Cinema and Media Studies Dr. Strangelove
D. Harlan Wilson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0375


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is the first installment in Stanley Kubrick’s so-called futurist trilogy, followed by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). Curiously, Dr. Strangelove is not set in an imagined future. It takes place in an alternate, counterfactual Cold War present that culminates in apocalyptic destruction when maladroit American and Soviet leaders enable the detonation of a nuclear bomb. The film is more often associated with the genres of war and black comedy than science fiction. Given its representations of technocultural affect, inner space, and apocalypse, however, Dr. Strangelove is thoroughly science-fictional, and all three films received SF’s top honor, the Hugo Award, for Best Dramatic Presentation while siphoning themes from SF’s locus classicus, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). With respect to Kubrick’s oeuvre, the “nightmare comedy,” as it has been called, distinguished the up-and-coming director as an innovative filmmaker and auteur. He had made waves with his previous film, Lolita (1962), which also featured the talents of versatile actor Peter Sellers, but Dr. Strangelove achieved new heights of cinema and storytelling, combining wild satire with our darkest fears. More specifically, Dr. Strangelove sardonically critiques and fetishizes the destructive technologies that animate male desire, conflating sex, death, and technology in a way that caricatures the phallus via “serious” monkey business. Part documentary realism, the movie was adapted from Red Alert (1958)—published in the United Kingdom as Two Hours to Doom—a suspense novel by Peter George (pseudonym Peter Bryant) that he, Kubrick, and writer Terry Southern converted into an absurdist romp. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 spurred Cold War anxiety, and another Atomic Age film, Fail-Safe (1964), came out later the same year; unlike Dr. Strangelove, it is a straight, humorless thriller, but it so closely resembled Red Alert that Kubrick and his producer James B. Harris sued for copyright infringement. Despite recognition in the 1960s, Fail-Safe has primarily been discussed in conjunction with Dr. Strangelove, which became part of the popular zeitgeist and remains a polestar in Kubrick’s legacy as well as cinematic history. Critics are drawn to Kubrick as much as cinephiles and general moviegoers; few filmmakers can boast a collective library of work that is at once entertaining and intellectual, evoking powerful emotional responses with an appreciation of his films’ stylistic and narrative construction. As such, the profusion of popular articles, opinion-pieces, and reviews on Dr. Strangelove has gained momentum alongside a wealth of scholarly material. This bibliography mainly accounts for academic scholarship in the form of monographs, full-length articles published in peer-reviewed journals, essays in anthologies, chapters in Kubrick biographies and comprehensive studies of his oeuvre, and other pertinent miscellany.


There are three comprehensive monographs devoted to Dr. Strangelove. Krämer 2014 and Broderick 2017 are particularly suited for scholarly application whereas Case 2014 has a more populist flavor. A gold standard of film studies, Krämer 2014 is probably the best book-length resource.

  • Broderick, Mick. Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy.” New York: Wallflower Press, 2017.

    Begins with a timeline of events leading up to the release of Dr. Strangelove and an overview of Kubrick’s “atomic antecedents.” Then, in five chapters, Broderick covers the film’s origins, script development, character dynamics, cultural context, and behind-the-scenes brinkmanship between Kubrick and producers. Archival research and “historical data as material evidence” drive Broderick’s appraisal despite his trepidation about the limiting conventions of such scholarship to render innovative lines of flight. There are also extensive interviews (e.g., with Kubrick’s widow).

  • Case, George. Calling Dr. Strangelove: The Anatomy and Influence of the Kubrick Masterpiece. Jefferson, MO: McFarland, 2014.

    Tracks the development of the film from conception and production to reception and legacy. Ample cultural-historical analyses complement social critique, popular criticism, and media theory.

  • Krämer, Peter. Dr. Strangelove. London: BFI, 2014.

    Krämer has written comprehensive monographs on each film in Kubrick’s futurist trilogy, and all of them are important, roundly informative works of scholarship. Here he explores how Dr. Strangelove satirizes American nuclear policies in connection with Nazi ideology, implicating audiences in the psycho-military mindset and methodology of the Cold War. More broadly, Krämer covers the inception, production, and reception of the film, with close-readings of characters and scenes as well as commentary on Dr. Strangelove’s role in Kubrick’s wider filmography.

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