Kids from the Cold War remember what it was like to worry about atomic warfare. How could they forget? The movies kept reminding them. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we worried less about messing with mushroom clouds. That might have been a mistake. Now, as the Iran deal heads towards a thumbs-up from Congress, some are worried that the prospects for a nuclear-armed Iran (and war) are more — not less — likely.
For those who want to get ahead of the hysteria and brush up on their nuclear night sweats, here are seven films that fill the bill. While there are many famous and infamous Cold War-era nuclear scare movies, from Dr. Strangelove (1964) to the TV drama The Day After (1983), these lesser-known efforts are even more terrifying.
7. Duck and Cover (1951)
Bert the Turtle paired with happy music explains to school children how to survive a nuclear blast. Generations of young Americans were traumatized by this Cold War classic.
6. The House in the Middle (1954)
This might be the most terrifying nuclear film ever—because it is so ridiculous. In the early days of the Cold War, this civil-defense film was meant to buck up American morale by suggesting a nuclear attack was eminently survivable—by painting our houses and picking up the trash. It was a twisted take on “make America beautiful.”
5. A Day Called X (1957)
This CBS docu-drama depicts the evacuation of Portland, Oregon, in anticipation of a nuclear attack. If this was supposed to reassure people—it didn’t.
4. Panic in Year Zero! (1962)
Nuclear fears were a staple of Cold War science fiction. The atom bomb made an appearance in films like the monster movie Godzilla (1954) and scary schlock such as Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended (1956) Later movies, like this “B” film with Ray Milland and the similar feature This Is Not a Test (1962), portrayed everyday Americans facing the nuclear holocaust with more gritty realism. There were no monsters—other than us.
3. Fail Safe (1964)
This movie didn’t do a big box office in comparison to Stanley’s Kubrick’s dark comedy Dr. Strangelove, but it is actually more terrifying. Despite efforts do everything right, the U.S. and the Soviet Union almost stumble into a nuclear Armageddon. The cost of averting total annihilation? Moscow and New York City go up in smoke.
2. The War Game (1965)
The BBC made this drama-documentary film to show the effects of a Soviet nuclear attack on Great Britain. The film pretty much freaked everybody out. It won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
1. The Atomic Café (1982)
An engrossing overview of America’s atomic fears and pop culture. This acclaimed documentary delivered a brutal satire of the Cold War experience.