that many of the details depicted were false.
Crimson Tide (1995)
In Crimson Tide (1995), a tense series of events unfolds aboard the US nuclear missile submarine USS Alabama (SSBN-731) as Denzel Washington‘s character, Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter, stages a mutiny to stop his trigger-happy captain, portrayed by Gene Hackman, from launching missiles without orders.
What follows is a back-and-forth conflict that explores the fragile social order of submarine crewmen. When Hunter finally takes control of Alabama, some of the crew doubt his skills and begin plotting to regain control – but Hunter always thinks two steps ahead.
Das Boot (1981)
In Das Boot (1981), it’s 1942 and a U-boat is heavily engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. The film follows the crew of the German vessel as they navigate the excitement of battle and the never-ending chase that drives their mission. They also struggle to come to terms with their humanity and the ideology of the nation they serve.
The movie features realistic visuals, thanks to the detailed replicas that acted as a set, and a compelling representation of German sailors that challenges typical World War II depictions, making the “enemy’s” experience more human.
The Enemy Below (1957)
In The Enemy Below (1957), the captain of the destroyer escort USS Haynes meets his match with a German U-boat commander who stalks his ship. Set during the Second World War, the film follows the ensuing duel between the two, during which Robert Mitchum’s Capt. Murrell must draw upon his expertise and service history to defeat the equally-experienced German commander.
The resulting scenes are filled with action-packed naval warfare that will have you on the edge of your seat, making this one of the best submarine movies to feature on this list.
Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)
Two of the biggest actors of their day, Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster star in the epic 1958 film, Run Silent, Run Deep. When the captain of a submarine sunk by the Japanese is given a second chance as a skipper on another, he sets his sights on destroying the vessel responsible for the initial sinking. This winds up putting his crew members in danger.
Run Silent, Run Deep features incredible visuals and epic explosions, making it an instant classic for war movie buffs new and old.
The Bedford Incident (1965)
Aboard the US Navy destroyer USS Bedford, reporter Ben Munceford, portrayed by Sidney Poitier, is given permission to interview Capt. Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark) during a routine patrol. He subsequently gets tied up in a whirlwind of events, which culminates in Bedford‘s crew discovering a Soviet submarine relentlessly stalking their vessel. This pushes them to the breaking point, while simultaneously forcing Munceford into a dangerous situation.
The Bedford Incident (1965) is gripping and gut-wrenching until the bitter end, as the vessel becomes enveloped in an atomic blast.
U-571 (2000) follows an Allied submarine as WWII rages on in the Atlantic Ocean. When the German U-boat U-571 sends out an SOS signal, the US submarine S-33 is modified to resemble a German vessel, in an attempt to steal the Enigma machine coding device and sink the U-boat. Executive Officer Lt. Andrew Taylor, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, and his crew manage to take command of U-571, but soon become entangled in a battle with a German destroyer.
While U-571 actually existed, the movie is not based on true events. However, it will leave you on the edge of your seat until the last torpedo fires.
Operation Pacific (1951)
John Wayne stars as submarine commander Duke Gifford in Operation Pacific (1951). The film follows the USS Thunderfish during the Second World War, and combines the action of submarine warfare in the Pacific with the tumultuous romance between Gifford and his ex-wife and US Navy nurse, Mary Stuart, portrayed by Patricia Neal.
The film starts with a simple mission to rescue orphaned children from the Philippines and bring them to Pearl Harbor, but when Thunderfish finds herself entangled in a battle with a heavily-armed Japanese Q-ship, Gifford must seize control of the submarine and successfully escape the enemy before its too late.
Despite being the most recent submarine movie on this list, Greyhound is one of the best, showing the brutal conditions of life beneath the ocean during WWII. Based on the novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester, Greyhound follows the story of an Allied convoy crossing the frigid North Atlantic in 1942.
While on this journey, the convoy faces relentless attacks by a German U-boat wolfpack. Through the cold, never-ending nights and the brutal conditions of the ocean, Capt. Ernest Krause, portrayed by Tom Hanks, fights exhaustion in the ultimate game of cat and mouse.
The Good Shepherd itself was actually so accurate in its portrayal of the elements that make up an effective battle command that it was on the US Naval Academy’s reading list for many years.