It’s Time To Revisit This Terrifying 1980s TV Movie On Nuclear War


Happy Holidays, everyone. Did you see President-elect Donald Trump’s latest tweet about nuclear weapons? The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016

None of this is normal, and it unfortunately seems like a good time to sit down and revisit what is historically the scariest thing to ever air on ABC (outside of the 2016 election returns).

The Day After was a controversial television movie that first aired on the network on November 20th, 1983, and it remains the highest-rated television film in history (one hundred million reportedly tuned in that night). It’s also responsible for terrifying every one of those many viewers—both children and adults felt “fear and hopelessness” after viewing the film (which was briefly revisited during The Americans this year).

The two-hour long production—starring JoBeth Williams, Steve Guttenberg, John Cullum, Jason Robards, and John Lithgow—starts off with everything going great in the U.S.A., but then a war begins and quickly escalates as the United States takes a stand against the Soviet Union. As one older couple watches the news from the paling aman of their own home—kind of like how we are all doing now—they reflect on history repeating itself:

“My god it’s 1962 all over again. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Do you remember Kennedy on television, telling Khrushchev to turn his boats around… we were in New York, 118th Street, meatball sandwiches from Sharky’s. We got up, went to the window, looked for the bomb. Didn’t happen. It’s not gonna happen now. People are crazy, but not that crazy.”

In the movie’s reality, it turns out they were that crazy, even though in real life slightly cooler heads prevailed. But in current real life, we just elected crazy to the highest office. That makes this movie more bone-chilling than it ever was when it originally aired.

You can find it on YouTube (and below), but be warned, it’s either equal to or worse than your own current worst fears. Around its broadcast debut, the NY Times published a number of articles, one describing it in all its gory detail: “The film is relentlessly depressing, with TV scenes of enormous destruction by firestorm, people being vaporized, mass graves, the irretrievable loss of food and water supplies, vandalism and murder, the breakdown of medical care and disfigurement and death from radiation sickness.”

For their part, ABC said they ran the program with the hope that it would “inspire the nations of this earth, their people and their leaders, to find means to avert the fateful day.” Maybe it’s time to bring it back to prime time.

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