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On the Beach (1959)

After a global nuclear war, the residents of Australia must come to terms with the fact that all life will be destroyed in a matter of months.


Stanley Kramer


John Paxton (screenplay), Nevil Shute (novel)

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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 4 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Gregory Peck ... Cmdr. Dwight Lionel Towers
Ava Gardner ... Moira Davidson
Fred Astaire ... Julian Osborn
Anthony Perkins ... Lt. Peter Holmes
Donna Anderson ... Mary Holmes
John Tate John Tate ... Adm. Bridie
Harp McGuire ... Lt. Sunderstrom
Lola Brooks Lola Brooks ... Lt. Hosgood
Ken Wayne ... Lt. Benson
Guy Doleman ... Lt. Cmdr. Farrel
Richard Meikle Richard Meikle ... Davis
John Meillon ... Ralph Swain
Joe McCormick Joe McCormick ... Ackerman
Lou Vernon Lou Vernon ... Bill Davidson
Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan ... Dr. King


In 1964, atomic war wipes out humanity in the northern hemisphere; one American submarine finds temporary safe haven in Australia, where life-as-usual covers growing despair. In denial about the loss of his wife and children in the holocaust, American Captain Towers meets careworn but gorgeous Moira Davidson, who begins to fall for him. The sub returns after reconnaissance a month (or less) before the end; will Towers and Moira find comfort with each other? Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


IF YOU Never See Another Motion Picture In Your Life You Must See ON THE BEACH See more »


Drama | Romance | Sci-Fi


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Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

17 December 1959 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Das letzte Ufer See more »


Box Office


$2,900,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The movie is set in 1964. This is not a random year in the future. in 1914 WWI started, and after 25 years, in 1939, WWII started. If you add 1939 and 25 you get 1964. See more »


When Hosgood announces Holmes to the Admiral, she calls him Lieutenant Holmes using the American pronunciation, instead of the Australian "Leftenant". Curiously though, navies of the British tradition actually pronounce the rank a "L'tenant" but this subtlety is usually overlooked in Hollywood for the more exotic "Leftenant" which is actually the army pronunciation. See more »


[first lines]
Dwight Towers: Prepare to surface.
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Crazy Credits

The following acknowledgment appears in the opening credits: "We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance given by the Royal Australian Navy and, in particular, by the officers and men of H.M.A.S. Melbourne and H.M.S. Andrew." See more »


Onward, Christian Soldiers
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Lyrics by Sabine Baring-Gould
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User Reviews

No good
20 October 2007 | by tom_amitySee all my reviews

May I enter a minority report? I hate this film as much as Nevil Shute (author of the novel On the Beach) did.

Shute's biggest complaint was the film's distortion of the character of Commander Dwight Towers. In the novel, Towers' "coping mechanism" is an alternative reality: the conviction that "when all this blows over" he was going to return to his wife and family in Connecticut; he even buys them presents to take home. "You may think I'm nuts," he tells Moira, "but that's how I see it." Moira's greatest achievement is to enter into his alternative reality and to promise to visit him in Connecticut. Indeed, to Moira's sorrow, the two do not consummate their relationship; Towers will not, cannot, cheat on his wife. The mercenary Stanley Kramer would have none of this: the film, he decided, needed sex. Gregory Peck, to his credit, tried to argue Kramer out of this distortion, but Kramer wouldn't budge.

Like all Shute's novels, On the Beach is about ordinary people triumphing over an impossible situation. The characters in Shute's story talk of simple pleasures and go on with their lives, planting flowers and beautifying their homes, talking of "the situation" and "when it comes" in careful euphemisms, not in denial but quietly aware that soon and very soon they must make their plans about how they are going to spend the end. My favorite scene is in the furniture store, when Peter Holmes says "Can I pay with a checque?" The clerk answers in the affirmative, and they exchange their documents with dignity, like gentlemen, without bitter recriminations or snide end-of-the-world jokes and with no pathetic attempts to utter profundities. The movie, I fear, betrays the mood of the novel: in the movie, the characters do nothing from start to finish other than moping, moping and moping. This makes the film sentimental, corny and downright mushy. The novel has none of those qualities.

Kramer made the mistake of imagining this story to be about nuclear war, or the aftermath thereof. He's utterly wrong. The story is about the triumph of the human spirit over impossible odds.

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