[[caption-width-right:300:[[{{Tagline}} Apocalypse ...\\
The end of the familiar ...\\
The beginning of the end.]]]]

->'''Dr. Russell Oakes:''' You're holding back ''hope.''
->'''Alison Ransom:''' Hope for ''what?!'' What do you think's 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''. Nobody was interested.

''The Day After'' is a 1983 MadeForTVMovie directed by Nicholas Meyer, made just after he filmed ''Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan''.

The film takes place in and around Kansas City, Missouri and Lawrence, Kansas, which are in the geographic center of the United States. At first, the film follows the daily lives of a number of locals; a Kansas City physician (Dr. Russell Oakes, played by Creator/JasonRobards) and his wife (Helen Oakes), a University of Kansas professor (Joe Huxley), one of the students there (Stephen Klein), a family of farmers from Harrisonville, Missouri (the Dahlbergs), and a soldier (Billy [=McCoy=]) stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, home to a number of [[UsefulNotes/PeaceThroughSuperiorFirepower Minuteman II missile silos]].

Things don't stay normal for long. The Soviet Union commences a military buildup in East Germany to intimidate the U.S. and NATO into withdrawing from West Berlin. [[FromBadToWorse The situation deteriorates rapidly]], with unheeded ultimatums erupting into a shooting war that rampages across Western Europe, then quickly goes all-out nuclear after tactical nuclear weapons are employed.

The final caption of the movie is "The catastrophic events you have witnessed are, in all likelihood, '''less''' [[FalseReassurance severe than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike against the United States]]."

The aftermath of the initial showing of the film had a profound effect on politics. UsefulNotes/RonaldReagan, who viewed the film when it came out, was greatly disturbed and claimed the movie left him "deeply depressed" for a while. Keep in mind, before this movie aired, Soviet and U.S. relations were strained to a level not seen since the UsefulNotes/CubanMissileCrisis. [[UsefulNotes/{{NATO}} NATO's]] infamous Able Archer 83 exercise in Western Europe that took place in early 1983 was another close call, because the Soviets thought the exercise was an escalation of forces in Europe and that NATO was ready to go to nuclear war with the Warsaw Pact. After attending a meeting with the Pentagon about nuclear weapons shortly after the movie was released, Reagan became further repulsed by the idea of nuclear weapons and he wanted to solve the Cold War peacefully with the Soviets from that point on. In 1987, not only was the film shown on Soviet television for the first time, but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by the United States and USSR. The treaty banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges. In his memoir, Reagan directly mentioned a quote from the movie in relation about the signing.

In short, '''this movie literally ended the Cold War'''.

This film employs many of the same tropes as its [[TransAtlanticEquivalent UK counterpart]], ''Film/{{Threads}}'', which was produced in response to ''The Day After'', a ''much'' tougher minded exploration of nuclear war's impact. See also ''Film/{{Testament}}'', released the same year.

Not to be confused with ''Film/TheDayAfterTomorrow''.

!!This film provides examples of:

* AfterTheEnd: Most of the film deals with life after the nuclear exchange.
* AllThereInTheScript: It's implied in the screenplay that Boyle and Starr, the soldiers that [=McCoy=] and his colleagues mention back at the Whiteman Air Force Base, are the missile silo staff featured in the stock footage from ''First Strike'' that launch the missiles.
* AliensInCardiff: What makes the film so effective is its setting in the American heartland, underscoring the fact that there is nowhere to run with nuclear war.
* AmateurCast: At the time ''The Day After'' was released, everyone except Jason Robards (and possibly John Lithgow, a recent Oscar nominee) was a relatively obscure actor cast intentionally to avoid having easily-recognizable actors take away from the performance. Jason Robards was only cast because ABC had arranged for theatrical release of the film in Europe and insisted on one "name" actor for marketability. Now, however, most of the actors have become famous for later roles. It's not uncommon for modern viewers to claim that ''The Day After'' was intentionally "[[AllStarCast crammed full of stars]]."
* AndKnowingIsHalfTheBattle: The ending caption.
--> "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. It is hoped that the images of this film will inspire the nations of this earth, their peoples and leaders, to find the means to avert the fateful day."
* AnyoneCanDie: Played straight. A number of major characters are killed off halfway through the film when the attack happens; others die in the aftermath; and the film ends with a big question mark for the remainder.
* ApocalypseHow: Definitely a Class 1 (Societal Disruption), likely a Class 2 (Societal Collapse) due to the InferredHolocaust (see below). In a [[http://chicago.fuzzymemories.tv/index.php?c=1822&m=viewpoint#videoclip-1823 televised debate]] after the film was first aired on TV, Creator/CarlSagan first publicly introduced the concept of nuclear winter (which at that point had been briefly discussed in a pamphlet Sagan published that year, ''The Nuclear Winter''). With this in mind, the events of ''The Day After'' could easily develop into a Class 4 (Total Extinction; ''Film/{{Threads}}'', produced a year later, takes into account nuclear winter's effects).
* ApocalypticMontage: The [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1la-RwfFzQ attack sequence.]]
* ArtisticLicensePhysics:
** The sound of the explosion and the blast reach Dr. Oakes at the same time as the light, despite the fact that he's thirty miles from Ground Zero.
** Marilyn's death by vaporization is shown to occur much slower than it would have in RealLife. In the movie it takes two or three seconds, which allows viewers to see the sequence of fireball, clothing catching on fire, vaporization of flesh, and vaporization of bone. In RealLife it would have taken a thousandth of a second or less, and the character wouldn't have had time to feel anything, let alone react. This one though rules under RuleOfPerception, because viewers seeing it that quickly wouldn't be able to judge what exactly just happened.
* {{Bowdlerize}}: Whiteman Air Force Base is actually located near the town of Knob Noster, Missouri. It's described here as being near Sedalia because the word "knob" has a rude meaning in British English, and the network was hoping to release the movie theatrically in the UK. This may be true; however, Knob Noster (and Whiteman Air Force Base) are quite close to Sedalia (~20 miles west). In the event of a general nuclear exchange, this distance would have afforded zero protection; Sedalia was at the time surrounded by Minuteman missile silos and related facilities on all sides.
* BreakOutTheMuseumPiece: With all their modern day equipment fried from electromagnetic pulses, the University of Kansas staff manage to get an old vacuum tube radio working again.
* BystanderSyndrome: Cynthia argues with her fellow students that the U.S. would ''never'' launch nukes to defend Europe, even as news unfolds of rapidly escalating conflict in Germany.
-->'''Cynthia:''' Look! Did we help the ''Czechs'', the Hungarians, the Afghans, ''or'' the Poles? Well, we're ''not'' gonna nuke the Russians to save the Germans! I mean, [[NoBloodForPhlebotinum if you were talking oil in Saudi Arabia]], then I'd be real worried!
* CaptainOblivious: The Hendrys are completely oblivious to the oncoming war, so much so that the husband talks over an EBS alert to tell his wife that they need a good day's rain before the harvest. The couple also sneak upstairs to have sex while their kids watch news reports that nuclear war has broken out. The first clue they have of the war is the launching of a nearby ICBM. [[spoiler: Their attempts to flee come too late and the family is engulfed by a fireball and incinerated.]]
* CruelAndUnusualDeath: Radiation Sickness--survivors of the nuclear war exposed to too much fallout can still wind up dying up to a month later. Victims slowly waste away, losing hair, bruising and hemorrhaging the whole time. The most horrifying thing is just how ''common'' it becomes. [[spoiler: Four of the film's protagonists succumb to it.]] [[note]] In RealLife, survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could develop radiation sickness ''decades'' afterward.[[/note]]
* DeadHandShot: Numerous bodies sticking out of rubble, many blackened. Most of it is seen toward the end of the movie [[spoiler: when Dr. Oakes, dying of radiation sickness, goes to see what's left of Kansas City before he dies]].
* DeathFromAbove: Plenty of this is exchanged between the West and East via [=ICBMs=].
* DisasterMovie
* DownerEnding: What else would you expect from a film like this?
* DuringTheWar: One that ''is'' over "[[UsefulNotes/GulfWar by the next commercial break.]]"
* EmergencyBroadcast: The Emergency Broadcast System cuts into programming numerous times during the few hours before the strike, but nobody pays attention. Moreover, at no time is an Emergency Action Notification shown to be broadcast; the key EBS interruption is actually shown to lead directly into a news broadcast reporting on the nuclear airbursts which in real life would not have occurred. As the sirens are blaring in Kansas City and panic is gripping the residents, a FEMA agent is calmly suggesting on the radio that travellers in the metropolitan area take a moment to locate a nearby shelter, "although there is no direct threat to the Kansas City area". This was quite deliberate on the part of the writer and director, who visited a FEMA office as part of their research only to discover that the agency was more interested in publishing obscure pamphlets than in actually preparing for nuclear war.
* TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt: One of the points of the film is to show that a nuclear strike would not destroy everything quickly and cleanly; there would be a long, painful aftermath.
* EverybodysDeadDave: Once he [[spoiler:starts to succumb to radiation sickness]], Dr. Oakes has a fever dream in which he remembers all of his friends and family who have died.
* FateWorseThanDeath: As time goes on, Jim Dahlberg finds survival less lucky compared to those who died instantly from the nukes.
* HiroshimaAsAUnitOfMeasure: While speaking with Dr. Oakes, Dr. Landowska invokes this trope.
--> '''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''!
* HorsemenOfTheApocalypse: [[RuleOfSymbolism Alluded to]] with shots of a pale white horse during the "calm before the storm" moment before the U.S. launches its [=ICBMs=], and after the missiles are launched.
* InfantImmortality: Averted, as children are seen trampled, vaporized, and engulfed by a wall of flame. Another child is shown slumped over with what can be assumed to be his grandmother, both of whom are dead. The murder of [[spoiler:the youngest Dahlberg child (with her mother) by squatters]] is implied.
* JustBeforeTheEnd: The movie starts off this way.
%% ATTENTION: Do not add claims that this work is "Lighter and Softer" in relation to Threads. That trope is ONLY for works that are retooled to become more "family friendly" later in their run, or in remakes. For "Lighter and Softer" to apply here, Threads would have had to be made first, and The Day After produced later as a remake or sequel.
* ManOnFire: One is seen briefly during the nuclear attack. Dr. Oakes' daughter's lower body also combusts before she is vaporized. The Hendrys are also seen being engulfed by a fireball.
* MassOhCrap: When the sirens sound above Kansas City, everybody panics.
* MiddleOfNowhereStreet: Bruce invokes this while listening to a discussion on the possibility of a nuclear attack at a barber shop. Huxley provides him with a healthy dose of RealityEnsues--
-->'''Bruce Gallatin:''' What do you really think the chances of something like that happening way the hell out here in the middle of nowhere?
-->'''Professor Huxley:''' ''Nowhere?'' (laughs) There's no "''nowhere''" anymore. You're sitting right next to the Whiteman Air Force Base right now. That's about ... 150 Minuteman Missile silos spread halfway down the State of Missouri. That's ... an awful lot of bulls-eyes.
* NextSundayAD: In 1983, at least, thus averting TheGreatPoliticsMessUp.
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: In the original broadcast, the President's speech to the nation was done by a voice that many assumed to be UsefulNotes/RonaldReagan. However, the script says the voice is supposed to be that of UsefulNotes/GeorgeHWBush, implying that Reagan did not make it to Mount Davis in time and was killed in Washington (since Bush was Reagan's vice president back then). Later broadcasts and home releases redubbed the speech with a more generic, stereotypically presidential voice which has the benefit of not dating the film to a specific era.
* OffhandBackhand: How Mr. Dahlberg dies, in spirit. For the man who executed him when he tried to protest people squatting on his farm without even bothering to try to ask, TheSnackIsMoreInteresting.
* OhCrap: A beautifully understated one from an Air Force officer at Beale AFB's PAVE PAWS radar station: "I want to confirm: is this an exercise? ... Roger, copy--" And then to rest of the staff, "'''This is not an exercise!'''"
** And immediately after, a similarly understated "oh crap" from a SAC Airborne Command Post crewmember: "Major Reinhardt, we have a massive attack against the U.S. at this time! [=ICBMs=], numerous [=ICBMs=]!"
* PrematurelyBald: Many people lose their hair as a result of radiation poisoning, including the women.
* PrinciplesZealot: In his post-war address, the President of the United States assures the American public that "there has been no surrender, no retreat, from the principles of liberty and democracy, for which the free world looks to ''us'' for leadership!" All set to a montage of the suffering scant survivors of the nuclear war, as well as the dying and the dead.
%% For would-be people who are about to argue that there was no other option once the Soviet Union launched nukes, this example's inclusion about the President playing up the "leader of the free world" and "world's policeman" roles of the U.S., even though the country has been reduced to a small power by the nuclear war.
* QuieterThanSilence:
** The "calm before the storm" scene, with Stephen Klein walking down a farm road just before Whiteman AFB launches its nukes. Also applies to a number of other scenes after the nuclear attack.
** Also done with respect to the music--although there isn't much music to begin with, almost all of it is heard ''before'' the nuclear exchange, and the majority of it was in the ''First Strike'' footage. What follows afterward is mostly ominous ambiance.
* TheRadioDiesFirst: The first warhead is an airburst that creates an EMP, knocking out everything electrical, including all communications equipment.
* RiddleForTheAges: Who launched their nukes first, the United States or the Soviet Union? The point of not answering this seems to be to ask, "does it matter?"
* SanitySlippage: Everybody breaks down, some even before the warheads starting hitting. For many characters, it is a race if they would fall into the deep end before the radiation sickness gets to them.
* SelectiveObliviousness: Cynthia refuses to believe the end is near after she sees a multitude of [=ICBMs=] launching.
-->'''Cynthia''': What's going on?
-->'''Joe Huxley''': Those are Minuteman missiles!
-->'''Cynthia''': Like a test, sort of ... like a warning?
-->'''Joe Huxley''': They're on their way to Russia. They take about thirty minutes to reach their target.
-->'''Aldo''': [[OhCrap So do theirs, right?]]
* SerialEscalation: Through radio and news broadcasts, we have the following which leads to WorldWarIII:
** The Soviet Union has begun a military buildup in East Germany in an attempt to bully the United States into giving up West Berlin, followed by the Soviets sending armored divisions to the borders of East and West Germany after the Americans refused to back down. Some time on Friday, September 15th, reports of "widespread rebellion" in the East German forces force the Red Army to blockade West Berlin. The American President issues his ultimatum: either the Soviet Union back off and lift the blockade by 6:00 AM the following morning, or their actions will be interpreted as an act of war. The Soviets refuse, and the President puts all U.S. military forces around the world on DEFCON 2 alert.\\
The following day, NATO forces invade East Germany via the Helmstedt–Marienborn border crossing, but the Soviets hold the corridor while inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces. At the same time, two Soviet fighter jets bomb a NATO munitions facility (and inadvertently hitting a hospital and a school in the process). Moscow is later evacuated, while in the U.S., a mass exodus is also taking place in the main cities (though no such evacuation is depicted as taking place in Kansas City; indeed, up to the attack life is shown proceeding as normal, with people going to movies, ball games, and getting married, rather than trying to escape). Unconfirmed reports of nuclear weapons used in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt soon follow. In the Persian Gulf, naval warfare commences between the Soviet and American navies with losses on both sides.\\
Once the Red Army reaches the Rhine River, NATO forces airburst three low-yield nukes over the troops in an attempt to keep the Soviets from invading France and the rest of Western Europe; this event triggers an EmergencyBroadcast announcement in the United States. The Soviets retaliate by launching a nuclear strike at NATO's Brussels headquarters. The American forces scramble B-52 bombers and enacts the "launch-on-warning" policy (meaning that if they receive reports of the Russians launching their nukes at America, then the U.S. will do the same). The Soviet Air Force then destroy two BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning Stations) at RAF Fylingdales and Beale Air Force Base respectively.\\
The order from the President is swift: a full nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, while at the same time, an Air Force officer receives word that a massive Soviet nuclear strike has been launched against the United states, with "32 targets in track, with 10 impacting points," and another airman receives word that over 300 Soviet [=ICBMs=] are inbound. In the film, it is deliberately unclear over who fires first.
* ShootTheDog: Jim Dahlberg left the family dog, Rusty, out of the shelter because they wouldn't be able to spare food and water for him.
* ShoutOut: The writer echoes Philip Wylie's ''Tomorrow!'' in having one family (the Dahlbergs) ready and prepared for nuclear war and another (the Hendrys) unprepared and in denial. In Wylie's book, the unprepared family is destroyed while the prepared family thrives; in ''The Day After'', the unprepared family simply dies faster and with less suffering.
** The last name of Dr. Oakes' colleague, Dr. Sam Hachiya, is an homage to Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, an important chronicler of the Hiroshima bombing's aftermath.
** Huxley's shortwave call for "anybody out there" is almost verbatim from the darkest moments of ''Radio/TheWarOfTheWorlds''.
* SkewedPriorities: In the live debate that was broadcasted a short while after the film premiered, Creator/CarlSagan put paid to the "We'd win" aspect of nuclear warfare by comparing it to two belligerents in a basement awash with gasoline, one holding nine thousand matches and the other holding seven thousand. All that those two people are concerned about is who's ahead and who's stronger, despite the fact that if either of them strikes a match, it won't matter.
* StaggeredZoom: So long, Kansas City ...
* StockFootage: Much of the missile launch and detonation scenes make use of footage from actual tests of [=ICBMs=] and nuclear warheads. All the footage involving Air Force Space Command (the PAVE PAWS staff) and Strategic Air Command forces (the B-52 bombers, the missile silo staff preparing to launch, and the command crew aboard the EC-135 Looking Glass) are taken from a 1979 Creator/{{PBS}} documentary produced by the United States Air Force, ''Film/FirstStrike'', which hypothesized the possibility of the Soviet Union performing a decapitating surprise attack on America's own nuclear forces and winning, presumably annexing America. The people in those scenes were the real men and women of the USAF--even the commanding officers.
* StuffBlowingUp: [[DeconstructedTrope Except you aren't meant to find this cool.]]
* ThisIsNotADrill: When the [=ICBMs=] come raining down, the staff at the PAVE PAWS Missile Warning Radar station in Beale AFB declare "This is not an exercise!" after calling to confirm this.
* TogetherInDeath: One memorable shot has a couple at a wedding vaporized mid-kiss.
* TooDumbToLive: There's some cases where people are so in denial about the pending nuclear attacks that they try to continue on with life as usual--
** Eve Dahlberg stubbornly continues to do housework until she's dragged down to the cellar by force.
** In a combination with DeathBySex, the Hendrys had sex as the nuclear war began. If you're going to die ''anyway'', might as well GoOutWithASmile!
* TransAtlanticEquivalent: ''Film/{{Threads}}''.
* WorldWarThree: One of the classic film depictions.
* WorthlessYellowRocks: An odd subversion, at the end of the film, we see a man trying to get the jewellery off a corpse. [[SarcasmMode Yeah, the soft metal and the tiny super hard rock is going to be worth]] ''loads'' AfterTheEnd.
** It gets worse. Normal gold is [[superscript:197]]Au. When exposed to neutron flux—say, from a thermonuclear detonation—gold can catch an extra neutron, becoming [[superscript:198]]Au. [[superscript:198]]Au is a dangerously radioactive β⁻ emitter with a half-life of about 2.7 days.
* XRaySparks: Used to depict the fortunate victims who were close enough to get vaporized by the nukes. That said, technology not available to 1983 audiences allows the viewer to slow down the section and realize that most of the images used to show the vaporization don't make much sense. Seconds earlier, Kansas City was descending into panic as air raid sirens blare and terrified citizens run haphazardly through the streets. Yet the vaporization scenes show people enjoying a day at the park, sitting in bars and coffee shops, quietly reading books in easy chairs, playing in the school band, etc. (Many are stills recycled from the beginning of the movie - three days ago in movie time.) The only victim of vaporization with any awareness of the events under way is Marilyn Oakes, the first victim. WebSite/SFDebris claimed it could be used to metaphorically show that in that instant, that was the end of regular human life; once the nukes detonated, nothing would be the same such as those mentioned shots.
-->''”This is Lawrence. This is Lawrence, Kansas. Is there anybody there? Anybody at all?”''