A Handy Cinematic Primer for Our Coming Nuclear War With North Korea

Look for this bad boy at Carmax any day now.
Look for this bad boy at Carmax any day now. 20th Century Fox
As if the news hadn't been the source of enough crippling depression in recent months, the Washington Post dropped this little bomb (heh) yesterday:

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.
Pretty serious stuff. Fortunately, America is led by a calm and rational Chief Executive who knows exactly the kind of sober response the situation requ...what's that?

President Trump, speaking at an event at his Bedminster, N.J. golf course, said North Korea will face a devastating response if its threats continue.

“They will be met with the fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” Trump said.
"...Frankly power?" There's that Wharton education at work again.

So it looks like we're going to have to resign ourselves to death by atomic firestorm. Now, since there are very few people who can actually speak to the experience of surviving a nuclear attack (this is actually a good thing), we're forced to look to Hollywood and others for tips on what to expect from our 50 million degrees Fahrenheit future.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
In the original Terminator, the Skynet-instigated nuclear war started "a few years from now" (1984), then it was 1997, then it *finally* happened in 2003, thanks to the T-800 (Model 101) being too distracted by paternity suits to prevent it (I may be misremembering).

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Don't take your kids to playgrounds, or live near a major metropolitan area, or sue a Terminator for paternity.

Damnation Alley (1977)
We always knew cockroaches would be the organisms most likely to survive a nuclear war, but this movie (based on the Roger Zelazny novel) also made them maneaters, or what we in science* call a "bitchin' adaptive mutation." The Air Force "Landmasters" that Jan-Michael Vincent and George Peppard drive from California to Albany were also the inspiration for the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle in Stripes, which I either read on the Internet or dreamed about after a few too many Atomic Cocktails.
* I watched a lot of 3-2-1 Contact as a kid.

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Don't smoke in bed, especially if you're sleeping next to a stack of military-stockpiled pornography, and stock up on Raid.

Dreamscape (1984)
The blasted postapocalyptic landscape in Dreamscape is speculative, fueled by the nightmares of the current President (played by Green Acres' Eddie Albert). The President's anti-nuclear sentiments are exactly the reason elements of his own government are trying to kill him, and the wasteland (which still has a functioning train in it, for some reason) is quickly forgotten when Tommy Glatman's cobra-man assassin shows up.

It was the '80s, man.

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Trump is currently channeling Pentagon funds to train Dennis Rodman to infiltrate Kim Jong-un's dreams and dunk on him mercilessly until he dies of shame.

Testament (1983)
Jesus, it's no wonder people who grew up in the 1980s were so pessimistic. Between this — about a family coping with the aftermath in a suburb of San Francisco, The Day After (stay tuned), and our Commander-in-Chief at the time joking about how we would "begin bombing in five minutes," it's mildly surprising we didn't all become raging alcoholics. *cough*

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Not so upset you can't afford a house in Bay Area now, I bet.

Def-Con 4 (1985)
Can't leave the astronauts on the International Space Station out of the fun! If this...appropriately regarded Canadian sci-fi flick is to be believed, it's not just an irradiated wasteland that awaits us, but mutant cannibals, perverse survivalists and a teenage dictator (to be played by Jake Paul in the remake. Probably).

Nuclear Lessons Learned: DEFCON 4 is actually a pretty stable threat condition, militarily speaking. Again: Canadians.

The Day After (1983)
A profoundly affecting TV movie (even after heavy edits by ABC's censors), which actually caused Ronald Reagan to re-evaluate his stance on nuclear conflict. It was also nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling, which is pretty choice.

Nuclear Lessons Learned: If you must get married, try to schedule it on a day well removed from any massive nuclear exchanges. Also: Betcha don't know where the nearest fallout shelter is.

A Boy and His Dog (1975)
You might convince me of the benefits of atomic warfare if it made my dog telepathic. On second thought, I don't need him reporting on my personal hygiene. And if you find yourself wandering the wasteland, try to be less of a rapist than the Boy (Don Johnson).

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Fun fact: If you encounter Jason Robards in the post-apocalypse, there's a 50 percent chance he won't try to forcibly extract your sperm.

On the Beach (1959)
A key plot point to both the movie and Nevil Shute's novel on which it's based is how the Australian government, faced with the arrival of lethal fallout, will hand out suicide pills to its population. This is the death panel angle the anti-HCA crowd really should have taken.

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Don't invite a drunk Fred Astaire to your impending-doom cocktail party.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
The newest movies eschew the "you blew it up!" approach of the originals, which is a shame, because there's no reason to believe our current nuke-happy Administration wouldn't use any and all means necessary to prevent the rise of a species marginally smarter than our current leadership.

Nuclear Lessons Learned: Our subservient future is apparently chock-full of attractive, loincloth-clad potential mates, so why fight the future?

Threads (1984)
Leave it to the Brits to take all the fun out of annihilation. This BBC series shows the horrors of nuclear winter and the medieval future awaiting us all after a full-scale exchange. The good news? America is already pretty close to that level with regard to women's rights anyway.

Nuclear Lessons Learned: None, really. Thirty years later and idiots are still brandishing their intercontinental ballistic penises like so many frat pledges. Might as well have a drink.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar