Selected Submarine Films

The submarine has influenced more than just the outcome of the wars of the 20th Century. It has become an object of fascination for those drawn to the allure and mystique surrounding the Silent Service. Popular culture has both canonized and damned the submarine and their crews. However, it cannot be denied that the submarine has played a major role in both film and print since its inception 100 years ago. The following is a selection of prominent movies on submarines, submarine history, and the men who made and fought them.


Men Without Women (Fox, 1930) John Ford film about a crew that awaits rescue about sunken submarine S-13. This early "talkie" uses both spoken dialogue and silent-film intertitles - sometimes in the same scene!

Hell Below (MGM, 1933) Love triagle in World War I.

Morgenrot (German, 1933) Suspenseful story about a crew trapped in a sunken U-boat during World War I.

Submarine D-1 (Warner Bros., 1937) Action film showing a submarine rescue using the McCann Rescue Chamber and Momsen Lung.

Submarine Raider (Columbia, 1942) Hokey yarn about submarine that fails in its attempts to warn Pearl Harbor of the impending Japanese attack, then sinks one of the carriers that launched it.

Crash Dive (20th Century Fox, 1943) A U.S. submarine fights the Germans in the Atlantic, while its commander (Dana Andrews) and a lieutenant (Tyrone Power) romance the same woman (Anne Baxter). Won an Academy Award for special effects.

We Dive at Dawn (British, 1943) Drama about the crew of a British submarine as it stalks the new German battleship Brandenburg in the Baltic. Stars Jon Mills.

Destination Tokyo (Warner Bros., 1944) Cary Grant stars in this classic wartime adventure about a U.S. submarine on a secret mission to enter Tokyo bay and gather information for the Doolittle air raid against Japan.

The Flying Missile (Columbia, 1950) Glenn Ford stars as a naval commander who develops the means to launch missiles from submarines.

Morning Departure (British, 1950; released in the United States as Operation Disaster) Richard Attenborough stars in this World War II adventure about a British crew waiting to be rescued from a sunken submarine.

Operation Pacific (Warner Bros., 1951) Under John Wayne's leadership, the submarine Thunderfish fights the Japanese and rescues nuns and children. This film, the first of a spate of World War II submarine movies released during the 1950s, was loosely based on the true stories of the USS Angler (SS-240) and Growler (SS-215). Admiral Charles Lockwood, the commander of submarine operations in the Pacific, served as technical advisor.

Submarine Command (Paramount, 1951) William Holden is a Korean War submarine commander who is haunted by his memory of the last day of World War II, when, as an exec, he saved his boat by crash diving while the captain was on the bridge.

Torpedo Alley (Allied Artists, 1952) William Bendix commands a submarine in this story of Korean War combat and romance.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Walt Disney Productions, 1954) Classic screen adaptation of Jules Verne's early vision of submarine warfare. James Mason is the mad Captain Nemo, who takes on the warmongering imperialist countries with his submarine Nautilus. Also stars Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre. This Oscar winner (for special effects and set decoration) is a remake of a 1916 silent film.

Hellcats of the Navy (Columbia, 1957) Based on Admiral Charles Lockwood's book Hellcats of the Sea, this is a fictionalized account of the submarine attack group that entered the Sea of Japan in 1945 to ravage Japanese shipping. This film is the only one in which Ronald and future wife Nancy Davis appeared together.

The Enemy Below (20th Century Fox, 1957) Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens star in this story about the pursuit of a wily German U-boat by a U.S. destroyer during World War II. Won an Academy Award for special effects.

Run Silent, Run Deep (United Artists, 1958) A submarine skipper (Clark Gable) single-mindedly pursues the notorious Japanese destroyer "Bungo Pete," which sank his previous boat. This adaptation of the best-selling novel by former sub commander Ned Beach also stars Burt Lancaster and Don Rickles.

Torpedo Run (MGM, 1958) Glenn Ford is a submarine commander who is forced to sink a Japanese transport carrying American prisoners and his own family because it was being used to shield an aircraft carrier. He then seeks his revenge. Ernest Borgnine also stars.

Up Periscope (Warner Bros., 1959) James Garner stars in this World War II action yarn about a submarine on a secret mission to photograph a Japanese code book.

Operation Petticoat (Universal-International, 1959) Comedy about a damaged World War II submarine seeking a yard for repairs. Along the way, it takes on five stranded Army nurses and is painted pink (the only color the crew could find). Stars Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. Remade as a TV movie and series in 1977.

On The Beach (United Artists, 1959) Moving story of a U.S. submarine crew that finds itself stranded in Australia in 1964, after a nuclear war has destroyed the rest of the world. As the radioactive residue closes in, the captain (Gregory Peck) and crew must decide whether to go back home. Not a submarine actioner but a thought-provoking film based on the novel by Nevil Shute.

The Bedford Incident (Columbia, 1966) Richard Widmark stars as a destroyer commander who discovers and pursues a Soviet submarine during the Cold War. Also stars Sidney Poitier.

The Russians Are Coming! (Mirisch Corp., 1966) Popular comedy about a Soviet captain who unintentionally provokes panic among Maine locals while seeking a tow for his grounded submarine.

Ice Station Zebra (Filmway/MGM, 1968) Cold War story about the nuclear submarine Tigerfish, on a mission to rescue the crew of Drift Ice Station Zebra at the North Pole. Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, and Patrick McGoohan star. Based on a novel by Alistair MacLean.

Gray Lady Down (Universal/Mirisch, 1978) The Navy seeks to rescue the crew of USS Neptune, which sank off the coast of Connecticut after a collision. Stars Charlton Heston, Stacy Keach, Ned Beatty, and David Carradine.

Das Boot (German, 1981; dubbed in English as The Boat) Gritty and gripping portrayal of the U-boat war in World War II, seen from the German perspective. The film follows the crew of a U-boat as it attacks Allied shipping and endures ASW attack. Nominated for six Oscars.

The Hunt for Red October (Paramount, 1990) Screen adaptation of the Tom Clancy thriller, starring Alec Baldwin as a U.S. intelligence agent tracking the maiden voyage of the new, secret Soviet submarine Red October. Sean Connery is the Soviet sub commander, who is up to something. Oscar winner for sound effects editing.

Crimson Tide (Hollywood, 1995) A thriller about the fictional ballistic missile submarine Alabama during a crisis in the post-Cold War Russian Far East. A dispute over the meaning of a partially recovered flash message-does it order a missile launch? Leads the XO (Denzel Washington) to mutiny against his captain (Gene Hackman).

Down Periscope (20th Century Fox, 1996) Slapstick comedy about a crew of misfits on board the old diesel submarine Stingray, which is competing against a modern nuclear submarine in a wargame. Stars Kelsey Grammer as Stingray's ambitious captain.

Hostile Waters (TV, 1997) Account about the accidental sinking of a Soviet nuclear submarine off the coast of Bermuda in 1986, based on the 1996 book of the same name.

The Hunley (TV, 1999) True story of the Confederate submarine Hunley, which became the first sub to sink a ship when it destroyed USS Housatonic in Charleston Harbor in 1863.

U-571 (Universal, 2000) Matthew McConnaughey and Bill Paxton star in this World War II action film, in which a U.S. submarine captain undertakes to recover an Enigma decoding machine from a stranded German U-boat. Based-on-fact story (although it was actually the British who recovered the decoder).