Cold War Movies/Books depicting actual conflict?

I lent a friend one of my favourite movies recently, By Dawns Early Light, and it got me thinking, although there are plenty of films/books about the Cold War (either created during or subsequently) there are relatively few movies depicting The Cold War gone hot, whether in a total or limited sense.

Anyone have any recommendations? Some that I’ve already watched/read are listed below:


By Dawns Early Light and the book it was based on, Trinity’s Child by William Prochnau
Failsafe (original and remake)
The Hunt For Red October (book and movie)
Firefox (book and movie) - depicts the coolest fictional aircraft ever in my opinion, the book is a somewhat darker than the movie.


Chieftans by Bobb-Forest Webb - Mostly about tank-combat, very well done and with an excellent ending

Domain by James Herbert - actually a horror book but has a memorable opening sequence depicting a nuclear attack on London

Down To A Sunless Sea by David Graham - About a passenger aircraft during an apocalyptic Third World War, I’ve seen this described as racist and sexist but although it is somewhat dated I don’t really see that part, it does have an interesting storyline, a genuinely moving scene and an unusual ending that manages to be depressing and uplifting at the same time (that was I believe removed in some editions)

Ende: A Diary of the Third World War by Anton Andreas-Guha - translated from the German it depicts WW3 as seen from the close to the Inner German Border, again worth a read

Resurrection Day by Brendan Dubois - the Cuban Missile Crisis goes hot, worth a read but fell apart a bit towards the end

Red Army by Ralph Peters

Silent Night: The Defeat of NATO by Cyril Joly

Storming Intrepid by Payne Harrison - The Soviets attempt to steal a space shuttle, I remember this as one of my favourite books growing up but not sure how well it would stand up now

Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy - a classic and very different in style and tone from his later works I found

Warday by William Streiber and James Kunetka

The Third World War by Sir John Hacket, original and later expanded edition

A Colder War by Charles Stross - Lovecraft meets the Cold War!

Its actually legally online (as far as I’m aware, if I’m wrong feel free to nuke the link!) at:

Are you kidding? In the 1980s and 1990s you couldn’t move for books, and to a lesser degree films, about the Third World War. Off the top of my head:


The Day After
Red Dawn


Fire Lance (David Mace)
The Zone (a series of around ten books by James Rouch)
Wingman (a godawful series by Mack Maloney that still has entertainment value)
Warday (Whitley Strieber & James Kunetka)
The Third World War: The Untold Story (General Sir John Hackett’s addendum to the previous book)
Arc Light (Eric L Harry)

Plus any number of survivalist series. Like, er, The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern.

More books:

Team Yankee (Harold Coyle)
Sword Point (Harold Coyle)
First Clash (Kenneth Macksey; a tactical history of a Canadian brigade in World War III)
Total War 2006 (Simon Pearson, although in this one everyone fights everyone, not just NATO versus Russia)
Red Thrust (Stephen Zaloga; I’ve not read this one)

More films:

The War Game (infamous 1965 British drama, long banned for its content - available in full at this link

And here’s the full online version of the astonishingly depressing Threads (1984), about the effect of nuclear war and nuclear winter in a British city. Utterly nihilistic. We were made to watch this at school. The nastiness starts about 45 minutes in.

Team Yankee, Sword Point and Red Army were my favorites of the bunch.

Interestingly enough, Team Yankee and Hackett’s Third World War take place in the same universe, although you don’t really realize it until the end.

*Threads * is just utterly bleak. I was still at school when it was broadcast for the first time and well, it made a big impact.

I didn’t see The War Game until I was much older, and that is pretty fucking bleak as well - I can see a bit why it wasn’t widely available in 1965.

The Day After I’ve heard been unfairly maligned in certain UK circles as being too polished, too American, but it is also massively bleak. OK, it doesn’t have so many people pissing themselves in fear, but Jason Robard’s last scene is heartbreaking and there’s no hope there at all.

One not mentioned so far is Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows, an animation about an elderly couple in the nuclear aftermath. :(:(:frowning:

Oh, good call.

Here’s the nuclear attack in When The Wind Blows
And the heartbreaking end to the film


From the website: "The Wingman, aka Hawk Hunter, the best fighter pilot who has ever lived, starts a quest to re-unite the United States. He teams up with a real cast of characters - Captain Crunch, JT “Socket” Twomey, Ben Wa, The Jones Boys, Elvis Q, the Cobra Brothers – and meets the lovely Bridget Bardot look-a-like, Dominique as well, the woman who will haunt him for the next 16 books.

This book is full of combat, in the air and on the ground, as Hawk and his gang kick ass on the Russians and their allies. The final battle, which takes place in Football City (aka St Louis), is titanic and results in a huge United American victory, this after Hawk single-handedly shoots down 100 Soviet-built planes. There is also lots of sex in this one
as my editor at the time told me that Hawk should lay pipe at least four times a book."

I wouldn’t call the Wingman series World War III-related. More of an apocalyptic thing. There are Russians, but also Nazis, Klansmen, Japanese, Norse, a space shuttle, highly improbable feats of darring do, mysticism, mind altering drugs, and just plain weird elements. I think in theory it did start as a WWIII scenario…something about a corrupt POTUS or V-POTUS selling us out to the Russians. But that was just a jumping off point.

I genuinely cannot watch this again, this is my mum and dad.

Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
The Bedford Incident – a terrific film that’s been overlooked, about a destroyer harrying a Russian sub.
The Fourth War – the battle was more personal and didn’t involve weapons.

There was a 1982 made-for-TV movie called, appropriately enough, World War III. Though it was really more about a relatively small skirmish in Alaska rather than full-blown war.

You don’t see a shot fired, but there’s Testament from 1983.

The only movie my wife has ever seen that made her so upset she got up and walked out before the end.

Top Gun ends with a dogfight against a MiG of unspecified nationality, but anyone in a MiG can be assumed to be on the Russians’ side. It’s not really implied that anything escalates out of it, though.

That’s the movie that immediately sprung to mind when I opened this thread. There’s one scene that made a big impact on me that I think back to several times a year (last being a few weeks ago).

The setup: the US troops are laying inside a stack of large tubes arranged in overlapping fields of fire waiting for the Russians to show up (OK, whatever). After a few volleys, the Americans fall back, but one young soldier gets hung up inside his tube. A similarly young Russian soldier steps in front of the tube with his rifle at the ready. The trapped American is clearly at the Russian’s mercy, but there’s a few seconds where they just stare at each other. Long enough that you think there might be some hope for the American, but there is not. The Russian shoots and moves on without a second glance.

The scene is just incredibly sad to me. Just two kids who look very much alike and who could’ve been hunting buddies under different circumstances. I don’t remember anything else from that movie but I’ll never forget that part.

I’d add the early books of Larry Bond, to the list of Cold War military technothrillers. You probably could add Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising to his credits, as IIRC, he was pretty much an uncredited co-author. In any event, though it’s neither a movie, nor a book, one of the first things I think of on the topic of Cold War conflict is his wargame/video game series, Harpoon.

Well, it ends with both sides launching nukes.

Warday by William Streiber and James Kunetka, as mentioned by the OP, is very powerful - a travelogue through the U.S. after a limited nuclear war with the Soviet Union. One chapter is narrated by a senior Pentagon civilian aboard NEACP during the brief but all too devastating war (; that part is clinical but chilling in tone.

I remember enjoying Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy very much when I first read it, although it ends somewhat abruptly. The scenes of U.S. Marine small unit hit-and-run tactics in Soviet-occupied Iceland are quite good.

The Last Ship by William Brinkley is about a U.S. Navy destroyer which launches Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Soviets from the Barents Sea during an all-out WWIII, and her crew’s later struggles to form a new society. A bit farfetched but a gripping read.

No, I’m not kidding, the movies/books listed aren’t really that many considering the confrontation lasted almost fifty years.

The part about that book that sticks in my mind is it depicted the US President suffering a fatal heart attack through the stress of trying to make a decision regarding the US response. I recall descriptions of Boris Yeltsin not being a happy camper during the Norweigan rocket incident in 1995!

I do remember reading that the authors of Warday intended to write a similar book to Warday but from the Soviet perspective, a pity that it never appeared.

I’ve heard that as well, I think ‘The Day After’ just isn’t as ‘in your face’ as Threads but its every bit as disturbing, the scene where the characters watch the US missiles being launched is chilling.
btw something I’ve wondered about Threads, at one point there are only two main characters left, a man and a woman, the last time the man is seen he is shown putting on a sheepskin for warmth, I wonder was that meant to imply that the sheepskin had been contanimated by radiation and he died from it?

Forgot to add recently read Deathlands by Jack Adrian, not exactly high-art but it did have an interesting idea concerning how World War Three started, a massive nuclear bomb detonated without warning from the basement of the Soviet embassy in Washington.

Unfortunately this one doesn’t seem to be out on DVD… :\

Er, just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to sound snarky. You make a good point given the length of the Cold War.

Yes, that bit is genuinely terrifying.

I just took that as having to rely on animal skins for warmth.