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 picture was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979. The movie was also nominated for 4 Academy Awards in 1980 but failed to win an Oscar statuette. See more »


When Jack sets down his coffee cup, just after the earthquake, the handle points towards the edge of the counter. In the close up the handle points to the corner. See more »


Evan Mc Cormack: Scram the son of a bitch.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The end credits run in total silence. See more »


Referenced in A Decade Under the Influence (2003) See more »


Somewhere In Between
by Stephen Bishop
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Had an impact when it was released... and it hasn't lost it over the almost three decades that have passed
10 February 2007 | by (Denmark) – See all my reviews

The first thing you see in this film is a static angle(one which will be repeated later in the film), depicting the chaos going on(unseen to the audience) in a studio that airs news. Soon after, Fonda's character's typical story is shown, in that same angle. Don't let this mislead you; the film is not about a female reporter, a woman struggling to succeed in a male-dominated profession. That is merely a lead-in, a way of starting the film(though it's used later). The actual point to this production is revealed gradually, and the first we see of it is in a deliberately long scene early on. The entire film has that pace; not slow or drawn-out, but deliberate. It's never really fast, even in the few sequences that one would normally expect to be so. This pacing(especially because it seems to slow down further as the plot is revealed, as the disturbing, unsettling nature of the film is unraveled) is strong, almost painful to the viewer. It inspires you to, if it had been possible, jump into the screen, grab the people responsible by the collar and yell at them to *do* something about it, to remedy the situation. Never once did I feel like getting up or even taking my eyes off the screen for a moment. The subject is extremely important to be aware of, and it's handled perfectly here. No over-dramatization(well... very little, anyway), just an accurate presentation of the issue. The direction is astounding. The empathy felt for Lemmon's character is profound. The editing is masterful... one scene near the very end illustrates that perfectly. The editor, judging from his filmography, is vastly underrated. The writing was excellent. The acting was great, in particular by Lemmon, Fonda and Douglas(who also produced it). The lack of a score is perfect; no music is needed to enhance. The ending is sublime and effective. The movie does have a few negative points... among them, some of the dialog is obviously and undeniably mainly exposition, one particular part of the film, whilst dramatic, doesn't seem to mesh with something that follows it. Not everyone will watch the film because of two features of it which are commonly (and rightfully so) attributed to bad movies; the pacing(which can be mistaken as being slow) and the (lack of) score. One could argue that to be a negative thing, as everyone ought to consider the points it presents, but maybe it's better this way; handling the heavy subject with the intelligence and respect(for the topic as well as the viewer)... something like this, maybe it shouldn't be spoon-fed. I was mesmerized with the film, and left very taken aback. I recommend this to anyone who believe themselves strong enough to handle it. 9/10

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