August 11, 2014 4:46 PM EDT

Set in an around Lawrence, Kansas, this 1983 ABC movie showed the aftermath of a full-scale nuclear war between the US and the USSR. The movie had its share of melodrama, but its depiction of the war’s result was stark: millions die instantly, millions more die slowly, society collapses and the happiest ending is a painless death. Did The Day After change anything? On the one hand, the policy of mutually assured destruction continued; on the other, President Reagan reportedly sent one of the producers a note after the Reykjavik disarmament summit crediting the movie’s influence. Either way, for one night a medium of escapism got 100 million Americans to look at something it spent generations trying not to think about, and that was special enough.

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