Roughly thirty years after the Cold War ended, tensions between the U.S. and Russia are escalating after Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than a month ago.
In light of that, here are five movies about the Cold War that were made while it was ongoing and capture some of the spirit of that era — from the competition that drove the space race to the widespread nuclear anxiety:
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Based off a Tom Clancy novel of the same name and starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, “The Hunt for Red October” follows Captain Marko Ramius (Connery) on the Soviet Union’s nuclear submarine “Red October” as it heads toward the U.S.
The U.S. fears an attack, but CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) has a suspicion that Ramius may be defecting from the communist regime. Ryan has to prove it — while Soviet officers attempt to manipulate America into sinking the submarine.
“Many military thrillers, especially those set in the Cold War period, rely on stereotyping and large, crude motivations to move their stories along,” famous film critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1990. “‘”The Hunt for Red October’ has more fun by suggesting how easily men can go wrong, how false assumptions can seem seductive and how enormous consequences can sometimes hang by slender threads.”
“The Hunt for Red October” is available to stream on services including Amazon Prime and AMC+.
“WarGames” blends science fiction with the Cold War, following David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), a teenaged hacker who spends most of his time messing around at home on the computer. Lightman gains access to what appears to be a game, “Global Thermonuclear War,” but eventually figures out it’s not a game at all — it’s a system run by a Pentagon supercomputer capable of launching nuclear strikes.
After he accidentally triggers a deadly game of war between the Soviet Union and the U.S, Lightman has to find the original programmer, Dr. Stephen Falken (John Wood), if he wants to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.
“War Games” is a very ’80s film packed with suspense and drama that builds on the nuclear fears of the Cold War era while weaving in the growing computer revolution of the time. Decades further into that revolution, with Russia and Ukraine both turning digital tools into weapons, the potentially destructive hacking and technology in the film feel all the more pertinent.
The film is available to stream on services including Amazon Prime and AMC+.
The Right Stuff (1983)
“The Right Stuff” tackles the space race between the Soviet Union and the U.S., chronicling American efforts to push first pilots and then astronauts to greater speeds and heights from 1947 to 1963 as the Soviets put first a satellite and then a man into space.
Based off a book of the same name by the famous journalist and writer Tom Wolfe, the film follows ground-breaking pilots from Chuck Yeager (Sam Shephard), who first broke the sound barrier, to Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), who was selected as one of NASA’s original astronauts and became the first American to reach space.
“The Right Stuff” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Seven Days in May (1964)
“Seven Days in May” tells a fictitious story about military leaders plotting to overthrow the president of the United States for supporting a nuclear disarmament treaty because they fear the Soviet Union will not fulfill their end of the bargain.
The film stars Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and tells a gripping story of political intrigue and conspiracy theorizing in the midst of the pervasive fear of nuclear catastrophe.
“Seven Days in May” is available on Amazon Prime.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)
Considered a timeless classic of the Cold War era, “Dr. Strangelove” is a hilariously dark comedy produced by legendary director Stanley Kubrick.
In the film, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides to attack the Soviet Union with a bomber plane armed with a hydrogen bomb, based on suspicions the Soviets are poisoning the American people. Learning that his attack could trigger a much larger Soviet doomsday machine, U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) and his advisors, including a nuclear scientist and former Nazi named Dr. Strangelove (also Sellers), to try to prevent a nuclear apocalypse.
The wildly entertaining story became an instant classic. A New York Times review from 1964 said the movie was “one of the cleverest and most incisive satiric thrusts at the awkwardness and folly of the military that have ever been on the screen.”
“Dr. Strangelove” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.