The China Syndrome 1979

The China Syndrome

Critics Consensus

With gripping themes and a stellar cast, The China Syndrome is the rare thriller that's as thought-provoking as it is tense.

85%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 34

81%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 8,906

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Movie Info

A news reporter (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) are unintentional witnesses to a SCRAM incident, an emergency core shutdown procedure at a nuclear power plant in California. The crew prevents a catastrophe, but the plant supervisor (Jack Lemmon) begins to suspect the plant is in violation of safety standards, and tries desperately to bring it to the attention of the public, fearing that another SCRAM incident will produce an atomic disaster.

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Critic Reviews for The China Syndrome

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (29) | Rotten (5)

  • A tightly assembled didactic thriller.

    March 27, 2009 | Full Review…
  • A moderately compelling thriller about the potential perils of nuclear energy, whose major fault is an overweening sense of its own self-importance.

    March 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    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.

    June 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A terrific thriller that incidentally raises the most unsettling questions about how safe nuclear power plants really are.

    October 23, 2004 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/5
  • A pseudo-documentary for anti-nuclear activists hoping to convince of potential environmental downfalls.

    August 27, 2020 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The China Syndrome

  • Aug 08, 2016
    An effectively tense thriller that must have been even more terrifying when it came out, when fear of nuclear power was greater, and it is very well directed (the car chase scene is nerve-wracking) and has three amazing performances from its leads, especially Jack Lemmon.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 06, 2010
    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
  • Jun 13, 2009
    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. <I>The China Syndrome</I>, 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
  • Jun 13, 2009
    interesting foray into corporate corruption and cover up. as relevant today as it was in 1979 as big companies will never stop trampling all over the small fry workers or the general populace. for once michael douglas isn't in an erotic thriller and he does okay, but i was more impressed with jack lemmon as the disheartened employee, whereas jane fonda got to play a role she probably really enjoyed
    Sanity Assassin ! Super Reviewer

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