Tuesday, July 25, 2017


A few years ago, I posted on submarine movie clichés.  Having watched seventeen sub movies in the last few weeks in preparation for my Submarine Movies Tournament, I think it makes sense to reassess the cliché hypothesis.  Here is the list of possible clichés I considered:

1.       There is command dysfunction aboard the boat.  Usually this is a power struggle between the skipper and his exec.
2.       The sub has to go below crush depth.  Usually this is to escape depth charges.  It is accompanied by leaks, rivets blowing, and/or creaking noises.
3.       Someone is left on deck when the sub is forced to crash dive.  Most likely this is the captain.
4.       The sub is sent on a special mission.  This usually interrupts the crew’s leave.
5.       The sub lands a shore party.  Usually to blow stuff up.
6.       To stop an intense depth charging, the sub releases oil, debris, and/or corpses to fool the tormentors into giving up.
7.       The captain is an Ahab-type who is obsessed with a great white whale of an objective.  Usually it is revenge for losing a previous boat.
8.       if it’s an American sub, there is a black mess mate on board.
9.       The sub is depth charged at least once.  Usually the depth charges are very accurate.
10.    The sub goes through a submarine net and/or a minefield.  Usually it gets through the net by following an enemy ship.  Usually it gets through the mine field by blind-ass luck.  If it goes through a mine field, usually a mine cable scrapes against the side of the boat.
11.    An emergency repair, medical operation, or unexploded bomb causes a crisis.  Usually the emergency repair requires the sacrifice of someone.
12.    If it’s an American sub in the Pacific in WWII, they listen to Tokyo Rose.
13.    The sub sinks a destroyer with a bow shot.
14.    There is a love triangle between two of the crew and a woman on shore.

Here are the movies that I examined:
A.  Sub Command
B.  We Dive at Dawn
C.  Torpedo Run
D.  Operation Petticoat
E.  Destination Tokyo
F.  Run Silent, Run Deep
G.  Above Us the Waves
H.  Operation Pacific
I.  Up Periscope
J.  Hellcats of the Navy
K.  Crash Dive
L.  Hell and High Water
M.  Das Boot
N.  The Hunt for Red October
O.  Crimson Tide
P.  U-571
Q.  The Enemy Below

Here are the results for each cliche:
1.       C, F, I, J, K, O, P  =  7
2.       M, P, Q  =  3
3.       A, F, H, I, J, P  =  6
4.       A, B, E, I, J, K, L, N, P  =  9
5.       A, B, E, I, J, K, L  =  7
6.       B, D, F, I, K, P  =  6
7.       C, F  =  2
8.       A, F, I, K, P, Q  =  6
9.       A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, M, P, Q  =  14
10.    A, B, C, E, G, J  =  6
11.    E, I, J, M, P  =  5
12.    D, E, F  =  3
13.    E, F, I, J, P  =  5
14.    H, K  =  2

Here are the results for each movie:
                A.  3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10  = 6
                B.  4, 5, 6, 9, 10  =  5
                C.  1, 7, 9, 10  =  4
                D.  6, 9, 12  =  3
                E.  4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13  =  7
                F.  1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13  =  8
                G.  9, 10  =  2
                H.  3, 9  =  2
                I.  1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13  =  9
                J.  1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13  =  8
                K.  1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14  =  7
                L.  4, 5  =  2
                M.  2, 9, 11  =  3
                N.  4  =  1
                O.  1  =  1
                P.  1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13  =  9
                Q.  2, 8, 9  =  3

                1.  The most common cliché found in sub movies is the depth charging.  The second most common is the sub is sent on a special operation.
                2.  Possible clichés that can be removed from the list are going below hull crush depth, the captain being an Ahab, and the love triangle. 
                3.  The most cliché-ridden movies are “Up Periscope” and “U-571” with “U-571” being the worst offender because it came late in the subgenre. 

                4.  The most admirably cliché-resistant movie is “Das Boot”.  The other films that have a low number of clichés are not standard sub movies.


  1. U-571 was the WORST sub movie evah!!! LOL Everyone in the Pacific listened to Tokyo Rose if they could. She played great music. The cliche is she always mentions that specific boat. Better clarify number 14 to "love triangle with someone on shore included"...or this may become a "Love Boat" cliche. LOL

    1. Thanks. I'll fix #14 so people can turn their imaginations off.

  2. You should also watch "Submarine X-1" starring James Caan. It has I believe most of those cliches.

  3. I'd add another cliche to the list. It took several movies to realise what was missing from the submarine films I was watching, but I finally got it. With the exception of U-96 in Das Boot, none of the submarines in any of these movies seem to carry any food. In Das Boot, food is hanging everywhere because space is very limited and the boat isn't big enough to have a separate place to store it. It's in the control room, hanging above bunks, in the head, etc. When the boat is attacked or they dive, food goes flying everywhere. None of the other submarine movies I've seen show food crammed into any available space (I'm not counting nuclear submarines). Now it's a thing I look for--even in films where the subs are appropriately cramped, like The Sinking of the Laconia, there's no food to be found.

    So, the cliché I'd add is: There's never any food hanging up, even though there should be.

    Speaking of cramped spaces, perhaps another cliché to add is that there's too much open space in submarines.

  4. I like both of your cliches. I must point out that few war movies of any type deal with logistics, like food. The less than realistic spaciousness could also be said about tanks in movies.

  5. Hmm. I am coming at your post about two years too late, but I wanted to comment anyways.

    I've seen thirty different submarine movies to date, and I have also noticed that they have common scene types. I guess one could call them set pieces. I'd prefer pretty much any term to "cliche" because cliches are over-used, and therefore have less emotional power. In my opinion, what you call cliches are really the basic building blocks of the genre. In other words, they're part of the reason why we like the genre.

    Furthermore, particularly with the earliest movies--most especially Destination Tokyo--I wonder if it is even appropriate to call these scenes "cliches." I haven't watched almost any submarine movies before Destination Tokyo, but it seems to me that this is the grand-daddy of the genre. It's the film that, more than any before it, helped to create and shape the genre. And the first several movies after this also occur too early to be really thought of as using cliches.

    Anyway, although I disagree with the application of the word "cliche," I still very much enjoyed your post! It's thoughtful, data-driven (and based on a fairly large data set), and interesting! And of course, I also recognize that different movies speak to us in different ways, and our experiences help to shape how we see these movies. I personally prefer K-19: The Widowmaker to Das Boot because in some ways, I prefer stories with a more emotional angle to them, and K-19 hit me really hard. But I know that most submarine movie aficionados prefer Das Boot. Each to his own.

    I am thinking of publishing an annotated ranking of all the movies that I have seen at some point soon--I need to watch several more, first--but in the meantime, I will try to check out some more of your writing on submarine movies. Thanks for writing!

    1. I see where you are coming from. Maybe you would prefer I used the word "trope". I agree that "Destination Tokyo" deserves a pass when it comes to cliches since it did create several of them. Thanks for visiting. You might want to check out my War Movie Lovers Group on Facebook.

  6. "Trope"--that's perfect! Thanks also for the invitation. I may check out the group, and I will certainly check out more of your writing--but I decided to wait a bit longer, first (I want to complete my own personal ranking on my own first. I only need about five movies or so).

    Anyway, thanks again, and take care.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.