Three Movies About the Atomic Bomb
78 years ago, the world entered the nuclear age with the use of the first atomic bomb. These movies explore the complexities of that event and the moral dilemmas faced by those involved.
Whether in dramatic, comedic, or pseudo-documentary style, these films explore the origins, effects, and consequences of the dawning of the atomic age.
The story of the man who helped create a world-changing weapon seems like an unlikely subject for a summer blockbuster, but Christopher Nolan’s new film Oppenheimer delivers. The director is well-known for his hyper-stylized, large-scale films and the movie, which opens on July 21, stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.”
His leadership in the Manhattan Project and his post-war disgust at what he had created is well known. But the details of his personal life and his attempts to regulate nuclear weapons remain largely obscure.
Nolan’s film also stars Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s biologist wife Kitty, Matt Damon as the head of the Manhattan Project Leslie Groves, and Robert Downey Jr. as U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss. Casey Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek and Kenneth Branagh round out the cast.
While Black Rain isn’t as powerful as On the Beach, it still offers a poignant, disturbing look at the consequences of nuclear weapons.
The film follows Yasuko, a young Japanese woman, as she deals with the physical and psychological effects of radiation poisoning following the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. Yasuko is one of many surviving victims who are called hibakusha.
This 1989 thriller is not only a chilling look at the aftermath of the atomic bomb, but it also provides a surprisingly complex and pessimistic undercurrent that, once recognized, radically changes how we should think about Michael Douglas’s tough cop protagonist and his clash with Japanese culture.
The film avoids easy cultural jokes, and Conklin’s casual racism and sense of American superiority are a far cry from the unabashedly racist characters seen in other cop movies at the time.
A powerful film about the effects of nuclear warfare that avoids cliched Hollywood tropes. It is a tragic depiction of humanity’s ability to make the worst decisions in the face of an unimaginable catastrophe.
In this movie, the viewer is witness to the destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. Its devastating effects are portrayed in both the immediate aftermath of the explosion as well as the long-term consequences of radiation poisoning.
This French New Wave film evokes the fear of a global thermonuclear war. It depicts a man’s struggle to balance his moral responsibilities as he creates an atomic bomb. It explores many themes including Oppenheimer’s personal and professional struggles, McCarthyism and the revolutionary physics of the Manhattan Project.
On the Beach
Despite the film’s melodrama, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner have real gravitas and this is one of Hollywood’s most serious movies about nuclear war. The late Stanley Kramer scheduled premieres of the movie in 18 world capitals on the same day and heads of state were often on hand to watch it, adding weight to its apocalyptic climax.
As a result of the Cold War, films about nuclear disaster were not commonplace until 1959 and this drama was based on Nevil Shute’s novel of the same name. It posits that Australia and a couple of devastated US cities are the only places left for humans to survive after a full-scale nuclear war as radioactive winds from elsewhere slowly devastate mankind. It’s a sobering reminder that no amount of good wishes can save mankind when it comes to nuclear war.
The Day After
Currently streaming on YouTube, The Day After is a made-for-TV film that dramatizes what would happen if nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States triggered a global disaster. The movie focuses on the experiences of residents in Lawrence and Kansas City, Missouri. It’s an unsettling view of a world without electricity, clean drinking water or food. Starring Jason Robards and JoBeth Williams, the movie is still a terrifying wake-up call nearly 40 years later.
The film’s director, Nicholas Meyer, had a tough time getting the project off the ground because he didn’t want to turn The Day After into a regular Hollywood disaster flick. He wanted to present the facts about what would happen in a nuclear attack. He even filmed several scenes that were cut or censored by ABC because they were too graphic.