Best Cold War Movies, Ranked
War movies are some of the industry’s most beloved films. Since Revelation now for Dunkirk, there is no shortage of war films accessible to the greatest number. While many films have been criticized for their lack of precision, to like wearing pearls, it has become the goal of many filmmakers to try to recreate the true essence and brutality of war on the big screen. From the brutality of the Vietnam War to the harsh realities faced by civilians during World War II, the war movie genre covers it all. A topic often overlooked is the Cold War.
The Cold War was a period of tension after World War II between the United States and the Soviet Union. This period lasted from 1947 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is called the Cold War because no large-scale fighting took place between the opposing groups. The lack of action during the Cold War is part of the reason why there’s a lack of movies set during the Cold War. That said, there’s still plenty that shows the realities of fear of nuclear war constantly hanging over the heads of special agents and spies around the world. These are the best Cold War movies, ranked.
8 The mail
The most recent movie on this list is The mail, the true story of Greville Wynne, a businessman who is unwittingly recruited to participate in the Cuban Missile Crisis. After forming an unlikely partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky, the two work together to provide intelligence used to defuse the conflict and prevent a nuclear war. The mail was praised for its ensemble; ability to tell a true story without boring the audience, with particular praise for Benedict Cumberbatch and his performance. While the film was supposed to be released in 2020, the release was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
7 The spy from the cold
Based on the spy novel of the same name by John le Carré, The spy from the cold follows the story of British MI6 agent Alec Leamas who is sent to East Germany, posing as a drunken defector to get information on an East German intelligence officer. When Leamas is thrown in prison, he finds himself caught up in a web of plots and counter-plots. This classic spy movie features a dynamite cast including Richard Burton and Claire Bloom. The film was a phenomenal success and won four BAFTA Awards for Best British Film, Best Actor, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
6 bridge of spies
American pilot Francis Gary Powers is captured by the Soviet Union after shooting down his plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, he seeks the help of lawyer James Donovan to take charge of his case and help him obtain his release. Donovan’s tactic is to win Powers’ freedom through a prisoner swap, giving the Russians a convicted spy in exchange for Powers. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, bridge of spies was a box office hit and a critical success, receiving six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The film has been hailed for its ability to bring old-school Hollywood back to life with the film’s overall vibe, making it one of the best modern Cold War films of all time.
5 The Hunt for Red October
Based on Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name, The Hunt for Red October follows Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius, who abandons his orders and heads for the east coast of the United States. Using the Society’s advanced Union stealth technology, Ramius’ “Red October” submarine is nearly undetectable until an American submarine briefly detects the Russians’ presence. CIA agent Jack Ryan embarks on a journey to understand Ramius’ motives, suspecting him of planning an attack on the United States. With Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, The Hunt for Red October was the first installation in the film series with Jack Ryan as the protagonist. The film received critical acclaim, winning the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.
With Henry Fonda and Walter Mathau, Fail-safe is a classic Cold War film. American bombers are equipped with safety boxes that tell pilots when and if to attack. When an attack order is administered due to a system malfunction, the President of the United States must correct the error before the bombs fall on Moscow. The President succeeds in stopping the bombardment, except for a determined pilot determined to carry out his mission. Based on the novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, Fail-safe was a box office flop at the time of its release, but received critical acclaim for its cinematic depiction of the Cold War. A remake of the film was made in 2000 as a television play starring George Clooney and Richard Dreyfuss.
3 The Manchu Candidate
Near the end of the Korean War, a platoon of American soldiers are brainwashed by communists, and when the platoon returns home, the soldiers find themselves suffering from strange nightmares. Captain Raymond Shaw of the platoon discovers that he has become an unwitting assassin as part of an international communist plot. The Manchu Candidate features Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury as lead actors. The original film was released in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, making the content particularly poignant. The film was nominated for two Oscars. In 1994, the United States National Film Registry recognized The Manchu Candidate by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
2 Tinker Tailor Spy Soldier
Yet another movie on this list based on a novel, Tinker Tailor Spy Soldier is one of the few films on this list to have been made in the 21st century. With Gary Oldman and Colin Firth, Tinker Tailor Spy Soldier follows an MI6 agent who has been sent to meet a Hungarian general who knows the identity of a Soviet spy within the organization. When the general dies before he can reveal the information, Undersecretary Oliver Lacon enlists veteran agent George Smiley to unearth the mole. A favorite among many real intelligence operatives, Tinker Tailor Spy Soldier was well received with talk of a potential sequel circulating with a script ready, but nothing confirmed.
1 Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
A classic Stanley Kubrick film, Dr Strangelove satirizes the Cold War situation by examining what could happen if the wrong person presses the wrong button. When Air Force General Jack Ripper goes insane, he sends his bomber wing to destroy the USSR thinking the communists are trying to pollute the bodily fluids of the American people. Dr Strangelove was critically acclaimed, considered one of the greatest films of all time, nominated for four Oscars, and selected for preservation in 1989. Thanks to Legacy Dr Strangelove left behind, a potential sequel was discussed until Stanley Kubrick’s death, when any idea of a sequel was scrapped.
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