The China Syndrome (1979)

The China Syndrome (1979)

The China Syndrome



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

The China Syndrome Videos & Photos

Movie Info

In this film, reporter Kimberly Wells and her cameraman Richard Adams go to a small nuclear reactor in California to film a story. While speaking with engineer Jack Godell in the plant, something goes horribly wrong. During the ensuing panic, Adams continues filming and captures some potentially damning information.

Rating: PG
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: T. S. Cook, Mike Gray, James Bridges, T.S. Cook
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 28, 2001
Columbia Pictures


as Kimberly Wells

as Jack Godell

as Richard Adams

as Bill Gibson

as Don Jacovich

as Ted Spindler

as Evan McCormack

as Hector Salas

as Peter Martin

as Herman DeYoung

as MacChurchill

as Greg Minor

as Dr. Lowell

as D.B. Royce

as Tommy

as Donny

as Control Guard

as TV Director

as Harmon

as Robertson

as Rita Jacovich

as TV Consultant

as Technical Director

as News Reporter

as Sportscaster

as Waitress

as Alma Spindler

as KXLA Cameraman

as Woman at Demonstrati...

as Hearings Chairman

as Pro-Nuclear Witness

as Young Demonstrator

as Gate Guard

as Security Agent

as Fire Rescue Person

as Jaws of Life Man

as Highway Patrolman

as Technician

as SWAT Squad Leader

as Val Clenard
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The China Syndrome

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Critic Reviews for The China Syndrome

All Critics (29) | Top Critics (5)

A tightly assembled didactic thriller.

Full Review… | March 27, 2009
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A moderately compelling thriller about the potential perils of nuclear energy, whose major fault is an overweening sense of its own self-importance.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

All a bit too earnest, despite the seriousness of the subject, with Fonda setting her jaw and stepping into father's footsteps as Tinseltown's very own protector of humanity; but it's tightly scripted and directed, and genuinely tense in places.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

A terrific thriller that incidentally raises the most unsettling questions about how safe nuclear power plants really are.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

The three stars are splendid, but maybe Miss Fonda is just a bit more than that. Her performance is not that of an actress in a star's role, but that of an actress creating a character that happens to be major within the film.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Scary, absorbing thriller predicts risks of nuclear power.

Full Review… | May 5, 2014
Common Sense Media

Audience Reviews for The China Syndrome


A fantastic true to life film, with great actors, and intense suspense. I loved this movie and I highly recommend it.

Aj V

Super Reviewer


Jack Lemmon plays a shift supervisor at a nuclear power plant who narrowly averts a core meltdown while being surreptitiously filmed by Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas' visiting TV news crew. When Lemmon's superiors pooh-pooh his reservations about the safety of the plant in their haste to get back into production, he turns whistle-blower. The China Syndrome, which with uncanny prescience was released just 12 days before the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, is a hybrid of two of the genres most closely associated with the 1970s, the paranoid conspiracy thriller and the disaster movie. Intelligent, suspenseful and brilliantly acted, especially by Lemmon in one of his great 'straight' roles, my only reservations are that it hasn't aged especially well, and Michael Douglas drives me crazy every time he says the word 'nuclear'. It's not 'nucular', you asshole!

Stephen M

Super Reviewer

Jane Fonda plays a tenacious reporter whose news crew chances upon an incident at a nuclear power plant that could have led to a meltdown, and goes on to try and uncover the conspiracy of silence concerning the plant's safety. Essentially a disaster movie without the disaster, this worthy political thriller's main claim to fame is that the meltdown it predicted actually happened at 3 mile island a few weeks later. The plot follows the usual disaster movie convention of morally courageous hero attempts to alert the public to danger, hampered by the interference of big business who are afraid of the damage to their profits, but it is done in a rather more serious-minded way; there is more science and less histrionics and special effects. This can feel a little dry and sterile however, as a little too much of the drama relies on watching concerned looking men in hard hats looking at pipes and dials but Jack Lemmon is as excellent as always, bringing real human drama and pathos to his role. It drags a little in places, but the powerful climax is worth persevering for.

xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

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