Home » News & Analysis » With ‘Hunter Killer’ Gerard Butler Wants to Revamp the Submarine Movie, Navy Wants to Boost Recruiting

With ‘Hunter Killer’ Gerard Butler Wants to Revamp the Submarine Movie, Navy Wants to Boost Recruiting

Actor Gerard Butler stars as submarine Capt. Joe Glass, attempting to avert an apocalyptic disaster in Hunter Killer, a movie he helped produce. USNI News Photo

THE PENTAGON — The Navy hopes recruiting gets a boost from the story of an attack boat captain and crew staving-off apocalyptic disaster in Hunter Killer while the movie’s star, Gerard Butler, says his goal is breathing new life into the submarine movie genre.

For a filmmaker, a submarine provides a terrific backdrop for filming conflict than the isolated confines of a submarine, Butler told the Pentagon press corps during a Monday media briefing. Butler also is one of the film’s producers.

“A lot of my favorite movies before this movie were submarine movies,” Butler said. “I feel like there’s no better place in our universes to put high stakes, ultra-suspenseful drama in a small room a 1,000-feet under the ocean with all the risks adherent to that.”

Butler has long been a fan of such films as Run Silent, Run Deep, The Enemy Below and The Hunt for Red October. The German-made Das Boot is “probably my one of my favorite movies of all-time,” Butler said.

Director Wolfgang Petersen’s use of a submarine’s tight space helps build a gripping story, Butler said.

“You’re grabbing the edge of your seat the whole time, and you’re so with these warriors as they make these decisions and face some of their darkest moments they will, and they have to dig deep and really call on their brawn, and so we felt we could do that with this movie,” Butler said. “You can have fun with the gadgetry, the weapons systems, the platforms, but at the end of the day, it’s about the people operating them and how they have to think creatively and innovatively and courageously, and how they have to hold onto that kind of bedrock of steadiness and honor in the most incredibly tense dangerous situations.”

What Butler described as being a compelling story arc for a movie is often echoed by Navy officials pitching the careers in the service.

The hope is showing off the silent service won’t just attract young men and women to serve in the submarine community, but also encourage young people to learn more about the Navy, Vice Adm. Fritz Roegge, the former commander of U.S. submarine forces in the Pacific, said on Monday. Roegge is currently the president of the National Defense University.

“We’re competing for talent, and in this dynamic economy it’s more important than ever that we find ways to inspire the next generation of warfighters to consider serving in the Navy,” Roegge said. “Movies are proven to be good venues to reach Americans who would otherwise not have exposure to our great Navy.”

USS Houston approaches the submarine tender USNS Frank Cable in 2011. US Navy Photo

While in the Pacific, Roegge hosted Butler in Hawaii, offering his staff to provide technical assistance and guidance. The Navy agreed to work with Butler’s crew, at no cost to the taxpayers, to show “who we are, what we do and why it matters,” Roegge said.

On land, Butler insisted on immersing himself in any training exercises available. One example he cited was working in what’s called the wet trainer, where a series of pipes filled with cold water is designed to burst. Sailors are supposed to solve the leaks before water fills the space.

“When I stepped in, I thought this is a bad idea,” Butler said. “I still think it was.”

Butler also spent three days aboard Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Houston (SSN-713) before the hunter-killer was decommissioned in 2016.

“Once we were submerged, we were down for three days,” Butler said. “We drilled all sequences we would do in the movie.”

In some instances, the experience of being on the submarine changed how the filming, Butler said. During the first deep-dive, he mentioned how while standing, everyone reflexively leaned back, further and further as the submarine descended. Butler decided for filming to use a hydraulic system to raise, lower and shift side-to-side the entire 17-ton submarine bridge set to mimic what occurs as a sub moves through the water.

“The set would move, so we didn’t have to do the ‘Star Trek’ thing,” Butler said, mimicking how actors on the original 1960s television series would tilt their bodies to imply side-to-side or up-and-down motion.

When asked about what he learned from the experience of acting and producing the film, which he’d been working on since first reading the script in 2011, Butler described a sense of awe over how the submarine community operates.

“When you’re actually on a sub, you realize the dangers because you’re there, and you’re 1,000 feet underwater, and you go OK, what are different ways things can go wrong,” Butler said. “And once you climb into the reality of that, it’s actually quite scary, and you have all the greater appreciation of what these people do every day, unsung and unseen.”

  • Centaurus

    WTF !?!?!?!?
    Why does this stupid sub “USS Tampa Bay” have a SEAL delivery vehicle on it’s back. Do Virginia-Class subs have this capability ? I thought it was left to the SSGN convert class subs. I know it’s only a movie for the popcorn-eating masses. Someone speak up ….NavySubNuke ????? anyone else ?

    • RDF

      They dont call em “silent” fer nuthin…

      • Fred Gould

        Yup. Served for 4 years on board the USS Holland, Holy Loch. “Blind Man’s Bluff” and “Red November” are only the time of the ice berg.

    • Sean

      Looks like the TB gets destroyed early on. Wikipedia says that the main
      boat in the movie is the USS Omaha. In the trailer, though, it does
      appear to be a Virginia class (fared leading edge on the sail, chin
      sonar, ducted prop). So, it looks like the error isn’t in the
      capabilities of the boat shown, but in its name and class.

      • Fred Gould

        Its a movie, not a documentary.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        During the initial part of the trailer, it looks like the Tampa Bay is a Virginia-class that gets into it with what looks to me like the Akula-III boat Gepard (based on the shape of the stern, and lack of towed-array ‘pod’ on top of the rudder) — and then Rear Admiral Common says “We got a shoot out under the ice-cap… I told 6th fleet you’d want a ‘Hunter Killer’ ” — I assume that then Commander Gerard Butler takes his own sub the Omaha up to investigate. Side note- Does the term “hunter killer” actually get used? Seems ridiculous coming from Common.

        • DaSaint

          You know Common??

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            What’s your deal man?

          • DaSaint

            Seriously, I swear I didn’t know who/what Common was until about a year maybe a year and a half ago. Guess I’ve been out of the music/film loop.

          • Centaurus

            For that, Hollywood shall make you pay, DS !

          • muzzleloader

            Don’t feel bad. I literally never heard of the guy until I looked up his name just now

    • Fred Gould

      USS Dallas, LA class, USS Carter, Sea wolf class, and several Virginia’s have been so modified. Reference “Ships And Aircraft Of The US Fleet”, 19th edition.

    • Bubblehead

      SSGN’s have several major shortcomings when it comes to being a SEAL Delivery sub compared to smaller attack subs. LA Class subs also have several key limitations.

    • NavySubNuke

      Yes Virginia’s can carry an Dry Dock Shelter and it’s associated payloads. Remember all of our SSGNs are going to retire in the near term (early to mid 2020s) and we have no SSGNs to replace them. The long range ship building plan doesn’t call for new SSGN construction until the early 2040s when we are (finally) done building COLUMBIAs. Of course that assumes we build 12 COLUMBIAs….
      Before we converted the SSGNs we used to carry the DDS around on the back of certain 688s.
      As to how often a Virginia carries one vs. a SSGN vs. another ship…. no comment on that one. I speak merely of the capability here.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        NSN as always thank you for your info and insight. I eat it up like chicken chow mein. Let me ask you this…. why are all 3 Seawolfs (is it Seawolfs? Or Seawolves? The World Wonders…) based in WA State? I see that they’re in the same squadron. It seems to me that while I realize the Pacific is important, they abandon the entire Eastern and Atlantic areas to Seawolf capability…. If the Jimmy Carter is itself a special submarine among 3 special submarines, wouldn’t it make more sense to have like one say up at the North/West WA State base, one down in maybe Hawaii, and one at one of the East Coast bases? I realize you did not make that decision yourself, just wondering your insight here. TYVM as always.

        • NavySubNuke

          Putting them all in one place was necessary from the capability of maintaining them and having the necessary facilities to train the crew. If they were spread out we would constantly be flying parts from one port to another to fix things as they broke. We’d also have to set up a trainer that only that crew could use since they have several unique systems.
          As to why they are all in WA vs. some other port — there are reasons.

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            fair enough sir tyvm.

          • Centaurus

            So please tell us all these “reasons”, HMMM ?

          • NavySubNuke


          • Centaurus

            NSN, your knowledge of these things is so quite expansive, suffice to say it comes from a first-handed knowledge. Could you have been once a deeply inserted agent by the civilian population to reveal such interesting “facts” to
            the rest of the residents of the knowledge desert ? An Academic ? An Intellectual ? Retired member of the USN ? I have no office to protect.

          • NavySubNuke

            Mmmmmm deeply inserted — that is me for sure…
            I’m not to retirement age yet but I do hope to one day be a retired member of the USN. For now I settle for being a Reservist.

      • Centaurus

        Well, I want ALL my [email protected]#%ing money back, NOW ! Does anyone feel that they’ve been CHEATED ?

    • Duane

      We’ve been mounting external vehicles on the backs of SSNs for many decades to perform various functions, from submarine rescue (DSRV) to various and sundry other missions.

  • Secundius

    I wonder how many enlisted into the US Navy’s Submarine Service after watching the 1968 movie “ Ice Station Zebra”…

    • DaSaint

      I bet a lot of cold warriors enlisted. Couldn’t help it…
      That was a classic.

    • tiger

      Yuck. Hate that one. Now the tv show “Voyage to he Bottom of the Sea” made Subs look interresting. I’m still waiting for a working flying sub…….

      • Secundius

        The Reid PFS-1 (i.e. Tail Number N1070) Flying Submarine of 9 June 1964. And DARPA resurrection of the project in 2010…

        ( https : // www . newscientist . com / article / mg20727671 – 000 – from – sea – to – sky – submarines – that – fly / )

  • Western

    Oh yes, we always gave a Ho-Hah every time we heard ‘Battle Stations’ over the 1MC. Pass the popcorn, suspend your belief. It’s just a movie.

  • NavySubNuke

    Friendly reminder to not discuss anything too specific they get wrong in the movie.
    About the capabilities of the ship that is — free reign to point out all the stupid nonsense the crew is doing like giving out random “Ho-hah”s like they are illiterate ground pounders.

  • RobM1981

    Not an easy read

    • DaSaint

      Yeah, I didn’t want to say anything. I’ve commented on his style and grammar too many times.

  • Duane

    Glad to see another sub flick produced. They are always entertaining, but also not good representations of reality but for a very few exceptions.

    My boat (USS Gurnard) carried Charlton Heston on a day cruise from San Diego in prep for the production of “Gray Lady Down” back in 1976. It was interesting, to say the least.

    We in the crew were all strictly instructed to not approach “Mr. Heston” and ask for any photos or autographs while he was on board. My duty section (nukes) had duty the night before the scheduled cruise, so we had the “honor” of getting up on the mid-watch to prepare the reactor plant for startup, and then do the startup and warm it up for the scheduled departure at a little after 0800.

    So we naturally named ourselves “The Charlton Heston Startup Crew”. After we were relieved around 0730 by the maneuvering watch, we were given liberty for the day. As we departed the boat we made our way aft through the below-decks passageway in the tender Dixon to get to the pier, and as the half dozen of us walked along, we saw coming our way several senior officers accompanying a tall well tanned guy with perfectly groomed hair and recognized him as Heston.

    In complete contravention of our orders, as we approached Heston in the passageway I shouted out, “Hey, Mr. Heston! We’re the Charlton Heston Startup Crew – we got the tea kettle heated up for your departure this morning! Can we get a shot of you with us? (one of the operators had the foresight to have brought a camera along)

    The senior officers (a couple of four stripers) gave us the evil eye, but Heston grinned and said “Sure!” So he lined up with us, arms around our shoulders, and a couple of our guys took turns shooting several flash pictures. And the four stripers kept shooting us evil looks. I’m sure the CO heard about it afterwards. And of course, nobody else on the crew that sailed that day had the opportunity to shoot any personal pics with Heston.. Any unofficial photography inside a SSN was of course strictly prohibited.

    The film Gray Lady Down was particularly meaningful for us, as the Gurnard did most of the at sea testing of DSRV. Alas, we never got any onscreen credits in the flick!

    • DaSaint

      Great story! Well your orders were no photos or autographs while on board, so you weren’t on board! You were on the tender. Smart! You should share that pic one day, if USNI News ever would allow it.

      • Duane

        Well, as they say, you can’t sailor-proof anything … not even a Hollywood PR visit.

        • Centaurus

          And just as I read this, Agony and Ecstasy is on the boob tube ! I’m dumb struk

    • tiger

      I actually liked that one.

  • Joe S.

    You lost me at the producers of The Fast and the Furious.

  • Ser Arthur Dayne

    This movie looks great in some ways, wanting in other ways – However, Gerard Butler is THE MAN, and the woman actress from ER looks smoking hot. Common as a 2-Star Admiral, however… I am not so sure about that.

    Let me clarify … Common = Admiral ==

    Not even.

    • DaSaint

      Yeah right. Why would he be an Admiral? Anyone but him, right? Maybe Denzel. Or Freeman.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        Can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not but I just don’t see him as an officer in the Navy let alone a 2-star. Denzel would of course be amazing, I have an amazing idea for a Crimson Tide 2 lol. Freeman would have been great for the Admiral role that Gary Oldman has. I assume Common told his agent he was tired of playing bad guy roles and wanted a good guy role and obviously got it.

        • DaSaint

          Full disclosure, I’m Common’s Agent. Just kidding!!

          Seriously, I agree. Big fan of Denzel and would love to see him reprise that role in Tide. Freeman would have been better, but would need more than 2 stars. Guess they needed some diversity in the leadership, as this is meant to attract all to the silent service in particular and the Navy in general.

    • Ed L

      While renting a car the other day I discovered myself standing being a very attractive woman. Who turn out to be a Navy Captain (Line Officer) (saw her ID). We talked for a bit turns out she worked for a couple of Admirals that were my Division Officers when I was a Division LPO. Small World.

  • sferrin

    He should have dressed as a Spartan. 😉

  • muzzleloader

    The film trailer looks interesting if for nothing but the plethora of Russian hardware that the public would never otherwise see such as a Kirov class CGN.
    I wonder if they will show the fleet tug that accompanies every Russian surface group, lol.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    I hope the good guys win. Maybe Bart Mancuso will make a cameo?

    • E1 Kabong

      It’d be better if Marko Ramius showed up! 😉

  • Ed L

    Looks like a good entertaining Movie.

  • Sage_on_the_Hudson

    “For a filmmaker, a submarine provides a terrific backdrop for filming conflict than the isolated confines of a submarine, Butler told the Pentagon press corps during a Monday media briefing. Butler also is one of the film’s producers.”

    What does this incoherent sentence mean? I think the word “nothing” is missing between the frist use of the word “submarine” and “provides,” but I can’t be sure because I’m not a mind-reader.

    As for

    “In some instances, the experience of being on the submarine changed how the filming, Butler said” the missing words here appear to be “was done” following the word “filming.”

    I think the Navy deserves a “staff writer” better equipped to look after and convey its interests, and more conversant in the English language, than Ben Werner.

  • Ed L

    Navy wants to increase recruitment of Enlisted people. How about relaxing some standards back to the 70’s Quite being so political correct

  • Jay Lane

    “and you’re 1,000 feet underwater…”

    those movie people…always confusing between movie fiction and facts…

    we all know our subs can not go down to a thousand feet…(wink wink nod nod)

    (the best is Hunt for Red October…the Akula skipper calls for so many turns for so many knots…and orders the boat to 900 meters depth…)

  • Jack D Ripper

    All the types that got inspired by top gun to join and did laundry below decks salute you

  • Ed L

    Went and saw “Hunter Killer” today. From the John Madden Fleet seats. It was pretty good film. But the meltdown from Gary Oldman character was a bit out of place