The Alternate Universe of ‘Das Boot’

HOLLYWOOD—We’re not too far away from the 40th anniversary of the release of Das Boot – which, in German, translates to “The Boat.” Heck, at this rate, the next time we get to set foot in a movie theater would be in 2021 – which happens to be the 40th anniversary year of one of Hollywood’s classic films.

Das Boot, which released in September 1981, is a West German war film – yes, West German, it was produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after all, when the United States and Soviet Union were actively butting heads against each other during the Cold War.

This film, however, was about a different war: World War II. Wolfgang Petersen directed this film about the use of German U-boats. Jürgen Prochnow played the lead role, a U-boat captain, but did you know two household Hollywood names were up to star in the film in some capacity?

The cinematic production of Das Boot, which was based on the book of the same name, went through several iterations before filming started in 1979. One iteration of the film reportedly had Robert Redford in the lead role. Another attempt to bring the war novel to the silver screen would have placed Paul Newman as the U-boat captain.

Neither actor would end up starring in the film, obviously, with Prochnow landing the role of U-boat captain in the production that eventually took off.

Das Boot, separately, remains one of the most expensive German films ever made. A website monitoring film budgets and box office revenues – – stated Das Boot cost $12 million to produce – roughly $34 million in today’s dollars, when adjusted for inflation. – the Internet Movie Database – has Das Boot on its list of 250 all-time greatest films; the Petersen film is ranked at No. 79, behind 1917 and ahead of Bollywood’s 3 Idiots.

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