Hunter Killer – A classic submarine thriller

The authenticity of Hunter Killer started with its source material: the novel “Firing Point,” written by George Wallace, the highly experienced, retired commander of the nuclear attack submarine the USS Houston, along with the award-winning journalist and best-selling author Don Keith.

The film takes the classic submarine thriller—with all its nail-biting tension, claustrophobia, physical and psychological pressure—into the post-Cold War era when flash coups and counter-reactions can alter the balance of world power overnight.

Deep under the Arctic Ocean, American submarine Captain Joe Glass (Gerard Butler, Olympus Has
Fallen , 300 ) is on the hunt for a U.S. sub in distress when he discovers a secret Russian coup is in the offing, threatening to dismantle the world order. With crew and country on the line, Captain Glass must now assemble an elite group of Navy SEALs to rescue the kidnapped Russian president and sneak through enemy waters to stop WWIII.

As the steely Captain Glass comes face-to-face with his stoic Russian counterpart, Captain Andropov (Michael Nyqvist), it becomes clear that the wary, distrustful bond between them may be all that stands between the world and nuclear catastrophe.

The cinematic appeal of the book was so strong that chatter about a film adaption began.

The book’s action-packed plot, based on Wallace’s extensive knowledge, twisted and turned through a Russian nationalist coup, a Black Ops Navy SEAL mission and an attack submarine captain faced with decisions that could halt—or instantly ignite— WWIII. Complex as it was, the story was so teeth-grittingly plausible it kept readers up late at night. Even more than the thrills, readers were transported into life on a nuclear sub, immersed into the cramped, sundeprived, nerve-shredding ambience where steadiness and honor are the only bedrock to be found.

The cinematic appeal of the book was so strong that chatter about a film adaption began. For more than a century, filmmakers have been drawn to the deepest deep.

Indeed, the submarine movie has been a popular genre since the earliest days of commercial motion pictures.

From the silent Secret of the Submarine in 1915 to a flood of nerve-wracking WWII sub movies to the groundbreakingly visceral German film Das Boot to the blockbuster adaptations of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt For Red Octob er and Crimson Tide in the 1990s, the tightly contained space inside a sub full of soldiers facing extremes of confinement, anxiety and danger has been rife with the stuff of drama.

But in the wake of vast changes in submarine technology—and in the world—in the new millennium, no film had yet submersed itself into life on a 21st Century naval submarine.

Arne Schmidt is an assistant director and producer, known for Chain Reaction (1996), RoboCop (1987) and xXx (2002).

This changed when screenwriters Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss adapted “Firing Point” into Hunter Killer . Compressing the 700-plus-page novel into a taut exploration of the battle to stop a war both on land and below the water.

Comments producer Toby Jaffe, “I love any movie that transports you into a world you don’t really know— and Hunter Killer really does that. We approached it as both a highly entertaining dramatic thriller and an opportunity to take the audience into the world of submarine culture in a way that is authentic and contemporary to our times. Our focus from the start was on making the film as true to life, timely and of the-moment as we could.”

Jamie Moss is an actor and writer, known for Ghost in the Shell (2017), Street Kings (2008) and Last Man Home.

Everyone involved was drawn to the exhilarating idea of merging what would usually be three different kinds of thrillers—an edge-of-your-seat submarine thriller; a hazard-filled SEALs expedition into enemy territory; and a clashing of the minds in a military War Room—into one portrait of a world hurtling towards war.

Taking Command

Donovan Marsh

To make that mix come alive on the screen in a very 2018 way, the producers went in search of a young director with a fresh POV. They found what they were looking for in an unlikely place: South Africa, where Donovan Marsh had just come to the fore with his stylish, award-winning crime drama iNumber, Number. “We were very excited to find a young filmmaker who was ready and excited to bring a different sensibility to the submarine thriller,” says Jaffe.

Marsh’s furiously paced, hyperkinetic style seemed to lend itself to breaking open the closed-in spaces of a submarine.

As hoped for, the script grabbed Marsh’s attention and sparked a driving passion. “I felt it was the best military thriller I’d ever read,” he recalls.

“The essence of any great thriller is that you can’t predict what’s going to happen next, and as I read this script, I was genuinely on edge all the way. Plus it had such great, tough characters facing huge dilemmas that are too real.” In line with the producers, Marsh immediately envisioned going to whatever lengths he could to create an authentically 21st Century submarine immersion for audiences. “I wanted the interior of our submarine to look precisely like a real nuclear submarine. I wanted everything on our sets to be so real that a submariner wouldn’t know the difference,” explains Marsh. “And I wanted people to talk in the way they talk aboard submarines—because even though the audience might now know exactly what that terminology is, they know when the dialogue and atmosphere has that crack of realness.”

The filmmakers all knew that the authenticity could only really be set in motion with the support and involvement of the U.S. Navy and Department of Defense. Driven by deep respect for the real men and women who defend the oceans in near invisibility, the filmmakers secured an early agreement to partner with the U.S. Navy in nearly every aspect of the production. “Early on, we approached the Department of Defense and the Navy to ask for their help,” explains Jaffe. “We were very grateful to be given so much, including the chance to spend time on working submarines and to have Navy technical advisors on set at all times assuring we could recreate the latest submarines down to the knobs and dials and get all the little details right, down to the lingo and commands.”

Featuring an all-star cast led by Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman and Common, the film’s action moves from deep sea to land and back again. But most of all, Hunter Killer , authentically captures the 21st Century world of the so-called “silent service,” the men and women who serve by patrolling the deep, while their boldest exploits often go unheard and unseen.

Says Butler: “When I first read this script a few years ago, I loved it immediately. It’s a classic story with a heck of a lot of great action, a heck of an intricate plot and a whole cast of fantastic characters who are heroes from different walks of life. It felt like an exciting way to revive the submarine thriller for these times. And right now, this story couldn’t feel more relevant.”

Summarizes director Donovan Marsh, “ Hunter Killer is about a fictional event—but it could easily occur in today’s world. There have been many recent news articles about how Russian and American submarines are chasing each other under water in dangerous ways. Yet, because it’s happening under the ocean, the public never knows what’s going on. That’s how our movie begins: with two submarines ghosting each other through the ocean … resulting in an incident that quickly escalates to the brink of war. I think audiences will be thrilled, they’ll be moved and they’ll have a good deal of fun, all while watching a story highly significant to what’s happening in 2018.”