To gain more authenticity, the filming and production team has partnered with the US Navy on virtually every aspect of Hunter Killer's design.
While the Russian Captain Andropov mentions his former trainees, one of the names is Alexei Vostrikov - this is Harrison Ford's character from K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), also a submarine captain.
On June 16, 2015 the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN) reported that after Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed legislation essentially ending the state's film subsidy program the producers of Hunter-Killer canceled all previously planned efforts to film exteriors for the project in Alaska.
Leading actor, Gerard Butler, sailed aboard the USS Houston (SSN 713) from May 6th to May 9th with director Donovan Marsh for research purposes. They discovered some nuances of a real operating submarine and submarine crew in an attempt to make the movie/script more realistic.
The USS Arkansas is indeed a Virginia class Submarine, hull SSN-800. Construction began in 2018, and is scheduled to be Commissioned in 2023.
Originally set to be filmed in Alaska with the seaport town of Whittier representing a Russian naval base during the winter. Logistical problems including lack of housing for the film crew caused the production to relocate and the script to be rewritten.
In Ukraine, the film was scheduled to premiere on October 25, but the Ukraine Ministry of Culture denied it an exhibition license based on a 2012 law on cinematography that banned "the distribution and screening of films, the goal of which is to popularize the bodies of an aggressor state and/or Soviet state security organs". According to a representative of Ukraine's Goskino, screening the film would be illegal because it contains a "positive image of the Russian president and admiral of the Russian army". Ukrainian-Russian relations have deteriorated since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
Most of the action scenes taking place in Russia were filmed in Bulgaria. It is a real Bulgarian naval base in Varna (tower located at 43°11'20.9"N 27°54'50.7"E) on the Black Sea coast which represents the Russian naval base of Polyarny, the city in the extreme north-west of the country where Admiral Felon Durov takes his own President hostage. The interior of the imposing Polyarny Command Center was built at the Nu Boyani studios in Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as the interiors of Commander Andropov's Russian submarine and the USS Arkansas sonar room.
While aboard the Houston, Butler slept in the XO's quarters. The director, Donovan Marsh, slept in the enlisted crew's quarters.
To prepare to play Joe Glass, Gerard Butler also spent considerable time with several former Navy commanders to immerse themselves in their inner nature.
Even before shooting began, Donovan Marsh and Gerard Butler traveled to Pearl Harbor and boarded a Virginia-class nuclear submarine, very similar to the USS Arkansas, for a three-day tour. This trip gave Marsh one of his most important ideas: to set the scene of the submarine on a huge hydraulic platform capable of realistically imitating the movement of the sea.
The DSRV (Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle) "Mystic" in this film is the same DSRV from The Hunt for Red October. Operational in 1977 she was retired in 2008 and donated to the Naval Undersea Museum.
Hunter Killer is adapted from the book "Firing Point" co-written by George Wallace, the former ultra-experienced commander of the USS Houston nuclear submarine and Don Keith, a multiple award-winning journalist and best-selling author. Writers Arne L. Schmidt and Jamie Moss condensed the 700 pages of the novel.
In Russia, the film was scheduled to premiere on November 1, but the film failed to obtain an exhibition license from the culture ministry. The ministry stated that copy of the movie, submitted by the distributor for review, was of poor quality and the replacement was submitted too late for the ministry to review it in time.
Gerard Butler and Director Donovan spent a few days on board the USS Houston for research purposes. The USS Houston was for a period under the command of George Wallace, Cdr. USN Ret., co-author of the novel "Firing Point" with Don Keith, the book which this film is based on.
Principal photography on the film began on July 25, 2016, in London, and in Bulgaria. Interior sets of a Virginia-class Hunter Killer submarine were built at Ealing Studios, using blueprints approved by the U.S. Navy, with the spaces expanded slightly to allow freer camera movement. The sets were mounted on a gimbal to simulate the movement of the sea. Ealing also hosted a Pentagon set from where U.S. military personnel track the submarine action. An exterior set of the main Hunter Killer submarine was built in Pinewood Studios' 806,000-gallon exterior water tank, while underwater scenes were shot using a separate water tank at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, also just outside London. Interiors of the Russian base were built as sets at Nu Boyana Film Studios in Bulgarian capital, Sofia. The offices of insurance company Legal & General in Kingswood, Surrey were used as a filming location for the Pentagon scenes.
The exterior of the USS Arkansas was built in the famous water reservoir of Pinewood Studios, where the aquatic sequences of many films were filmed. This is where Commander Glass and his men prepare the submarine for their mission in Russian territorial waters. This is also where the Russian zodiac is towed alongside Arkansas and Glass meets his colleague of the Beaman underground operations for the first time. The underwater sequence in which Beaman is trying to save the Russian president was shot in the giant reservoirs of Leavesdon Studios.
Hunter Killer is a project going back several years. In 2011, there was talk of Pierre Morel (Taken) making this thriller of geopolitical action. He finally preferred to go to other occupations and was replaced by the Australian Phillip Noyce (War Games), who also withdrew. Gerard Butler, on the other hand, was very interested in playing Captain Joe Glass - a man who is more distinguished by his daring strategy than his physical bravery - which has accelerated the development of the project.
Faslane (HMNB Clyde) is a Royal Navy base in Scotland, Gerard Butler is also from Scotland, not far from Faslane. Faslane is IN Scotland, the west coast specifically.
Both Butler and Oldman played role of Dracula on screen: Butler in Dracula 2000 (2000) and Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
The genre of the submarine film has been a great success since the beginning of commercial cinema. From the silent film Secret of the Submarine in 1915, to the many submarine films of the Second World War, to the innovative and bloody German film The Boat (Das Boot), and the adaptation of Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide the film makers did not shy away from filming the confined space of a submarine full of sailors struggling with confinement, anguish and danger to extreme degrees.
Both Toby Stephens and Michael Gor also starred in the James Bond film Die Another Day.
Antoine Fuqua was previously attached as director, but had since moved on to other projects.
Michael Nyqvist plays a Russian character called Andropov in the film. His fellow Swedish colleague Peter Stormare also played a Russian character called Andropov in Armageddon (1998).