10. Threads

This is the only fictional work to get onto the list. Whether it should be so low overall is open to debate, but I genuinely think it’s the most frightening film I’ve ever seen – by a mile. Particularly since it was shown to me by a well-meaning teacher, denying me the option of the ‘off’ switch.

The film details the build-up to a nuclear attack on Sheffield, the attack itself, and the long, gruesome aftermath. I was scared of nuclear war before seeing Threads, but in an abstract sense: I thought it would probably happen, and that I would probably die, but I couldn’t grasp what it all might be like. Threads more than made up for my failure of imagination. For the next year and a half I would morbidly imagine mushroom clouds over every landscape, weigh up where was safest to live – or where would bring the quickest death, if I was in that kind of mood. Then eventually I found other things to worry about and the fear subsided.

Facts and scenes stay with me, though. The milk bottles melting on the doorsteps. A man crying as he finds a useless computer game. The factoid that the Russians would likely attack at 8AM GMT, when the American leadership would be at their most exhausted. What I most took away from it was the impression that the survivors of a nuclear war would be the unlucky ones.

Now of course we parrot the fact that there are lots of nuclear weapons still out there, the possibility of Armageddon has not really receded, etc. But frankly it’s less scary than it was: it’s not impossible to work out a situation where full-on nuclear war might result, but in the 1980s it was sometimes hard to work out a situation where it wouldn’t. Nuclear war is not scary to me any more – but I very much doubt I could sit through Threads again without nightmares.