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The ice-cool Cold War movies to get you ready for #AtomicBlonde

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As dangerous and scary as the world now seems, we’re a generation that's lucky we’re not living under the shadow of the Cold War. From the years after WWII, until the early 1990s, the Cold War became the term that described the state of hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the Western powers.

But even though the time of the Cold War has passed, it doesn't mean that cinema has forgotten about it.

Set in 1989 on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a top-level spy for MI6, who is dispatched to Berlin to take down a ruthless espionage ring that has just killed an undercover agent for reasons unknown.

So, to get you in the mood, we’ve selected some other chilly Cold War classics you need to see...


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Stanley Kubrick’s clunkily-titled movie is a blackly comic masterpiece, a stirring anti-war fantasy that was made at the height of the Cold War and is every bit as scary as it is funny, focusing as it does on the desperate attempts of the US government to prevent a nuclear war with the Soviet Union after an unhinged US Air Force general orders an attack on Russia.

A crisp satire on the warmongering machismo of our political leaders (there's only one woman – a Playboy model-turned-secretary in the entire film), it boasts Peter Sellers in no less than three roles, as the bald, ineffectual American President, the titular nutty scientist with an uncontrollable bionic hand, and a clipped RAF officer who tries to save the day. 


The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

Published in 1963, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was the third novel from a writer whose name would become synonymous with Cold War fiction - John le Carré.

This 1965 adaptation is a rollicking good thriller, starring Richard Burton as a British agent who is sent to East Germany as a faux defector to sow disinformation about a powerful East German intelligence officer.

Martin Ritt’s stark, talky drama is a universe away from the Boy’s Own escapism of the James Bond films, but nobody wrote about the world of international intelligence with such grim authenticity as John le Carré.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Another top-drawer le Carré adaptation, this chilly drama from director Tomas Alfredson headlines a perfectly pitched Gary Oldman as the beguilingly opaque spy George Smiley who is tasked with rooting out a Soviet mole working within MI6.

Director Tomas Alfredson manoeuvres us through Le Carre’s labyrinthine world with assuredness, painting 70s London from a palette of desaturated colours. This is the real anti-Bond, where the spy game is conducted in offices that look like Watford County Council and the operatives look more building society pen pushers.


The Hunt for Red October

It’s 1984, and the Soviet Union's best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect or to start a war?

Sean Connery wasn’t the most obvious casting as the Soviet captain Marko Ramius (in typical Connery fashion, he barely makes any effort with the accent), but he’s still brilliant in this claustrophobic and nail-chewingly tense adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Cold War bestseller.

Alec Baldwin makes for a charismatic Jack Ryan, Clancy’s dependable CIA analyst, while John McTiernan (Die Hard) does a great job in keeping us guessing as to Ramius’ true motives.


The Manchurian Candidate

A former prisoner of war is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy in this classic thriller from John Frankenheimer.

British actor Laurence Harvey headlines as Raymond Shaw, a decorated Korean war veteran who arrives back home without any memory of being brainwashed by the communists as a 'sleeper', ready to assassinate the President.

Frank Sinatra, in probably his best big screen role, plays his army buddy who suspects the plot, but Angela Lansbury steals the film, as Sgt. Shaw's wonderfully malignant mother.

An intriguing blend of the surreal (the brainwashing scenes have a deliciously nightmarish feel) and documentary-like realism (Frankenheimer gives the rest of the movie a sense of newsreel-like immediacy), The Manchurian Candidate still has political bite, 55 years on.


The Ipcress File

Though produced by Bond producer Harry Saltzman and scored by regular Bond composer John Barry this dour spy thriller adapted from Len Deighton’s novel has little in common with the jet-setting, colour-splashed 007 series.

Michael Caine stars as Harry Palmer, a bespectacled secret agent with a penchant for home cooking who has to investigate why a number of leading Western scientists have vanished and then reappeared, apparently brainwashed, a few days later.

At every beat of the story, Palmer is the anti-Bond. He lives in a nondescript apartment, drives an unglamorous, functional car and shops for groceries after work. Even his office, at the Ministry at Defence, is grey and fag-stained.

A monster hit at the time, it spawned two sequels in Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain and currently sits at number 49 on the British Film Institute's list of 100 of the best British films of the 20th century.


Thirteen Days

There aren’t that many true-life dramas about the Cold War. Given that the situation was mostly a state of mutual tension, with little direct threat, there’s not much drama to be mined. Except for the Cuban Missile Crisis, when America and the Soviet Union came closer to real conflict than at any other time in the 40-plus years of the Cold War.

This heart-pounding and factually-faithful drama from director Ronald Donaldson tells the story of that time in October 1962 when the world held its breath in readiness of nuclear war.

Bruce Greenwood stars as President John F. Kennedy, and Kevin Costner stars as Special Assistant to the President Kenneth O'Donnell.

A history lesson as tense and terrifying as any fictional movie plot, Thirteen Days is a powerful reminder of a period in history when humanity was on the brink of World War III.


Rocky IV

One of the best, if one of the more absurd, of the Rocky sequels, this has the Italian Stallion taking on the supposedly unbeatable Soviet pugilist Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren).

About as patriotic an American flick as you can possibly get, it’s a Cold War parable told in the boxing ring – hell, Rocky even enters the fight wearing stars and stripes shorts, while Drago exhibits every cliche of the leathery, humourless Ruski.

Of course, it was Drago who kills, at the end of the movie, Rocky’s crony and one-time rival Apollo Creed. And, if reports are to be believed, Drago will be making a reappearance in the Stallone-scripted Creed sequel.

Ding-ding! Round two!


The Fourth Protocol

Michael Caine again, this time playing a British agent tasked with preventing the Russians detonating a nuclear explosion next to an American base in the UK.

Strangely, Pierce Brosnan is cast as the top Russian operative assigned to nuke an American air base in Britain. Playing Major Valeri Petrofsky like a Russian James Bond – a pin-up agent with good looking girlfriends and a super-posh sports car – Brosnan is pretty impressive, though it's Caine who steals the show. 

Adapted from his own novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol is an electrifying, if slightly preposterous, thriller from one of the masters of the genre. 



Atomic Blonde hits Cineworld on 9th August.

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