The China Syndrome (1979)

PG  |   |  Drama, Thriller  |  16 March 1979 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 19,729 users  
Reviews: 97 user | 65 critic

A reporter finds what appears to be a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant.


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Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Peter Donat ...
Daniel Valdez ...
Stan Bohrman ...
Michael Alaimo ...
Donald Hotton ...
Khalilah Ali ...
Paul Larson ...


While doing a series of reports on alternative energy sources, an opportunistic reporter Kimberly Wells witnesses an accident at a nuclear power plant. Wells is determined to publicise the incident but soon finds herself entangled in a sinister conspiracy to keep the full impact of the incident a secret. Written by Dave Jenkins <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


People who know the meaning of "The China Syndrome" are scared. Soon _you_ will know. See more »


Drama | Thriller


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

16 March 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El síndrome de China  »

Box Office


SEK 8,390,477 (Sweden)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The Ventana Powerplant was based on the experimental nuclear reactor that Rocketdyne operated at its Santa Susana Field Laboratory east of Thousand Oaks, California, in Ventura County. The Rocketdyne reactor also had numerous failures and accidents (due to its experimental nature, not shoddy workmanship), and was finally shut down, but to this day it remains in place as one of the first nuclear reactors in California. See more »


When Hector (the sound guy) is being pursued at high speed in his red car, (as he tries to hurriedly get the falsified X-rays to Jane Fonda), after the second bump from the car behind; there is a shot-change to the side of his car. In the reflection in the window of his car we can see a Panavision camera with a roll of movie film on top, filming the scene from a truck. See more »


Greg Minor: [re evidence of a nuclear power plant accident] I may be wrong, but I'd say you're lucky to be alive. For that matter, I think we might say the same for the rest of Southern California.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The end credits run in total silence. See more »


Referenced in Game Boys (2008) See more »


Somewhere In Between
by Stephen Bishop
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Still Relevant After (Nearly) 25 Years
2 September 2003 | by (Georgia, USA) – See all my reviews

This is *not* a great film about nuclear power. It plays too fast and loose with reality for that--especially in a cringe-inducing scene where two scientists describe the consequences of a reactor accident. The catastrophic damage they describe is (even opponents of nuclear power would agree) a worst-case scenario, not the inevitable result of a breakdown in the reactor cooling system. Three-Mile Island suffered such a breakdown, and the surrounding "area the size of Pennsylvania" remained habitable.

That said, this *is* a great (and surprisingly subtle) film about complex technological systems, how they fail, and how the organizations that manage them go awry. Subtle? Well: 1) Jack Godell, the whiste-blowing hero, is a flawed and self-doubting normal human being rather than a crusader in shining armor; 2) His co-workers at the plant (as opposed to the "suits" they work for) are sympathetic working-class guys who gripe (as does everybody now and then) about burdensome government regulations and the clueless public; 3) The flaws in the plant are subtle, not glaring. The film, in other words, plays a lot fairer than you'd expect given its reputation (and pedigree).

Does this film have a definite whiff of late-70s, post-Watergate America about it? Sure. Does it have a political edge? Yes. For all that, though, it's still (sadly) relevant--our technology, and the people who are supposed to make it work, still fail us. See the movie, then skim the recent (August 2003) report on the Columbia disaster; the more things change. . .

48 of 65 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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