The growth and structure of ultrathin amorphous carbon films was investigated by molecular dynamics simulations. The second-generation reactive-empirical-bond-order potential was used to model atomic interactions. Films with different structures were simulated by varying the deposition energy of carbon atoms in the range of 1-120 eV. Intrinsic film characteristics (e.g. density and internal stress) were determined after the system reached equilibrium. Short- and intermediate-range carbon atom ordering is examined in the context of atomic hybridization and ring connectivity simulation results. It is shown that relatively high deposition energy (i.e., 80 eV) yields a multilayer film structure consisting of an intermixing layer, bulk film and surface layer, consistent with the classical subplantation model. The highest film density (3.3 g cm-3), sp3 fraction (∼43%), and intermediate-range carbon atom ordering correspond to a deposition energy of ∼80 eV, which is in good agreement with experimental findings. © 2014 IOP Publishing Ltd.