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The China Syndrome (1979)

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:
Daniel Valdez ...
Stan Bohrman ...
Pete Martin
Michael Alaimo ...
Donald Hotton ...
Khalilah Ali ...
Paul Larson ...
D.B. Royce


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 <david.jenkins@smallworld.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Today, only a handful of people know what it means... Soon you will know. See more »


Drama | Thriller


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

16 March 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

An Element Of Risk  »


Box Office

Gross USA:

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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 movie was released on March 16, 1979. By a bizarre coincidence, the disaster at the nuclear power plant at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island happened just 12 days later on March 28. See more »


Throughout the film, Michael Douglas makes the mistake of pronouncing the word "nuclear" as the incorrect "noo-kyoo-ler". (A mistake he also makes in The Game). See more »


Bill Gibson: Mr. Mc Cormack I can't take responsibility for this.
Evan Mc Cormack: What's your alternative? Let this maniac wash out a billion dollar investment? At least this buys time, it will take the press an hour to get here.
Bill Gibson: I wouldn't count on it.
Evan Mc Cormack: I'm counting on you to take care of the goddamn press. Now you do your job and I'll do mine.
Bill Gibson: Yes sir.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The end credits run in total silence. See more »


Referenced in Jurassic Park (1993) See more »


Somewhere In Between
by Stephen Bishop
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

What can really be said?
21 January 2003 | by See all my reviews

I normally don't comment on movies on IMDB, but in this case I feel like I should. I love movies, and I want to make them, and this movie is a perfect example of fine filmmaking.

This is one of the few movies that I have seen on the small screen (originally seeing it air on AMC, I believe, and then on the DVD I just watched) that made me get that feeling in the pit of my stomach. That little gnawing sensation that the director would hope you feel while watching his thriller.

Jack Lemmon's performance is a fine one, and Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas follow. I felt so much empathy of Lemmon, who's character Jack Godell, only wanted people to listen to his warning.

But what impresses me most about this film is the lack of a score, and this is also what makes it beautiful to me. Apart from the opening titles there are no background music to increase the tension, because none is needed. And while the credits run, white on black, in silence it drives the point home.

I use the movie as an example to anyone who says music makes the movie. I think the movie should make the movie and the music should only amplify that. But for The China Syndrome music is not necessary to get across the realism and the urgency depicted here. The characters portray all of this far better than the music ever could.

I highly recommend this movie, it is one of my favorites. If you like movies, you won't be disappointed. If you like movie soundtracks more, you might not want to give this one a go.

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