Most of World War II took place in the first half of the decade, which had a profound effect on most countries and people in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. The consequences of the war lingered well into the second half of the decade, with a war-weary Europe divided between the jostling spheres of influence of the Western world and the Soviet Union, leading to the beginning of the Cold War. To some degree internal and external tensions in the post-war era were managed by new institutions, including the United Nations, the welfare state, and the Bretton Woods system, facilitating the post–World War II economic expansion, which lasted well into the 1970s. However, the conditions of the post-war world encouraged decolonialization and emergence of new states and governments, with India, Pakistan, Israel, Vietnam, and others declaring independence, although rarely without bloodshed. The decade also witnessed the early beginnings of new technologies (such as computers, nuclear power, and jet propulsion), often first developed in tandem with the war effort, and later adapted and improved upon in the post-war era.
Although the 1940s was a decade dominated by World War II, important and noteworthy films about a wide variety of subjects were made during that era. Hollywood was instrumental in producing dozens of classic films during the 1940s, several of which were about the war and some are on most lists of all-time great films. European cinema survived although obviously curtailed during wartime and yet many films of high quality were made in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Soviet Union and elsewhere in Europe. The cinema of Japan also survived. Akira Kurosawa and other directors managed to produce significant films during the 1940s.