Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington’s performances as two Naval officers fighting over whether to launch nuclear missiles and possibly begin a third World War in Crimson Tide were so powerful that it's almost easy to forget that James Gandolfini, Jason Robards, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Zahn were all in the film, too. Here are 17 other action-packed facts about the Tony Scott-directed film, which just turned 20 years old.
1. THE MOVIE WAS INSPIRED BY A DISCOVERY CHANNEL DOCUMENTARY.
2. QUENTIN TARANTINO WAS AN UNCREDITED WRITER.
Though Michael Schiffer earned the film's sole screenplay credit (based on a story by Schiffer and Richard P. Henrick), Tarantino contributed some words to the script as well. He wrote the scene in which members of the crew talked about their favorite submarine movies. Tarantino and Tony Scott had worked together two years earlier, when Scott directed Tarantino's script for True Romance.
3. DENZEL WASHINGTON CONFRONTED TARANTINO ON THE SET.
Washington was very open with his anger about Tarantino’s use of racial slurs. The Pulp Fiction writer-director’s request that they have their argument privately was reportedly denied by Denzel. In a 2012 interview with GQ, Washington said that he has since apologized to Tarantino, and pointed out that his own daughter had just acted in Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
4. ROBERT TOWNE WAS ANOTHER GHOSTWRITER.
The Oscar-winning Chinatown scribe’s work on Crimson Tide included the scene in the officers' mess where Hackman and Washington reveal their different philosophical views, foreshadowing their major disagreement that comes later on.
5. WARREN BEATTY AND AL PACINO WERE THE FIRST CHOICES TO PLAY CAPTAIN RAMSEY.
After many meetings with Simpson and Bruckheimer, the two producers moved on because Beatty took too long to commit to taking the part. Al Pacino was also a candidate to play the commander, but he also took too long to say yes. Hackman apparently agreed in a reasonable amount of time.
6. BRAD PITT WANTED DENZEL WASHINGTON’S ROLE.
He wanted to work with Al Pacino. Once Pacino’s name was no longer attached, Pitt lost interest in playing Hunter.
7. HANS ZIMMER ARGUED WITH JERRY BRUCKHEIMER AND TONY SCOTT OVER A SINGLE MUSIC CUE FOR A WEEK.
“We just sat there, we'd come in every day and we'd go at each other,” Zimmer told Film Score Monthly. It was apparently worth it, as the composer won a Grammy for the main theme.
8. THE NAVY AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC WERE DIVIDED ON THE MOVIE’S CENTRAL ISSUE.
When doing research for his script, Michael Schiffer found that every naval captain believed that he or she would launch missiles if they had their order to do so, even if a second order that followed was interrupted, like in the movie. But every non-military individual he spoke to said the opposite—“of course” they wouldn’t launch.
9. THE U.S. NAVY REFUSED TO ASSIST IN FILMING.
Their main objection was the mutiny written into the script. While the film’s technical adviser, Skip Beard U.S.N. (Retired), explained that there had never been a mutiny in the U.S. Navy, that might not actually be true.
10. TONY SCOTT WAS SURPRISED THAT HE DIDN’T GET OFFICIAL NAVAL ASSISTANCE.
11. THE CREW MANAGED TO FILM A NAVAL SUBMARINE SUBMERGING ANYWAY.
After a compensated civilian informed Scott that a sub was leaving Pearl Harbor, the director had boats and helicopters shoot the necessary exterior shots. Scott maintained that his actions were perfectly legal. By sheer coincidence, the submarine in question was the actual USS Alabama.
12. THE MOVIE TITLE IS A UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA REFERENCE.
The University of Alabama’s athletic teams are nicknamed the Crimson Tide. The school's legendary head football coach from 1958 to 1982 was Paul “Bear” Bryant; Bear is the name of Captain Ramsey’s dog.
13. IT WAS RYAN PHILLIPPE’S FIRST MOVIE.
14. HACKMAN ACCIDENTALLY PUNCHED WASHINGTON.
Though Hackman insisted to Larry King that it was an accident, he said it made things tense.
15. THE BOXING MONTAGE WAS WASHINGTON’S IDEA.
The actor wanted to get the most out of the boxing he was doing before shooting. Four years later, in 1999, he played boxer Rubin Carter in Norman Jewison's The Hurricane.
16. THE BRIDGE FOR THE USS ALABAMA MIGHT LOOK FAMILIAR.
It’s also the bridge for the USS Georgia in Independence Day.
17. BOTH HACKMAN AND WASHINGTON WERE WRONG ABOUT THE LIPIZZANER STALLIONS.
Ramsey claimed they are Portuguese, and Hunter believed them to be Spanish, when in fact they’re Slovenian. Hunter however got it right when he objected to Ramsey’s claim that they are born white; Lipizzans are born a dark color and gradually turn white between the ages of six and 10 years old.