Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Phantom Movie Poster Image
Taut, tense submarine drama is entertaining despite cliches.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 97 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The main take away is that Cold War politics can be pretty ugly, especially when viewed from the perspective of suspicion -- i.e. assuming that the only thing preventing the other side from launching their missiles is fear of retaliation. It's not a view that permits people to believe in others' innate goodness, and it ultimately leads to a dark and skewed idea of the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Demi is willing to fight for his principles, especially when it might mean the difference between peace and nuclear war. It's not a decision he makes easily, but once he's set on a path, he's willing to battle to the death, if necessary.


Several stand-offs as armed men take over a submarine and threaten its captain. As the crew tries to retake the vessel, there are some close-range shootouts and fistfights. A throat is cut; significant blood. Suicide by gunshot; other characters are killed with guns as well. Threats with guns and knives. Plenty of talk about the politics of initiating a nuclear war, and some intense undersea combat sequences, with torpedoes firing/detonating, collisions, and more.


One early scene shows people at a party, including some women with low-cut tops.


Occasional swearing includes one "f--k" and a few "s--t"s, plus "hell," "damn," "goddamn," etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several characters drink heavily at a party on shore. Once at sea, people have a few drinks with dinner or while relaxing, but they stay pretty sober.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Phantom is a taut submarine drama, supposedly based on actual events, about a Russian sub that may have come close to triggering a nuclear war at the height of the Cold War. Ed Harris stars as the captain, and David Duchovny is a KGB agent with a hidden agenda. Expect several intense fight scenes, including shootouts in the tight confines of the sub and strategic underwater combat as the captain is hunted by other subs. Weapons include guns and knives; characters are killed with both, some bloodily (there's one suicide via gunshot, shown from a distance). There's also moderate drinking and some swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t").

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What's the story?

After 76 days at sea, Captain Demi (Ed Harris) and his submarine crew are ready for some much-needed leave, but they're suddenly recalled for a secret mission. It's 1968, the height of the Cold War, and Demi has been asked to field test a new device, the PHANTOM, that could shift the balance of power. But he can't tell whether the KGB agent (David Duchovny) who's joined the ship is there to evaluate the gadget or use it to start a nuclear war. William Fichtner co-stars as Demi's executive officer, who must decide which side to take.

Is it any good?

This movie is well executed, so while it may not seem especially original, it's still a decent way to spend a couple of hours. There are several standard components of a submarine movie: the captain with a stopwatch to time drills and approaching torpedoes, the dive that goes too deep, the threat of slow asphyxiation, and the isolation that comes from making tough decisions deep below the surface, unable to radio command for a second opinion. Phantom has all of those cliches and a few more classic sub tropes, and yet it still manages to tell a decent tale.

Harris and Fichtner stand out as men just trying to do the right thing -- in this case, preventing nuclear war. Duchovny is less credible as a hardline KGB agent who's intent on carrying out his mission; he often seems close to smirking when he needs to take himself seriously. (By contrast, the film as a whole -- supposedly based on actual events -- takes itself seriously even when it's treading ground that's been covered many times before in other undersea films.)

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Phantom's violence. Is it necessary to the story? Does it seem realistic? How does it compare to more over-the-top scenes in larger-scale action movies? Which has greater impact?

  • How does Phantom compare to other well-known submarine films? What are the common cliches to be found in the genre, and how many can you spot here?

  • Why do you think David Duchovny's character is so convinced that the United States wants to start a war? Does he really want nuclear war?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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Themes & Topics

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