Retro SciFi Film of the Week…

The Day After (1983)

Last week the Retro SciFi Film of the Week was On the Beach (1959), a film about nuclear war. This is another film about nuclear war, but this one is much more realistic. Whereas On the Beach showed no dead bodies, injuries, or destruction at all, this film shows in graphic detail just how horrific nuclear war is.

Each of the films are propaganda films, designed to influence public opinion, but with On The Beach the purpose appears to have been to keep the arms race going, and is told from the perspective of the military. The Day After appears to want to eliminate nuclear weapons, and explicitly says it wants to avert nuclear war.

The special effects and the overall quality are astonishing considering that it's a made-for-TV movie created in the early 80s. It was a really big deal when this movie was released. Some sources say it's the most watched TV movie ever. It was highly promoted and it had a huge impact on society.

It follows the same basic formula as any other disaster movie -- the first half of the film is character development and shows people doing ordinary things and then in the second half of the movie all hell breaks loose.

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(fair use video clips)

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accessible video description:

content warning - graphic descriptions of death and injury

A male TV announcer announcing political events as a gray-haired man and a woman watch; then another man and a woman arguing in their home, the man is wearing an Air Force uniform; then men in a barber shop discuss the situation; then cut to a crow in a wheat field flying away; then cut to a scene inside a silo bunker where Air Force personnel are going through a sequence to launch nuclear missiles, pushing buttons and turning keys; then missiles blasting off as ordinary people watch; then on a highway a nuclear bomb detonates in the distance, the gray haired man is in his car and lies down to shield himself from the thermal radiation and blast; an orange mushroom cloud raises into the air; scenes of fire; people frantically running; then another detonation with two mushroom clouds in the distance; then people are being vaporized by thermal radiation with their skeletons briefly appearing as they are vaporized; then fade to a quiet scene with the gray-haired man slowly walking down the street with destruction everywhere and flakes of fallout beginning to fall; then a Geiger counter and a man talking about the fallout coming; then two people dressed in scrubs, one holding a flashlight the other tending to a serious facial burn on a patient; then a farmer walks out into his field and sees his horse dead on the ground; then a night scene and a man is talking about his radiation injuries; then a boy with radiation injuries talks to a doctor, and a nurse gestures with her head that the boy likely will not survive; then back to the man talking about his radiation injuries and asks what can be done; then people gathering dead bodies from a field using horse-drawn carts; then people listen to the president talking on the radio as the screen shows scenes of despair; then cut to a scene of people burying bodies in a mass grave; then the gray-haired man looking exhausted, now with facial burns and patches of hair missing from his head talks to another doctor, then they hug. Fade Out.


The release of this film was widely covered by the media at the time.

Here's a video of how WABC-TV covered the story...


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