Crimson Tide (film)

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Crimson Tide
Crimson tide movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Scott
Produced byDon Simpson
Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay byMichael Schiffer
Story byMichael Schiffer
Richard P. Henrick
Music byHans Zimmer
CinematographyDariusz Wolski
Edited byChris Lebenzon
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • May 12, 1995 (1995-05-12)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$53 million[1]
Box office$157.4 million

Crimson Tide is a 1995 American action thriller film directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. It takes place during a period of political turmoil in the Russian Federation, in which ultranationalists threaten to launch nuclear missiles at the United States and Japan.

It focuses on a clash of wills between the new executive officer (Denzel Washington) of a U.S. nuclear missile submarine and its seasoned commanding officer (Gene Hackman), arising from conflicting interpretations of an order to launch their missiles. Its story parallels a real incident during the Cuban Missile Crisis, aboard a Soviet submarine.

The film was scored by Hans Zimmer, who won a Grammy Award for the main theme, which makes heavy use of synthesizers in place of traditional orchestral instruments. An extended cut, which incorporated seven minutes of deleted scenes, was released on DVD in 2006 while its 2008 Blu-ray release only included the theatrical version.[2]


In post-Soviet Russia, civil war erupts as a result of the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. Military units loyal to Vladimir Radchenko, a Russian ultra-nationalist, take control of a nuclear missile installation and are threatening nuclear war if either the American or Russian governments attempt to confront him.

The USS Alabama, a U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarine, is assigned to a patrol mission to be available to launch its missiles in a pre-emptive strike if Radchenko attempts to fuel his missiles. Captain Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) is the commanding officer, one of few submarine commanders left in the Navy with combat experience. He chooses Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) as his new XO, who has an extensive education in military history and tactics, but no combat experience.

During their initial days at sea, tension between Ramsey and Hunter becomes apparent due to a clash of personalities: Hunter is more analytical and cautious, while Ramsey has a more impulsive and intuitive approach, based on his experience. Two incidents bear this out. A fire breaks out in the galley, resulting in the death of the chief mess officer via cardiac arrest. Hunter helps the mess crew fight the fire, but Ramsey chooses to order a missile drill in the midst of the chaos. Hunter, having been occupied with the fire, is late reporting to missile control. Hunter discreetly questions the decision to order a drill immediately after the fire. Ramsey chastises Hunter for the appearance of discord in front of sailors. Later, Hunter observes a fight between two sailors over a trivial matter and believes the crew's morale is suffering. Ramsey's response is to collectively chastise the Alabama crew as a whole via the 1MC system over a lack of battle focus.

Alabama eventually receives an Emergency Action Message, ordering the launch of ten of its missiles against the Russian nuclear installation, based on satellite information that the Russians' missiles are being fueled. Before Alabama can launch its missiles, a second radio message begins to be received, but is cut off by the attack of a Russian Akula-class submarine loyal to Radchenko.

The radio electronics are damaged in the attack and cannot be used to decode the second message. With the last confirmed order being to launch, Captain Ramsey decides to proceed. Hunter refuses to concur as is required because he believes the partial second message may be a retraction. Hunter argues that Alabama is not the only American submarine in the area, and if the order is not retracted, other submarines will launch their missiles as part of the fleet's standard redundancy doctrine. Ramsey argues that the other American submarines may have been destroyed.

When Hunter refuses to consent, Ramsey tries to relieve him of duty and replace him with a different officer. Instead, Hunter orders the arrest of Ramsey for attempting to circumvent protocol. The crew's loyalty is divided between Hunter and Ramsey, but the Chief of the Boat sides with Hunter ("by the book") in having Ramsey relieved of command and confined to his stateroom, putting Hunter in command. Alabama is attacked again by the Russian submarine. Alabama destroys the submarine, but is hit by a torpedo it failed to elude during the attack. The submarine's main propulsion system is disabled and the bilge bay is taking on water. As the crew frantically tries to restore propulsion, Hunter orders the sealing of the bilge with sailors trapped inside, preventing too much water from being taken on but causing the sailors to drown. Just before the submarine reaches hull crush depth, the propulsion is restored. The officers and crew loyal to Ramsey unite and retake the control room, confining Hunter, the Chief of the Boat and a few others to the officers' mess. The radio team continue to work on repairing their communications systems but the Captain is determined to continue without waiting for verification.

Hunter escapes his arrest and gains the support of the weapons officer in the missile control room, further delaying the launch and leading the Captain to proceed to missile control to force the weapons officer (who is the only man on board who knows the combination to the safe with the firing trigger to actually launch the missiles) to comply with him - by threatening to execute one of his men. Hunter, alongside officers and men loyal to him, storms the ship's command centre, removing the captain's missile key seconds before the Captain could launch, disabling the launch systems. Ramsey and his men return to the control room, resulting in a Mexican standoff with both sides heavily armed and refusing to back down. But with the radio team reporting they are near success, the two men agree to a compromise; they will wait until the deadline for missile launch to see if the radio can be repaired. The two men discuss whether Lipizzans stallions came from Spain or Portugal, and whether they are born white or black.

After several tense minutes, communications are restored and they finally see the full message from the second transmission. It is a retraction ordering that the missile launch be aborted because Radchenko's rebellion has been quelled. Ramsey at that point turns command over to Hunter and returns to his cabin.

After returning to base, Ramsey and Hunter are put before a naval tribunal at Naval Station Pearl Harbor to answer for their actions. The tribunal concludes that both men were simultaneously right and wrong, and Hunter's actions were deemed lawfully justified and in the best interests of the United States. Unofficially, the tribunal chastises both men for failing to resolve the issues between them. Thanks to Ramsey's personal recommendation, the tribunal agrees to grant Hunter command of his own sub while allowing Ramsey to save face via an early retirement. While leaving the base, Ramsey admits to Hunter that he was right; that the Lipizzaner stallions came from Spain.



Development and writing[edit]

In 1993 the United States Navy allowed studio executives researching the movie to embark aboard Trident submarine USS Florida from Bangor, Washington, with the Gold Crew. Those embarked included Hollywood Pictures president of production Ricardo Mestres,[3] director Tony Scott, producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, screenwriter Michael Schiffer, and writer Richard Henrick. While aboard, the Navy allowed the film crew to videotape Florida's Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander William Toti, performing many of the same actions (Executive Officer's response to fire, flooding, missile launch sequence, etc.) that actor Denzel Washington eventually performed as Executive Officer in the movie.

The Navy had been led to believe that the movie's storyline was going to be about a Trident ballistic missile submarine crew attempting to stop the ship's fictional computer from launching nuclear missiles and starting World War III. In movie parlance, the Navy was told the story would be "The Hunt for Red October meets 2001: A Space Odyssey." The Navy wanted the Florida crew to prove to the studio executives that "there is no computer on a Trident submarine that can launch missiles, hence the storyline is implausible.[citation needed]

Following the at-sea walk-through and missile launch demonstration, Florida returned to port to drop off the studio executives. During that transit, Toti spent a great deal of time in the ship's wardroom with the studio executives, walking them through the missile launch redundancy procedures. A few months later, the studio returned to the Navy with the revised storyline, and the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hunter (the character played by Denzel Washington) was now leading a mutiny against the commanding officer to prevent a missile launch.[citation needed]

The film has uncredited additional writing by Quentin Tarantino, much of it being the pop-culture-reference laden dialogue.[4][5]


Filming took place in 1994.[6][7] In the end, the Navy objected to many of the elements in the script—particularly mutiny on board a U.S. naval vessel—and as such, the film was produced without the Navy's assistance.[8] The French Navy assisted the team for production with the use of the aircraft carrier Foch. The dockside scene in which Captain Ramsey addresses the crew with Alabama in the background and the crew then runs on board actually features USS Barbel. The sail ("conning tower") was a plywood mock-up since Barbel's sail had been removed. Barbel had been sold by the U.S. Navy and was in the process of being scrapped.[9]

Because of the Navy's refusal to cooperate with the filming, the production company was unable to secure footage of a submarine submerging. After checking to make sure there was no law against filming naval vessels, the producers waited at the submarine base at Pearl Harbor until a submarine put to sea. After a submarine (coincidentally, the real USS Alabama) left port, they pursued it in a boat and helicopter, filming as they went. They continued to do so until she submerged, giving them the footage they needed to incorporate into the film.[10]


The musical score for Crimson Tide was composed by Hans Zimmer, and employs a blend of orchestra, choir and synthesizer sounds. It includes additional music by Nick Glennie-Smith and was conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. It was released on physical formats on May 16, 1995 by Hollywood Records. Within the score is the well-known naval hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save". The score won a Grammy Award in 1996 for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television, and Zimmer has described it as one of his personal favorites.[11]

3."Little Ducks"2:03
5."Roll Tide / Hymn: Eternal Father, Strong to Save"7:33
Total length:60:26


Box office[edit]

Crimson Tide earned $18.6 million in the United States on its opening weekend, which ranked #1 for all films released that week. Overall, it earned $91 million in the U.S. and an additional $66 million internationally, for a total of $157.3 million.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of 48 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.5/10. The consensus reads, "Boasting taut, high energy thrills and some cracking dialogue courtesy of an uncredited Quentin Tarantino, Crimson Tide finds director Tony Scott near the top of his action game."[13] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[14]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "This is the rare kind of war movie that not only thrills people while they're watching it, but invites them to leave the theater actually discussing the issues," and ultimately gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four.[15] Meanwhile, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Crimson Tide has everything you could want from an action thriller and a few other things you usually can't hope to expect."[16]

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote that, "what makes Crimson Tide a riveting pop drama is the way the conflict comes to the fore in the battle between two men. ... The end of the world may be around the corner, but what holds us is the sight of two superlatively fierce actors working at the top of their game."[17]


Crimson Tide was nominated for three Academy Awards, for Film Editing, Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline, Gregory H. Watkins and William B. Kaplan) and Sound Editing (George Watters II).[12][18]

Historical parallels[edit]

The film closely parallels events that occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis onboard Soviet submarine B-59, with Denzel Washington's character reflecting Soviet second-in-command Vasily Arkhipov.[19]


Robert S. Mueller, in his years as FBI Director, often quoted a line by Gene Hackman's character Captain Ramsey in his meetings with the senior leadership of the FBI: "We're here to preserve democracy, not to practice it."[20]


  1. ^ "Crimson Tide (1995) - Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved July 25, 2010.
  2. ^ Crimson Tide Blu-ray Review High-Def Digest, February 2008.
  3. ^ "Ricardo Mestres". IMDb. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  4. ^ Peary, Gerald (August 1998). "Chronology". Quentin Tarantino Interviews. Conversations with Filmmakers Series. University Press of Mississippi. p. xviii. ISBN 1-57806-050-8. Retrieved 2008-08-03.
  5. ^ "Quentin Tarantino Biography". Yahoo Movies. Retrieved 2009-02-10.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Suid, Lawrence (2002). Guts & Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (2 ed.). University Press of Kentucky. p. 748. ISBN 978-0-8131-9018-1. Retrieved February 2, 2009.
  9. ^ "Crimson Tide (1995) Trivia". IMDb. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  10. ^ Ryan, Tim. "Navy wasn't privy to 'Tide'" Reading Eagle (May 12, 1995).
  11. ^ "Hans Zimmer Interview". Film Score. Archived from the original on 2008-07-16. Retrieved 2008-08-03.
  12. ^ a b Crimson Tide at Box Office Mojo
  13. ^ Crimson Tide at Rotten Tomatoes
  14. ^ "CinemaScore".
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Crimson Tide," Chicago Sun-Times (May 12, 1995).
  16. ^ LaSalle, Mick. "Tension Hot in Crimson: Submarine thriller a first-rate story," San Francisco Chronicle (May 12, 1995).
  17. ^ Gleiberman, Owen. "Movie Review: Crimson Tide," Entertainment Weekly (May 12, 1995).
  18. ^ "The 68th Academy Awards (1996) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-23.
  19. ^ "The Russian who saved humankind". Red Kalinka. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  20. ^ Graff, Garrett M. (May 15, 2018). "The Untold Story of Robert Mueller's Time in Combat". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028.

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