March Madness 2023: WWIII Movies Tournament: Round One, Red Bracket

Apologies for not having the bracket graphic up yet. I am trying to carve out some time to get it done. Eventually it’ll be up.

First Round: Red Bracket

1. The Day After

8.  World War Four

Not much of a battle between these two titles. The Day After is a well-produced movie about how residents of the Kansas City area deal with a nuclear attack on KC and the Minuteman II missile silos located east of the city in the Missouri farmland. This movie scared an entire generation and opened up the eyes of millions of Americans to the horrors of nuclear war when it was released. World War Four, on the other hand, is a B movie at best, primarily covering a US Marine and his family members during the lead up to a nuclear war sometime in the near future. Bad acting and lots of stock footage.

Winner: 1 The Day After

2. World War III (1998 Docudrama)

7. Future War 198X

Two very interesting and entertaining productions square off here. World War III is a docudrama looking at what could’ve happened in the event Mikhail Gorbachev was removed from power in late 1989 and replaced by a group of hardliners. Masterful use of old news video and archive footage to bring the politicians and other characters to life. Future War 198x is a Japanese anime sci-fi film from the early 1980s. It is about a US-Soviet war in that time and the use of animation really brings the war alive. My only problem is the sci-fi element of the film that kind of took it out of the reality realm somewhat.

Between the two, World War III has aged better and continues to serve as a good alternative history examination of what could’ve occurred had Gorbachev been deposed in 1989, or for that matter in August, 1991.

Winner: 2 World War III (1998)

3. Fail Safe

6. The Day Called X

This matchup takes us back to the heyday of Cold War nuclear fears. Fail Safe has been discussed a bit during the Play-In Round and many folks have at least a brief familiarity with the original film. The Day Called X, on the other hand, is a dramatized CBS documentary about a major US city’s civil defense preparations in the expectation of a Soviet bomber attack. Portland, Oregon is the city in this case. X was released in 1957, a point in time when the main nuclear threat to the United States came in the form of Soviet bombers. X takes us through the process from start to end from the moment the air raid warning arrives through to impact. Despite being dated there’s quite a bit of historic value in X. It reminds us, at the very least, that there was a time when Americans took civil defense and the possibility of a nuclear attack seriously.

Unfortunately, documentary films, even dramatic ones don’t hold a candle to the amount of influence a movie can have on the American people. Fail Safe was both entertaining and influential. It left an almost indelible impression on Americans when it was released, and that impression has continued to soldier on.

Winner: Fail Safe


5. WWIII (1982 Miniseries)

In the 80s it was the miniseries that dominated network television. The Winds of War and Lonesome Dove are two of the most successful miniseries in that decade. WWIII is one of the absolute worst. NBC really dropped the ball with its attempt to present a viable and contemporary World War III thriller. The scenario is typical 1980s Cold War: The Soviets are suffering from a US-imposed grain embargo. To counter this, elements of the KGB and Soviet military send an airborne platoon into Alaska without the knowledge of the Soviet general secretary. The group has orders to seize a pumping station on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and hold it while Moscow uses it as a bargaining chip to end the grain embargo. Only things do not go as planned. The Soviet troops encounter an Alaskan National Guard company and things go downhill from there. Clunky execution of the political scenes despite a solid cast of actors playing the roles, from Rock Hudson as US president to Brian Keith as his Soviet counterpart. The bottom line is that in an era of unforgettable nuclear war/Third World War films, WWIII was forgettable in every way.

Jericho, a more contemporary CBS television series is not great by any means. Yet the episodes are well executed and the plot is weaved intricately enough that it brought viewers back for more every week. Jericho revolves around the residents of Jericho, Kansas, a small town in the western area of that state. When a mushroom cloud is seen in the direction of Denver the town’s citizens find themselves in a deteriorating situation but without firm knowledge of what is happening outside of their town. Naturally, it turns out the use of nukes against select US cities was orchestrated by neo-conservatives inside of the US government (Did you expect anything less from left-wing Hollywood?). The US ends up divided into two separate nations and on the verge of a Second US Civil War with only select residents of Jericho able to prevent this from happening. As I said, not the greatest series and sort of comic booky in parts, but it is legions above a stale miniseries from the early ‘80s.

Winner: Jericho


6 Replies to “March Madness 2023: WWIII Movies Tournament: Round One, Red Bracket”

  1. The missile picture from “The Day After” takes me back. Me and my high school buddies kind of blundered into the movie while we were back home in Cabot, AR cleaning up after a weekend out deer hunting. As usual we’d passed some Air Force trucks on the road headed back and forth from the Titan silos, and the explosion up in Damascus was still talked about. Seeing the sequence with missiles launching all around the town shut us up and got our attention. Rest of the movie we really wanted to look away but just couldn’t. Of course, we were also in 10th grade so we decided that the silos were too far away from us for us to see “our missiles” launch so that was that. Shows what we knew- we lived about six miles from the missile maintenance and support area at Little Rock AFB!

    Definitely not complaining about the Titan program though. Building the silos put a lot of jobs into the area, as did decommissioning them, and LRAFB has kept my hometown buffered through a lot of economic up’s and downs. Plus, the (never sought) possibility of being stationed near home made the USAF pretty palatable for my family!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have heard from some buddies of mine that LRAFB was and still is a very good duty station. But overall, the entire state of Arkansas has always had a special place in my heart. Just love them folks 🙂


  2. Jericho could have been so much better. Setting aside the ridiculous “neo-conservatives wanted to nuke the US” idiocy (my God the writers actually have the ChiComs as *good guys* in the friggin’ thing), though, it was clear by mid season 1 there’d be no season 2 with killing off important characters and arcs that seemed to end abruptly, and obviously shooting in LA backlots vs. anywhere near the midwest (location shoots cost money!). Early on I felt like it was set up to actually have a very creepy edge to it (no clue how/why the war started, the different Morse code messages in the opening sequences every episode, etc.), but it just kind of fell apart. The USAF breaking up the burgeoning Civil War between Jericho and a neighboring city with A10 strikes though was simply beautiful to see. You know where the budget for that episode went!

    Bit of trivia I heard about WWIII: it was originally conceived as a kind of “Rat Patrol but in snow” with the soldiers cut off from help, fighting against Soviet invaders in Alaska as a whole extended series; the last phone call between the Soviets and Americans intended to be “Well we agree not to use nukes…” Dunno if that makes it any more plausible or “better” but NBC decided to just cut it to a mini-series length and not option it for a season or three (probably didn’t want to angry up the American Left who thought the Soviets were just adorable), so we got the ending we got instead.


    1. I’ve heard the same thing about WWIII, Bill. Personally, I believe it. NBC would pull something like that.

      Jericho had such potential. If it was developed right, the show could’ve soldiered on for two more seasons at least. It had the fan base. Oh well, missed opportunity

      Liked by 1 person

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