7.4/10
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110 user 70 critic

The China Syndrome (1979)

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

Director:

James Bridges

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

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Jane Fonda ... Kimberly Wells
Jack Lemmon ... Jack Godell
Michael Douglas ... Richard Adams
Scott Brady ... Herman De Young
James Hampton ... Bill Gibson
Peter Donat ... Don Jacovich
Wilford Brimley ... Ted Spindler
Richard Herd ... Evan McCormack
Daniel Valdez Daniel Valdez ... Hector Salas
Stan Bohrman Stan Bohrman ... Pete Martin
James Karen ... Mac Churchill
Michael Alaimo Michael Alaimo ... Greg Minor
Donald Hotton ... Dr. Lowell
Khalilah Ali Khalilah Ali ... Marge
Paul Larson Paul Larson ... D.B. Royce
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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:

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

Genres:

Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

16 March 1979 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

An Element Of Risk See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$51,718,367
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Metrocolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Richard Dreyfuss was originally cast as the cameraman but pulled out shortly before filming was to start and Michael Douglas, who also produced the film, was placed in the role instead. See more »

Goofs

In the United States, there are two main types of commercial power reactors: PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) and BWR (Boiling Water Reactor). In the scene where Gibson is explaining the basic workings of the plant to Kimberly Wells, the diagram on the board shows the former type, PWR. This is shown by the two loop system in which the water is pumped through the reactor under high pressure to prevent boiling, and then through a steam generator, or boiler, to create steam for the turbine using clean secondary water. In subsequent scenes, the dialog of the characters in the control room seems to suggest that they are dealing with a BWR system, where water is allowed to boil in the reactor vessel and steam is directly piped to the turbine, with no steam generator. Godell is concerned by the high water level in the reactor reaching the steam lines, of which there are none on a PWR reactor vessel. Once Goddell and the operators realize the water level is low, character dialogue references Auxilary Feedwater which is a PWR system. As well, in the action hearing later, the investigator talks about how the operators began cutting off feedwater and releasing steam in order to lower the reactor water level, which would only happen on a BWR. See more »

Quotes

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 »

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 moveefrkSee 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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