To help the audience quickly grasp which sub's interior they were seeing as the movie jumped from scene to scene and sub to sub, the filmmakers created a subtle lighting scheme: blue for Red October, green for the Alfa class "V.K. Konovalov" and red for Dallas.
The film starts out in Russian, then switches to English, in an early scene, as the political officer reads a passage from a book, which contains a quote from Robert Oppenheimer. The switch occurs on the word "Armageddon", which is the same in both languages, but pronounced differently.
During filming, several of the actors portraying U.S.S. Dallas crewmen, took a cruise on a real submarine. To train for his role as the Dallas' commander, Scott Glenn was installed as a "co-commander" of the real sub. The real Commander ordered his crew to first give report to him, then give the same report to Glenn. Glenn was so impressed with the Commander, he basically played that man in the film. Always giving orders in a calm quiet voice, even in tense situations.
After the release of Tom Clancy's novel 'Red October', some members of Congress contacted the CIA, demanding to know why the Russians had invented a caterpillar drive, before the U.S. Navy did. Although a result of good research, the caterpillar drive is pure fiction.
After being faxed the script, Sean Connery initially turned the role down on the basis of the plot being unrealistic for the post-Cold War era. Whoever sent the fax, neglected to include the foreword, explaining the movie as historical; once he received the foreword, Connery accepted the role.
The scene where Jack Ryan was lowered onto the U.S.S. Dallas, was filmed in the parking lot of the Mole Pier at Long Beach Naval Station on a beautiful sunny day. Editing made it look like it was the ocean.
The underwater model of the Red October has never been in the water. This effect was achieved using smoke on the 'underwater' set and a few digital touch-ups. The sub was hung by twelve wires, from an overhead grid, which gave the ability to tilt and turn the model as needed.
Two of the submarine captains in this film have actual Navy experience. Sean Connery was in the Royal Navy before becoming an actor. Scott Glenn spent three years in the United States Marine Corps, which falls under the Department of the Navy.
It is a manly film: Gates McFadden with Louise Borras (as Jack Ryan's wife and daughter) and Denise E. James as a flight attendant, have the only credited female speaking roles, and all of their dialogue scenes are over, before the end of the opening credits. There is an uncredited female engineer speaking in the background at Skip Tyler's dry-dock, and another (non-speaking) flight attendant appears at the end, but apart from that, there are no other women in the film.
After consulting with the wardrobe and make-up departments behind John McTiernan's back, Sean Connery arrived on set for his first day of shoots, with his hairpiece incorporating a ponytail. Many years later, once Connery's potential influence had greatly waned, McTiernan stated in an interview with Sight & Sound magazine that he was "f---ing livid" with Connery, and that the Scottish actor tried to use his considerable heft with the studio, going over the director's head to pass the alteration with producers. It seemed as though Connery was to get his way, until midway through the second day's shooting, when Director of Photography Jan De Bont started laughing while reviewing the dailies, remarking to Connery that his ponytail looked like "a limp, swinging d--k." This soon became a meme among the crew, and by the end of the second day, Connery was so upset at the mockery, he relented, having makeup remove the alteration and forcing the re-shoot of a key scene. McTiernan joked that the reported cost of the hairpiece, approximately 20,000 dollars, was mainly down to the cost of those subsequent re-shoots, and that the hair seen in the final movie, was merely "a ten dollar bargain from a thrift shop."
Sean Connery's conversation with Sam Neill in the Captain's quarters of the Red October, has a similar feel as the conversation between Mr. Starbuck and Captain Ahab, from Chapter 132 ("The Symphony") of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Ahab and Ramius both spent forty years at sea, and share the line "I widowed her the day I married her", concerning their wives.
Navy recruiters set up booths in some theater lobbies for people to sign up to join the service, or to at least look into it. The Pentagon hoped that the film would do for the submarine service what Top Gun (1986) did for naval aviation.
The U.S. Naval Institute, a private nonprofit professional military association, located on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has been publishing books and magazines related to naval strategy and maritime history since 1874. A copy of the Naval Institutes's monthly magazine 'Proceedings' is seen in Ryan's London apartment. In 1984, the USNI published a work of fiction, for the first time in its history, Tom Clancy's novel 'The Hunt for Red October.'
The fighter crashing into the flight deck was stock footage of a F9F Panther test flight in 1951. This particular aircraft was piloted by official test pilot George Chamberlain Duncan (1917-1995). Duncan survived the crash with minor burns, and after a few months, he was back flying again.
For the purposes of filming the underwater model of the Red October, only the left side of the sub was detailed to appear as an authentic submarine. The effect of showing the right side of the boat was achieved by simply turning the frame and reversing the image.
The Hunt for Red October (1990) was released in March 1990, just as Major League Baseball was entering spring training. Lou Piniella and the rest of the Cincinnati Reds used this movie all season for motivation and swept the Oakland A's in the World Series that October.
John McTiernan replaced his original Editor, Peter Zinner, because Zinner found McTiernan's shooting approach difficult to work with, given his classical, more traditional film background. However, Zinner has a bit part in the film as a Soviet Admiral.
There was actually a fire aboard the flight deck of the real U.S.S. Enterprise. It occurred on January 14, 1969. The Enterprise was undergoing ORI (Operational Readiness Inspections), prior to going to Vietnam. The fire took the lives of 23 men.
Several employees that designed and built submarines from the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (now known as Northrop/Grumman Newport News) were Set Design Advisors for the submarine interiors on the Dallas and Red October. Some of the interiors actually contain real submarine items - mostly things like hatches, lights, et cetera, to add realism.
A U.S. Navy yard oiler was used to escort the sub at the beginning of the movie. It was in Long Beach, California, and the Red October was built to look like it submerged by using two articulated barges and flooding the front one while being towed.
Filming started in 1989, with the Cold War still in progress, but when it was released in 1990, the Soviet government announced that the Communist Party was no longer was in charge of everything. Producers found this obstacle irrelevant, and went on with the release, but using a disclaimer, telling that the story takes place in 1984 (same year Tom Clancy's novel was published) during the Cold War.
Two torpedoes are dropped from the air at the Red October. One from a Bear-Foxtrot bomber, and the other from a Seahawk helicopter. There was only one actual torpedo drop which was incorrectly reported here as: "filmed from two different angles for the attacks". By watching carefully, the two sequences, played at the same time, it can be easily seen that the splash pattern around the torpedo of the second sequence is just the mirror image of the first sequence.
John McTiernan was unable to direct Die Hard 2 (1990), due to schedule conflicts with filming Red October, but returned to the franchise to direct Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995). The motto of the U.S.S. Reuben James (FFG-57) which appears and is mentioned by name is "Back With A Vengeance".
During filming in 1989, the U.S.S. Houston, which doubled for the U.S.S. Dallas in the movie, snagged the tow cable between the commercial tugboat Barcona and a barge, sinking the tugboat ten miles off Long Beach, California. One crewman drowned, and two more were rescued.
Jack Ryan mentions that he wrote a book about Admiral William F. Halsey. This is appropriate, as Ryan is also a Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, as shown in Patriot Games (1992).
The frigate shown when the Red October surfaces is not the real U.S.S. Reuben James, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate with hull number 57. U.S.S. Gary, hull number 51, portrayed Reuben James and also provided some of the engine room shots of Red October. The crew also participated on some scenes.
Factual errors: The Typhoon is a NATO designated name, so the Russians are unlikely to use it. The Russian name for the class is "Akula class". This is not to be confused with name "Akula class" that the NATO used to designate the Russian Project 971 Shchuka-B class attack submarine.
In the scene with the frigate "Ruben James", a second frigate was used during the filming. The U.S.S. Wadsworth FFG-9 was also used to depict the Ruben James. The Wadsworth's hull number 9 is clearly visible in a couple of scenes.
When the U.S.S. Dallas first detects the Red October, sonar man Jones reports: "I'd say we had a boomer coming out of the barn. Could be a missile boat out of Polyarny." Both sentences are equivalent. The second sentence sounds different, obviously added later in case the audience did not understand the references to 'boomer' and 'barn'.
Jack Ryan's line, "I'm not an Agent, I just write books!" is an homage to Three Days of the Condor (1975), where Robert Redford's character CIA employee Joe Turner (Condor) says, "I'm not a field agent, I just read books!"
Gates McFadden is best known for her Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) role as a doctor aboard the fictional starship U.S.S. Enterprise. In this movie, she plays a doctor, whose husband is sent to the real U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise.
Lieutenant Commander Mike Hewitt" is the torpedo operator on the surface ship, who calls out the range of the torpedo fired on the Red October, only for it to be remotely detonated by James Greer (James Earl Jones) just prior to impact. He is not referred to by name in the movie, but his character and the actor's name is listed in the credits. "Mike Hewitt" is a real person, although at the time of filming, he was Captain (now retired - he was Captain of the U.S.S. Fulton, a "sub-tender" ship stationed at the Naval Base in Groton, Connecticut). He was a technical advisor on the film, and they gave his name to the character, as thank you.
While under attack from the other Russian sub, Ramius asks Ryan which books he has written. Ryan describes one book about Admiral Halsey, to which Ramius replies "I know this book. Your conclusions were all wrong, Ryan. Halsey acted stupidly." No further explanation is given, but they are referring to the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. The US was about to invade the Phillipines and knew the Japanese Navy would counterattack, but didn't know where. Halsey's fleet was supposed to guard the northern approaches to the invasion beaches. The Japanese Navy sent a small fleet of their ships in one direction as a decoy. Halsey took the bait and sent his entire fleet after it but without informing the rest of the US Navy of what he was up to, leaving the north completely unguarded. (This action is what Ramius refers to when he says "Halsey acted stupidly.") The rest of the Japanese Navy was able to slip through unscathed and undetected. If not for the valiant action of destroyers and escort carriers, the Japanese fleet could have devastated the US invasion fleet.
Thankfully the movie changed the "hiding location" of Red October from where the book had it. In the book they take Red October into Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina. Ocracoke Inlet and Pamlico Sound beyond are nowhere near deep enough for a sub. Some parts of the Inlet a hardly 10 feet deep.