Nuclear weapons have provided pretty fertile material for movies. After all, what better plot device is there than the most terrifying, destructive force ever created by man? Surprisingly, the films spawned by the idea of radiation and nuclear holocaust run the gamut for the scary-serious to the family friendly. As some of these films show, radiation poisoning isn’t always about generations of tragic deformity. Sometimes it just makes things bigger, stronger, and oddly intelligent. But yeah, sometimes it has a downside, too.
“The Day After”
Not to be confused with the similarly named film from out recent past, “The Day After” explores the fictional effects of a nuclear attack in a Kansas town. Well, the effects might not be all that fictional, but the attack is. However unlikely it is that Kansas would be the go-to target for most nuclear attacks, you can’t argue that a nuclear attack on American soil is unsettling.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
In the “Radiation Can Be Fun” genre, we have “TMNT,” a beloved kids film based on a weirdly dark comic. Some turtles encounter misplaced radioactive ooze, which naturally leads them to become intelligent beings who learn ninjutsu. Nuclear by-products have exciting fringe benefits!
“K-19: The Widowmaker”
Harrison Ford can’t stop himself for getting caught in taut, claustrophobic thrillers. In this film, he’s on board a Russian nuclear sub’s maiden voyage when the equipment starts getting screwy. Now, the crew has to do what they can to prevent their own nuclear nightmare. Unfortunately, handling radioactive material leads to radiation poisoning. Don’t worry, you’re safe. The crew is screwed though.
This docudrama feels terrifyingly real. It examines the worst case scenario of a nuclear holocaust in England. As it turns out, the worst is pretty bad, and the way the film is presented makes it hit hard.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
Okay, so the film isn’t strictly about nukes or radiation. But these things are critical to the plot. And really, who could forget the “Nuclear Nightmare” scene, where the blast wave obliterates a peaceful park? Chilling stuff, to be sure. Damn sentient robots.
A classic sci-fi film if there ever was one, “Them!” is a lot like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in that it shows how radiation turns little animals into big animals. Unfortunately, the ants in the movie don’t eat pizza, know karate, or yell “cowabunga.” They mostly terrorize humanity at every turn. Get out your flamethrower!.
“The China Syndrome”
This Michael Douglas film was poignant not only for what it portrayed, but for when it came out. The film has chiefly to do with a journalist’s uncovering of major flaws in a nuclear reactor, and the expected fallout. Only a few weeks after its release, the Three Mile Island incident occurred.
“The Toxic Avenger”
You know the old story: boy works as a janitor, boy is exposed to toxic waste (this stuff sure is easy to lose!), boy becomes a crime-fighting, mop-wielding hero. “The Toxic Avenger” has gone on to cult status, due in large part to its cool makeup effects and campy premise. See, radiation can be fun!