Total Recall: Victory at Sea

With Battleship hitting theaters, we collect some memorable examples of cinematic naval triumphs.

Victory at Sea

Summer's almost here, and you know what that means -- from now until Labor Day, the Earth will be in near-constant danger of utter destruction every single weekend. At the box office, anyway. This week, we're under attack from a crew of nasty aliens, and only Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna stand between us and certain doom. We're talking about Battleship, of course, and all that aquatic derring-do got us thinking about other movies featuring thrilling peril, men and women of valor, and lots and lots of water. It's time to celebrate some Victory at Sea -- the Total Recall way!

The Battle of the River Plate

80%

Copious amounts of CGI definitely helped Peter Berg make it look like aliens were invading Earth in Battleship, but it doesn't take fancy computers to approximate the thundering chaos of naval warfare. Case in point: 1956's Battle of the River Plate (released in the U.S. as Pursuit of the Graf Spee), which earned bonus points for realism after directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger used actual American and British cruisers to relive the first naval battle of World War II. But more importantly, at least as far as most critics were concerned, the duo's screenplay presented the war as a conflict between actual human beings rather than a cartoonish collision of good guys and bad guys. "Though it's mostly a waiting game, the film is tense and involving, thanks to Powell's fluid shifting of the point of view," observed the Chicago Reader's Dave Kehr. "You root for the Germans as much as for the Allies."

The Bedford Incident

86%

A sort of Moby Dick for the nuclear age, The Bedford Incident offers a poignant (and, at the time, rather terrifying) meditation on the cost of war. Sidney Poitier stars as a reporter who boards an American destroyer as part of a profile on its captain (Richard Widmark), only to find himself an unwilling participant in his increasingly dangerous pursuit of a Soviet submarine that has been detected nearby. With an amped-up ending that diverged from the Mark Rascovich novel that inspired it, Bedford offered something to enjoy even for critics like the New York Times' Bosley Crowther, whose largely ambivalent review described the film as "a cinematic blooper" but admitted, "If you view it as straight, unchallenged fiction... you may find this austerely masculine picture of a maritime episode in the cold war a grimly absorbing speculation on how wrong one ship's captain might be."

The Caine Mutiny

92%

Featuring a fine late-period performance from Humphrey Bogart and fleshed out by a solid cast that included Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray, 1954's The Caine Mutiny adapted the Pulitzer-winning Herman Wouk novel that traced the deteriorating relationship between a hard-nosed Navy commander (Bogart) and his crew -- some of whom suspect him of being genuinely mentally unfit to safely lead the ship. While it contains its fair share of naval warfare, Caine's most important battles are fought with low-key performances instead of torpedos; as Film4 put it, "The drama is compulsive and the starry cast make the most of a mountain of words."

Mode: HLS Link

Das Boot

98%

Das foregone conclusion for this list, yes? Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 war epic is almost universally recognized as not only a classic naval drama, but one of the finer films of the 1980s as well as a towering classic of German cinema. Here in the States, Das Boot earned nearly $85 million (spread out over two theatrical runs spaced 16 years apart) and six Academy Award nominations -- not bad for a World War II movie with zero American stars and long stretches without battle action. "It is unlike any other war film in that it confines the audience in a confined submarine where we digest the fear and panic of the human beings on screen," enthused Cole Smithey. "In short, Das Boot is a religious experience."

Mode: HLS Link

The Final Countdown

40%

There have been any number of movies about Pearl Harbor, and quite a few films featuring modern-day nuclear wessels -- but the only one that's ever dared to combine the two of them is The Final Countdown, starring Kirk Douglas as the skipper of a supercarrier that somehow wanders through a time vortex and ends up traveling back in time from 1980 to 1941 -- one day before the attack at Pearl Harbor. It's an intriguingly silly premise, at the very least; sadly, audiences weren't terribly interested in seeing how it all played out, and critics, for the most part, weren't impressed. Calling the movie "utter nonsense," Vincent Canby of the New York Times allowed, "In defense of Don Taylor, the director, I must say I don't think there was any way in which he could have made sense out of the screenplay or could have directed the actors to speak this dialogue with conviction."

Mode: HLS Link

Comments

Steve Frank

Steve Frank

No Mr.Roberts?

May 16 - 04:53 PM

Patrick Mullen

Patrick Mullen

There's no battle in Mr. Roberts. Great movie though.

May 17 - 09:04 PM

Phillip Manske

Phillip Manske

Das Boot? Horatio Hornblower? And that Peter OToole in South America with the submarine. This Battleship film looks like an abomination.

May 16 - 05:01 PM

geneheitman

Gene Heitman

When I first heard about them making the movie Battleship I thought to myself 'Why' and I still can't come up with a good reason. Give me 'Horatio Hornblower' with Gregory Peck or 'The Enemy Below' with Robert Mitchum any time. The latter was so good it was made into a Star Trek (TOS) episode.

May 16 - 05:25 PM

Matt Moran

Matt Moran

NO BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN???????????

May 16 - 05:50 PM

Robert Mura

Robert Mura

No Crimson Tide?

May 16 - 05:55 PM

Steven Ohl

Steven Ohl

Yeah come on! That movie was awesome!

May 16 - 07:04 PM

Walt Campbell

Walt Campbell

The only battle was between the skipper and the XO. Great movie, just no sea battles.

May 18 - 12:21 PM

Matthew U.

Matthew Usedom

Umm... you forgot the cinematic masterpiece that is K19: The Widowmaker

May 16 - 05:59 PM

Sean D.

Sean D

Bonus points for using "nuclear wessels" :P

May 16 - 06:32 PM

Steven Ohl

Steven Ohl

Yeah come on! That movie was awesome!

May 16 - 07:04 PM

Walt Campbell

Walt Campbell

The only battle was between the skipper and the XO. Great movie, just no sea battles.

May 18 - 12:21 PM

Joe Connelly

Joe Connelly

No The Incredible Mr Limpet?

May 16 - 09:32 PM

Rev Perdue

Rev Perdue

Good point, the fish actually used naval warfare. I wish I was a fish.

May 17 - 11:12 AM

Mike Fleskes

Mike Fleskes

The Adventures of Tintin??? As I recall, best naval scene of all time.

May 16 - 11:36 PM

David Baker

David Baker

I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin vastly more than I enjoyed the Oscar darling Hugo.

May 17 - 02:41 AM

Bye bye

Steven Bailey

Why would you bring up Hugo?

May 17 - 04:44 PM

David Baker

David Baker

When I saw the photo and the title I thought there was another one of Patrick O'Brian's (Master and Commander) Jack Aubrey sea adventures being adapted into a film. What a disappointment.

May 17 - 02:40 AM

Gordon Barnett

Gordon Barnett

Ditto. Great series of novels and I thought a demm'd fine movie.

May 18 - 05:50 AM

David Baker

David Baker

I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin vastly more than I enjoyed the Oscar darling Hugo.

May 17 - 02:41 AM

Bye bye

Steven Bailey

Why would you bring up Hugo?

May 17 - 04:44 PM

Todd Beaton

Todd Beaton

I don't get why people liked "Master & Commander", that was a boring movie.

May 17 - 03:55 AM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Agreed.

May 17 - 05:22 AM

DodgeyDude

Roger Gregory

Totally agree. I will never get that time back. The cinematography was awesome, and the proudction design, but that was it. The story was boring as hell.

May 17 - 06:44 AM

Marilee Henneberger

Marilee Henneberger

I think Master and Commander was a masterpiece.

May 17 - 08:35 AM

Paul Atreides

Paul Atreides

I agree... and an unexpected masterpiece, at that (the title didn't really look very promising). It didn't bore me at all (quite the opposite), and I liked that it was a duel between just two ships and didn't have a broader focus. Good point by DarkHawke below... it WAS reminiscent of Star Trek in some ways--especially the episode where Kirk and the Enterprise duels against the Romulan commander and his cloaked ship. On another note, 'Operation Petticoat'?... really?!

May 18 - 09:10 AM

Will Truslow

Will Truslow

What I really hated about it was that the whole plot is them chasing this one vessel. It would've been cooler if they had broadened the focus of the movie.

May 17 - 09:14 AM

DarkHawke

Darth Hawke

Besides being a stunning and often harrowing look at the reality of naval combat in the early 19th century, I've yet to see a terrestrial movie that gave this Trekkie such a great feel of Star Trek as Master & Commander. Beyond the obvious translation of naval conventions to a ship of the stars, the relationship between Crowe and Bettany's characters perfectly mirrored the Kirk-McCoy dynamic, and really anchored (heh!) the picture. Hornblower had better combat scenes, but M & C really immerses the viewer in that world, as if one was reading the original books.

May 18 - 04:29 AM

Robert Berno

Robert Berno

I concur with the general sentiment. When seeing the Avengers on opening weekend with a group of friends, we all just shook our heads at just how hard the previews for Battleship were trying to get us to take the film seriously. One of my friends remarked that Liam Neeson must have lost a bet to have been roped into this turkey of a production.

May 17 - 04:33 AM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Pfft he obviously hasn't seen The Grey or either of the 'Titans' movies. Neeson will star in anything these days.

May 17 - 05:24 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

To that, I'd like to add The Haunting, Phantom Menace, K19, and the A-Team. Neeson has basically become a crap actor that occasionally stumbles into a good film.

May 17 - 06:03 AM

Jimmy G.

Jimmy Gee

Being a crap actor and being in the occasional crap movie are two different things. I would make the same argument about Johnny Depp. Both are truly great actors that bring an incredible presence to every movie they're in, even if the movie itself sucks. Granted, Battleship may be the rare exception to the rule! :) Still, Neeson is the man.

May 17 - 08:42 AM

Manuel G.

Manuel Granados

Neeson must owe a shitload of money to bookies or someone for him to basically accept to be in anything where there's a camera, even if it doesn't have a script or any other credible actors. He's a badass but he willingly gets into shitty films, like Nic Cage.

May 17 - 12:48 PM

Jak Ciri

Jak Ciri

Nic Cage actually is in a bunch of debt :D

The Grey wasn't bad, predictable but not bad. The point like has been said is that Liam always does a good job acting even if the movie is bad. I'd rather act in a bunch of fun silly movies than only pick and choose oscar gold.

May 20 - 11:54 AM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

No Down Periscope? C'mon Kelsey Grammer was awesome in that!

May 17 - 05:22 AM

April Moon

April Moon

Totally agree about Down Periscope. I'm not usually one for comedies, but I thought that movie was hilarious! According to everything I've read about since, I figured my dad & I were its only fans.

May 17 - 10:58 AM

Miles P.

Miles Patterson

Nope, count me and my wife too. I owned a video store for a long time and it was a very solid renter.

May 17 - 01:23 PM

Andrew Werling

Andrew Werling

Oh, man, Down Periscope embarrassed me to no end. I think I laughed one time.

Jun 15 - 12:24 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Agreed.

May 17 - 05:22 AM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Pfft he obviously hasn't seen The Grey or either of the 'Titans' movies. Neeson will star in anything these days.

May 17 - 05:24 AM

Brad H.

Brad Hadfield

To that, I'd like to add The Haunting, Phantom Menace, K19, and the A-Team. Neeson has basically become a crap actor that occasionally stumbles into a good film.

May 17 - 06:03 AM

Jimmy G.

Jimmy Gee

Being a crap actor and being in the occasional crap movie are two different things. I would make the same argument about Johnny Depp. Both are truly great actors that bring an incredible presence to every movie they're in, even if the movie itself sucks. Granted, Battleship may be the rare exception to the rule! :) Still, Neeson is the man.

May 17 - 08:42 AM

Manuel G.

Manuel Granados

Neeson must owe a shitload of money to bookies or someone for him to basically accept to be in anything where there's a camera, even if it doesn't have a script or any other credible actors. He's a badass but he willingly gets into shitty films, like Nic Cage.

May 17 - 12:48 PM

Jak Ciri

Jak Ciri

Nic Cage actually is in a bunch of debt :D

The Grey wasn't bad, predictable but not bad. The point like has been said is that Liam always does a good job acting even if the movie is bad. I'd rather act in a bunch of fun silly movies than only pick and choose oscar gold.

May 20 - 11:54 AM

What's Hot On RT

Critics Consensus
Critics Consensus

The Other Woman Short on Laughs

Total Recall
Total Recall

Cameron Diaz's 10 Best Movies

WonderCon
WonderCon

175 cosplay pictures

24 Frames
24 Frames

Experiments Gone Wrong!

Find us on:                 
Help | About | Jobs | Critics Submission | Press | API | Licensing | Mobile