From The Courier to Thirteen Days, Top Movies About the Cuban Missile Crisis


The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the ultimate Cold War showdown between Washington and Moscow, a crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The drama played out during the presidency of John F. Kennedy when the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, laid the groundwork to install nuclear weapons in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. It was a breathtaking moment in history, one that led to a US blockade of Soviet ships and tense negotiations in October 1962.

If you’re not up to speed on this astonishing moment in history, you may want to ease into it with our Top Cuban Missile Crisis movies and series - but beware, even the most highly regarded thrillers take dramatic license in exploring the filmmaker’s version of the ‘truth’. If you’re more interested in the documentary side of the crisis, we’ve got you covered as well. 


Thirteen Days (Movie, 2000)

Director Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days is sometimes described as an “intelligent" political thriller, recalling the concessions made on both sides of the Moscow-Washington conflict. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff are portrayed as hawks while presidential advisor Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker) warn President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) that he may be getting played. (Apple+, Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube) 


The Courier (Movie, 2021)

Benedict Cumberbatch dazzles as Greville Wayne, an unlikely British spy recruited as The Courier, a businessman asked to smuggle Soviet nuclear secrets on behalf of the CIA and MI6. Actor Merab Ninidze is superb in the role of Russian Lt. Col. Oleg Penkovsky, sometimes hailed as the man who risked his life to stop a nuclear war between superpowers. Not all is as it seems in this slick, haunting thriller, however. (Netflix, Google Play, Apple TV, YouTube, Prime Video, Curzon)

From The Courier to Thirteen Days, Top Movies About the Cuban Missile Crisis

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The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the ultimate Cold War showdown between Washington and Moscow, a crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The drama played out during the presidency of John F. Kennedy when the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, laid the groundwork to install nuclear weapons in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. It was a breathtaking moment in history, one that led to a US blockade of Soviet ships and tense negotiations in October 1962.

If you’re not up to speed on this astonishing moment in history, you may want to ease into it with our Top Cuban Missile Crisis movies and series - but beware, even the most highly regarded thrillers take dramatic license in exploring the filmmaker’s version of the ‘truth’. If you’re more interested in the documentary side of the crisis, we’ve got you covered as well. 


Thirteen Days (Movie, 2000)

Director Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days is sometimes described as an “intelligent" political thriller, recalling the concessions made on both sides of the Moscow-Washington conflict. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff are portrayed as hawks while presidential advisor Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker) warn President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) that he may be getting played. (Apple+, Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube) 


The Courier (Movie, 2021)

Benedict Cumberbatch dazzles as Greville Wayne, an unlikely British spy recruited as The Courier, a businessman asked to smuggle Soviet nuclear secrets on behalf of the CIA and MI6. Actor Merab Ninidze is superb in the role of Russian Lt. Col. Oleg Penkovsky, sometimes hailed as the man who risked his life to stop a nuclear war between superpowers. Not all is as it seems in this slick, haunting thriller, however. (Netflix, Google Play, Apple TV, YouTube, Prime Video, Curzon)

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Topaz (Movie, 1969)

Hitchcock’s classic Topaz is based on a Leon Uris novel and a real-life spy scandal. The year is 1962 and a high-ranking Soviet spy, Boris Kusenov, defects to the West. During his debriefing, CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe) learns that Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads will be placed in Cuba. The New York Times describes Topaz as “a cautionary fable by one of the most moral cynics of our time”. (Apple, Chili, Sky Store, Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube)


The Good Shepherd (Movie, 2006)

Some critics complain about the slow pace of The Good Shepherd while others revel in the nuances of Matt Damon’s multi-layered spy thriller. The movie sets out the history of the CIA and its predecessor, the OSS, in the decades leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film also explores the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that ultimately laid the groundwork for the missile crisis a year later. Mesmerizing. (Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Google Play)



The Coldest Game (Movie, 2019)

The Coldest Game offers a fresh take on Cold War politics seen through the eyes of an alcoholic math genius (Bill Pullman) who plays a US-Soviet chess match as the Cuban Crisis threatens world peace in 1962. The script is clunky at times but Pullman shines as Joshua Mansky. Lotte Verbeek stars as American agent Eleanor Stone. (Netflix, Apple+)


The Kennedys (Miniseries, 2011)

If you haven’t yet streamed The Kennedys you’ll want to get settled in. This lush series chronicles the lives of the Kennedy clan with brilliant performances from Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, and Katie Holmes. Episode 6 deals with the discovery of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba, testing the president to his limits. (Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play, Prime Video)

Missiles of October (Docu-drama, 1974) 

This made-for-television play unfolds amid the October 1962 crisis. The teleplay is introduced by William Devane as President John F. Kennedy with a stellar cast including Martin Sheen as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The script is based on Robert Kennedy's Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (YouTube, Prime Video)


Voditel dlya Very/A Driver for Vera
(Foreign language movie, 2004)

The acclaimed Russian-Ukrainian Cold War drama Voditel dlya Very (A Driver for Vera) uses the Cuban Missile Crisis as its backdrop. The movie is set in 1962 in Sevastopol, Crimea, on a secret Soviet Union Navy base. A general hires a cadet from the Kremlin Guard to work as his private chauffeur, a man seemingly oblivious to the hidden agenda of a KGB agent manipulating everyone behind the scenes. Russian with English subtitles. (Prime Video) 

Memorias del Subdesarrollo/Memories of Underdevelopment (Foreign language movie, 1968)

This 1968 Cuban drama written and directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea is one of his most notable works, ranked by The New York Times as one of the 10 best films of 1968. The movie revolves around Sergio, an aspiring writer who stays in Cuba rather than flee to Miami. He looks back over the changes in Cuba from the Revolution to the Missile Crisis. Documentary footage of real-life protests and events is incorporated into the narrative. Spanish with English subtitles. (Prime Video)


X-Men: First Class (PG-13 Movie, 2011)

Yes, we do know that mutants didn’t save the world from a nuclear apocalypse in 1962 but this one’s for the kids (although you’ll also enjoy X-Men: First Class). The film revolves around a Nazi-aligned scientist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), and the US and Soviet Union who are on the brink of nuclear war in 1962. Think of it as a history-lite opportunity to introduce the Cuban Missile Crisis to youngsters and teens in a family-friendly way. (Disney+, Google Play, Prime Video, YouTube, Apple TV)



HONORABLE MENTION


If your curiosity is peaked, you may also want to delve into some of the excellent documentaries involving the real-life events of the Cuban Missile Crisis including The Fog of War, seen through the eyes of JFK’s former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, along with TimeGhost (2017), Cuba: Castro vs. The World (2019), The Man Who Stopped WW3 (2012), and JFK: A Presidency Revealed (2003).

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