Dr. Strangelove


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (commonly known as Dr. Strangelove) is a black comedy film directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, and featuring Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens. Loosely based by screenwriter Terry Southern on Peter George's Cold War thriller novel Red Alert (aka Two Hours to Doom), Dr. Strangelove satirizes the Cold War and the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.

The story concerns a mentally unstable US Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, and follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse, as well as the crew of one B-52 as they attempt to deliver their payload.

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Additionally, it was listed as #3 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs.


Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) is a delusional commander of a United States Air Force base who initiates a plan to attack the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, hoping to thwart a Communist conspiracy to "sap and impurify" the "precious bodily fluids" of the American people with fluoridated water, a theory that occurred to him during during sexual intercourse, and which he believed to be the cause of his post-coital fatigue.

Ripper orders the nuclear armed B-52s of the 843rd Bomb Wing past their failsafe points – where they normally hold awaiting possible orders to proceed – and into Soviet airspace. He also tells the personnel of Burpelson Air Force Base that the US and the USSR have entered into a "shooting war." Although a nuclear attack should require Presidential authority to be initiated, Ripper uses "Plan R", an emergency war plan enabling a senior officer to launch a retaliation strike against the Soviets if the normal chain of command, including the President, has been killed during a sneak attack. According to the movie plot, Plan R was intended to discourage the Soviets from launching a decapitation strike against the President in Washington to disrupt U.S. command and control and stop an American nuclear counterattack.

Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers), a RAF exchange officer serving as General Ripper's executive officer, realizes that there has been no attack on the U.S. when he turns on a radio and hears pop music instead of Civil Defense alerts. When Mandrake reveals this to Ripper, and Ripper refuses to recall the wing, Mandrake announces that he will issue the recall on his own authority, but Ripper refuses to disclose the three-letter code necessary for recalling the bombers and locks Mandrake in his office.

In the "War Room" at The Pentagon, Air Force General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) briefs President Merkin Muffley (also played by Sellers). Turgidson tries to convince Muffley to take advantage of the situation to eliminate the Soviets as a threat by launching a full-scale attack. Turgidson believes that the United States is in a superior strategic position, and a first strike against the Soviet Union would destroy 90% of their missiles before they could retaliate, resulting in a victory for the U.S. with "acceptable" American casualties of "no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops... depending on the breaks." He is rebuked when Muffley instead admits the Soviet Ambassador (Peter Bull) to the War Room, contacts Soviet Premier Dmitri Kissoff on the hotline, and insists on giving the Soviets all the information necessary to shoot down the American planes before they can carry out their strikes.

Over the phone, a drunken Kissoff reveals to the Soviet Ambassador that their country has installed an active Doomsday device which will automatically destroy all life on Earth if a nuclear attack were to hit the Soviet Union. The Doomsday Device is operated by a network of computers and has been conceived as the ultimate deterrent: as a safeguard, it cannot be deactivated, or it will set itself off, because its hardware and programs have been configured in such a way that an attempt at its deactivation would be recognized as sabotage.

The President now calls upon Dr. Strangelove (a.k.a. Merkwürdigliebe), a former Nazi and strategy expert (Sellers in his third role). The wheelchair-bound Strangelove is a type of "mad scientist", whose eccentricities include a severe case of alien hand syndrome — his right hand, clad in an ominous black leather glove, occasionally attempts to strangle Strangelove or make the Nazi salute.

Strangelove explains the principles behind the Doomsday Device, which he says is "simple to understand... credible and convincing." He also points out that a Doomsday Device kept secret has no value as a deterrent; the Soviet Ambassador admits that his government had installed it a few days before they were going to announce it publicly to the world, because Kissoff "likes surprises".

U.S. Army troops sent by the President arrive at Burpelson to arrest General Ripper. Because Ripper has warned his men that the enemy might attack disguised as American soldiers, the base's security forces, and Ripper himself, open fire on them. The Army forces win the battle and gain access to the base, and Ripper commits suicide. Colonel "Bat" Guano (Keenan Wynn) shoots his way into Ripper's office, but suspects that Mandrake, whose uniform he does not recognize, is leading a mutiny of "deviated preverts" [sic] and proceeds to arrest him. Mandrake convinces Guano that he has to call the President to tell him the recall code, which he has deduced from Ripper's desk blotter doodles to be based on the initials for the phrases peace on earth and purity of essence. Since office phone connections had been knocked out by the fighting at the base, Mandrake is forced to use a pay phone to try to contact the President. Not having the correct change to place a long-distance call to the Pentagon, Mandrake persuades Guano to shoot up a Coca-Cola vending machine to get the change out of it, and eventually is able to forward the likely code combinations to Strategic Air Command.

The correct recall code, OPE, is issued to the planes, and those that have not been shot down return to base – except for one. Its radio and fuel tanks were damaged by a Soviet anti-aircraft missile, with the result that the plane is neither able to receive the recall code nor to reach its primary or secondary target – where, at the urging of the U.S. President, the Soviets have concentrated all available defenses. On the crew's own initiative, the plane proceeds instead to a target of opportunity, finding it undefended.

As they start their bomb run, the damaged B-52's bomb bay doors jam, and Major T.J."King" Kong (Slim Pickens), aircraft commander, is looking after the problem himself. In forcing them open and releasing one of the nuclear bombs, Kong while sitting on the released bomb, falls out. He rides the bomb to the ground like a rodeo cowboy, whooping and hollering as he plummets to the ground while straddling the bomb.

The bomb explodes, triggering the Doomsday Machine. According to the Soviet ambassador, life on Earth's surface will be extinct in ten months. Dr. Strangelove recommends to the President that a group of about 200,000 people be relocated into a deep mine shaft, where the nuclear fallout cannot reach them, so that the U.S. can be repopulated afterwards. Because of space limitations, Strangelove suggests a gender ratio of "ten females to each male", with the women selected for their sexual characteristics, and the men selected on the basis of their physical strength, intellectual capabilities, and importance in business and government. General Turgidson rants that the Soviets will likely create an even better bunker than the U.S., and argues that America "must not allow a mine shaft gap." Meanwhile, the Soviet Ambassador retreats to a corner of the War Room and starts taking pictures with a spy camera disguised as a pocket watch.

In the concluding scenes, a visibly excited Dr. Strangelove bolts out of his wheelchair, shouting "Mein Führer, I can walk!" Abruptly, the film ends with a barrage of nuclear explosions, accompanied by Vera Lynn's famous World War II song "We'll Meet Again".


Main cast

Peter Sellers' multiple roles

Columbia Pictures agreed to provide financing for the film only on the condition that Peter Sellers would play at least four major roles. This condition stemmed from the studio's impression that much of the success of Lolita (1962), Kubrick's previous film, was based on Sellers' performance; Sellers had in addition played three roles in 1959's The Mouse That Roared. Kubrick accepted the demand considering that "such crass and grotesque stipulations are the sine qua non of the motion-picture business".

Ultimately, Peter Sellers played three of the four roles initially written for him. At the start of production, it was expected that he would also play the role of Air Force Major T. J. "King" Kong, the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft commander, but from the beginning, Sellers was reluctant to do so. He felt his workload was too heavy, and he was concerned that he would not be able to reproduce the Texan accent required for the character of Kong. Kubrick pleaded with him, and asked screenwriter Terry Southern (who had been raised in Texas) to record a tape with Kong's lines spoken in the correct accent. Using Southern's tape, Sellers managed to get the accent right, and started shooting the scenes in the airplane. However, Sellers sprained an ankle and could not play the role, as technical constraints would have confined him to the cramped space of the cockpit set.

Sellers is said to have improvised much of his dialogue during filming, with Kubrick incorporating the ad-libs into the written screenplay as shooting progressed, so that the improvised lines became part of the canonical screenplay, a technique known as retroscripting. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake According to film critic Alexander Walker, the author of biographies of both Sellers and Kubrick, the role of Lionel Mandrake was the easiest of the three for Sellers to play, as he was aided by his experience of mimicking his superiors while engaged in national service in the RAF during World War II. There is also a heavy element of Sellers' friend and occasional co-star Terry-Thomas.President Merkin Muffley For his performance as President Merkin Muffley, Sellers flattened his natural English accent to sound like an American Midwesterner. Sellers drew inspiration for the role from Adlai Stevenson, a former Governor of Illinois, who had been the unsuccessful Democratic nominee in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections.

In early takes, Sellers faked cold symptoms in order to exaggerate the character's apparent weakness. This caused frequent laughter among the film crew, ruining several takes. This comic portrayal was ultimately deemed to be inappropriate by Kubrick, who felt that Muffley should be shown as a serious character. In subsequent takes, Sellers played the role straight, though the president's cold is still evident in a couple of scenes.Dr. Strangelove The title character, Dr. Strangelove, serves as President Muffley's scientific advisor in the War Room, presumably making use of prior expertise as a Nazi physicist: upon becoming an American citizen, he translated his German surname "Merkwürdigliebe" to the English equivalent. Twice in the film, he accidentally addresses the President as "Mein Führer."

The character is an amalgamation of RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn, mathematician and Manhattan Project principal John von Neumann, German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and Edward Teller, the "father of the hydrogen bomb". After the fact, the character was also compared to the later US Secretary of State and controversial Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henry Kissinger, however, it is unlikely that he served as a basis for Dr. Strangelove as, at the time the film was made, Kissinger was only a Harvard professor who wrote some books on nuclear war strategy, being relatively unknown to the public. Sellers' accent was influenced by that of Austrian-American photographer Weegee, who was hired by Kubrick as a special effects consultant.

Strangelove's appearance echoes the movie villains of the Fritz Lang era in 1920s Germany, in which sinister characters were often portrayed as having some disability. Sellers improvised Dr. Strangelove's lapse into the Nazi salute, borrowing one of Kubrick's black leather gloves for the uncontrollable hand that makes the gesture. Kubrick wore the gloves on the film set in order to avoid being burned when handling hot lights, and Sellers found them to be especially menacing.

Slim Pickens as Major T. J. "King" Kong

Slim Pickens, an established character actor and veteran of many Western films, was quickly chosen to replace Sellers as Major Kong after Sellers injured himself. Terry Southern's biographer Lee Hill reports that the part had originally been written with John Wayne in mind, and Wayne was in fact offered the role after Sellers was injured, but he immediately turned it down. Dan Blocker of the Bonanza western TV series was approached to play the part, but according to Terry Southern, Blocker's agent rejected the script as being "too pinko". Kubrick then recruited Pickens, whom he knew from his stint working on Marlon Brando's One Eyed Jacks.

Fellow actor James Earl Jones recalls, "He was Major Kong on and off the set—he didn't change a thing—his temperament, his language, his behavior." According to some sources, the British film crew, unaware that that was the way he really behaved, thought Pickens was a method actor, and his mannerisms were his way of "finding" his performance for the character. Pickens was not told that the movie was a comedy and was only given the scenes he was in and not the entire script, in order to get him to play it "straight".

Kubrick biographer John Baxter further explains in the documentary Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove:

As it turns out, Slim Pickens had never left the United States. He had to hurry and get his first passport. He arrived on the set, and somebody said, "Gosh, he's arrived in costume!," not realizing that that's how he always dressed... with the cowboy hat and the fringed jacket and the cowboy boots—and that he wasn't putting on the character—that's the way he talked.

Pickens, who had previously played only minor supporting and character roles, stated that his appearance as Maj. Kong greatly improved his career. He would later comment, "After Dr. Strangelove the roles, the dressing rooms and the checks all started getting bigger."

George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson

Director Kubrick tricked Scott into playing the role of Gen. Turgidson far more ridiculously than Scott was comfortable with doing. Kubrick talked Scott into doing "over the top" practice takes, which Kubrick told Scott would never be used, as a way to warm up for the "real" takes. Subsequently, Kubrick used these takes in the final film, causing Scott to swear never to work with Kubrick again.

During the filming, Stanley Kubrick and George C. Scott had differences of opinions regarding certain scenes. However, Kubrick got Scott to conform based largely upon his ability to routinely beat Scott at chess, which they played frequently on the set, and was no easy task as Scott was a keen chess player. Scott later said that while he and Kubrick may not have always seen eye-to-eye, he respected Kubrick immensely based on his skill at chess.

The character is said to be loosely based on Air Force General Curtis LeMay.


Novel and screenplay

Kubrick started with nothing but a vague idea to make a thriller about a nuclear accident, building on the widespread Cold War fear for survival. While doing in-depth research for the planned film, Kubrick gradually became aware of the subtle and unstable "balance of terror" existing between nuclear powers and its intrinsically paradoxical character. At Kubrick's request, Alistair Buchan (the head of the Institute for Strategic Studies), recommended the thriller novel Red Alert (1958) by Peter George. Kubrick was impressed with the book, which had also been praised by game theorist and future Nobel Prize in Economics winner Thomas Schelling in an article written for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and reprinted in The Observer, and immediately bought the film rights.

Kubrick, in collaboration with George, started work on writing a screenplay based on the book. While writing the screenplay, they benefited from some brief consultations with Schelling and, later, Herman Kahn. In following the tone of the book, Stanley Kubrick originally intended to film the story as a serious drama. However, as he later explained during interviews, the comedy inherent in the idea of mutual assured destruction became apparent as he was writing the first draft of the film's script. Kubrick stated:

My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.

After deciding to turn the film into a black comedy, Kubrick brought in Terry Southern as a co-writer. The choice was influenced by reading Southern's comic novel The Magic Christian (1959), which Kubrick had received as a gift from Peter Sellers. Sellers is also sometimes considered an uncredited co-writer, as he changed many lines by way of improvisation.

Sets and filming

Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios, in London, as Peter Sellers was in the middle of a divorce at the time, unable to leave England. The sets occupied three main sound stages: the Pentagon War Room, the B-52 Stratofortress bomber and the last one containing both the motel room and General Ripper's office and outside corridor. The studio's buildings were also used as the Air Force base exterior. The film's set design was done by Ken Adam, the production designer of several James Bond films (at the time he had already worked on Dr. No). The black and white cinematography was by Gilbert Taylor, and the film was edited by Anthony Harvey and Stanley Kubrick (uncredited). The original musical score for the film was composed by Laurie Johnson and the special effects were by Wally Veevers.

For the War Room, Ken Adam first designed a two level set which Kubrick initially liked, only to decide later that it was not what he wanted. Adam next began work on the design that was used in the film, an expressionist set that was compared with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It was an enormous concrete room (130 feet long and wide, with a high ceiling) suggesting a bomb shelter, with a triangular shape (based on Kubrick's idea that this particular shape would prove the most resistant against an explosion). One side of the room was covered with gigantic strategic maps reflecting in a shiny black floor inspired by the dance scenes in old Fred Astaire films. In the middle of the room there was a large circular table lit from above by a circle of lamps, suggesting a poker table. Kubrick insisted that the table be covered with green baize (although this could not be seen in the black and white film) to reinforce the actors' impression that they are playing 'a game of poker for the fate of the world.' Kubrick asked Adam to build the set ceiling in concrete to force the director of photography to use only the on-set lights from the circle of lamps. Moreover, each lamp in the circle of lights was carefully placed and tested until Kubrick was happy with the result.

Lacking cooperation from The Pentagon in the making of the film, the set designers reconstructed the cockpit to the best of their ability by comparing the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress and a single photograph of the cockpit of a B-52, and relating this to the geometry of the B-52's fuselage. The B-52 was state-of-the-art in the 1960s, and its cockpit was off-limits to the film crew. When some United States Air Force personnel were invited to view the reconstructed B-52 cockpit, they said that "it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM." It was so accurate that Kubrick was concerned whether Ken Adam's production design team had done all of their research legally, fearing a possible investigation by the FBI.

In several shots of the B-52 flying over the polar ice en route to Russia, the shadow of the actual camera plane, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, is visible on the snow below. The B-52 was a model composited into the arctic footage which was sped up to create a sense of jet speed. Home movie footage included in Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove on the 2001 Special Edition DVD release of the film show clips of the Fortress with a cursive "Dr. Strangelove" painted over the rear entry hatch on the right side of the fuselage.

The polar ice footage was later tinted and used in the "light show" segment of Kubrick's 2001.

Fail-Safe and Seven Days in May

Red Alert author Peter George collaborated on the screenplay with Kubrick and satirist Terry Southern. Red Alert was far more solemn in tone than its film version and the character of Dr. Strangelove never even existed on its pages. The main plot and technical elements, however, were quite similar. A novelization of the actual film, rather than a re-print of the original novel, was also published by George. This was based on an early draft, where the film was intended to be bookended by aliens arriving at a wrecked earth and trying to determine what had happened.

During the filming of Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick learned that Fail-Safe, a film with a similar theme, was being produced. Although Fail-Safe was to be an ultra-realistic thriller, Kubrick feared that its overall plot resemblances would damage Strangelove's box office potential, especially if it were to be released first. Indeed, the novel Fail-Safe (on which the film of the same name is based) is so similar to Red Alert that Peter George sued on charges of plagiarism and settled out of court. What worried Kubrick the most about Fail-Safe was that it boasted an acclaimed director, Sidney Lumet, and first-rate dramatic actors, Henry Fonda as the American President and Walter Matthau as the bold ex-Nazi advisor to the Pentagon, Professor Groeteschele. Kubrick decided that it would be in his film's best interests for a legal wrench to be thrown into the gears of the Fail-Safe production. Director Sidney Lumet recalls in the documentary, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove:

We started casting. Fonda was already set... which of course meant a big commitment in terms of money. I was set, Walter [Bernstein, the screenwriter] was set... And suddenly, this lawsuit arrived, filed by Stanley Kubrick and Columbia Pictures.

Kubrick tried to halt production on Fail-Safe by arguing that its own 1960 source novel of the same name had been plagiarized from Peter George's Red Alert, to which Kubrick himself owned the creative rights. Also, he pointed out the unmistakable similarities in intentions between the characters Groeteschele and Strangelove. The plan ended up working exactly as Kubrick intended; Fail-Safe opened a full eight months behind Dr. Strangelove to critical acclaim, but mediocre box office results.

Also released in 1964 was Paramount Pictures' Seven Days in May. The plot involves a coup attempt by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prevent the President of the United States from signing a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets, who, they believe, cannot be trusted.

Original ending: the pie fight scene

The end of the film shows Dr. Strangelove exclaiming "Mein Führer, I can walk!" before cutting to footage of nuclear explosions, with Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again". But it was originally intended that the film would end with everyone in the War Room involved in a pie fight, and this scene was filmed.

Accounts vary as to why the pie fight was cut. In a 1969 interview, Kubrick said: "I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film." Alexander Walker observed that "the cream pies were flying around so thickly that people lost definition, and you couldn't really say whom you were looking at." Nile Southern, son of screenwriter Terry Southern, suggests that the fight was intended to be less jovial. "Since they were laughing, it was unusable, because instead of having that totally black, which would have been amazing, like, this blizzard, which in a sense is metaphorical for all of the missiles that are coming, as well, you just have these guys having a good old time. So, as Kubrick later said, 'it was a disaster of Homeric proportions.'"

Peter Sellers, in a biographic documentary, was credited with suggesting the Vera Lynn music for the ending.

The Kennedy assassination

A first test screening of the film was scheduled for November 22, 1963, the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination. The film was just weeks from its scheduled premiere, but as a result of the assassination, the release was delayed until late January 1964, as it was felt that the public was in no mood for such a film any sooner.

Additionally, one line by Slim Pickens – "a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Dallas with all that stuff" – was dubbed to change "Dallas" to "Vegas"; Dallas being the city where Kennedy was killed. The original reference to Dallas survives in some dubbed foreign versions of the film, such as the French release.

The pie-fight scene included General Turgidson exclaiming, "Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!" after Muffley takes a pie in the face, and editor Anthony Harvey states that "[the scene] would have stayed, except that Columbia Pictures were horrified, and thought it would offend the president's family."



From the opening scene of the B-52 "mating" in flight with the KC-135 Tanker (set to an instrumental version of "Try a Little Tenderness") to General Ripper's sexual frustration being at the root of the eventual apocalypse, sexual references are apparent throughout the film.

The character of Dr. Strangelove is laced with innuendo, even aside from his suggestive name. He is the character responsible for creating fantasies of a polygamous post-apocalyptic society with a ratio of "ten females to each male", suggesting Nazi efforts like the Lebensborn project.

General Jack D. Ripper is named after Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer who murdered prostitutes in London in the late 1880s. General Ripper's primary concern about Communism is his assertion that water fluoridation is "a Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids," of which he was made aware when his "loss of essence" during sexual intercourse greatly fatigued him. He continues to explain that women "seek the life essence" and then states, "I do not avoid women but... I do deny them my essence". Here, "essence" is used as a synonym or euphemism for "semen". Ripper's sexual problems are further mirrored in the difficulties of the B-52's crew in finally dropping the bomb; after all the effort of evading Russian attacks and bringing the plane to its target, and as the bombardier goes through the complex ritual "foreplay" of preparing and arming the bomb for use, all is rendered impotent at the crucial moment when the bomb doors fail to open.

Many characters' names involve sexual wordplay. Group Captain Lionel Mandrake's last name refers to the Mandrake plant, which has mythical fertility properties. The Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadesky is named for the Marquis de Sade, and Premier Dmitri Kisov's last name is pronounced "Kissoff"; a pun on "kiss off". Major "King" Kong rides a phallic-looking H-bomb, which explodes as he approaches the "target of opportunity", when they are unable to reach the primary target, Laputa (in Spanish: la puta means "the whore"). President Merkin Muffley's first and last name each crudely imply that he is a "pussy" by nature, since a merkin is a female pubic wig used mainly by prostitutes in the 18th century, and muff (pubic hair) refers to the area where the wig is applied. The name of General Buck Turgidson is derived from turgid, a biological term meaning full of fluid to the point of hardness, as in an erection, applied to "buck" as an explicit symbol of virility. While not overtly sexual, Colonel "Bat" Guano's name literally refers to the feces of bats. The term bat-shit is also a slang word for insanity.

There is only one female character in the film: General Turgidson's secretary, played by Tracy Reed. She appears in a small bedroom with twin beds and a sun lamp, wearing a bikini swimsuit. The General, when he appears from the bathroom, also wears bathing trunks. Although she tells a caller that she and the General are dealing with paperwork, the clear implication is that they have a sexual relationship. In fact, in a later phone call, Turgidson tells her that he does not love her only for her sexual favors, and that he intends to make her his wife. Reed also features as the Playboy centerfold that Major Kong is looking at when he first appears. This photograph includes the pun of her buttocks concealed by a copy of Foreign Affairs; thus Tracy Reed was billed as "Miss Foreign Affairs".

Satirizing the Cold War

Dr. Strangelove takes passing shots at numerous Cold War attitudes, such as the "missile gap", but it primarily focuses its satire on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD), in which each side is supposed to be deterred from a nuclear war by the prospect of a cataclysmic disaster for both sides, regardless of who "won". Herman Kahn in his 1960 On Thermonuclear War used the concept of a doomsday machine in order to mock mutual assured destruction; in effect, Kahn argued, both sides already had a sort of doomsday machine. Kahn, a leading critic of American strategy during the 1950s, urged Americans to plan for a limited nuclear war, and later became one of the architects of the MAD doctrine in the 1960s. The prevailing thinking that a nuclear war was inherently unwinnable and suicide was illogical to the physicist turned strategist. Kahn came off as cold and calculating; for instance, in his works, he estimated how many human lives the United States could lose and still rebuild economically. This attitude is reflected in Turgidson's remark to the president about the outcome of a pre-emptive nuclear war: "Now I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed, but I am saying no more than 10 to 20 million killed. Tops!" Turgidson also has a binder which is labeled "World Targets in Megadeaths".

The portrayals of Ripper and Turgidson are usually compared to the fiery personality of Air Force general Curtis LeMay and his direct subordinates in the Strategic Air Command who openly lobbied for war with the Soviet Union.


The film has also been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted it the 24th greatest comedy film of all time. It is one of the rare films to have received a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it is ranked 15th top movie of all time on TopTenReviews Movies. In addition to this, the movie is ranking #5 in the All-Time High Scores chart of Metacritic's Video/DVD section with an average score of 96.

Roger Ebert has Dr. Strangelove in his list of Great Movies, saying it is 'arguably the best political satire of the century.' It is also rated as the fifth greatest film – the highest rated comedy – in Sight & Sound’s directors’ poll

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and also seven BAFTA Awards, of which it won four.

Academy Awards nominations:

BAFTA Awards nominations:

  • Best British Actor: Peter Sellers
  • Best British Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Peter George, Terry Southern
  • Best Foreign Actor: Sterling Hayden

BAFTA Awards won:

  • Best British Art Direction (Black and White): Ken Adam
  • Best British Film
  • Best Film From Any Source
  • UN award.

In addition, the film won the best written American comedy award from the Writers Guild of America and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Kubrick himself won two awards for best director, from the New York Film Critics Circle and the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, and was nominated for one by the Directors Guild of America.

American Film Institute recognition

Cultural references

Major Kong rides the bomb

  • In the "Homer the Vigilante" episode of The Simpsons, Homer forms a vigilante militia group, and when he sees a nuclear bomb on display at Herman's Military Antiques, he imagines himself as Major Kong, with the bomb named "Hi There, Daddy-O", since it is to be dropped on some beatniks. His fantasy is interrupted by Herman who points to his "No riding the bomb" sign.
  • In one of The Simpsons' couch gags, the floor opens up and the Simpsons fall through the air, on the couch, cowboys hats raised.
  • In an episode of the animated adaptation of the comic series The Mask, the title character, dressed in cowboy clothes and shouting YEEEHAHH!, rides a nuclear missile launched by Dr. Pretorius towards the earth, and proceeds to eat it.
  • The popular JibJab video "This Land", a parody of the Woodie Guthrie tune of the same name, shows President George W. Bush's face superimposed over Major Kong's while he falls down to the ground riding a nuclear bomb.
  • An episode of Sealab 2021, entitled "Red Dawn", parodies the film, including a scene where Dr. Quinn rides on a nuclear missile to the ground, a la Major Kong.
  • In a music video for the band Rush, of the song "Distant Early Warning", the lead singer and bass guitarist Geddy Lee's son is riding on a nuclear missile throughout the video a la Major Kong
  • In the movie Armageddon the character "Rockhound", played by Steve Buscemi, is seen riding a nuclear weapon imitating Major Kong
  • Upper Deck's Collectible Card Game Vs, based on Marvel and DC Comics characters, contains a card Hulk: Gamma Rage, who is pictured riding a bomb in the fashion of Major Kong.Dr. Strangelove
  • The super hero parody series "The Tick" featured a German mad scientist in a wheel chair in several episodes who was a direct homage to Dr Strangelove.
  • The science officer character in the Muppet Show skit known as "Pigs in Space" was called Dr. Julius Strangepork.
  • Peter Sellers effectively reprised his role as Dr. Strangelove for one sketch in The Muppet Show's second season, in which he played "Dr. Merkwürdigliebe" (Strangelove's German name), a slightly deranged German massage therapist sporting a Hitler-style moustache and the exact same voice that Sellers used while playing Dr. Strangelove in the film.
  • In the videogame Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, Norman Soth says the line Mein Fuhrer, I can walk as he speaks on a phone call.
  • In the "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming" episode of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob steals a nuclear bomb and threatens destruction of the town unless all television broadcasts are shut down. A meeting to discuss the threat is held in an underground War Room similar to the one in the movie. Professor Frink, sitting in a wheelchair with his coke-bottle glasses tinted black, takes on the role of Dr. Strangelove. Sideshow Bob can also be heard whistling the song "We'll Meet Again" as he wheels the bomb out of storage.The title
  • The Philip K Dick novel, Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb, was named at the suggestion of Dick's publisher, in order to capitalize on the success of the movie, which was released the year before the book was published.
  • The title of The Simpsons episode 91, in season 5, "$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)" is patterned after the title of this film.
  • In Albert Hammond, Jr.'s sophomore solo album, ¿Cómo Te Llama?, the last track is titled "Feed Me Jack Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Peter Sellers."
  • Chapter Three of the Heroes Unaired Pilot included on the DVD is titled "Genesis or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"Peace on Earth/Purity of Essence
  • The Coen Brothers paid an apparent homage to Dr. Strangelove in their movie, Raising Arizona. The code letters used by General Ripper, 'P.O.E' ('Peace on Earth'/'Purity of Essence') and variation, can be seen written on the door of a gas station door after the John Goodman and William Forsythe characters break out of prison.
  • In Californication the character "Hank Moody" makes references to "precious bodily fluids" in several episodes.Other
  • 'Strangelove! The Musical', a theatrical musical adaptation of the movie was performed during the 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, directed by Dave Harmon and Mark Sutton.
  • In the video game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there is a campaign level set in a nuclear missile control room named "No Fighting in the War Room", in reference to the quote from the film.
  • In the animated series Futurama episode "A Big Piece of Garbage", a large ball of trash from space threatens to destroy New New York only to be prevented with a rocket intercept, and the end credits are played with the song "We'll Meet Again".
  • The piece of radio equipment on-board the B-52 which is designed not to receive messages lacking a specific code-prefix is designated as the "CRM-114 Discriminator". Stanley Kubrick has used "CRM-114" or similar terms in at least one of his other films, although the reference in Dr. Strangelove is the best known one, and other movies and television shows have used it as well, in apparent homage to Kubrick.

See also




  • Dolan Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Schnepf, Ed. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Oriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.

External links

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