Nuclear War Movies: A History of Total Annihilation on Film


Stanley Kramer, On the Beach (1959)

“When the Soviets successfully detonated their first A-Bomb in 1949, the world suddenly became acutely aware of the possibility of a global thermonuclear war that could obliterate civilization, leaving only grass and cockroaches behind to rebuild. As the arms race intensified in the decades that followed, the fear and paranoia were ramped up to the red zone and things got hilariously stupid. Convinced the bombs were going to start dropping at any second, suburbanites started feverishly building fallout shelters in the backyard, grade school kids were trained to duck and cover, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began publishing its quarterly Doomsday Clock to let us know how much time we had left, and Hollywood had a field day with all of it, playing the Cold War and the potential End of the World for all it was worth. Disaster films had always made for good box office, and this ‘nuclear war’ thing sure topped any boring old earthquake or flood. … And in 1959 the major studios offered what might have been the last existentialist word on humanity coming to terms with The Bomb in Stanley Kramer’s big-budget all-star bummer On the Beach, based on Nevil Shute’s bestseller. The war is already over as the film opens. We never learn what prompted it or who started it, and it doesn’t much matter given everyone on the planet is dead apart from those left in Australia. It’s just a matter of time, though, as it’s estimated the radioactive cloud encircling the earth will reach them in five months time, at which point they’ll all start dropping, too. Gregory Peck stars as the commander of a US sub which resurfaces after the war and docks in Melbourne. … At the other end of the scale, in 1964 we also got the much-ballyhooed battle between Kubrick’s Strangelove and Sidney Lumet’s deadly serious Fail-Safe. As eerily similar as both storylines were (based on two eerily similar novels), it’s unfair to compare them, but impossible not to. As fine and taut a piece of filmmaking as Fail-Safe is, in the end Strangelove still wins hands-down, presenting the most perfect (and realistic) expression of the insanity of nookyular combat toe-to-toe with the Russkies ever made. …”
Den of Geek
W – List of films about nuclear issues
New Yorker: Almost Everything in “Dr. Strangelove” Was True
W – On the Beach (1959), YouTube: On the Beach (1959)
W – Fail Safe (1964), YouTube: Fail-Safe – Trailer
W – Dr._Strangelove (1964), YouTube: Dr Strangelove – Official Trailer
W – The Bedford Incident (1965), YouTube: The Bedford Incident
W – The War Game (1966), YouTube: The War Game


Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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