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7 nuclear war movies like Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer you should watch

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has blown audiences away with its thrilling and terrifying account of the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb. Such an incredible biopic will undoubtedly leave audiences wanting to learn more about the titular scientist.

It will also make them even warier about the prospect of atomic destruction. So to those interested in other films like Oppenheimer, these seven nuclear war pictures should provide a similar, thought-provoking experience.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Kong riding an atomic bomb in "Dr. Strangelove."
Columbia Pictures

When a paranoid U.S. general launches an attack on the Soviet Union, audiences see America’s bumbling president and his equally incompetent cabinet try to stop it from initiating global Armageddon. But despite their best efforts, the attack succeeds in setting off a Russian doomsday device that destroys the entire world.

This film may be more satirical than Oppenheimer, but Stanley Kubrick’s classic has much to say about nuclear weapons and how those in control mishandle them. The fact that this film remains timely over half a century later makes it harder for audiences to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Dr. Strangelove can be rented or purchased at Prime Video.

Godzilla (1954)

Godzilla with spotlights around him in "Godzilla" (1954).

Ishirō Honda’s masterpiece portrays the titular monster awakened by an atomic bomb test, leaving death, destruction, and sorrow in its wake. Audiences may complain about “boring” human characters in new Godzilla films, but the original does a terrific job depicting the struggles of those impacted by the creature’s rampage.

Specifically, a scientist similar to Oppenheimer is reluctant to use a new device that could destroy the monster, fearing that humanity will weaponize it and cause a similar disaster. Thus, the film sends a harrowing message about the terrors of nuclear war, with Godzilla embodying what could happen if people continue to misuse the destructive power that Oppenheimer created.

1964’s Godzilla can be streamed for free on YouTube.

The Day After (1983)

A nuclear explosion in "The Day After."
ABC Circle Films

This made-for-TV film follows a group of people in Kansas after the U.S. and the Soviet Union bomb each other. Since this film was very close to becoming a reality when it premiered, countless audiences were utterly terrified by its realistic depiction of nuclear destruction and the chaotic fallout.

In fact, the film depressed Ronald Reagan so much that he became more motivated to prevent nuclear war (though he tried to increase the U.S.’s supply of nukes before eventually decreasing it in 1987).

Stream The Day After for free on YouTube.

Testament (1983)

A couple hold their baby in a town hall meeting in Testament.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Similar to The Day After, Lynne Littman’s overlooked film follows a family in California as their community and health decline in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The difference is that Testament focuses more on the terrors after the bombings, which aren’t even seen in the movie.

Though everyone tries to move on with their lives as best as they can, the deadly effects of the atomic fallout make it all impossible, making for a somber and realistic depiction of life after the end of the world. It also features an Oscar-nominated performance by Jane Alexander and some noteworthy appearances by a young Kevin Costner and Rebecca De Mornay.

Testament is streaming on Paramount+.

The Day After Trinity (1981)

J. Robert Oppenheimer in the documentary, "The Day After Trinity."

This Peabody Award-winning documentary explores the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, featuring testimonies from scientists who actually worked on building the bomb and archival footage of its development.

Like Nolan’s Oppenheimer, The Day After Trinity explores the man’s remarkable and pioneering intelligence as he and those involved with the bomb’s creation reflect on what they achieved. It also explores Oppenheimer’s unfathomable regret for what he built, which should serve as a dire warning against the ongoing use of nuclear weapons.

The Day After Trinity is streaming on The Criterion Channel.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Klaatu exiting a flying saucer in "The Day the Earth Stood Still."
Image via 20th Century Studios

Set in the early days of the Cold War, this sci-fi classic depicts the alien Klaatu when he arrives on Earth to deliver a message of peace to try and avert the planet’s destruction. Just as Oppenheimer tries to stop the Nazis from using an atomic bomb, Klaatu tries to prevent humanity from using their own nukes before his kind decides to eliminate Earth.

Despite this, The Day the Earth Stood Still is more hopeful in delivering its anti-war story, with Klaatu acting as a Christ-like figure who tries to guide humanity toward peace without resorting to violence. Say it together now. “Klaatu barada nikto!”

The Day the Earth Stood Still can be rented or purchased on Prime Video.

Watchmen (2009)

Nite Owl and Silk Specter in front of a nuclear explosion in "Watchmen."
Warner Bros. Pictures

Based on Alan Moore’s beloved comic book, Watchmen depicts an alternate Earth in 1985 in which Richard Nixon is still the U.S. president, masked vigilantes are common, and the doomsday clock has almost reached midnight. The conflict of this film revolves around the characters trying to prevent nuclear war from breaking out between the U.S. and the Soviets.

However, the villain actually tries to bomb major cities in a misguided attempt to end the war by uniting the rest of humanity against a common enemy. Much like Oppenheimer, Watchmen serves as an analysis of how those assigned to protect humanity from destruction can end up becoming destroyers themselves.

Watchmen is streaming on Max.

Editors' Recommendations

Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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