“Threads” – A Terrifyingly Believable Disaster Movie

As I have written about before, during the 1980s I gained an interest in nuclear weapons. I read books about them and I watched as much TV material as I could – which wasn’t a huge amount in a world of only four TV channels and no internet. Of all the programmes that I watched, the most terrifying was Threads (Mick Jackson, 1984). I could never imagine that I would be re-watching the movie many years later for part of an academic study – “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“. Indeed, when I was watching it the first few times, I could never have even imagined that only five years later I would be moving to Sheffield, where the film is largely set, and be living there for about nine years, and adopting Sheffield United as my favourite football team.

The premise of the movie (information taken from IMDb) is

The effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.


Perhaps one of the key aspects of that very brief summary is that the film didn’t just show the impact on Sheffield, but how nuclear war would impact the whole world. It was one of the first widely viewed programmes that helped people gain an understanding of the term ‘nuclear winter’. It is a shame that people didn’t see the parallels between this and climate change at the same time.

I have joked over the years about how one of the best aspects of the film was that it blew up the ‘egg-box’ Council building in Sheffield which was an eyesore. Of course that building no longer exists, replaced by the much more pleasant Winter Garden – a development which also saw the expansion and improvement of the Peace Garden (dedicated in part to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing).

But, in reality, the best aspect of the film is its gritty believability. And while it was very much set in a Cold War set-up, there is so much that is still relevant today – not only in terms of everyone needing to understand what the devastating impact of a nuclear exchange would be, but also in how Britain handles crises (c.f. COVID-19).

I bought the Blu-ray version of Threads soon after it was released. It is highly recommended – the presentation is so good and I love the way that the public broadcast about what to do during a nuclear attack, known to many thanks to Frankie Goes To Hollywood using it on their track “Two Tribes” (particularly the 12″ Annihilation mix) was brought into the menu.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Threads has 15 out of the 17, with the only two missing being ‘isolation’ and ‘mini-victories’.

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