When you mention “nuclear war movies,” the first thing anyone thinks about are The Day After, Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and Threads. But very few people are even aware that there are a whopping fifteen other films in this genre, ranging from dark comedy and anime to hard hitting drama and mockumentary.
Because I feel it’s high time these lesser-known films got their due, I’ve compiled a list of every major nuclear war-themed movie that came out between 1959 and 1991. While there are some on this list you might recognize or have heard of, there are others that you might be surprised to learn fall under this genre.
A great list, and I’ve enjoyed reading your comments and the Fail Safe vs. Strange love article. However:
> By the early 90s, there was such a feeling of inevitability about WW3 that people gave up all hope of doing anything to stop it from happening.
Really?! Not my recollection (born late 1964). In the mid-80s, sure. But by the early 90s the Berlin Wall had come down, the USSR had fallen, the Cold War had ended, and the world felt safer than it ever had, for about ten years until 9/11 happened.
Even the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists put their infamous Doomsday Clock back to the earliest it’s ever been: 17 minutes before midnight, in 1991, lasting until 1995 (14m) then 1998 (9m), then 2002 (7m) — having been 6m in 1988 and 3m in 1984.
Aside from that, great work!
“Really?! Not my recollection (born late 1964). In the mid-80s, sure. But by the early 90s the Berlin Wall had come down, the USSR had fallen, the Cold War had ended, and the world felt safer than it ever had, for about ten years until 9/11 happened.”
Yes. I was born in 1973. After the Berlin Wall fell, there was panic in the early 1990s about nuclear war breaking out because there were now tons of nukes spread out across multiple countries in the former Soviet bloc that Russia no longer had control over or could account for. There was this fear that one of these blocs would go rogue or somehow set off a nuke accidentally.
I was taking world history in college at the time (1993), so this was discussed at length in class. That’s how I remember that there was still fear about nuclear war in the early 1990s. I also remember that tensions were so high between India and Pakistan that there were fears a war would break out there.
Interesting list, you’ve given me a few films to look for, a few to revisit, and one or two to avoid. I’m somewhat surprised you didn’t list War Games (1983), although that technically might not be a nuclear film per se.
I remember seeing The Day After back when it first came out, and it prompted a lot of conversation amongst my friends and coworkers, mainly because at the time we were all stationed on a USAF bomber base. Knowing that we were ground zero for a nuclear attack, watching the film made us a little more nervous about what was going on in the world.
Also, just so you know, from talking with and reading memoirs of bomber crews, it seems that Dr. Strangelove is a particular favorite of these people. Partly because of the realism of the bomber sequences, and partly because it was so funny…
I’ve never seen War Games, oddly enough, though I know about it.
Regarding Dr. Strangelove, I have found that to be true, too. A lot of military personnel seem to like that movie. One or two commented on my blog post that compared that film to Fail Safe.