7.4/10
22,121
106 user 61 critic

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

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

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

Taglines:

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

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

16 March 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

An Element Of Risk  »

Box Office

Gross:

$51,718,367 (USA)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Metrocolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Producer Michael Douglas feels that what The China Syndrome (1979) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) share in common is the classic dramatic situation of man versus institutions. In the case of The China Syndrome (1979) those institutions are the many-headed monsters of modern media and technological corporations. Douglas said: "It's Man vs. Machinery. Basically, I find I like stories about heroes and, frankly, I think most people do. When I first read 'The China Syndrome', I was knocked out to find a very exciting story in which the leading characters are faced with dramatic choices, decisions that could make them heroic.This is the same plane on which 'Cuckoo's Nest' [One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)] was so involving". Douglas added: "Although we're dealing with complicated and controversial issues, the story is presented in a straightforward fashion, just as in 'Cuckoo's Nest' [One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)] . There were a lot of people who thought Big Nurse [(Louise Fletcher)] was right, that she was just doing her job. Conclusions belong to the audience, not the filmmakers". See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Jack Godell: What makes you think they're looking for a scapegoat?
Ted Spindler: Tradition.
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Crazy Credits

The end credits run in total silence. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Saturday Night Live: Mike Myers/Aerosmith (1997) See more »

Soundtracks

Somewhere In Between
by Stephen Bishop
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A chilling, reality-based, horror film.
15 May 2002 | by (Brooklyn, N.Y.) – See all my reviews

"The China Syndrome" is perhaps the first horror film that is not necessarily following the rules of the genre. It takes place in the contemporary '70's, and features people in the normal profession of broadcast television news. But, when a news story about the leakage of nuclear energy breaks; let's just say - there is your monster.

Jane Fonda is absolutely superb as Kimberley Wells, an ambitious Los Angeles reporter relegated only to fluff pieces by her sexist boss (Peter Donat). She wants something juicier, and gets it, in the form of an accident at a nuclear power plant facilitated by Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon with expressions too numerous to count). Her hippie radical cameraman (Michael Douglas, who also produced) photographs the incident without the plant's knowledge and they both agree that public safety is a valid story. The network brass doesn't think so, and soon both Fonda and Douglas are entangled in a web of legalities concerning the tape.

The crux of the film is Lemmon's character. A man torn between loyalty to his company and telling the truth - even in the face of grave consequences. What makes this horror scenario so compelling is that these are true flesh-and-blood people stuck in the most extraordinary of circumstances faced with both a threat of cosmic proportions as well as a human one.

This is a remarkably chilling thriller, and I'm disappointed that it's not taken more seriously (as both art and tract).


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