I don’t know if you know this about me, but I can gin up a decent claustrophobia when the situation merits it. It hits at all sorts of weird moments: the middle seat of an airplane, a boot that won’t come off, a dress with a zipper I can’t undo—I’m getting clammy just thinking about it.
So why is it that I love a submarine movie more than just about any other kind of thriller?
The stakes are always dire. There’s always a bad egg in there. The sailors are always so ready to jump into the torpedo tube to find the knob that turns off the nuclear reactor. Submarine life is real life writ small. A good submarine movie reminds me that free-flowing oxygen is not to be taken for granted.
This week I ended up revisiting two favorites.
Submarine Movie No. 1: U-571
So good. This 2000 movie goes on for what feels like six hours, what with all the crap that this crack team of sailors has to endure.
The task? An impossible mission to retrieve an Enigma cipher machine from a German U-boat—the key to beating the Nazi stranglehold on the Atlantic. Our team stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, and even Jon Bon Jovi, who sacrificed his fluffy mullet for a credible submarine sailor performance.
So much happens. The trailer up top ain’t the half of it.
Groaning bulkheads, possibly defective torpedoes, depth charges, Nazis, pings—it’s everything you ever wanted in a submarine movie.
Come for the inevitable statement: “She can’t take it!” Stay for Jon Bon Jovi as the radar guy who whispers “splashes” like he’s singing “Dead or Alive.”
Streaming on Netflix.
In the MDK Shop
Submarine Movie No. 2: The Hunt for Red October
Yes, it’s the submarine movie starring Sean Connery as a Russian submarine commander, Scottish accent and all. So confusing! And Sam Neill as a communist? What’s Tim Curry doing in there? At least James Earl Jones is there to straighten it all out.
And Alec Baldwin stars as Jack Ryan, everybody’s favorite CIA analyst/former Marine, looking like a teenager with lacquered black hair and a backstory so heroic he won’t even talk about it.
Will the magnificent ears of radar prodigy Jones lead them to the silent submarine they’re chasing? (Courtney B. Vance crushes this performance in what was his first big role.)
Watching a movie from 1990 that pits the U.S. against Soviet Russia seems like ancient history.
Bonus: Das Boot
I’m feeling a need to dive back into a third submarine movie, Das Boot. The ultimate. This 1982 sweatfest is the one to watch if you can watch only one submarine movie in your life.