The Cold War, the nearly 50-year ideological struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, produced subterfuge, espionage, and proxy wars, but thankfully it did not lead to World War III. It also was fodder for a number of movies attempting to capture the tension of the era.
To determine the best movies set during the Cold War, 24/7 Tempo developed an index of movies using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of Dec. 15, 2022, weighting all ratings equally. (Documentaries were not considered.) Directorial and cast credits are from IMDb.
Cold War-themed movies brought filmgoers into the shadowy world of spies, defectors, double agents, microfilm, coup attempts, and moles – and overhanging it all was the fear of a nuclear holocaust. (These are the 30 best spy films of all time.)
Most of the films on the list are based on novels, and any discussion of Cold War cinema must include John le Carré. Three of his novels that became movies are on the list: “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and “The Russia House.”
Sean Connery’s movie career spanned the entirety of the Cold War period. He starred in three films on the list: “The Russia House,” the James Bond thriller “From Russia With Love,” and “The Hunt for Red October” – in which he played not a British spy but a Soviet submarine captain.
Many of the films take place or have extended scenes in Berlin – such as “Atomic Blonde,” “Torn Curtain,” “Bridge of Spies,” “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold,” and “Funeral in Berlin” – the frontline of the confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Those aforementioned movies were mostly cloak and dagger. Other films on our list, such as “Fail Safe,” “Thirteen Days,” and “The Bedford Incident,” brought the reality of the nuclear threat into stark relief. (See how close the human race came to ending life on earth every year since 1947.)
Among the films providing a more offbeat and sometimes humorous look at the era are “Matinee,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and “Bananas.”
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