Every review compares this to Threads - and with good reason. Both follow similar plots from similar perspectives, and both were made for television within a year of one another. Although not as bleak and graphic as Threads, when you bear in mind that The Day After was made for commercial television, then it is amazing that it is as brutal as it is. If you forgive its soap tendencies in the first half, this is definitely worth a viewing, especially if you want to be reminded of a time when nuclear war seemed not just possible but probable.
If you find The Day After and Threads of interest, then you should get yourself a copy of The War Game which is finally being released on dvd after 40 years of being unavailable in the UK. If you think Threads and The Day After are bleak or shocking, The War Game will show you just how daring British television could be.
The problem is if you've actually seen The Day After it makes clear the effects of nuclear war are just as catastrophic as Threads. On 1983 when this film was made, many of the theories which today we take for granted like Nuclear Winter, were very poorly known. Threads had the benefit of this laster research.
However on the human level the effects are just as terrible; in vivid colour people are utterly vapourised, burned, shattered beyond belief. There is no hope or relief at the end of this film, most of the major characters like Jason Robards are left dying of radiation sickness, healthy young men and women drop like flies, hospitals are overrun, food runs out, looting and murder runs rampant.
People seem to be put off by this film because it's made for and stars Americans. The thing is, they're just people like anyone else and to equate the horrors of nuclear war with being something intrinsically part of what it is to be American is sad. This film even satarises the announcement from the President after the war and it ends, chillingly, with John Lithgow's lone voice calling out on his radio to the emptiness. There is no one to hear him, no one to send any help.