In this post, I went on a reminiscing journey watching some notable nuclear war/nuclear holocaust films of yesteryear. Perhaps this was due to all the recent steaming diarrhea-smeared headlines about nuclear war that led me to this. Whenever a bone-headed world leader opens his or her vomit-filled pie-hole on the topic of utilizing nuclear weapons, I’m reminded of the insanity of nuclear war and the stupidity behind it. I’m reminded of those films of long ago and how relevant they were in giving a very compelling message. But it seems people have forgotten just how deadly a game these knuckle-headed world leaders are playing with all their corporate-sponsored, pro-war chest-thumping rhetoric.
I note that I have not heard a single politician speaking out against this horrendous threat that looms over humanity. This wasn’t the case years ago. No one with any sense of rational brain wanted a nuclear war or any war for that matter. No one could possibly win any nuke war. Anti-nuclear war rallies and demonstrations did go to the streets from time to time with positive effects. Even the-then world leaders were second-guessing the idea of using nukes to peddle some weird ideology. Hollywood jumped on the anti-nuke film train from time to time, making some notable films that hold relevance today. Let us take a stroll down memory lane and look at some of the films that spoke out against the nuclear threat. I present my own list of top nuclear war films of yesteryear in no particular order.
- By Dawn’s Early Light
By Dawn’s Early Light
Let’s kick off this list of must-watch nuke favorites with something a bit tame before a dip in acid rain. In this film, we see what happens when nukes fall into the wrong hands. A group of nut-job terrorist politicians have taken over a Soviet nuke site and detonated a bomb over a major city within the Soviet Union. The Soviets, believing the Americans have launched a first strike, launch a ‘measured’ retaliatory strike.
A B-52 crew, piloted by Major Cassidy (Powers Booth) and Captain Moreau (Rebecca D. Morrany) takes off from an airbase moments before it is nuked. Their mission is to fly into Eastern Russia with a payload of happy little nukes seeds to sprinkle across the Soviet Union. But problems arise and they and the crew begin to question the mission as well as the events that have just taken place.
Back in Washington DC, we see a sleeping President (Martin Landau) being awakened to the horrors that are unfolding when he is told by General Renning (Nicolas Coster) to launch an all-out response. The first ‘measured’ wave of nukes from the Soviet Union are inbound. But the President withholds that option…for the moment.
The President is quickly ushered away by helicopter to safety from Washington DC just as a nuke blast goes off. The helicopter crashes and it is assumed the President and his advisors are dead. Enter another nut job politician known as Condor (Darren McGavin) who is told that he is in charge and is the new President.
Condor and an entourage of advisors take to the skies on Air Force One where drama and in-house fighting among staff members culminate into a proverbial hostile work environment led by war-mongering Colonel Fargo(Rip Torn) who presents Condor with compelling evidence to launch everything.
The scene shifts to a kid wandering through the woods where he comes across a helicopter wreck. The President and his staff officer have survived but not without injuries.
The President comes awakens in a makeshift field hospital where he realizes, to his horror that Condor is in charge and that the Russians are trying to communicate that it was all an accident and pleads to stop the looming holocaust that could doom all of humanity.
In a race against time, the President must wrestle with his conscience to overcome this looming threat and have Condor (who should have been called ‘Mad-Hatter’) roaming the skies with the launch codes preparing to launch everything. Overcoming military protocol, the President convinces Alice (James Earl Jones) onboard the military radar plane known as ‘Looking Glass’, to try and stop Condor.
Filled with a tight, tense plot line and an excellent theme, this film is an interesting watch. If only our politicians today were so reserved and thoughtful in trying to prevent a full-scale nuclear war. It is also to note that this was one of the last films made about the horrors of nuclear war before the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Oh…did I mention it also stars James Earl Jones?
The Road Warrior
No list of nuclear apocalyptic films would be complete without mentioning the 1981 film The Road Warrior.
If you have never seen the film, you would be in for a visual feast of incredible muscle car carnage, murder, and mayhem on the deserted roads of the Australian outback.
Of course, if you have seen it a thousand times, it is still a worthwhile watch.
In the years following a nuclear holocaust, we follow along with the continuing storyline of Max (Mel Gibson), a psychologically damaged ex-police officer who retains some semblance of humanity and mental stability cruising the Australian Outback in a modified Ford Falcon dubbed ‘the last of the V8s’.
Max is skipping along through life minding his own business surviving the Outback searching for gasoline (usually acquired by occasional bouts of road rage) when he trips across a trap set by a strange character known as the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence). But Max hasn’t survived this long in the apocalypse to be made a fool and quickly turns the tables with a dog and a knife. The Gyro Captain, in exchange for his life, convinces Max about a distant gas refinery that could provide an endless supply of fuel for his gasoline-starved V8 Interceptor.
The Gyro Captain leads Max to the refinery station whose inhabitants are dealing with problems of their own. A large band of road pirates has descended upon the station to try and take all the gasoline for themselves. Max manages to get into the compound through an alleged act of kindness and makes a deal to go out into the wasteland and bring back a Mack truck big enough to haul away all the gasoline to an imaginary land of paradise.
But is Max a good guy or bad? The compound inhabitants will have to place their trust in this stranger if they want to live.
A follow-up to the 1979 low-budget film Mad Max, the Road Warrior is a film that stirred a few controversy pots in its time. I doubt such a film could be made in today’s politically correct bullshit-bizarro world. A notable work of visual art that proves that nuclear war is a waste of time…and humanity.
1964…what a time to be alive. The JFK assassination was still fresh, the Vietnam War was beginning to ramp up, and the McCarthyism era “Red Scare” was still in play. With all this political turmoil in the US, this Peter Sellers gem of a film debuts and throws a comical look into the political consequences of nuclear war.
A dark, satirical look at the events leading up to a nuclear war that starts when an incompetent, lunatic General Ripper(Sterling Hayden) believes the Soviets have kicked off WW3. He believes that somehow the Soviets have poisoned the water and polluted Americans ‘precious body fluids’.
He orders all B52 bombers under his command to take to the skies and bomb the Soviets.
In a war room at the Pentagon, everyone is freaking out, rightfully so. The B-52s can only be recalled if a three-letter code is given and only the lunatic General Ripper knows what it is. The Soviets also inform the US military and political leaders about an unknown weapon. This weapon, if a nuclear war was to ever occur, would detonate and contaminate the world with radiation for approximately ninety-three years, thus, essentially, every living thing would perish.
At a frantic pace, Pentagon officials order General Ripper’s base to be taken by force. It is hoped that they can arrest General Ripper and recover this three-digit code before the bombs start flying and the detonation of this mysterious weapon that will threaten everyone for the next hundred years. Unfortunately, General Ripper commits suicide but the code is found on a paper blotter and the B-52s are recalled…except one, which had its radio communications systems damaged. With the inevitable end in sight, this lone B-52 journeys on into the Soviet Union and eternity.
A well-made film that is a constant classic that will forever endure the tests of time. The moral of this story is to never trust the madmen with the keys to the nuke kingdom. An interesting side note to add to this classic is James Earl Jones made his film debut here. As I’ve said before, you can never go wrong with James Earl Jones.
The Day After
Who can forget this gem of a story? I remember this one vividly for the simple reason I had to get a permission slip signed by my parents to watch it in middle school. This was after it had already aired on television the previous year and of course, I had already seen it.
Despite this, I watched it a few times over the years and still find it interesting to watch despite some of the outdated technology and weird-looking animated bomb blasts.
Interestingly, this film comes to everyone’s mind when asked about nuke war films.
The film begins innocently enough. Camera shots over Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas where we see a view of vast green farmlands, sports stadiums, cowboys riding through stockyards, a milk manufacturing facility, doctors planning heart surgeries, young couples getting married, and of course, military personnel switching duties at a nearby nuke missile silo. It is just another beautiful day in the 1980s American life. What could possibly go wrong?
Within the background, we see televisions playing, or radios giving out silent warnings about trouble between the US and Soviet countries. As one can guess, some mutton-head politician pushes the nuke option and the world goes up in flames. What follows is a detailed trail of carnage that follows several families who have survived the falling of the nukes. Some of these characters are rich and well-off, others are struggling middle-class families, but all are trying to survive the days after.
It is an interesting film and it gives a glimpse into 1980s America, at least for the first part of the film. After that, it gives a look into the horrors of nuclear war and the vast effects on people’s health and mental state. No one in the film is untouched and everyone is changed forever.
Alright, spare me the groans of disappointment and indulge with me in one of my favorite childhood films.
I’ll admit the weird animation of ‘giant’ scorpions, flesh-eating cockroaches, cheap special effects, and multi-colored dancing skylines are a bit of a stretch but do add a bit of flavor to the story.
Slated to be a top blockbuster film in 1977, it flopped…horribly and for obvious reasons. This film had much potential but bad script writing and cheap budgets killed it. Even big-name actors such as George Peppard, Micheal-Jan Vincent, and Paul Winfield couldn’t pull this B-grade from the toilet of doom.
But it is an interesting and fascinating film to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The film starts with Lieutenant Jake Tanner(Jan-Micheal Vincent) and Major Eugene “Sam” Denton(George Peppard) assuming their duties within a missile silo. Denton tells Tanner that he is requesting a change of position as he feels Tanner is too reckless and immature to be in his world of strict order and discipline. This changes when while going through preliminary missile systems checks, the Soviets launch a nuclear attack on the US. The end result of this nuclear strike not only destroys the US and the world, but the resulting explosions have also knocked the earth off its axis creating all kinds of unnatural events that make climate change tame.
Two years later, we find Tanner and Denton still at odds with each other but they have respect. After a massive fire in the main missile command housing wipes out the entire remnants of base inhabitants, Tanner, Denton, and Sergeant Tom Keegan(Paul Winfield) head off into the vast unknown of a post-apocalyptic world in an all-terrain armored vehicle known as a Land Master. The goal is to get to Albany, New York where supposedly survivors have amassed to rebuild America.
It bears mentioning that along the way in this adventure in misadventures, a young Jack Earl Haley (Walter Kovacs/Rorcschach of the 2009 film Watchmen) plays the role of a kid named Billy, a lone survivor found in a deserted house on the open plains. He also can chuck a rock with fine-tuned accuracy faster than the Man With No Name can blast a dozen guys off a fence with his famed revolver.
The only thing worth mentioning about the film in total is its message on the kinds of effects nuclear war might have on this planet called Earth. As I research the modern effects via the internet(bad source) the only thing mentioned is how bad it would be for climate change. Yeah…no shit, you think? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that aspect. At the end of my research, no one knows what would happen to the earth if an all-out nuke fight broke out. But damn, it would be horrible for climate change.
All in all, the film is worth watching. It is far better than anything the news puts out for entertainment value. Just ignore the hoaky special effects and I don’t want to hear about it either. It will forever remain one of my favorite childhood memories and films. And you, gentle reader, can’t take that from me.
I’ll be honest. It had been decades since I had seen this visual feast of nuclear depression. I’m not sure why I never rewatched this gem over the years, but it was worth the time rewatching this depressive orgy of nuclear destruction, something akin to visiting an old friend serving multiple life sentences at the state pen.
Considered to be the BBC version and answer to The Day After, this film was over the top when it was first released. Its portrayal and the effects of a nuclear war event scarred a generation of people forever.
The message given in the story is there are no winners in nuclear war and the aftermath will be horrendously long-term and visually horrible with no hope.
The story begins innocently enough that the viewer believes this might turn out to be some weird family drama. Ruth Beckett(Karen Meagher) and Jimmy Kemp(Reece Dinsdale) are a couple of young kids hanging out in a car overlooking Sheffield, England. But as in all things, this ‘hanging out’ creates a problem when Ruth discovers sometime later she is pregnant.
Life goes on and Ruth and Jimmy are building their lives together, but world events are beginning to overshadow this young couple. Ruth is in fear for the future of their child. The world superpowers are engaging in acts of war and chest-thumping that inevitably lead to a nuclear exchange. Sheffield, because it is a hub of manufacturing and also home to a nearby RAF military base, is hit by a nuclear bomb. Poor Jimmy is one of the lucky ones as he is turned into a burnt marshmallow while Ruth and her parents hide in a cellar and are spared from the initial blasts.
This is where the film shines. The special effects in the film spare the viewer no mercy. For its time, the nuclear bomb blast is as real as it got. Windows exploding, buildings being blown apart, people running around on fire, cats and dogs burnt, dead, or howling in deafening unison. People are stunned and they literally urinate themselves in fear while smoldering corpses lie all over the ruins of a once beautiful city.
But the horrors don’t stop there.
Ruth slips out of the bunker some weeks later and begins a search for Jimmy and witnesses the aftermath and social breakdown of humanity. Some years pass, and Ruth has given birth to a daughter. Civilization has fallen back to medieval times and people’s speech has reverted to nothing more than grunts, and weird twists of the English language.
I don’t want to ruin this gem of a film any further. Suffice it to say, if there ever was a nuclear war, this film convinced me that I would much rather have the bomb land on top of my head instead of witnessing humanity getting toasted. A worthwhile film that still holds up in today’s world.
Who better to give a poignant story about the true cost of nuclear war than from the Japanese viewpoint? Not to be confused with the weird eighties mullet hairstyle wearing rebel cop-without-a-clue Micheal Douglas film of the same name, Black Rain, is a masterpiece of film cinema.
The controversy surrounding the necessity of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is still argued today within ‘ed-u-me-catted‘ debate circles, but either way, the end results are the same. Two cities were bombed into oblivion and the aftermath is a testament necessary to avoiding nuclear war.
The film jumps right to the day of the bombing of Hiroshima. We find a beautiful young woman by the name of Yasuko(Yoshiko Tanaka) helping move family belongings into a friend’s house when the bomb is dropped. Concerned for her uncle and aunt living in Hiroshima, she embarks across treacherous waters when the ‘black rain’ begins falling. Yasuko’s uncle Shigematsu(Kazuo Kitamura) has just gotten on a train when the bombs drop. He escapes but sees the carnage that the bomb has wrought. He goes back to his house to get his wife Shigeko(Etsuko Ichihara) and also, much to his dismay, his niece has arrived on the scene. Together, they navigate through the ruins of Hiroshima to get to a factory where they hope to find safety.
The horrors of the bombing become ever clear when the viewer witnesses the horrific aftermath. We see people wandering around with roasted skin, clothes burned off, and skin hanging. The worst effect is the mental shock of howling and screaming people.
Fast forward five years and we see this happy little family living in a small village full of A-bomb victims suffering from all kinds of physical and mental ailments. We also see an ex-soldier who is riddled with mental PTSD who, every time a vehicle with a running engine rolls around, thinks they are under attack by American tanks. He grabs a roll of cloth and dives under the oncoming vehicle and tosses this cloth roll under it. He is trying to prevent another attack in his mind, but he has an understanding mother, who has to physically calm him by saying ‘He got it’.
The Uncle and Aunt are trying to give away their niece in marriage but are having a hard go at it. Most people treat the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima like lepers and the niece is not going to be married anytime soon due to the fact she was exposed to the mysterious black rain. This is even when she is given a clean bill of health by the doctors.
As time goes on, people are dying in the village from the effects of the A-bomb. We hope that Yasuko is spared from these effects, but this isn’t meant to be a fairy tale with a happy ending. Life is never meant to be fair, but we are left with the question as to why a man would come up with such a horrible weapon to destroy himself with.
Children of Hiroshima
Another classic from Japan that should be at the top of everyone’s watchlist. I believe this was one of the first films to address the harrowing events and effects following the nuking of Hiroshima.
Filmed against the backdrop of actual Hiroshima seven years after the events, the viewer is presented with a rare view of the remaining destruction that is lost in today’s modern city. We are viewing the events in the film through the main character Takako. I found this film to be viewed like a documentary with a little story splashed in to add some flavor, which it certainly did.
Takako is living a good life some four years after World War Two as a teacher. She is a survivor of Hiroshima even though her family was not so fortunate. It is summer break and for some weird reason, she gets a hankering to go off and visit surviving friends in Hiroshima. Each friend tells a compelling and heart-wrenching story of their version of the events of Hiroshima and the physical ailments each faces.
We visit first a grandfather who worked for Takao’s father for a number of years as a servant. He is blind and can’t work anymore. He has a grandson whom he had to place in an orphanage due to his inability to support him. The orphanage is swollen with children whose parents were blown away in the destruction of the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This element in the story becomes the main focus when Takako wishes to take the former servant’s grandson back home with her. Then we meet one of Takako’s school friends who is sterile. The list grows throughout the film and anyone with a brain larger than a walnut should be asking why is any country allowed to have and use a nuclear bomb at all.