Rent The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

3.7 of 5 from 108 ratings
1h 36min
Rent The Day the Earth Caught Fire Online DVD & Blu-ray Rental
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Nuclear tests, conducted by the Americans and Russians, inadvertently knock the world off its axis. Weather patterns around the globe are disrupted but temperatures rise universally. Did the tests do more harm than was first thought? This atmospheric story is told through the eyes of three people: Peter Stenning - the hard-drinking star reporter sliding to failure; science correspondent Bill Maguire, whose sleep-starved mind is galvanised when he sees the truth behind the upheaval which bring chaos to the world; and Jeannie Craig, Stenning's girlfriend, who innocently stumbles on the truth the government has been trying to suppress.
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Val Guest
Wolf Mankowitz, Val Guest
Network UK
British Films, Classics, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

1962 BAFTA Best Screen Play

Release Date:
Run Time:
96 minutes
DVD Regions:
Region 0 (All)
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 1.78:1 / 16:9
B & W
  • Production Notes
  • Biographies
  • Stills Galleries
  • Interview with Leo McKern
  • Commentary with director Val Quest
  • Trailer
  • US Television Spots
Release Date:
Run Time:
100 minutes
English LPCM Mono
English Hard of Hearing
Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen 2.35:1
B & W
BLU-RAY Regions:
  • Hot Off the Press: Revisiting the Day the Earth Caught Fire (John Kelly, 2014, 34 mins): newly filmed documentary
  • Audio commentary with Val Guest and Ted Newsom
  • An Interview with Leo McKern (Paul Vanezis, 2001, 9 mins)
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire: An Audio Appreciation by Graeme Hobbs (2014,9 mins) Original trailer, TV spots and radio spots
  • Stills and Collections Gallery (2014, 7 mins)
  • The Guardian Lecture: Val Guest and Yolande Dolan interviewed by David Meeker (1998, 63 mins)
  • Three nuclear films from the Archive: Operation Hurricane (Ronald Stark, 1952, 33 mins); The H-bomb (David Villiers, 1956,22 mins); The Hole in the Ground (David Cobham, 1962,30 mins)
  • Think Bike (1978,1 min): road safety film with Edward Judd

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Reviews (4) of The Day the Earth Caught Fire

Superb early 1960s sci-fi disaster film. See it before the world ends! - The Day the Earth Caught Fire review by RP

Spoiler Alert

Filmed in black-and-white with tinted yellow/orange opening and closing sequences, this is a superb early 1960s period sci-fi disaster film. Sharp dialogue (the film won a BAFTA for Best Screenplay), good acting (some of it isn't acting - the recently retired editor of the 'Daily Express' played himself), topical even today (end of the world through climate change, anybody?).

The story goes like this: simultaneous nuclear tests at the North and South Poles tilt the earth on its axis and cause extreme change of climate. Later it turns out that the orbit of the earth has also been changed. That's clearly improbable, but the story is told through the eyes of individuals whose lives are affected by the changes and that's what makes it gripping stuff. Humanity is very fragile.

The story is built around a reporter (played by Edward Judd) working for the 'Daily Express', his colleagues (including the always excellent Leo McKern) and the girl he meets at the Met Office (Janet Munro). The glimpses of the 'old' Fleet Street and the workings of a real-life newspaper of the period give the film a realistic feel (although the Canadian accent of Bernard Braden who plays the news editor seems a little out of place). Period details abound: typewriters, carbon paper, telex, Roneo copying machines, printing presses, smoking, Morris Minor cars, a working Battersea power station, Battersea funfair with wooden roller coaster, police in 'proper' helmets and uniforms, CND rallies, boys in short trousers, even the nuclear bomb tests themselves - all give a glimpse of a world gone by, but in this case place the film firmly in a period of near history.

The film ends on a downbeat note with a countdown to a corrective nuclear explosion - and a nicely ambiguous ending is provided by newspaper headlines. Superb stuff - 5/5 stars - highly recommended.

[Aside 1: In its day this was X-rated and was regarded as quite risqué, with a brief glimpse of Janet Munro's chest :) I remember sneaking in to see this at the cinema when I was far too young for an X certificate film. The DVD also appears to be a direct transfer from film, as the original British Board Of Film Censors certificate is still included.]

[Aside 2: My copy of this film came in a Classic Sci-Fi Collection box set which when I bought it was excellent value - you can probably pick it up second hand on eBay]

5 out of 5 members found this review helpful.

Classic Sci-fi. - The Day the Earth Caught Fire review by Steve Mason

Spoiler Alert
Updated 03/03/2021

When I first saw Val Guest's science fiction classic, it was the witty script (Wolf Mankowitz) and the energetic thrust and parry of the blokish Fleet Street setting that made it such a great film. Followed by the contemporary doomsday payoff of the cold war powers' nuclear escalation as it leaned into the apocalypse.

But now, it is the magnificent foresight (a coincidence I suppose) of its theme of global warming meltdown, as mankind looks to scientific solutions for political failures. Which now makes it seem groundbreaking.

The film focuses on a daily newspaper (based on the Express) as it covers the last few days of life on earth in a dystopian London, and in particular on Edward Judd's recovering alcoholic and recently divorced hotshot reporter. In a way, the film is a metaphor for his unbalanced, ruined psyche. Judd and meteorologist Janet Monro are properly sexy and share great chemistry.

The locations and cinematographic atmospherics of an unravelling, burned out world are magnificent, particularly the tinted widescreen sunrise at the start of the film. One of the best sci-fi films ever made, particularly in the UK. But, much more than that. 

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

Brilliant story, dreadful acting - The Day the Earth Caught Fire review by JD

Spoiler Alert

I would like to start with Arthur Christiansen, who was the editor of the Daily Express until 1957 (4 years before the film was released). He may have been a good journalist but he is a dreadful actor. If you tried to act badly it would probably not be as impressively awful. Unfortunately the painfully bad acting ran through the cast with the lead actor Edward Judd (who is he) making a ham of it. The only actor with any credibility was Janet Munro (who later sadly died at the age of 38). Even Leo McKern was not as good as usual. John Barron plays a minor role very well (later to become CJ in Reginald Perrin).

With the negative points out of the way, a great sci-fi with a nice plot based on the effect of knocking the earth out of its previous orbit. It is a beautiful film in every sense with inventive cinematography.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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