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Sub Story

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Humanity has been fascinated for a long time with going under the sea and this is epitomised in the Sub Story. Fiction and fact-based drama involving submarines has many advantages to it:

  • You don't need to spend lots of money on sets or Stock Footage. You can set it solely in the cramped sub interior, yet still create plenty of suspense with just a radar scanner and a pinging sonar.
  • You can justify a Shirtless Scene (Old submarines like German U-boats had no air conditioning and were very cramped and hot).
  • Confined spaces tend to bring out the worst in people and are good for horror movies, as no one can escape.
  • There's the added danger that if the sub goes to the bottom involuntarily, the chances of everyone dying from pressure or lack of air are pretty high.
  • Nuclear power plant in an isolated submarine? Lots of potential for drama if the reactor melts down.
  • Torpedoes can run for a good ten or fifteen minutes, so if you lose track of one, it might bite you in the, er, aft portion.
  • Silent Running Mode is an good source of suspense, as the crew shuts down all power and tries to elude a sub-hunter and mine layer ship that is dropping depth charges.
  • Hot Sub-on-Sub Action, with sleek, glistening subs gliding through the water and firing torpedoes is just plain cool.
  • The whole thing is a contest of wits, bravery and determination with plenty of scope for a Guile Hero.
  • There is gobs and gobs of Technology Porn and made-up Technobabble. "Adjust bow plane yaw level by 20 degrees! Maintain aft compression vortex!"note 
  • Both sides are to some degree "blindfolded" and depend on hearing or detecting each other, making for an interesting combat situation.
  • The stakes are all or nothing. If a sub survives an engagement likely everyone aboard will survive while if it is sunk or crippled it will be so far underwater that everyone will die.
  • Historical settings like the Cold War or World War II lend plausibility to the story; with all the secrecy back then, an adventure that took place hidden under the ocean seems like it really could have happened.
  • They tend to be Rated M for Manly which may be a good thing for some. Submarines have been historically and exclusively a male-only environment and with this comes a few expectations with regard to storytelling. Female characters are often either minimized (often no spoken lines), or even totally absent.

Many of these are During the War, but they don't have to be. Indeed they don't even have to involve the military. They don't even have to be underwater, as Space Is an Ocean means that fictional spaceships will often behave like subs. Films such as The Fantastic Voyage and The Core have recycled Sub Story tropes in more fantastical settings (a man's bloodstream and the Earth's mantle, respectively).

Home of many a Cool Boat with a Badass Crew. Expect at least one Silent Running Mode scene.

Not to Be Confused with a story about a submissive member of a BDSM relationship, or a story within a story.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Film — Animation 
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire starts off as this. The journey begins with the explorers entering the Atlantic Ocean via a submarine called the Ulysses, but the submarine is then destroyed by a giant robotic lobster called the Leviathan, who kills off most of the background crew. The main characters then escape into an underwater cave via several smaller subs, and then after that is a Travel Montage through said caves leading to Atlantis, with the lost city finally being reached after their camp is attacked by a swarm of literal fireflies.
  • Yellow Submarine. This sub is part TARDIS, but it's small for a fantasy ship, with lots of pipes, and has very intimidating controls. And while its engine isn't quite as dangerous as a nuclear reactor, it's good for some drama.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Assault on a Queen, a group of treasure hunters salvage a German U-boat and decide to become Submarine Pirates.
  • The Atomic Submarine, a 1959 B-Movie where the eponymous nuclear submarine fights an Unidentified Submerged Object beneath the North Pole.
  • The 1985 Soviet two-part film Attention All Hands (rough translation of Слушать в отсеках) starts with a Soviet sub sneaking into Bagryanaya Bay and sinking a German transport ship during World War II, before being lost with all hands. Forty years later, the sub commander's son (also a sub commander) is participating in a war game, pitted against his academy friend, who is in command of a destroyer. In the second part of the game, the sub commander has to sneak into the very same bay as his late father and "sink" a target. Instead of trying to sneak past the waiting destroyer at the bay entrance, the sub locates an underwater passage under a mountain that leads straight into the bay and takes the incredibly risky dive in order to get in that way. They succeed and win the war game. In the process, the commander finally realizes how his father managed to perform his heroic feat.
  • The Bedford Incident - a loose retelling of Moby-Dick using a Soviet Submarine in place of the whale.
  • Below by David Twohy (of Riddick fame) plays the "bringing worst in humans" part for all the scares it can get out of it.
  • Black Sea: A submarine captain takes a job with a shadowy backer to search the depths of the Black Sea for a World War II sub that's rumored to be loaded with gold.
  • Das Boot, one of the most historically accurate and gripping views of World War II sub combat.
  • Crash Dive, another movie filmed during WWII, about an American submarine attacking German commerce raiders in the North Atlantic.
  • Crimson Tide
  • The Damned is about a group of Nazis and Nazi collaborators who attempt to flee to South America aboard a U-boat as the war is ending.
  • Destination Tokyo - a drama made during the war based on a recon patrol into Tokyo Harbor. The effects were so good that the Navy used it as a training film.
  • Down Periscope - a comedy about a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits being given a World War II-era diesel sub as part of a naval exercise and pitted against the modern US Navy, including a nuclear sub. Despite it being a comedy, there are still some tense moments.
  • The Enemy Below, which was Recycled In Space as the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Balance of Terror".
  • Gray Lady Down features two submarines: the USS Neptune and the experimental mini sub The Snark
  • Hellcats Of The Navy - which won the Golden Turkey Award for the worst Ronald Reagan film of all time.
  • Hostile Waters, a film about an accident aboard a Soviet ballistic missile submarine.
  • The 1999 Made-for-TV movie The Hunley is centered around the experimental Confederate submarine Hunley, which had thus far claimed the lives of two of its crews while being tested. A new crew is put together, and they must find a way to use their submarine against the Union Navy blockade of Charleston. The sub sinks, and takes its third crew with it, but not before destroying a Union warship by lancing it with a large explosive device.
  • The Hunt for Red October — what happens when an entire submarine tries to defect from the Soviet Union.
  • Ice Station Zebra
  • K-19: The Widowmaker
  • Morning Departure - actually set just post WWII, but plays much more like a WWII story than a Cold War one.
  • Operation Pacific. The WWII exploits of the fictional USS Thunderfish are culled from actual wartime submarine incidents. The Technical Advisor for the film was ADM Charles Lockwood, COMSUBPAC during the war.
    • CDR Perry is wounded on the bridge and gives the order to "take her down", sacrificing himself to save his ship. This scene is based on the actual incident that earned CDR Howard Gilmore of USS Growler the Medal of Honor.
  • Operation Petticoat - a comedy about evacuating nurses from the Philippines to Australia in December 1941.
  • Run Silent, Run Deep - surprisingly realistic take on sub warfare around the Japanese home islands.
  • The Spy Who Loved Me features multiple submarines. Among its more notable aspects is a movie featuring Page Three Stunna pics somehow getting a PG when the BBFC reclassified the thing and Barbara Bach's shower. On naval ships, water is at somewhat at a premium (no, you can't get it directly from the sea; that's salt water and you need to desalinate it first) and sailors take a "Navy Shower" (rinse, lather, rinse off). Bach has the shower running. The captain clearly liked her; "Hollywood Showers" are only permitted if you've done something special.
  • The Star Trek films:
  • Submarine Command
  • U-571, one of the least historically accurate movies (at least concerning the Enigma code and who exactly captured it), it still is also incredibly gripping.
  • Up Periscope
  • Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the 1961 scifi film by Irwin Allen that led to a TV series of the same name.
  • We Dive at Dawn- British film made during World War II, involving a British sub of the P-class being sent to the Baltic to sink a new German battleship. Despite being a propaganda film, it's still pretty good.
  • Wing Commander: A Terran space fighter carrier finds itself fighting against badly stacked odds. They spend much of the movie trying to hide from the enemy Kilrathi fleet, while trying to find some way to delay their attack on Earth long enough for The Cavalry to get in position to stop them. A lot of the movie was intentionally made as an homage to Das Boot.
  • The Wolf's Call

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - the Trope Maker. Three men are kept captive on a rogue submarine run as its own country by the mysterious Captain Nemo... before practical submarines became a thing.
  • Das Boot (1973) by Lothar-Günther Buchheim, a novel about a German submarine in World War II. Better known via its film adaptation Das Boot (1981).
  • The Dragon in the Sea (AKA Under Pressure) by Frank Herbert depicts tense underwater combat 20 Minutes into the Future between nuclear submarines. Despite being published in 1956 it has survived the ravages of Science Marches On and Zee Rust remarkable well.
  • Two novel series by submarine historian Edwyn Gray, one about a British S-Boat and one about a German U-Boat, both in WWII.
  • The "spider drive" vessels in Honor Harrington series are basically submarines In Space!
  • The Hunt for Red October is all about the Red October submarine, and the above-water forces hounding it.
    • Additional books in the Ryanverse generally include submarine operations as a b-plot or additional actions, including The Cardinal of the Kremlinnote , The Sum of All Fearsnote , and Debt of Honornote .
    • The non-Ryanverse novel Red Storm Rising features the captains of both a sub and a sub-hunting frigate as significant POV characters.
  • Discworld's Leonard of Quirm builds a reconnaissance submarine in Jingo. He calls it a 'Going-Under-The-Water-Safely Device'.
  • Kishin Corps, set in WWII, plus an alien invasion, one of the protagonist mecha is an amphibious type with an underwater mode.
  • Our Wives Under the Sea: Leah's half of the plot consists of her and two crewmates on a submarine that's stuck at the bottom of the ocean. They don't see anything until the end, but they do wind up slightly losing their minds.
  • Glen Cook's "Passage at Arms" follows the story of a Climber ship, a type of spaceship that can under very specific circumstances essentially drop out of conventional space and fly almost undetectable except for a "pseudo-Hawking black hole" several millimeters wide. The primary danger is that while in climber space the ship cannot release the heat buildup from any of their systems.
  • One of Robert Fulton's early submarines plays an important role in Ratcatcher; the first Matthew Hawkwood novel.
  • Edward Beach's Run Silent, Run Deep and its sequels, made into a Clark Gable film. Also his book Submarine!, a memoir/history of the WWII Silent Service.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events novel The Grim Grotto.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's The Temple.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The episode "Why We Fight" from season five of Angel is a WWII flashback where Angel is sent by the U.S. government to help bring in a captured U-boat.
  • The Andromeda episode "D minus 0" is also a sub story Recycled In Space.
  • Das Boot, sequel series to the 1981 film. Contrary to the latter, it adds some land-based subplots.
  • Doctor Who: "Cold War" is set on a crippled Soviet sub beneath the arctic ice, with something very nasty loose on board.
  • Fear the Walking Dead: The webisode miniseries Dead in the Water is set aboard the USS Pennsylvania, which was found beached ashore in Texas in Season 6, revealing how that came to be — the sub was doing maneuvers in the Gulf of Mexico when the Zombie Apocalypse began, with the crew slowly being picked off as the virus spreads among them. After refusing orders to nuke Chicago in a senseless attempt to contain the outbreak, the surviving crew members beach the ship and scatter. Unfortunately, one of them would later get seduced into Teddy's Apocalypse Cult and lead him to the Pennsylvania in order to launch its payload across Texas.
  • JAG featured several episodes taking place on submarines, with plots ranging from historical events, espionage to fish-out-of-water stories to the occasional bit of Hot Sub-on-Sub Action. The 12 out of 227 episodes

  • The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine", which inspired the film.
  • Gorillaz' music video of "On Melancholy Hill" mostly features a fleet of submersibles piloted by the album's artists.
  • Iron Maiden's "Run Silent Run Deep".
  • KISS' "Torpedo Girl" is about Ace being visited by a submarine in the place where he was swimming, and meeting, of course, the titular girl.
  • Raven's "Run Silent Run Deep", about a—likely WWII—submarine attacking a convoy.
  • Sabaton Wolfpack, which is based on a Wolfpack attack on a Convoy during the battle of the Atlantic.
  • The Sex Pistols have "Submission", which sounds like an Obligatory Bondage Song from the title, but is instead about a literal submarine mission, with equally ridiculous double and single entendres.


    Video Games 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Big Blue: The series follows the crew of the submarine Calypso, who use their vessel to explore the ocean and defend it from threats.
  • The Deep (2015): The series follows the Nekton family, a family of daring underwater explorers who live aboard a state-of-the-art submarine, the Aronnax, and explore uncharted areas of the earth's oceans to unravel the mysteries of the deep.
  • The titular The Magic School Bus transformed into a submarine several times outside the underwater episode.
  • The Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode "Cat and Mouse" is pretty much a Sub Story IN SPACE!. Anakin and his crew have to pilot a stealth ship (built long, narrow and cramped like a real sub, and armed with torpedoes for good measure) past a Separatist blockade under the command of a fearsomely clever admiral. The stealth ship cannot fire weapons without decloaking and is vastly outgunned by the blockade, requiring Anakin to use expert piloting and guile to take out his foe.

Alternative Title(s): Submarine Story


Submarine Kirby

One of Kirby's transformations is a submarine.

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