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.
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, or accident; 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.
Made before World War II
- The Secret of the Submarine 1915 — US Action-Adventure silent serial directed by George L. Sargent depicting prevention of US submarine from falling into enemy hands
- A Submarine Pirate 1915 — US Heist-Comedy-Short directed by Charles Avery & Syd Chaplin depicting waiter attempting to foil sea-heist of gold-filled cargo vessel by submarine
- Civilization 1916 — US Allegorical-Drama directed by Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, Raymond B. West, et al. depicting pacifist German Count's construction of submarine with order to sink ocean liner Lusitania presumably also carrying enemy munitions; AKA La cruz de la humanidad, AKA Civilização
- The Little American 1917 — US Action-Drama directed by Cecil B. DeMille & Joseph Levering depicting ship of young American returning to ancestral French home torpedoed by German U-boat & witness to German brutality while imprisoned; AKA A Pequena Americana, AKA La petite américaine
- On the Jump 1918 — US Comedy directed by Raoul Walsh depicting US reporter joins Liberty Loan campaign before he must rescue girlfriend & stolen secret fuel formula from German agent rendezveauing with 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 of Scottish coast
- Behind the Door 1919 — US Action-Drama directed by Irvin Willat depicting German-American naval officer takes revenge against the German U-boat commander who brutalized his wife after sinking his ship; AKA Detrás de la puerta
- The False Faces 1919 — US Espionage-Drama directed by Irvin Willat depicting thief who becomes reluctant US agent infiltrates German U-boat to deliver vital enemy information; AKA The Lone Wolf
- The Isle of Conquest 1919 — US Adventure-Drama directed by Irvin Willat based on Arthur Hornblow novel man & woman marooned on deserted isle after their ship is sunk by German U-boat
- Mare Nostrum 1926 — directed by Rex Ingram
- Submarine 1928 — directed by Frank Capra
- Men Without Women 1930 — fictional USS S-13
- The Sea Ghost 1931 — AKA U-67
- A Woman of Experience 1931
- Morgenrot 1933
- Hell Below 1933 — USS AL-14
- Submarine D-1 1937
- The Spy in Black 1939 — AKA U-Boat 29
- Thunder Afloat 1939
Made during World War II
- Three Little Sew and Sews 1939 — US Comedy-Short directed by Del Lord depicting Three Stooges as sailors working in a ships' tailor shop tricked into stealing submarine by Nazi spies
- 49th Parallel (film) 1941 — a U-boat is sunk in Hudson's Bay leaving the surviving crewmen stranded in northern Canada.
- U-Boote westwärts (U-Boat, Course West!) 1941 — German war film promoting Kriegsmarine & Unterseeboot service
- Crash Dive 1943 — fictional USS Corsair
- Destination Tokyo 1943 — fictional USS Copperfin
- Gung Ho 1943 — fictional account of the Makin Island raid
- The Silver Fleet 1943 — British Drama directed by Vernon Sewell & Gordon Wellesley depicting Dutch submarine builder forced to work for Nazis
- Submarine Alert 1943 — US Thriller directed by Frank McDonald depicting former gangster supplying German U-boat commanders with torpedoes in South America
- Submarine Base 1943 — US Drama directed by Albert H. Kelley depicting Nazi spies using stolen shortwave transmitter prototype to broadcast top secret shipping info to offshore Imperial Japanese Navy submarine
- We Dive at Dawn 1943 — UK Action-Drama directed by Anthony Asquith depicting fictional submarine HMS ''Sea Tiger'' on mission to sink fictional German battleship Brandenburg
Later films depicting World War II
- The Damned 1947 — directed by Rene Clement
- Mystery Submarine 1950 — directed by Douglas Sirk depicting mission to destroy U-boat off coast of South America; AKA Phantom Submarine
- Operation Pacific 1951 — fictional USS Thunderfish
- Submarine Command 1951 — US Drama directed by John Farrow depicting US submarine commander forced to confront consequences of sudden high-sea submersion while crew remain outside the submarine
- Ubåt 39 (U-Boat 39) 1952 — Swedish Drama directed by Hampe Faustman depicting crew of U-39
- Torpedo Alley 1953 — US Drama directed by Lew Landers depicting US Navy pilot rescued at sea by submarine before applying for submarine duty; AKA Down Periscope
- Above Us the Waves 1955 — Royal Navy midget submarines v. Tirpitz
- U 47 – Kapitänleutnant Prien 1958 — Somewhat factual combat career of Günther Prien
- La grande speranza (Submarine Attack) 1965 — Italian Action-Romance directed by Duilio Coletti depicting Italian submarine sinking Allied shipping during Battle of the Atlantic; AKA Torpedo Zone
- Hellcats of the Navy 1957 — fictional USS Starfish
- The Enemy Below 1957 — US Action-Drama directed by Dick Powell depicting duel between American destroyer escort & German U-boat in South Atlantic
- Sea Wife 1957 — US Action-Drama film directed by Bob McNaught and starring Richard Burton and Joan Collins depicting a cargo ship dangerously jammed to excess capacity with British and other evacuees fleeing the 1942 Japanese invasion and Battle of Singapore that is sunk by a Japanese Imperial Navy submarine. One scene in the movie depicts the submarine underwater while the other scene depicts the submarine on the surface.
- Run Silent, Run Deep 1958 — fictional USS Nerka (which loosely shares plot elements and the villain destroyer captain, Bungo Pete, with Edward L. Beach's novel, but not much of the plot)
- Submarine Seahawk 1958 — US Action-Drama directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet depicting US submarine commander with reconnaissance mission to locate fleet of Imperial Japanese Navy fighting ships; AKA Submarine X-2
- Torpedo Run 1958 — US Drama directed by Joseph Pevney depicting US submarine commander confronted with destroying Imperial Japanese Navy ship with Allied prisoners & civilians
- Battle of the Coral Sea 1959 — USS Dragonfish
- Operation Petticoat 1959 — US Comedy directed by Blake Edwards depicting fictional USS Sea Tiger; remade in 1977 TV series Operation Petticoat
- Orzeł (The Eagle) 1959 — Polish Drama directed by Leonard Buczkowski depicting ORP Orzeł & Orzeł incident
- Up Periscope 1959 — US Drama directed by Gordon Douglas depicting US Navy frogman on mission aboard submarine to be smuggled into Japanese-held island; AKA Up Periscope!
- McHale's Navy (TV series), McHale and His Schweinhunds [Season 2, Episode 3] 1963 — US Comedy episode directed by Sidney Lanfield depicting PT Boat crew destroying German U-boat rendezvousing with a Japanese patrol
- Mystery Submarine 1963 — UK Action-Drama directed by C.M. Pennington-Richards depicting British captured U-boat used for mission
- Beta Som (Torpedo Bay) 1963 — Italian-French Drama directed by Charles Frend & Bruno Vailati depicting British warship & Italian submarine operating in Strait of Gibraltar & meeting in neutral Rick's Cafe; AKA Défi à Gibraltar
- Morituri 1965 — US Drama directed by Bernhard Wicki depicting German blackmailed by English to impersonate SS officer aboard ship; AKA Saboteur: Code Name Morituri
- McHale's Navy (TV series), 36-24-73 [Season 4, Episode 23] 1966 — US Comedy episode directed by Hollingsworth Morse depicting PT Boat crew capturing German U-boat
- Submarine X-1 1969 — X class submarines
- Murphy's War 1971
- Papanikolis 1971 Greek movie
- Operation Petticoat (TV series) 1977–79 — Comedy directed by Hollingsworth Morse depicting fictional USS Sea Tiger; spinoff of 1959 film Operation Petticoat producing 32 episodes
- 1941 1979 — US Comedy directed by Steven Spielberg depicting Imperial Japanese Navy submarine terrorizing California coast
- Das Boot 1981 — U-96
- War and Remembrance (TV Miniseries) 1988
- U-571 2000 — fictional U-571
- Below 2002 — fictional USS Tiger Shark (horror)
- In Enemy Hands 2004 — fictional USS Swordfish and U-429; AKA U-Boat
- Ghostboat 2006 — Mystery-Thriller based on George E. Simpson & Neal R. Burger novel & directed by Stuart Orme depicting fictional HMS Scorpion lost during World War II & resurfacing near end of Cold War
- 真夏のオリオン (Battle under Orion) 2009 — Japanese Action-Drama directed by Tetsuo Shinohara depicting Imperial Japanese Navy submarine against US Destroyer near end of war; AKA 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
- USS Seaviper 2012 — US submarine must intercept U-Boat out of Kiel carrying Uranium 235 to a Japanese destroyer near Sumatra. Directed by Ralph A. Villani.
- Subconscious 2014 — US submarine goes back in time to win WW II by bringing information back into the past. Directed by Georgia Hilton.
- Morning Departure 1950 — British drama directed by Roy Ward Baker depicting crew of sunken British submarine trapped on the sea floor; AKA Operation Disaster
- Hell and High Water 1954 — American action-adventure directed by Samuel Fuller depicting World War II surplus Japanese submarine battling Chinese submarine
- On the Beach 1959, — fictional nuclear submarine USS Sawfish (SSN-623)
- The Atomic Submarine 1959 — fictional USS Tiger Shark
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1961 — Adventure-SciFi directed by Irwin Allen depicting fictional SSRN Seaview; remade in 1964 TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (TV series) 1964 — Adventure-SciFi directed by Jus Addiss depicting fictional SSRN Seaview; spinoff of 1961 film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
- The Bedford Incident 1965
- The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming 1966 — American comedy directed by Norman Jewison depicting fictional Soviet submarine Спрут; AKA The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!
- Ice Station Zebra 1968 — fictional USS Tigerfish (SSN-509) (In novel: USS Dolphin)
- Mission Impossible (TV series), Submarine [Season 4, Episode 7] 1969 — American action-adventure episode directed by Paul Krasny depicting former SS officer with plans to fund Neo-Nazis
- The Boatniks 1970 — Comedy directed by Norman Tokar depicting a salami in a submarine torpedo tube
- Assault on the Wayne 1971 — fictional missile submarine USS Wayne (also named in The Spy Who Loved Me)
- The Spy Who Loved Me — 1977 American, British & Soviet submarines
- Gray Lady Down 1978 — fictional USS Neptune
- Raise the Titanic 1980 — U.S. submarine confronts a Soviet warship and escorts salvaged Titanic to port
- Firefox 1982 — U.S. submarine surfaces in polar ice cap to act as refueling station for stolen advanced Russian jet fighter "Firefox"
- Buried on Sunday 1982 — Soviet submarine used to launch missile attack on Canada's Wonderland
- Never Say Never Again 1983 — fictional U.S. submarine
- The Fifth Missile 1986 — fictional USS Montana
- Russkies 1987 — Soviet submarine
- Full Fathom Five 1990 — fictional USS Aspen versus "Alpha Victor Three class submarine CCCP Kirov"
- The Rift 1990 — fictional Siren II searches for lost Siren I
- The Hunt for Red October 1990 — fictional Red October (Красный Октябрь), fictional V.K. Konovalov (В. К. Коновалов), USS Dallas (SSN-700), DSRV-1 Mystic
- Silent Service 1995 — JMSDF Seabat (Japan's first nuclear-powered submarine) (anime)
- Hostile Waters 1997 — K-219
- K-19: The Widowmaker 2002 — K-19
- Phantom 2013 — K-129, the plot has a basis in one theory about the events aboard the Soviet submarine's final voyage
- Crimson Tide 1995 — USS Alabama
- Down Periscope 1996 — Comedy directed by David S. Ward depicting fictional USS Stingray (SS-161)
- Peculiarities of the National Fishing 1998
- The Hunley 1999 — CSS Hunley
- On the Beach 2000 — fictional Los Angeles-class submarine, USS Charleston (SSN-704)
- Danger Beneath the Sea 2001
- Phantom Below 2005
- Last Resort (TV series) 2012-13 — fictional Ohio-class submarine, USS Colorado (SSBN-753)
- Black Sea 2014
Future or Fantastic Past
- Le voyage à travers l'impossible (An Impossible Voyage) 1904 — French Adventure-Comedy silent-short directed by Georges Méliès depicting Geographic Society members on around-the-world journey using various modes of transport including submarine; AKA The Voyage Across the Impossible, AKA The Impossible Voyage; predecessor to 1907 silent film 20000 lieues sous les mere
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1907, 1916, 1954, 1997, 1997 — Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus (science fiction/fantasy)
- The Fabulous World of Jules Verne 1958 — based on Jules Verne's Facing the Flag featuring the HMS Sword
- The Three Stooges in Orbit 1962 — Comedy directed by Edward Bernds depicting Three Stooges assisting inventor with new military hybrid (tank, helicopter, submarine) vehicle to aid in defense of Martian invasion
- Atragon 1963 — fictional Gotengo (science fiction/fantasy)
- Stingray 1964-1965 — Adventures of the WASPs (the World Aquanaut Security Patrol) (Supermarionation)
- Yellow Submarine 1968 — (psychedelic fantasy)
- Captain Nemo and the Underwater City 1969 — Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus (science fiction/fantasy)
- The Neptune Factor 1973 — undersea rescue (science fiction)
- The Land That Time Forgot 1975 — depicts stranded World War I U-boat crew on uncharted South-Atlantic sub-continent of "Caprona"
- The Return of Captain Nemo 1978 — Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus (science fiction/fantasy)
- Thundersub 1979 — (anime)
- The Abyss 1989 — fictional USS Montana (science fiction/fantasy)
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water 1989 — Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus (anime)
- seaQuest DSV 1993 — (science fiction/fantasy)
- Blue Submarine No. 6 1998 — (anime)
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 2003 — Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus (fantasy)
- Submarine 707R 2004 — (anime)
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou 2004 — USA Adventure-Comedy-Drama directed by Wes Anderson
- Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean 2005 — (World War 2, Science Fiction)
- Tide-Line Blue 2005 — (anime)
- The Land That Time Forgot 2009 — Action-SciFi directed by C. Thomas Howell depicting stranded World War II U-boat crew in time void on island inside Bermuda Triangle
- Arpeggio of Blue Steel 2013 — (anime)
- Koldau, Linda Maria (2010). "Sound effects as a genre-defining factor in submarine films". MedieKultur 48: 18–30.
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- "Above Us the Waves (1955)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
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