The Cold War was a decades-long period (1947–1991) of rivalry and geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. After World War II, both superpowers struggled to exert their global influence through indirect means, such as propaganda campaigns, espionage and psychological warfare.
If all that spycraft and intrigue sounds exciting, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Cold War led to an explosion of films, TV series and other media on the topic. There are numerous films on the Cold War that offer an entertaining, educational entry point to this fascinating period in history. We’ve narrowed down a list of the best five films on the Cold War for you to check out. Whether you’re a native English speaker or simply looking to improve your English, these movies will help.
- Thirteen Days (2000)
- Gorky Park (1983)
- The Courier (2020)
- First Man (2018)
- The Hunt for Red October (1990)
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1. Thirteen Days (2000)
The Cold War lasted for decades. During this time, some tensions were felt more than others. The film Thirteen Days focuses on a period of particularly high drama: the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film offers an inside look into how US President John F. Kennedy and his administration dealt with discovering the placement of nuclear Soviet weapons in Cuba over a span of 13 days. Perhaps the best depiction of a period in which the world was on the brink of nuclear war, Thirteen Days reflects the terrifying chaos and urgency of the times.
2. Gorky Park (1983)
Most English-language movies about the Cold War are told from an American perspective. Gorky Park, however, offers a distinctly Russian point of view that focuses on the story of a Soviet detective named Arkady Renko. While investigating a triple murder at Gorky Park, Renko accidentally comes across a high-level political conspiracy involving the Russian government. This film is a more subtle exploration of the Cold War, but that doesn’t make it any less moving.
3. The Courier (2020)
The Courier follows an ordinary citizen who gets embroiled in the information war between the US and the Soviet Union. The plot was inspired by the real-life story of a British businessman recruited by MI6 to work with a Russian spy to help defuse tensions — including those leading up to the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis.
4. First Man (2018)
One of the biggest rivalries of the Cold War involved the US and Soviet Union competing over who would conquer space exploration first. Critics and historians alike regularly cite First Man as one of the best films about the Cold War’s so-called “Space Race.” Set in the 1960s, it tells the story of astronaut Neil Armstrong as he trains and prepares to fly to the moon on Apollo 11. The backdrop shows the two nations taking huge risks to win space primacy.
5. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
The Hunt for Red October is based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name. It tells the story of fictional CIA agent Jack Ryan, who briefly detects a Russian presence in American waters. Soviet Union Captain Marko Ramius defies orders and heads to the US in an almost invisible submarine called Red October. While the US Navy is convinced Ramius is planning an attack, Ryan believes the captain is defecting and is under pressure to convince everyone that he is right. This is one of the best and most action-packed movies about the Cold War.
Get the show on the road
These five films on the Cold War are a fantastic way to learn about this historic period from a variety of points of view. If you’re learning English, watching movies about American history is a fun and entertaining way to improve your language skills. So, grab the popcorn and let’s get this show on the road!