The War Game


The War Game (1966)



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Movie Info

Peter Watkins' The War Game, which was filmed in handheld documentary fashion, speculates on the aftereffects of a nuclear war. Some of the images are almost impossible to look at; they truly illustrate the theory that, in the wake of such a holocaust, the living will envy the dead. The most heartwrenching scene is the simplest. Asked what he wants to be when he grows up, a sullen young boy, physically unhurt but with obviously deep emotional scars, mutters "I don't want to be nothin'." Filmed for BBC television, The War Game was rejected by that august concern as being too graphic. The 47-minute film was released to theaters, making it eligible for the Best Documentary Academy Award, which it won in 1966. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi


Michael Aspel
as Narrator
Dick Graham
as Narrator

Critic Reviews for The War Game

All Critics (14) | Top Critics (2)

One of the most skillful documentary films ever made.

Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Watkins has fashioned a scare story that really scares.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Watkins's anger... has not been muted by the passage of time - perhaps it's made rawer by the roughened quality of the film stock.

Jul 31, 2018 | Full Review…

There is nothing subtle about this documentary, no place for irony just shocking image after image to bring home the terror of war.

Dec 7, 2007 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

A horrifying and insidiously effective propaganda piece.

Oct 5, 2006 | Full Review…

Nothing that you have heard or read can fully prepare you for Peter Watkins' 1965 faux documentary on the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Great Britain.

Aug 30, 2006 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The War Game

Peter Watkin's "documentary" film is a horrifying look at the effects of what a Soviet nuclear attack would look like in the United Kingdom. It's a wonderful film that shows deep rooted concerns of people during the height of the Cold War.

Joseph Boomhower
Joseph Boomhower

Super Reviewer


"The War Game" is an intense demonstration of what a nuclear attack on England would look like, extrapolating from the bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden to name a few. While this is decades ahead of similar movies like "Threads" and "The Day After," "The War Game" also feels dated, partially due to its predicting nuclear war by 1980 because of out of control nuclear proliferation which does remain a very real threat in this day and age. And unlike Peter Watkins' other docufictions, this does not really have a story, leading it to sound like little more than a polemic at times. On the one hand, the movie is concerned with preparations for nuclear war while it also ably demonstrates that there is really no way to conceivably prepare for one. In this confused way, Watkins points out how little the people of England at the time knew about nuclear weapons. But if I remember correctly from a biography of Bertrand Russell, there was already an anti-nuclear movement well under way by then.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

"The War Game" is a grim, fearless imagining of a nuclear attack's devastating effect on England. This 48-minute film was originally made for the BBC, yet rated so shocking that it wasn't shown on British television until 20 years later (despite winning the 1966 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature). As a detached narrator matter-of-factly recounts the action, director Peter Watkins dramatizes a contemporary bombing of England and the subsequent death, destruction, filth, disease, injuries, hunger, looting and depression. The dour images are still shocking today -- especially an unflinching scene where the jaded police executes some rioters just because it's the quickest solution. There are no recurring characters beyond a few "man on the street" subjects who naively respond to interview questions. The people are ill-informed about the situation, and it's emphasized that any missile strike would arrive so fast that preparations are useless. Here are five minutes -- grab your children and wrap up your life as best you can. The film is obviously low-budget but, due to its brief length and emphasis on the human toll (mostly captured in tight, intimate shots), the need for expensive sets and props is minimal. Note: If released today, "The War Game"'s classification as a "documentary" presumably would be rejected. There is seemingly no real-life footage at all and, rather than aim for an Orson Welles-style illusion of an actual disaster, the narration repeatedly reminds us that these events are mere possibilities. Really, this is no more a documentary than other prominent Watkins works such as "The Battle of Culloden," "Privilege" and "Punishment Park" -- all fictions presented in a similar newsreel style.

Eric Broome
Eric Broome

Super Reviewer


A disturbing fictional account of a nuclear attack on Britain. The level of detail this "documentary" goes into would be called "enlightening" if it wasn't for the positive connotations that word implies. The grim newsreel style documenting the horror of a post-nuclear emergency is firmly based in factual extrapolations based on the Dresden Bombings as well as Hiroshima. The film moves fluidly and effectively from the blast all the way to food riots, disposal of bodies and corpse identification. Amazingly effective for a low-budget TV movie, with amazing acting for a cast of total unknowns. Graphic and socially unnerving. One of the few films that transcends the age of Atomic Paranoia in which it was made and focuses upon.

Daniel Hetteix
Daniel Hetteix

Super Reviewer

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