The Cold War and American Film

In this section of the History and Film Website we have provides resources for students interested in the Cold War and film.  Included are a timeline of Cold War dates, a brief bibliography, a list of web links on the Cold War and how it affected the film industry in the United States, and a list of films.  We have cast our net broadly in compiling the list of films to include not only those that specifically concern events of the Cold War, but also films that belong to Cold War genres, such as spy thrillers and post-nuclear apocalypse films, as well as films about post-colonial liberation movements.

Cold War spanned a period of roughly 45 years, from the end of World War II to the final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  During this time, the world’s superpowers, the United States and the USSR, together with their allies, competed for world dominance and for the expansion of their political and economic systems, capitalist democracy and communism.  The two sides never came into direct military conflict, although on several occasions they came close, in particular the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962.  More often, the two sides competed indirectly, such as in international sports (the Olympics), political forums (the United Nations), and in a wide range of proxy struggles, from major wars, like the Korean War (1950-1953), Vietnam War (1957-1975), and Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), to many smaller scale revolutions (Cuba), coups (Chile), and guerilla insurgencies (Angola, The Philippines).  The Cold War had a profound effect of US political life, most notably anti-communist paranoia in the 1950s (often called McCarthyism), the counter-culture and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, and the rise of the US intelligence establishment (CIA) and military-industrial complex.

The Cold War also had a profound effect on Hollywood. During the McCarthy era, The House Committee on Un-American Activities questioned numerous actors, producers, and directors, causing many to be imprisoned or blacklisted.  It also spawned a wide range of films that directly or indirectly involved America’s Cold War experience.  These include several films genres represented on the History and Film website, such as the spy flick, political thriller, post-nuclear science fiction film, and the Vietnam War film.

Sherry Chen
Mandy Hua

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