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Five Rules for Surviving a Submarine Movie

As seen in films like ‘The Hunt for Red October,’ ‘Crimson Tide,’ and, most recently, ‘Hunter Killer,’ there’s nothing more dangerous than being in a claustrophobia-inducing submersible

An illustration of a sign inside a submarine listing five rules Ringer illustration

The end credits for the new Gerard Butler–starring submarine thriller Hunter Killer—and don’t worry, this doesn’t constitute a spoiler, if you were worried about Hunter Killer spoilers—splits the screen between the production credits and shots of the film’s primary submarine. There isn’t anything new to infer from these shots; it’s not some kind of mid-credits sequence implying the inception of a Submarine Cinematic Universe. Rather, Hunter Killer just leaves you with some parting images of its submarine—because the movie knows that submarines are awesome.

Hunter Killer is not a good movie. It’s a boilerplate action-thriller you’ve seen many times that will definitely be airing on TNT in a couple of years. But the film does understand that surviving in a submarine movie is an intensely difficult matter. Only a slab of submarine metal (submetal?) separates sailors from the icy depths of the ocean floor, and there are many ways for things to go wrong: basic, structural malfunctions; enemy submarines, and even interpersonal conflicts that erupt within the sub itself. Surviving a slasher film is comparatively way easier—don’t check on suspicious noises; have sex, or do anything that might be an affront to a killer’s oddly puritanical values.

Have I made you sufficiently wary of the dangers of underwater living? Are you now afraid that you, too, may die in a claustrophobia-inducing submersible? Don’t worry: Hunter Killer and many other submarine movies before it (The Hunt for Red October, Das Boot, Crimson Tide, et. al.) serve as a helpful guide for how to survive in a submarine movie. It’s scary, I know, but if you ever find yourself in a submarine with a bunch of sailors sporting impressive beards and questionable hygiene, the movies suggest doing these five things in order to survive the journey.

1. Communicate

Submarines carry enormous power—literally, in that most have torpedoes aboard, which can be fired, potentially instigating war with another country. So it’s super important, in a submarine movie, to communicate with sub-coworkers and ensure you don’t incidentally start World War III if you aren’t, like, totally sure that’s necessary.

Crimson Tide is the kind of movie that should be screened at sub seminars (which are not meetings about sandwiches; use context clues). The crux of the film is the tension onboard the USS Alabama, as the two top officers (Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington) have to decide whether to launch their missiles against a Russian nuclear spot. The main problem is that they received two orders via radio, but the second transmission was cut off. Washington’s Ron Hunter wants to be absolutely certain that they’re supposed to be firing the missiles before pulling the trigger; what if the second transmission was, per military parlance, a “Whoops, JK, guys!” type of response? Hackman’s Frank Ramsey, on the other hand, wants to follow the first order and blow shit up. The conflict splits the sub into competing allegiances.

Communication is important in any workplace, but it’s particularly crucial when your workplace is several thousand leagues under the sea and has the ability to threaten the fragile peace between the world’s biggest powers. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with someone, you shouldn’t resort to measuring the size of your torpedoes; just talk it out, man. It beats instigating another World War and getting a ton of people killed, all because you didn’t vibe well with your coworker. And for what it’s worth, Hunter was right, and not only did everyone in the submarine movie not die, a global catastrophe was prevented. Patience is a virtue under water too.

2. Have One Guy Listening to Sonars With Headphones While Delivering Important Exposition

This might be the most important job on a movie submarine. With torpedoes flying around and a general feeling of chaos in the air, you need someone to lean on (and tell you literally everything that’s happening as it’s happening). Obviously, that someone is the dude wearing the Beats by Dre: Submarine Edition headphones.

Hunter Killer had one of those guys. He probably had a name, but I don’t think anyone used it. For all intents and purposes, he was Headphones Guy. Nearly, if not all, of his dialogue was informing Gerard Butler whether there were torpedoes in the water, whether everything sounded clear on the sonar scans, and whether he heard something that might need Butler’s attention. Sometimes, Headphones Guy even said how long it would take until a torpedo made impact.

It’s not the most glamorous profession, but it’s an important one. Surviving a submarine movie requires at least one person staring at a monitor, ready to tell you whether you’re doing to die. If you listen to him, you probably won’t.

3. Don’t Be Russian

Russians have a very confusing deal in submarine movies. Many of these films, even if they don’t explicitly take place during the Cold War, reinvigorate Cold War tension and apply it to the script. Take the Jude Law–starring Black Sea, for example, in which a group of freelance sailors hunting for Nazi gold split themselves into not-Russian and Russian camps, stirring conflict that threatens to kill them all before they can take their winnings. If you’re Russian and in a submarine, it’s almost a guarantee that you’re a bad guy. This is also the case in Hunter Killer, though in the movie—and in The Hunt for Red October—there are also a few good Russian characters, ones who are trying to prevent a war from breaking out. (In The Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery gets to play a Russian captain, which is a rare bonus for Russians, because Sean Connery is awesome.)

But there’s a simple way to avoid this tension altogether: Just don’t be Russian. Even if you’re a good Russian, you’ll have to make sure the Americans trust you enough to listen to your side of the story—and if they don’t, both sides will want you dead. It’s just a fact that your risk of dying in a submarine movie is way higher if you’re Russian. You’re either the bad guy no one trusts and everyone wants dead, or the good guy no one trusts and everyone wants dead. I know that’s messed up, but don’t take it up with me. I didn’t make the submarine-movie rules.

4. Make Sure the Submarine Isn’t Haunted

Dismiss superstition at your own risk. Hollywood knows no bounds, and even submarines can be haunted by ghosts and malevolent spirits if a script has enough dramatic verve.

The movie I’m talking about is Below, a little-seen 2002 film that’s honestly wild. It was directed by David Twohy, also known as the guy who’s directed all three of Vin Diesel’s Riddick movies. It was cowritten by Darren Aronofsky, who, if you ever encounter in real life, will likely stop you on the street to talk about Mother!. Below focuses on a U.S. sub during World War II that is under siege by mysterious onboard accidents and supernatural phenomena. Like this:

That is not a red herring: This sub is legitimately haunted and messes with the brain. Therefore, break out the sage, bring aboard some spiritual paraphernalia, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, you won’t really know if your sub is haunted for sure until the ghost of your dead coworker reappears in a metal tube at the bottom of the ocean.

5. Don’t Mess With Dominic Toretto

This is a highly specific scenario that you will encounter only if your movie submarine is connected to the Fast & Furious cinematic universe, but it bears serious attention. Dominic Toretto’s crew might appear to be just your average small-time thieves turned international-heist extraordinaires befriended by Dwayne Johnson, but they can also take down a submarine if provoked by one.

In The Fate of the Furious, the eighth and one of the most furious of these films, Cipher (Charlize Theron with questionable dreads) hacks a Russian sub with the hope of wiping out the Toretto famiglia before they can stop her anarchist plans for global chaos. Her big mistake here is that she didn’t realize what movie she was in. The submarine never stood a chance, even though it was one of those rare ones that can jump out of the water.

Bonus Rule: Don’t Get in a Submarine

Honestly, your life will be exponentially easier if you never get into a submarine in the first place. Just don’t do it. They are underwater death cages.