Millennials need new movies about nuclear war, a ninth-grader says via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Movies hold the power to teach and to persuade. Today, there is one subject that appears to be largely absent from popular movies: nuclear war. Nuclear war movies were huge in Hollywood from the 1960s to the 1980s. Today, however, they are rare.

Nuclear war is, and will be, a threat for as long as nuclear weapons exist. Everyone needs to understand this threat, especially millennials. They are the future, after all. But many millennials are too young to have seen the eye-opening movies of an earlier era, which revealed what would happen in the event of a nuclear war. These movies include On the Beach from 1959, Testament from 1983, and many more.


Watching the war. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of most of these movies, let alone seen them. I decided to watch The Day After, just to see what it was about. The movie shows a normal society in and around Kansas City in the 1980s, during the height of the Cold War. When nuclear war breaks out, we first see the effects of the electromagnetic pulse: The cars on the road stop abruptly, leaving one man with no choice but to start running. The electricity throughout the area is cut off. Panic sweeps the streets. Crowds of people flood the grocery stores to supply their fallout shelters.

The movie also shows the bodies of men, women, and children disintegrating almost instantly in the fireball. The lives of all these people are taken in less than a heartbeat. In the aftermath of the explosion, many people hide in fallout shelters, and those left on the surface suffer from radiation sickness. By the end of the movie, almost everyone is feeling the effects of radiation; almost everyone is dying.

The movie left me completely stunned. (The 1984 British film Threads, which follows a similar narrative, is reportedly even more unsettling.) I had learned about the power of nuclear weapons, but never had I seen just how devastating nuclear war could be. You can read about it, and you can hear about it, but actually seeing it is a different story. To see thousands of people vaporized in less than a second, buildings toppling on people faster than they can react, and everyone slowly dying of cancer is as eye-opening as it gets.


Movies are a large part of our current culture. If you want to get a millennial’s attention, make a movie about it. Nuclear war scared people then, and it will again, especially with the incredible update in movie technology since the 1980s. New movies will be able to show more graphic detail than past movies could even dream of, giving viewers a realistic glimpse of nuclear war.

Movies depicting dystopian futures can change a generation’s perspective on geopolitics. There are plenty of dystopian movies today, but far too few about nuclear war.

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