A superbly tense submarine thriller that hit our cinema screens 30 years ago, The Hunt for Red October was the very first time we saw Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan feature in a Hollywood blockbuster.
Alec Baldwin stars as the aforementioned Ryan, a CIA analyst and former Marine, but the real star of the show is Sean Connery as Marko Ramius, Soviet captain of Red October, a nuclear submarine fitted with brand new state of the art stealth technology. Below are 20 things that you probably didn’t know about the 1990 espionage masterpiece.
20. Sean Connery replaced another actor two weeks into filming
One question that has often been asked of The Hunt for Red October is why Sean Connery, Scotland’s most famous actor, would wind up playing a Russian. In fact, Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, an Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for his performance in 1985’s Out of Africa, was initially cast as Ramius.
However, two weeks into filming Brandauer quit the film to honour a prior commitment to the European film La Révolution Française. Connery was subsequently cast at very short notice – and given a mere day of rehearsal time before he had to start shooting scenes.
19. The filmmakers worried the film was dated upon release due to the end of the Cold War
The Hunt for Red October hit US cinemas on the 2nd of March 1990. Tom Clancy’s original novel had first been published six years earlier, at which point the Cold War was still raging. However, by the time the film reached screens, the Cold War was essentially over, as the dissolution of the Soviet Union was in progress, and the Berlin Wall had fallen the year prior.
This change in international politics was part of why The Hunt for Red October took some time to get made: there were concerns it was already behind the times. Connery came close to turning the film down, fearing it was outdated. However, as Connery explained in a 1990 newspaper report, “It turned out that the studio had failed to fax the first page of the script, which explained that it took place before [former Soviet President] Gorbachev.”
18. Most studios turned the film down for being too complicated
Even though Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel was a best-seller, The Hunt for Red October didn’t enjoy the smoothest journey to the big screen. Producer Mace Neufeld optioned the film rights to Clancy’s novel in 1985, seeing the cinematic potential of the material. However, Neufeld quickly found that there weren’t many others in the film industry who shared his enthusiasm.
“I read some of the reports from the studios,” Neufeld was quoted as saying, “and [they said] the story was too complicated to understand.” Eventually, however, after a year and a half of trying, an executive at Paramount Pictures agreed to take on the project. Neufeld then hired screenwriters Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart to adapt Clancy’s 387-page novel into a screenplay.
17. Navy admirals hoped it would be their version of Top Gun
Producer Mace Neufeld had to approach the US Navy for approval before production could begin on The Hunt for Red October. There were concerns from some in the Navy regarding the subject matter of the film. The realistic nature of Tom Clancy’s novel meant that they were initially concerned the film would reveal details about top-secret technology.
However, a number of admirals within the Navy were already big fans of the novel. They saw the potential benefits of the movie, hoping it could do for submarines what Top Gun did for fighter jets. Famously, director Tony Scott’s 1986 airborne blockbuster resulted in a 500% increase in applications to the US Naval Aviator division.
16. Director John McTiernan had to turn down Die Hard 2 to make the film
The shots were called on The Hunt for Red October by one of the hottest directors in Hollywood at the time, John McTiernan. It was the fourth film directed by the American filmmaker, who rose to fame with his second feature-length movie, 1987’s Predator. However, McTiernan really became a big name off the back of the 1988 Bruce Willis action classic Die Hard.
After the success of that action hit, McTiernan was naturally offered the director’s chair on the sequel Die Hard 2: Die Harder. However, McTiernan was forced to pass on Bruce Willis’ second movie as John McClane as he had already committed to The Hunt for Red October. Instead, Renny Harlin directed Die Hard 2, and McTiernan would eventually return to the franchise on 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance.
15. Sean Connery shot his first scenes wearing a ponytail wig
By 1990, Sean Connery had long since admitted to the world at large that he was bald, but he still tended to wear wigs on screen. On the set of The Hunt for Red October, however, the screen legend’s hairpiece proved to be a serious point of contention. Connery originally arranged his hair and make-up independently of director John McTiernan, and the wig he picked out had a small ponytail attached.
McTiernan was not at all pleased, as a ponytail was clearly out of character for a Russian submarine commander, but also because the wig itself looked dreadful. In fact, director of photography Jan De Bont allegedly told Connery the little ponytail resembled a “limp, swinging d**k.” Initially, they started shooting with the ponytail wig, but after being widely mocked by the crew, Connery conceded he’d made the wrong choice, and his first two days’ worth of scenes had to be re-shot.
14. That isn’t a real Christopher Columbus quote at the end
In the final moments of The Hunt for Red October, Ramius poetically reflects, “And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.” According to Connery’s character, this is a direct quote from Christopher Columbus. However, in reality, the legendary explorer who discovered America never said any such thing.
Director John McTiernan confirms in the film’s DVD commentary that this poem was made up specifically for the movie. It wasn’t Christopher Columbus who composed those words, but The Hunt for Red October screenwriter Larry Ferguson.
13. 500 different sonar ping sound effects were created before the film’s director was happy
It’s often surprising just how much time and effort can go into what may seem like a minor detail in a movie. In the case of The Hunt for Red October, a huge amount of work was put into finding the right sound for the pings of the submarine’s sonar. Many of the submarine sound effects were recorded from real sources, but the sonar ping was created using electronics.
The film’s sound designer, Frank Sarafine, revealed that his team created about 500 different submarine sonar pings before the film’s director, John McTiernan, was happy. This long, drawn-out process involved a wide variety of electronic instruments, different forms of amplification, and even running the sound through an underwater speaker in a swimming pool.
12. They filmed on studio sets instead of real submarines
The US Navy gave their full support to The Hunt for Red October and allowed the filmmakers to make use of real submarines. To this end, the crew shot footage of the USS Houston as a double for the USS Dallas on the exterior shots. However, when it came to shooting interior submarine scenes, shooting inside those infamously claustrophobic vehicles was deemed impractical.
As a result, all the interior scenes were shot on specially built sets, designed to be as accurate as possible. To increase that accuracy, the sets were built on top of special hydraulic gimbals to mimic underwater movements, which Sean Connery says made him feel seasick.
11. There are only three speaking parts for women in the entire movie
Nowadays we hear a lot of calls for greater female representation in film – and The Hunt for Red October doesn’t hold up too well on that front. It’s such a predominantly male movie that it has a grand total of three female speaking parts. The most prominent of these is Gates McFadden, who co-stars as Cathy Ryan, wife of Alec Baldwin’s Jack.
McFadden took the role shortly after being fired from TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation (for which she was later re-hired), and reportedly most of the scenes she shot were left on the cutting room floor.
10. Many of the cast had served in the military before they became actors
It’s not unheard of for Hollywood movies that centre the Armed Forces to feature actors who had previously served. However, in the case of The Hunt for Red October, a striking number of cast members were military veterans. Firstly, leading man Sean Connery himself served in the Royal Navy from 1946 to 1949, before becoming a bodybuilder and ultimately an actor.
In addition, co-star James Earl Jones had previously served in the US Army just after the Korean War. Likewise, Scott Glenn (best known for his supporting role in The Silence of the Lambs) was a former US Marine. On top of this, many of the film’s extras were real-life submariners, largely because they were cheaper to hire than actors.
9. Russian characters switch from speaking Russian to English and then back again
The Hunt for Red October makes an interesting creative choice regarding the prominence of its Russian characters. It was felt that shooting the Russian scenes entirely in that language and using subtitles would prove off-putting to audiences. Shooting in Russian would also have proved impractical given most of the actors were not actually Russian.
As a compromise between realism and accessibility, the filmmakers decided that Russian characters would begin by speaking in Russian with subtitles, and then switch to speaking in English. If you notice, this change happens when actor Peter Firth switches languages mid-sentence after saying “Armageddon,” a word that is the same in both Russian and English.
8. Kevin Costner was the first choice to play Jack Ryan
The Hunt for Red October features the celebrated screen stars Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in the lead roles. However, this wasn’t always going to be the case, as neither actor was the first choice for their roles. Before Baldwin was cast as Tom Clancy’s All-American hero Jack Ryan, Kevin Costner was offered the part.
However, Costner declined the offer as he was poised to direct and star in Dances with Wolves. After Costner said no, the filmmakers reportedly pursued Harrison Ford, who also turned it down, clearing the way for Baldwin. Ford would later play Ryan in sequels Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, whilst Costner would take a supporting role in 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
7. It’s based on Tom Clancy’s very first novel
Since the 80s, Tom Clancy has been one of the biggest names in popular fiction. The Maryland-born author, who passed away in 2013, has sold over 100 million books worldwide. It all began with The Hunt for Red October, which was the first of 19 novels written or co-written by Clancy.
The Cold War submarine thriller, which introduced Clancy’s recurring hero Jack Ryan, was originally published in 1984. It was only fitting, then, that this first novel of Clancy’s should be the first to be adapted to film six years later. Sales of the novel were given a massive boost when Ronald Reagan, the US president at the time, revealed he was a big fan of it.
6. Celebrated screenwriter John Milius did uncredited work on the screenplay
While the credited screenwriters of The Hunt for Red October are Larry Ferguson and Donald E Stewart, it’s routine in Hollywood for ‘script doctors’ to make uncredited contributions to the screenplay. In the case of The Hunt for Red October, some notable contributions were made by one of the most noted screenwriters of the last 50 years: John Milius. Milius is best known for writing Apocalypse Now, as well as co-writing and directing 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and 1984’s Red Dawn.
As a script doctor, he did uncredited work on the screenplays for Jaws (writing the celebrated USS Indianapolis speech) and the Dirty Harry movies (most famously Sudden Impact’s “make my day” scene). A noted military expert, Milius’ contributions to The Hunt for Red October include all of the Russian dialogue and a number of speeches for Sean Connery’s Ramius.
5. James Earl Jones was only the actor to return in the later Jack Ryan movies
The Hunt for Red October co-stars James Earl Jones as Admiral James Greer, Deputy Director of the CIA. The famously deep-voiced actor, best known for voicing Star Wars‘ Darth Vader and The Lion King‘s Mufasa, provides a commanding presence as the superior and mentor of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan. Jones left such a mark on the role that he proved to be the only actor in The Hunt for Red October to come back in the sequels.
Both Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger feature Jones alongside Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan. The character of Greer did not appear in the subsequent two Jack Ryan films: The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. However, Greer has more recently been portrayed by Wendell Pierce in the TV series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.
4. Sean Connery’s co-star Sam Neill almost played James Bond too
There are a number of James Bond connections on The Hunt for Red October, aside from the fact that it’s set in the world of espionage. For one, as mentioned earlier, Connery took the role of Marko Ramius when his Never Say Never Again co-star Klaus Maria Brandauer dropped out. In addition, Captain Borodin actor Sam Neill came very close to playing the same role that made Connery a superstar: James Bond himself.
Neill, who was born in Northern Ireland but raised in New Zealand, had been a serious contender to take over as 007 when Roger Moore retired from the role in 1985. Although the Bond producers were very impressed with Neill’s screen test, they decided he didn’t quite have the X-factor they were looking for. Ultimately, Timothy Dalton took over as the fourth James Bond actor in 1987’s The Living Daylights.
3. It was nominated for three Academy Awards and won one
Did you know that The Hunt for Red October won an Oscar at the 63rd Academy Awards? As is often the case with more mainstream thrillers of its ilk, the Academy Awards listed the film in three key technical categories, only one of which it took home. The film was given the gong for Best Sound Effects Editing, the award going to engineers Cecelia Hall and George Watters II.
Hall had been the first woman to ever receive an Oscar nomination in this category for 1986’s Top Gun, and here she became the first woman to win the award. In the Best Sound Mixing category, it lost out to the big movie of the night, Dances with Wolves. Dances with Wolves also beat The Hunt for Red October in the other category it was nominated in: Best Film Editing.
2. It was the first of five films to feature Jack Ryan
The Hunt for Red October was the first of five Paramount Pictures films to feature author Tom Clancy’s CIA agent hero Jack Ryan. The first sequel came in the form of 1992’s Patriot Games, which saw Harrison Ford take over as Jack Ryan. Ford then became the first (and, to date, only) actor to play Ryan a second time on the big screen in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger.
Jack Ryan was then absent from screens for eight years until Ben Affleck took over in 2002’s soft reboot The Sum of All Fears. 12 years after that, Chris Pine (Star Trek, Wonder Woman) took the title role in 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Finally, in 2018 John Krasinski took over for the Amazon Prime series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.
1. Alec Baldwin nearly played Jack Ryan in two sequels – but was replaced by Harrison Ford
One key question that often comes up regarding the Jack Ryan movies is why Alec Baldwin didn’t return to play the role a second time. Reports vary as to quite why Baldwin didn’t reprise the role once Paramount decided to build a franchise around the character. Baldwin was in negotiations to play Ryan again in Patriot Games, but he had committed to a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire which clashed with the shoot.
According to some reports, Baldwin turned down Patriot Games in order to honour his commitment to the stage play. However, others state that Paramount jumped at the chance to hire the more famous Harrison Ford once he showed interest in the role.