Airings and distribution
The Power of Nightmares was first aired in three consecutive weeks on BBC 2 in 2004 in the United Kingdom, beginning with Baby it's Cold Outside on 20 October, The Phantom Victory on 27 October and The Shadows in the Cave on 3 November, although the murder of Kenneth Bigley led the BBC to curtail their advertising prior to its airing. It was rebroadcast, in January 2005, over three days, with the third film updated to take note of the Law Lords ruling from the previous December that detaining foreign terrorist suspects without trial was illegal.
In May 2005, the film was screened in a 2½ hour edit at the Cannes Film Festival out of competition. Pathé has purchased distribution rights for this cut of the film.
As of 1 January 2008, the film has yet to be aired in the United States. Curtis has commented on this failure:
Something extraordinary has happened to American TV since September 11. A head of the leading networks who had better remain nameless said to me that there was no way they could show it. He said, 'Who are you to say this?' and then he added, 'We would get slaughtered if we put this out.' When I was in New York I took a DVD to the head of documentaries at HBO. I still haven't heard from him.
Although the series has not been shown on U.S. television, its three episodes were shown in succession, on 26 February 2005, as part of the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, with a personal appearance by Curtis. It has also been featured at the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival, with the latter awarding Curtis their Persistence of Vision Award. The film was also screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and had a brief theatrical run in New York City during 2005.
The films were first aired by CBC in Canada in April 2005, and again in July 2006. The Australian channel SBS had originally scheduled to air the series in July 2005, but it was cancelled, reportedly in light of the London bombings of 7 July. It was ultimately aired in December, followed by Peter Taylor's The New Al-Qaeda under the billing of a counter-argument to Curtis.
In April 2005, Curtis expressed interest in an official DVD release due to a significant demand by viewers, but noted that his usual montage technique created serious legal problems with getting such a release secured. An unofficial DVD release was made in the quarterly DVD magazine Wholphin over a period of three issues.