“The arms race is a race between nuclear weapons and ourselves.” – Martin Amis

April 26 has many odd connections to the dark realities of nuclear capabilities. On this day, the US performed nuclear testing in 1973, Great Britain performed nuclear testing in 1980, France performed nuclear testing in 1986 and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down in 1986. Although the very real threat of nuclear war exposes humanity to a potentially horrifying future, filmmakers have actually deterred these threats by illustrating nuclear holocausts on the silver screen (read more about that below).

DMG Entertainment has compiled a list of films that highlight the terror of nuclear holocaust. So “duck and cover” your way to a screen and check out this list of films that’ll make you want chat “No Nukes!”

Top Six Nuclear Movies

DR STRANGELOVE (1964)

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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, James Earl Jones

Summary: After insane US General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) orders an unauthorized nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) and his political advisors quickly alert the Soviet Premier of the imminent attack. Despite the US government’s advance notice, the Soviet Union warns any nuclear attack will automatically trigger a weapon capable of global destruction. In their last chaotic hours, the US government scrambles to stop a potential nuclear holocaust. Will the attack be stopped in time, or will General Ripper achieve world annihilation?

Best Quote: President Muffley – “Well now, what happened is… ahm… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country.”

Fun Fact: DR. STRANGELOVE led to actual changes in government policy to ensure that the film’s doomsday scenario could never occur in real life.

 

THE DAY AFTER (1983)

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Director: Nicholas Meyer

Starring: Jason Robards, JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg

Summary: Set in the 1980s, the graphic and frightening television movie follows two Kansas families during the weeks leading up to and following a nuclear holocaust hits America. After the United States and the Soviet Union engage in a brutal nuclear war, the families struggle to survive and rebuild a decimated community.

Best Quote: “You know what Einstein said about World War III? He said he didn’t know how they were gonna fight World War III, but he knew how they would fight World War IV: ‘With sticks and stones’.”

Fun Fact: THE DAY AFTER drew an audience of over one hundred million viewers, making it the most watched TV movie of all time. One of those watching was US President Ronald Reagan, who was so impacted by the realistic depictions of a nuclear aftermath that he was moved to begin a long but successful process of nuclear arms reduction, ultimately making it a cornerstone of his Cold War policies.
THREADS (1984)

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Director: Mick Jackson

Starring: Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly

Summary: Shot in a documentary style and giving a UK spin on the basic plot of THE DAY AFTER, the film depicts escalating military conflicts between the Soviet Union and England. As the threat of nuclear war rises, the people of Sheffield, England, unaware of the dangers ahead, live their everyday life. Suddenly, a nuclear attack rocks their hometown. After the nuclear strike, the survivors face the physical, mental and emotional hardships of death, devastation, and misery.

Best Quote: “This time they are playing with, at best, the destruction of life as we know it, and at worst, total annihilation. You cannot win a nuclear war! Now just suppose the Russians did win this war… What exactly would they be winning? Well, I’ll tell you! All major centers of population and industry would have been destroyed. The soil would have been irradiated. Farm stock would be dead, diseased or dying. The Russians would have conquered a corpse of a country.”

Fun Fact: In THREADS, there is one scene that shows a cat suffocating from extreme heat. However, to achieve this effect, the scene is actually a cat enjoying catnip, but played in reverse.

 

WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986)

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Director: Jimmy T. Murakami

Starring: Peggy Ashcroft, John Mills, Robin Huston

Summary: In this animated war film, elderly British Jim (John Mills) and Hilda Bloggs (Peggy Ashcroft) build a shelter in preparation for a World War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The couple, unaware of modern nuclear capabilities, refer to outdated government pamphlets to help them survive the attack. Despite their best efforts, the couple’s preparation does little to protect them. Although they survive the initial attack, the couple is left defenseless against the nuclear fallout.

Best Quote: “Well, you can’t expect things to be normal after the bomb. Difficulties will be experienced throughout the duration of the emergency period. Normality will only be assumed after the cessation of hostilities.”

Fun Fact: The film’s outdated pamphlets contained instructions from real-life pamphlets distributed by the UK government.

 

THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002)

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Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Starring: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ian Mongrain, James Cromwell

Summary: After the Russian President dies from a heart attack, an almost unknown successor becomes Russia’s newest president. The United States, now in rising political tension with Russia, doesn’t trust Russia’s newest ruler. CIA director Bill Cabot (Morgan Freeman) recruits young analyst Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) to research Russia’s mysterious president. As the CIA tries to understand the new leader’s true intention, a nuclear bomb explodes in the United States. Although America is quick to blame the Russian military, Ryan believes a third-party is secretly pushing the two countries towards war.

Best Quote: Director Cabot – “You’re about to breathe air that’s way over your pay grade so listen up. You’re going to be asked for analysis and advice, so be God damn sure you know what you’re talking about before you give it. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Choose your words carefully, words have a habit of being turned into policy.”

Fun Fact: Matt Damon had a cameo as a waiter in THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, but his scene was cut from the film.

 

THE WAR GAME (1965)

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Director: Peter Watkins

Starring: Michael Aspel, Peter Graham, Kathy Staff

Summary: Filmed as a docu-drama, the movie focuses on the worst-case scenario of a nuclear war and the fallout in an average British city. Using interviews, quotation, and part acting, the film informs the British public on the realities of nuclear war. The film also discusses the British government’s poor nuclear attack preparation plan and describes the various types of damage caused by a nuclear holocaust. Although the film was originally considered too horrifying to broadcast, the government decided to release the film 20 years later.

Best Quote: “Technically and intellectually, we are living in an atomic age. Emotionally, we are still living in the Stone Age. The Aztecs on their feast days would sacrifice 20,000 men to their gods in the belief that this would keep the universe on its proper course. We feel superior to them.”

Fun Fact: THE WAR GAME is the only fictional film to win an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category.

 

FAIL SAFE (1964)

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Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Fritz Weaver, Dan O’Herlihy

Summary: Often regarded as the serious version of DR.STRANGELOVE (1964), the President (Henry Fonda) discovers a technical malfunction in the government’s military system has sent several nuclear bombers their orders – destroy Moscow. As the bombers fly towards the Soviet capitol, the President must face a moral dilemma: should he collaborate with the Soviets to stop the bombers, or should he use the crisis as an opportune moment to declare war?

Best Quote: “I’ve been making a few rough calculations based on the effect of two twenty megaton bombs dropped on New York City in the middle of a normal workday. I estimate the immediate dead at about three million. I include in that figure those buried beneath the collapsed buildings. It would make no difference, Admiral Wilcox, whether they reached a shelter or not. They would die just the same. Add another million or two who will die within about five weeks. Now our immediate problem will be the joint one of fire control and excavation. Excavation not of the dead, the effort would be wasted there. But even though there are no irreplaceable government documents in the city, many of our largest corporations keep their records there. It will be necessary to… rescue as many of those records as we can. Our economy depends on this.”

Fun Fact: Columbia Pictures produced FAIL SAFE and DR. STRANGELOVE in the same year. Because the two films were so similar, Stanley Kubrick pushed the studio to release DR. STRANGELOVE before FAIL SAFE. How did that affect FAIL SAFE? Many at the time found the film unintentionally funny, including Henry Fonda.

 

This list may have some heavy films on it, but it shows the power of film/fiction to show us the horrific possibilities without having to experience them for real. Cause the reality is straight-up terrifying.

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