Crimson Tide is a post-Cold War thriller set aboard a Trident ballistic nuclear submarine. When a Russian nationalist and his followers who are hostile to the U.S. seize control of a nuclear missile base, this Navy submarine is dispatched to the North Pacific. The commander is Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman), a combat veteran who revels in his authority and the thrill of battle.

Pitted against this unabashed warrior is Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington), a play-it-by-the-book intellectual who would rather err on the side of caution given the danger of a nuclear holocaust. When their submarine is torpedoed and its communication system knocked out, these two men square off against each other over the need to follow earlier orders to launch their nuclear missiles.

Crimson Tide is an edge-of-the-seat thriller and a cautionary tale about the safeguards which must be built into any future military missions by nuclear-armed submarines.