Nuclear Disaster Movies

Thursday, August 11 by Travis Petersen

Nuclear disaster movies became a popular staple of the entertainment industry right after the first use of the atomic bomb and the ending of World War II. Since then, nuclear disaster movies have used a very real fear i the American public (and worldwide) to wrench drama from speculation about what might happen if there were a nuclear war or an accident. Some of the best science fiction videos and action films double as nuclear disaster movies, and there are serious nuclear disaster movies as well. Here are just a few of the most prominent nuclear disaster movies in film’s history.

  1. Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” While many nuclear disaster movies preyed on fear, Stanley Kubrick‘s masterpiece, and one of Peter Sellers’ greatest acting triumphs, is a satire that is even funnier than it is scarily prescient. Rarely is nuclear disaster played for humor, but the film’s message, that man cannot handle the power of playing God, comes across better through its jokes than in the events of then lesser, more serious nuclear disaster movies.
  2. “Fail-Safe.” Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau star in this story of American planes being sent to drop nuclear bombs on Moscow by mistake. Tension ratchets in this nuclear disaster movie as the heroes try to stop all-out, total war from occurring. “Fail-Safe” was also remade for television in 2000.
  3. The Road Warrior.” The story of Mad Max, a vengeful ex-cop in the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic Australia, is one of the many sci-fi adventure nuclear disaster movies playing out in a world that is destroyed after a nuclear holocaust. It is a tense action film filled with chases, stunts, and bloody violence, showing the savagery of a world after the world ends.
  4. “The Day After.” This is one of the nuclear disaster movies made for TV at the height of 1980s Cold War paranoia. At the time, this story of a small Kansas town dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust was a hit, because its ideas were on everyone’s mind. Now, it seems dated, but is still a powerful example of what nuclear disaster movies were like at that time.
  5. “The Terminator.” The action film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a bankable star and kicked off the illustrious career of James Cameron is the last of our nuclear disaster movies. In it, in the future the machines hav taken over after a nuclear war, and the human resistance is led by John Connor, the son of Sarah Connor, who is a waitress living in Los Angeles in 1984. A Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is sent back through time, a killing machine, to eliminate her and with it, the human resistance after the disaster. It plays nuclear holocaust for entertainment, but still has a watchful eye toward the future, and is a powerful action triumph.

- Travis Petersen

Do you like this story?