“Gentlemen, you can’t fight here! This is the war room!” — President Merkin Muffley, Dr. Strangelove

Since the first Russian forces crossed into Ukraine, the zeitgeist of the Cold War has found new life in ways I never imagined possible. It’s almost as if a lot of people suddenly woke up to a threat that never really went away, to an idea that didn’t actually die with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union. You see, the Cold War never really ended. We simply slid the pot to a back burner and let it simmer there for 30 years.

The events of the past weeks have given new life to old feelings. Once again, Russia is a bogeyman, creating wanton destruction in their wake, denying people their freedom. The Russian military is operating from the same old playbook, doing one thing and telling people another, and either not knowing or (more likely) not caring what anyone believes. But, Putin is summoning the ghosts of the Warsaw Pact, pushing NATO to the brink of the hot war no one wants to see. The only thing missing is my old “Better Dead than Red!” t-shirt, which I haven’t seen since the halcyon days of the Reagan administration.

Top 10 Best Cold War Movies

On more than one occasion, I’ve reached deep into my nostalgic bag of nonsense to summon a movie quote or pop culture reference to illustrate a point. As I searched for good source material to exclaim my newfound disgust for an old enemy, I had to look no further than Netflix (or Hulu), where most of the classic Cold War films were waiting to be rediscovered. And quoted. This list could literally go on for pages, but there are 10 that stand out from the crowd.

1. The Hunt for Red October

The quintessential Cold War thriller. In the film adaptation of the Tom Clancy bestseller, CIA intelligence analyst Jack Ryan (a young and fit Alex Baldwin) helps a Russian submarine captain (Sean Connery) to defect along with his high-tech vessel. The action is superb, the score infections, and the dialog a part of pop culture history. “Give me a ping, Vasili. One ping only, please.”

2. Red Dawn

First, let’s be clear.  There is only one Red Dawn, and it was release in 1984. The 2012 remake is covered by the first rule of Fight Club. The Soviets and Cubans invade the Midwest and only the cast of The Outsiders is left to protect America. And Powers Boothe. An insurgency follows. Lots of explosions. A climactic emotional scene. “Wolverines!!”

3. War Games

That time when Ferris Bueller saved the world. Well, after hacking his high school’s computer network to fix his grades followed by the initiation of global thermonuclear war. The lesson here: DoD systems are hackable by high school students notorious for skipping school. “Shall we play a game?”

4. Firefox

I can count the people on one hand who remember this Clint Eastwood adaptation of the Craig Thomas novel (which had an equally good sequel that never made it to the big screen). The Soviets have developed the ultimate fighter, one so technologically advanced that it requires a neural link to fly. The hook? You have to think in Russian to fly it. Well, it’s a good thing Dirty Harry is up to the task. “The Americans are simply paying the price for too many years of softness – paying with an act of desperation such as this one.”

5. Heartbreak Ridge

Another Eastwood 80s classic, Heartbreak Ridge comes off like Every Which Way but Loose, except with Marines instead of an orangutan. Everything about this film screams Cold War, from the grizzled veterans to the endless references to fighting communism. Even the liberation of Granada, where the hapless Cubans (again) are unable to save themselves. “This is the AK-47 assault rifle, the preferred weapon of your enemy. It makes a distinctive sound when fired at you, so remember it.”

6. The Right Stuff

The space race was as cold as the Cold War got. Featuring a brilliant cast and a riveting screenplay, The Right Stuff captured the trials and tribulations of the Mercury 7 astronauts, set against the backdrop of a Soviet space program driven to beat the Americans at everything. From the historic flight of Chuck Yeager to the iconic early moments of NASA, this film stands apart as a true Cold War classic. “The communists have established a foothold in outer space. Pretty soon they’ll have damned space platforms so they can drop nuclear bombs on us, like rocks from a highway overpass.”

7. Bridge of Spies

You really can’t talk about the Cold War without at some point raising the issue of Gary Powers, who was sentenced to 10 years in a Russian prison after his U-2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace on May 1, 1960. Bridge of Spies is a modern take on the classic Cold War thriller. The only hope for Powers is a middle-of-the-night prisoner exchange on Glienicke Bridge (separating East and West Germany), with all of the associated nail-biting moments. “We are engaged in war with the Soviet Union. This war does not for the moment involve men in arms, it involves information.”

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

One of the central themes of the Cold War was infiltration: somewhere in your ranks, someone was something other than what they seemed to be. Set in 1970s England, the 2011 film followed an MI6 nerve-wracking effort to reveal the identity of a Soviet spy planted deep within the intelligence organization. “And that’s how I know he can be beaten. Because he’s a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.”

9. The Manchurian Candidate

Like Red Dawn, we’re talking about the original film, the one made in 1962 staring Frank Sinatra (and, unlike Red Dawn, the remake of this film is actually good). The Manchurian Candidate bears all the hallmarks of a Cold War classic: communists, the fear of communists, communist conspiracies, and as an added dessert topping, brainwashing by communists. “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

10. Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

No list of Cold War classics would be complete without Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear satire that managed to make audience laugh out loud over one of the most serious and unfunny topics of the time: Mutually Assured Destruction. From the war room scenes to Slim Pickens riding a missile through to the end, Dr. Strangelove is the one Cold War film everyone needs to watch. “Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.”

Stallone Gets an Honorable Mention

And to be completely fair, we need to give an honorable mention to Sylvester Stallone for two Cold War romps: Rocky IV and Rambo III. In the former, Rocky Balboa avenges the death of Apollo Creed by defeating Russian boxer Ivan Drago before an  adoring crowd of Soviets. In the latter, Colonel Trautman and John Rambo return to take on the Russians in Afghanistan. They’re campy. They’re clunky. They’re contemptible. And they’re Sylvester Stallone at his Cold War best. And let’s face it. Rocky took down the Soviet Union all by himself.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.