- Alternate Character Interpretation: Is the President just trying to cheer up the survivors? Does he actually believe that the nuclear war was worth it because it was preferable to Soviet oppression? Or is he a callous monster who sees nuclear war as a form of population control and a way to be rid of his opponents in Congress and the senate, thus giving him free reign to do whatever horrible things he wants?
- Americans Hate Tingle: The film got a lot of flak when it was released theatrically in Europe for allegedly downplaying the danger of nuclear war, believe it or not. They were unaware that it was originally intended for television and all the Bowdlerization it had been through.
- Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: There's absolutely no reason whatsoever to root for any of the characters since they're all doomed to die horribly. Which is the point.
- Fridge Horror: If that was a "limited" exchange, what would happen if the U.S. and U.S.S.R. lobbed all their warheads at each other? Of course that is what we are told. We don't really know much about the rest of the world or even the US.
- Harsher in Hindsight: Any announcement concerning countries continuing to seek out nuclear superiority long after the Cold War has ended or making threats toward each other, meaning that even now this film still has a possibility of happening for real. Not to mention the threat of nuclear terrorism (which, while it wouldn't be as bad as what happened in the movie, could still easily claim millions of lives.)
- Hilarious in Hindsight: The President whose speech is broadcast near the end of the movie was originally intended to be George H. W. Bush (to indicate Ronald Reagan didn't make it to Mount Weather in time), but the producers cast a Reagan impersonator instead. The flak they received by this caused them to edit the film, replacing the Reagan soundalike with a "stereotypical Presidential voice" - a voice that sounds remarkably like that of Joe Biden, elected Vice-President 25 years later.
- Inferred Holocaust: Aside from the actual holocaust depicted on screen, there's also the fact that most of the country's, and presumably the world's, farmland is now irradiated to the point of total uselessness (as is most of the seed), all of the livestock is dead (say goodbye to meat and dairy products), and many farmers, fishermen, and animal husbandry experts are now dead or dying. Those who survived the original attack will have done so only to die of starvation later.
- Fortunately, in real life this Fridge Horror inspired the "Doomsday" Seed Vault — a seed vault hidden away in the furthest reaches of Arctic, just a stone's throw from the north pole. Now if we all die from nuclear fallout, our grandchildren might just have a chance.
- The food situation is briefly touched upon in the film itself. One farmer, providing instructions from the government, tells the surviving farmers that in order to make their farms usable again, they'll need to burn their plants and remove the irradiated topsoil to get to the untouched ground beneath. Jim Dahlberg immediately shoots this idea down, asking just where they plan to put about 3 million cubic feet of dirt per farm while pointing out that once the top soil is removed, it's going to be the dust bowl all over again.
- The film's writers said that some points in the film are deliberate digs at FEMA: they did try to research what FEMA's disaster response plan to a nuclear attack was, and were horrified to find out that they didn't really have a coherent plan, just a handful of short-sighted suggestions that quickly fell apart under basic analysis. So consider the horrifying reality that the government pamphlet the farmer was reading off, which just bluntly said "scrape off the top six inches of all your topsoil"...was the actual sum-total of FEMA's planned real life response to nuclear war.
- Nightmare Fuel: While this entry is required to be on YMMV by TV Tropes rules, there is zero doubt that everyone with half a brain who was alive at the time it was shown found it extremely disturbing to know it could happen for real at any moment. There's a reason many stations had to run hotlines to calm down viewers after it aired.
- As a made-for-TV movie, broadcast in prime time, many parents refused to let their kids watch.
- Among those affected included US President Ronald Reagan, who said he had been profoundly shocked and deeply disturbed by the movie. By Reagan's own admission in his memoirs, the experience motivated him to pursue policies which more effectively limited the proliferation of nuclear weapons on the world stage, and stated that it was the reason why he signed the INF Treaty alongside Soviet leader Gorbachev four years later.
- As mentioned elsewhere, this film and Threads are very realistic interpretations of nuclear devastation. Most horrifying of all, even now the world's governments still have some amount of nuclear weapons in their arsenal (although they had largely disarmed), or are still researching nuclear superiority. Even if the Cold War is over, even if something to the implied level of devastation this film shows probably won't happen... the possibility still exists that somewhere, someone will end up suffering the horrors of this film for real.
- Retroactive Recognition: At the time of filming, most of the cast were obscure, small-time actors except for Jason Robards and recent Oscar nominee John Lithgow, so as to prevent recognition of famous actors from breaking Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Nearly all of the actors are now famous for their later roles, though, causing the unaware to mistakenly believe that the cast was picked because of their fame.
- Signature Scene: The shots of the people being vaporized during the initial attack.
- Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: There is no way to survive a nuclear attack, period. Even a "limited" nuclear war would cause untold devastation and result in The End of the World as We Know It.
- Visual Effects of Awesome: The mushroom clouds, made using the same water tank used to make the Mutara Nebula effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- The Woobie: Really, practically every single character in the movie, other than perhaps those lucky enough to get vaporized immediately.
YMMV / The Day After