The Day After (1983 film)

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The Day After is a 1983 American television movie which aired on November 20, 1983 on the ABC television network. The film portrays a fictional war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalates into a full scale nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. It focuses on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, as well as several family farms situated next to nuclear missile silos.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Screenplay by Edward Hume. Produced by Robert Papazian.
The day before. The day of. The Day After. Taglines

Dr. Russell Oakes


Joe Huxley

  • [speaking into his shortwave radio] This is Lawrence. This is Lawrence, Kansas. Is there anybody there? Anybody at all?
  • You know what Einstein said about World War III? He said he didn't know how they would fight World War III, but he knew how they would fight World War IV: with sticks and stones.

Stephen Klein

  • You can't see it... you can't feel it... and you can't taste it. But it's here, right now, all around us. It's goin' through you like an X-ray. Right into your cells! What do you think killed all these animals!?

First Air Force Officer

  • Confidence is high. I repeat, confidence is high. Roger, we've got 32 targets in track and 10 impacting points. I want it confirmed... is this an exercise? Roger, copy. This is not an exercise!

Second Air Force Officer

  • Roger, understand. Major Reinhardt, we have a massive attack against the U.S. at-at this time. ICBMs...numerous ICBMs...Roger, understand. Over 300 missiles inbound now.


[Laying in bed watching TV the night before the attack]
Helen Oakes: 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?
Dr. Russell Oakes: "Full retaliatory response." He didn't bat an eye.
Helen Oakes: We were in New York, in bed... just like this, remember? 118th street.
Dr. Russell Oakes: Meatball sandwiches from Sharky's.
Helen Oakes: Your last year's residency. I swear we made Marilyn that night.
Dr. Russell Oakes: We got up, and went to the window to look for the bombs.
Helen Oakes: It didn't happen. It's not going to happen now.
Dr. Russell Oakes: Nah. People are crazy, but not that crazy.
Helen Oakes: Well... do you want to know from crazy? The Donnelly's left today for Guadalajara.
Dr. Russell Oakes: Guadalajara?
Helen Oakes: I swear it. I spoke to Herb as they were pulling out. He said they were dovetailing their vacation with the rising international tensions.
Dr. Russell Oakes: Aw, cut it out!
Helen Oakes: I'm not kidding. Well, they took their Vietnamese maid with them. And that rotten little barking dog with the pushed-in face.
Dr. Russell Oakes: [chuckles] Oh, what about their little combination tractor/lawnmower/golfcart with the silver hubcaps?
Helen Oakes: [laughs] Probably...[sighs] What if it does happen? What'll we do?

Dr. Landowska: There is a rumor that they are evacuating Moscow. There are people even leaving Kansas City because of the missile base. Now I ask you: To where does one go from Kansas City? The Yukon? Tahiti? We are not talking about Hiroshima anymore. Hiroshima was... was peanuts!
Dr. Russell Oakes: What's going on? Do you have any idea what's going on in this world?
Dr. Landowska: Yeah. Stupidity... has a habit of getting its way.

[Nuclear IBCMs have been launched]
Airman: You know what that means, don't you? Either we fired first and they're going to try to hit what's left, or they fired first and we just got our missiles out of the ground in time. Either way, we're going to get hit.
Airman Billy McCoy: So what are we still standing around here for?
Sergeant: Where do you want to go?
Airman Billy McCoy: Well, how about out of here for starters? I've got to get my wife and my kid!
Sergeant: We're still on alert, Billy! No one leaves this facility. Not until the choppers get here to take us back to Whiteman and to the shelters...
Airman Billy McCoy: [cutting him off] Are you kidding me, man? The bombs will be here before the choppers will! Listen to me. Listen to me, man. The war is over! It's over. We've done our job. So what are you still guarding? Huh? Some cotton-pickin' hole in the ground all dressed up and nowhere to go?
Airman: He's right!
Airman Tommy: What about Starr and Boyle?
Sergeant: What about them?
Airman Tommy: What are they doing?
Airman Billy McCoy: Yeah, they're 60 feet down, sipping on some cold beer and whistling "Misty"!
Airman Tommy: Well I'm going down there!
Sergeant: You can't go down there! That elevator is secure!
Airman Billy McCoy: Do you hear yourself talking, bozo? 'Cause I hear you saying that we've got direct orders to be sitting ducks!

[Nuclear ICBMs have been launched]
Cynthia: What's going on?
Joe Huxley: Those are Minuteman missiles!
Cynthia: Like a test, sort of. Like a warning?
Joe Huxley: [shakes his head, staring at the missiles in awe and disbelief] They're on their way to Russia. They take about 30 minutes to reach their targets.
Aldo: So do theirs, right?

Dr. Sam Hachiya: [intensely] What did you see? You come from Kansas City. What did you see?
Dr. Russell Oakes: [in shock] I was on the freeway, about 30 miles away. I'm not was high in the air, directly above downtown. Like the sun...exploding.

[Several people are huddled together in a darkened science lab while Joe Huxley uses a small radio, trying in vain to contact the outside world]
Joe Huxley: Hello? Hello, is anybody there? Is anybody there? [No reply, only radio static can be heard] This is Lawrence. This is Lawrence, Kansas, is anybody there? [Still no reply, only radio static] This is Joe Huxley, I'm broadcasting out of the science building at the University of Kansas, is anybody there? [radio static] I...have an atmosphere report for whoever's listening. Dr. you read? Come in, Dr. Oakes, do you hear me?
Dr. Russell Oakes: Yes, Joe.
Joe Huxley: We're holding fast at just a hair under...uh...fifty rads per hour. I thought that it would have diminished by now. I...I guess that means we're picking up a lot of fallout from...Titan missile bases in Wichita and wherever else...out west...that's way the wind blows. Straight towards St. Louis.
Dr. Russell Oakes: Uh-huh. When will it be safe to move people to other buildings?
Joe Huxley: [hesitates, then shakes his head grimly]'ll never be safe.
Dr. Russell Oakes: [disbelieving] Come on, Joe.
Joe Huxley:...wait till it gets down to under two rads an hour...if and when. You picked up anybody else on uh...on your end...?
Dr. Russell Oakes: Not a soul...
Joe Huxley: [returns to calling out for other listeners]This is Lawrence. This is Lawrence, Kansas, is anybody there? Anybody at all...?

Julian French: We tried hooking up an auxiliary pump up to a backup generator, and we're still only getting a trickle.
Dr. Sam Hachiya: I don't understand. Did they burn out?
Dr. Austin: They could have been subject to the EMP effects.
Dr. Russell Oakes: What's that?
Dr. Austin: "Electro-Magnetic Pulse." When a large nuclear device is airburst at high altitude, a lot of electrical disruption can be created, principally with radios, communication systems, electrical wires, computers, cars, transistors. Of course, it's all theoretical. It's never happened before. In short, very little electricity.
Dr. Sam Hachiya: Forever?
[Dr. Austin shrugs]

Denise Dahlberg: You attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence? Do you know Bruce Gallatin? He's my fiancee. He's a senior over there.
Stephen Klein: No.
Denise Dahlberg: But you're from Lawrence, so that must mean that Bruce is all right.
Stephen Klein: Well...I don't know what happened to Lawrence. I was pretty close to Harrisonville when it all started. There must have been five or six of those mushroom cloud explosions to the north in and around Kansas City, and... a whole string of them to the south.
Jim Dahlberg: They must have hit every missile silo from Sedalia to Eldorado Springs.

Dr. Russell Oakes: I think you've got to be willing to let your baby come whether you like it or not. You're holding back hope.
Alison Ransom: Hope for what? What do you think is going to happen out there? You think we're going to sweep up the dead and fill in a couple of holes and build some supermarkets? You think all those people left alive out there are going to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. It wasn't my fault. Let's kiss and make up"? We knew the score. We knew all about bombs, we knew all about fallout. We knew this could happen for forty years. But nobody was interested.
Dr. Russell Oakes: [turns to leave] I can't argue with you.
Alison Ransom: [pulls him back] Argue with me. Please... give me a reason. Tell me about hope. Tell me why you work so hard in here.
Dr. Russell Oakes: ...I don't know.

  • Disclaimer: The catastrophic events you have just witnessed are, in all likelihood, less severe than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike against the United States…

About The Day After (1983 film)

  • No one is going to tune it to two nights of Armageddon.
  • The answer print has been tampered with twice. One scene of a child having a nuclear nightmare was set. A psychologist who saw the film said this would be too upsetting for children. Considering what children see on television every week, I found this ludicrous and hypocritical. Also, Ed Hume had written a line about the Pershing II missiles in Germany having set off the confrontation, and the network decided that might be politically inflammatory, so it was cut.
    • Nicholas Meyer, New York Times November 13, 1983
  • Columbus day. In the morning at Camp D. I ran the tape of the movie ABC is running on the air Nov. 20. It’s called “The Day After.” It has Lawrence Kansas wiped out in a nuclear war with Russia. It is powerfully done—all $7 mil. worth. It’s very effective & left me greatly depressed. So far they haven’t sold any of the 25 spot ads scheduled & I can see why. Whether it will be of help to the “anti nukes” or not, I cant say. My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent & to see there is never a nuclear war. Back to W.H.
  • Some of the survivors of Hiroshima had their eyeballs literally melted out of their heads. Even if we were doing a feature film, that would have been too strong to show. We wanted to create reality, but not horror. My purpose was not to make viewers sick.
  • We have left behind the period when America and Russia looked at each other through gun sites ready to pull the trigger at any time. Despite what we saw in the well-known American film, The Day After, it can be said today, tomorrow will be a day of peace, a day less of fear and more of hope for the happiness of our children. The world can sigh in relief.

Viewpoint Panel Following ABC Broadcast (November 20,1983)

  • There is, and you probably need it about now, there is some good news. If you can, take a quick look out the window. It’s all still there. Your neighborhood is still there, so is Kansas City, and Lawrence, and Chicago, and Moscow, and San Diego and Vladivostok. What we have all just seen–and this was my third viewing of the movie–what we’ve seen is sort of a nuclear version of Charles DickensChristmas Carol. Remember Scrooge’s nightmare journey into the future with the spirit of Christmas yet to come? When they finally return to the relative comfort of Scrooge’s bedroom, the old man asks the spirit the very question that many of us may be asking ourselves right now: whether, in other words, the vision that we’ve just seen is the future as it will be or only as it may be. Is there still time?
  • That is not the future at all. The film is a vivid and dramatic portrayal of the fact that nuclear war is simply not acceptable and that fact and the realization of it has been the basis for the policy of the United States for decades now, the successful policy of the United States, based on the idea that we simply do not accept nuclear war. And we’ve been successful in preventing it.
  • It seeks to debilitate the United States. This is terribly plain. The guy who wrote it says, “I would like to see people starting to question the value of defending this country with a nuclear arsenal.” That is his motive and people who have seen the film who have thought to debilitate American defenses have gathered around it. It’s become a cause militante. It has a totemic significance, and I’m delighted to hear the Secretary of State say such calm and lucid and cogent things, but that’s unrelated to the effort of this film.
  • I think in this country we’ve been sleepwalking during the last 38 years and passed this problem without really coming to grips with how dire and compelling it is, and I think ABC should be congratulated for spurring what I hope will be a year-long debate on this issue, but it’s my unhappy duty to point out that the reality is much worse than what has been portrayed in this movie, and this new emerging reality has significant policy implications. The nuclear winter that will follow even a small nuclear war, especially if cities are targeted, as they almost certainly would be, involves a pall of dust and smoke which would reduce the temperatures of not just in northern and mid latitudes, but pretty much globally to sub-freezing temperatures for months. In addition, it’s dark, the radiation is much more than we’ve been told before. Agriculture will be wiped out, and it’s very clear that beyond the one or two billion people who would be killed directly in a major nuclear war–five to seven thousand megatons, something like that–that the overall consequences would be much more dire and the biologists who have been studying this think that there is a real possibility of the extinction of the human species from such a war.
  • I think that this film presents a very simple-minded notion of the nuclear problem and it deals with the most obvious question that a general nuclear war aimed at cities is a disaster and a catastrophe. I wrote a book on the subject 30 years ago when the notion of general nuclear war first arose. The problem of our period, the problem we have to grapple with is how to avoid such a war, how to preserve freedom while seeking to avoid such a war, how to establish, how to create a military establishment that reduces the dangers of such a war, what arms control policies are compatible with this policy, how we handle crises. Those are serious questions. To engage in an orgy of demonstrating how terrible the casualties of a nuclear war are, and translating it into pictures from statistics that have been known for three decades, and then to have Mr. Sagan say it’s even worse than this... I would say: what are we to do about this? Are we supposed to make policy by scaring ourselves to death, or is somebody going to make some proposals about where we are supposed to go? And if people don’t make them, then I do not believe we are making any contribution. That’s my objection to this film. It took this most simple-minded problem that everybody will agree upon. There’s nobody in this room who disagrees with the fact that this must not happen. It’s how to avoid it that we should be discussing.
  • We live in a nuclear world by stressing that this is a plus sum game that we’re working on. There is a commonality of interests between the Soviets and the US to avoid the use of these weapons. That’s what that film shows. I totally disagree with those who say it’s a disservice to the nation to show the film. Not at all. It’s stimulating discussion on exactly the issue we ought to be discussing. There’s a million times the Hiroshima destruction power out there. We must ensure it not be used. It’s equally in the interest of the Soviet Union not to use it.
  • Not being a nuclear specialists in any way, I’m scared. I’m scared because I know that what is imaginable can happen. I know that the impossible is possible. I’ve seen the film and while I was watching it, I had a strange feeling that I had seen it before, except once upon a time it happened to my people, and now it happens to all people. And suddenly I said to myself maybe the whole world strangely has turned Jewish. Everybody lives now facing the unknown. We are all, in a way, helpless. We are talking about nuclear arms, about the bomb with a capital B, a kind of divinity in itself. Unless those who know militarily what it means, we readers, writers, people... we don’t know what it all means. When I hear about a thousand bombs, megatons... I don’t have that kind of imagination. To me it’s an abstraction, but to me, what all this means is that the human species may come to an end, that millions of children may die simply because one person somewhere... And I am not so much afraid of the big powers. I’m afraid of the small nations. If not now, maybe 10 years from now or 20 or 50, a Khomeini will get hold of nuclear weapons. He won’t hesitate. He will not have a discussion such as the one that we have here.


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