Hollywood does its best to try and capture the essence of what it means to be in the military and transcribes it for a civilian audience in ninety-minute chunks. Sometimes, they fall flat on their face. But, on occasion, there are outstanding moments when they knock it out of the park. Most big-budget military films often put the focus on the Army or the Marines, leaving Navy films on the sidelines. When sailors do get an opportunity to shine on the silver screen, the glory often goes to the SEALs — or it's Top Gun. But everyone's already seen Top Gun and most sailors would roll their eyes if we mentioned it in this list.
As was the case with many of the great war films set in the 1990s after the collapse of Soviet Union, Crimson Tide is a Navy film that showcases the "what-if" of the Russian Federation squaring off against the United States in another Bay of Pigs incident.
Denzel Washington stars as the mild-tempered XO to Gene Hackman's temperamental Captain. The two are at odds with one another on how to prevent World War Three. Fun Fact: Though uncredited, Quentin Tarantino wrote much of the pop-culturey dialogue.
Master and Commander
Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this film is heavily focused on what it means to complete the mission and the importance of safeguarding the welfare of the troops underneath. Russell Crowe's crew aboard the HMS Surprise are locked in seemingly eternal combat with French privateers.
It was nominated for ten Academy Awards the year it came out, including Best Picture and Best Director, but would lose all but two (Cinematography and Sound Editing) to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Annapolis is an indie drama that follows Jake Huard (played by James Franco) as he attends the Naval Academy. It's the story of a poor nobody trying to make it as one of the elite. It kind of toes the line between being a Marine film and a Navy film because it's never made clear which route he'll take, but it's still steeped in Navy traditions.
It tanked at the box office, but eventually found its footing with a home release. The fact that it shows pledges getting hazed upset the Department of the Navy so bad that they called for its boycott. It's still a great film, in my opinion.
This 1945 musical came out right before the Japanese signed the surrender and put an end to the Second World War. The film follows Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as two sailors on liberty in golden-age Hollywood. In this musical comedy, the sailors come across a lost, innocent kid who wants to one day join the Navy himself. Then, the sailors proceed to hit on his aunt.
It's nice to see that nothing's changed in the way sailors think since then.
Still one of the best military comedies is Down Periscope. It stars Kelsey Grammer, who plays one of the worst commanders in the Navy and who's given an even worse crew of submariners who all manage to fail upwards.
It's packed full of 90s comedians in their prime. It also stars William H. Macy, Rob Schneider, and even a young Patton Oswald.
The Hunt for Red October
What else can be said about The Hunt for Red October? It's a cinematic masterpiece. If you haven't seen this one yet, you should honestly clear your evening schedule and watch it today.
Set during the conclusion of the Cold War, Sean Connery plays a Soviet submarine captain and Alec Baldwin is a CIA analyst. Both struggle to find peace while their respective forces do everything in their powers to avoid it. Technically, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, and Shadow Recruit are all sequels to this masterpiece, but none come close.
If you can think of any that we missed (and there are a lot), feel free to let us know! We'd love to hear it.