Das Boot (German pronunciation: [das ˈboːt], “The Boat”) is a 1981 German epic war film written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen, produced by Günter Rohrbach, and starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann. It has been exhibited both as a theatrical release and as a TV miniseries, and in several different home video versions of various running times.
Das Boot is an adaption of the 1973 German novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Set during World War II, the film tells the fictional story of U-96 and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt and shows the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The screenplay used an amalgamation of exploits from the real U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, one of Germany’s top U-boat “tonnage aces” during the war.
Development for Das Boot began in 1979. Several American directors were considered three years earlier before the film was shelved. During the film’s production, Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the captain of the real U-96, and Hans-Joachim Krug, a former first officer on U-219, served as consultants. One of Petersen’s goals was to guide the audience through “a journey to the edge of the mind” (the film’s German tagline Eine Reise ans Ende des Verstandes), showing “what war is all about”.
Produced with a budget of 32 million DM (about $18.5 million), the film was released on September 17, 1981, and was later released in 1997 in a director’s cut version supervised by Petersen. It grossed over $80 million ($190.2 million in 2009 prices) worldwide between its theatrical releases and received critical acclaim. Its high production cost ranks it among the most expensive films in the history of German cinema. It was the second most expensive up until that time, after Metropolis.
The film drew highest critical acclaim and is seen as one of the greatest of all German films, along with Nosferatu by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Metropolis and M by Fritz Lang, The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich, Downfall by Oliver Hirschbiegel and The Lives of Others by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. For its (so far) unsurpassed authenticity in tension and realism, it is regarded internationally as pre-eminent among all submarine films. The film was ranked #25 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010.
In late 2007, there was an exhibition about the film Das Boot, as well as about the real U-Boat U-96, at the Haus der Geschichte (House of German History) in Bonn. Over 100,000 people visited the exhibition during its four-month run.