Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Badham
Produced by Leonard Goldberg
Written by Lawrence Lasker
Walter F. Parkes
Starring Matthew Broderick
Dabney Coleman
John Wood
Ally Sheedy
Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cinematography William A. Fraker
Studio United Artists
Distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment Co.
Release date(s) June 3, 1983 (1983-06-03)
Running time 114 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12 million
Box office $79,567,667 (North America)

WarGames is a 1983 American Cold War suspense/science-fiction film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film stars Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.

The film follows David Lightman (Broderick), a young hacker who unwittingly accesses WOPR, a United States military supercomputer programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war. Lightman gets WOPR to run a nuclear war simulation, originally believing it to be a computer game. The simulation causes a national nuclear missile scare and nearly starts World War III.

The film was a box office success, costing US$12 million, but grossing $79,567,667 after five months in the United States and Canada. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards. A sequel, WarGames: The Dead Code, was released direct to DVD on July 29, 2008.



During a secret live fire exercise of a nuclear attack, many United States Air Force Strategic Missile Wing missileers prove unwilling to turn a required key to launch a missile strike. Such refusals convince Federal investigators to recommend Dr. John McKittrick's (Dabney Coleman) idea to automate command of missile silos, without human intervention. Control is given to a NORAD supercomputer, WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), programmed to continuously run military simulations and learn over time.

David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is a bright but unmotivated Seattle high school student who spends his free time hacking into the school computer (using his IMSAI 8080 computer [1]) to change his grades. He invites his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy) to his house to show off his skills and help her with her failing grade. As he demonstrates his techniques, he comes across a mysterious unidentified computer in Sunnyvale, California while dialing every number. Believing it to belong to the video game company Protovision, Lightman manages to get the computer to print a list of games, starting with general strategy games like chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker and then progressing to titles like Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare and Global Thermonuclear War, but cannot proceed further. Two of his hacker friends explain the concept of a backdoor password and suggest tracking down the "Falken" referenced in Falken's Maze, the first game listed. Lightman discovers that the late Stephen Falken was an early artificial intelligence researcher, and guesses correctly that his dead son's name "Joshua" is the backdoor password he was seeking. (From this point on, all the protagonists refer to the computer as Joshua.)

Unknown to Lightman and Mack, Falken's work culminated in the WOPR computer at Cheyenne Mountain, and the game is actually a backdoor into it. As they begin a game of Global Thermonuclear War, playing as the Soviet Union, WOPR starts a simulation that briefly convinces the military personnel at NORAD that actual Soviet nuclear missiles are inbound. Called away by his parents, Lightman unplugs his computer, causing the screens at NORAD to suddenly go blank. While the officials at NORAD try to determine what happened, Joshua nonetheless continues to simulate the scenario Lightman initiated. It continuously feeds false data such as Soviet bomber incursions and submarines deployments to the humans at NORAD, pushing them into raising the DEFCON level and toward a retaliation that will start World War III.

Lightman learns the true nature of his actions from a news broadcast and tries to cover his tracks, but soon he is arrested by the FBI and taken to NORAD for questioning. He realizes that Joshua is behind the NORAD alerts but fails to convince McKittrick. Before being dragged away to a holding room to await imprisonment, Lightman discovers that Falken is still alive, living at a classified address under a new identity. Through a combination of ingenuity and luck, Lightman escapes and enlists Mack's help in begging Falken (John Wood) to convince his old colleague McKittrick that Joshua is behind the entire scenario. Their hopes are immediately dashed when they find that Falken has become despondent and has no intention of helping them, as he considers nuclear holocaust inevitable. Finally, though, he agrees, and the three race to Cheyenne Mountain before it is locked down for DEFCON 1.

Back in the operations room at NORAD, the computer stages a massive all-out Soviet first strike with hundreds of missiles, submarines, and bombers. Although the Soviets deny any involvement, NORAD believes the attack to be genuine, goes into DEFCON 1 and prepares to launch a counter strike. Falken, Lightman, and Mack arrive just in time and convince the military officials to ride out the non-existent attack. The attack is proven to be false when the American bases due to be struck first remain in radio contact with NORAD after their apparent destruction.

Interpreting the lack of U.S. response as an indication of a problem and because the "Changes Locked Out" button was already activated, Joshua starts an attempt to launch a retaliation strike on its own, using a brute force attack to obtain the launch code for the U.S. nuclear missiles. Without humans in the silos as a safeguard, the computer will trigger a mass launch. All attempts to log in and order Joshua to cancel the countdown fail, and all weapons will launch if the computer is disabled. Instead, Falken and Lightman direct the computer to play tic-tac-toe against itself. This results in a long string of draws, forcing the computer to learn the concept of futility. Joshua obtains the missile code but before launching, it cycles through all the nuclear war scenarios it has devised, finding they also all result in stalemates. The computer concludes that nuclear warfare is "a strange game"; having discovered the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction ("WINNER: NONE"), therefore "the only winning move is not to play." Joshua then offers to play "a nice game of chess" (which it wanted to play when Lightman first contacted him), and relinquishes control of NORAD and the missiles.




Development on WarGames began in 1979, when writers Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker developed an idea for a script called The Genius, about "a dying scientist and the only person in the world who understands him — a rebellious kid who's too smart for his own good." Lasker was inspired by a television special presented by Peter Ustinov on several geniuses including Stephen Hawking. Lasker said "I found the predicament Hawking was in fascinating — that he might one day figure out the unified field theory and not be able to tell anyone, because of his progressive ALS. So there was this idea that he'd need a successor. And who would that be? Maybe this kid, a juvenile delinquent whose problem was that nobody realized he was too smart for his environment." The concept of computers and hacking was not yet present.[2]

The Genius began its transformation into WarGames when Parkes and Lasker met Peter Schwartz from the Stanford Research Institute. "There was a new subculture of extremely bright kids developing into what would become known as hackers," said Schwartz. Schwartz made the connection between youth, computers, gaming, and the military. Parkes and Lasker came up with several different military-themed plotlines prior to the final story. One version of the script had an early version of WOPR. Named Uncle Ollie, or OLI (Omnipresent Laser Interceptor), it was a space-based defensive laser run by an intelligent program. The idea was discarded in preference of WOPR because it was too speculative.[2]

David Lightman was modeled on David Scott Lewis, a hacking enthusiast Parkes and Lasker met.[2][3] Falken was inspired by Stephen Hawking with the appearance of John Lennon, who was interested in the role. General Beringer was based on James V. Hartinger, the then-commander-in-chief of NORAD who Parkes and Lasker met while visiting the base, and who, like Beringer, favored keeping humans in the decision loop.[2]


Martin Brest was originally hired as director but was fired after 12 days of shooting because of an on-set argument with the producers,[4] and replaced with John Badham. Several of the scenes shot by Brest remained in the final film. Badham said that "[Brest had] taken a somewhat dark approach to the story and the way it was shot. It was like [Broderick and Sheedy] were doing some Nazi undercover thing. So it was my job to make it seem like they were having fun, and that it was exciting." According to Badham, Broderick and Sheedy were "stiff as boards" when they came onto the sound stage, having both Brest's dark vision and the idea that they were going to get fired in their minds. Badham did 12–14 takes of the first shot to loosen the actors up. At one point, Badham decided to have a race with the two actors around the sound stage with the one coming last having to sing a song to the crew. Badham lost and sang "The Happy Wanderer", the silliest song he could think of.[5]


WarGames did well at the North American box office, earning $79,567,667, the fifth-highest of 1983.[2][6] The film was screened out of competition at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.[7] President Reagan, a family friend of Lasker, watched the film and discussed the plot with members of Congress.[2]


Critical response

The film received positive reviews from critics. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 97% of 27 sampled critics gave the film positive reviews and that it got a rating average of 7.4 out of 10.[8] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, calling it "an amazingly entertaining thriller"[2] and "one of the best films so far this year", with a "wonderful" ending.[9]


WarGames was nominated for three Academy Awards — Best Cinematography (William A. Fraker), Sound (Michael J. Kohut, Carlos Delarios, Aaron Rochin, Willie D. Burton), and Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes).[2][10] The company that provided the large screens used to display the tactical situations seen in the NORAD set employed a new design that was super-bright enabling the displays to be filmed live. (The set was more visually impressive than the actual NORAD facilities at the time.)[2] No post-production work was needed. For this, the company was awarded a Technical Achievement Award by the Academy.


The movie was notable for coining the term firewall in reference to computer network security. The scenes showing Lightman's computer dialing every number in Sunnyvale led to the term "war dialing", a technique of using a modem to scan a list of telephone numbers to search for unknown computers, and indirectly to the newer term "wardriving".[11]

Video games

A video game named after the film was released for the ColecoVision in 1983. It played similarly to the NORAD side of the "Global Thermonuclear War" game, where the United States had to be defended from a Soviet strike by placing bases and weapons at strategic points. A game called "Computer War," in which the player must track and shoot down ICBMs as well as crack a computer code, was released for the TI-99/4A. A real-time strategy game that was very loosely related to the film was released for the PlayStation and PC called WarGames: Defcon 1 in 1998. The film also inspired the Introversion game DEFCON (2006).[12]

Though not directly inspired by the film, the Activision game Hacker was released in the wake of media attention from the film's success and contained many elements made familiar by the story such as hacking into and exploring an unknown computer system aided by robots.


The film's music was composed and conducted by Arthur B. Rubinstein. A soundtrack album including songs (recorded for but not used in the film) and dialogue excerpts was released by Polydor.

Side 1

  1. "WarGames" – 2:53
  2. "Video Fever – The Beepers" – 2:49
  3. "The Game Begins" – 5:46
  4. "It Could Be War" – 1:59
  5. "David's Concern" – 2:17
  6. "NORAD" – 3:13

Side 2

  1. "Edge of the World" (Yvonne Elliman) – 2:30
  2. "Confidence Is High" – 4:43
  3. "History Lesson – The Beepers" – 2:03
  4. "Launch Detected" – 1:51
  5. "Winner None" – 3:39
  6. "Edge of the World (End Title)" – 3:27

Intrada Records issued an expanded release in 2008 with the complete score, without the dialogue.

  1. "WarGames" – 3:38
  2. "Video Fever – The Beepers" – 2:22
  3. "Principal's Office" – 1:49
  4. "A New Grade" – 2:07
  5. "The Game Begins" – 2:44
  6. "History Lesson – The Beepers" – 1:44
  7. "Home Movie" – 1:26
  8. "A Game of Chess?" – 3:03
  9. "Nuclear Alert" – 2:58
  10. "Walk Thru NORAD" – 2:15
  11. "David Captured" – 3:53
  12. "David Searches" – 1:33
  13. "The Sneak" – 2:20
  14. "NORAD" – 0:57
  15. "It Could Be War" – 0:41
  16. "Confidence Is High" – 1:08
  17. "Off to See Faulken" – 1:07
  18. "WOPR" – 2:13
  19. "Maneuvers" – 1:36
  20. "Faulken's House" – 1:54
  21. "Time's Up" – 0:17
  22. "'I Can't Swim'" – 1:29
  23. "David's Concern" – 2:21
  24. "Helicopter Pursuit & Launch Detected" – 2:46
  25. "Closing the Mountain" – 1:51
  26. "Who's First?" – 2:06
  27. "Joshua!" – 2:37
  28. "It Might Be Real" – 0:58
  29. "Tic Tac Toe" – 1:32
  30. "Winner None" – 1:45
  31. "End Credits" – 3:21
  32. "Edge of the World" (choral version) – 2:03
  33. "Winner None" (original version) – 1:46
  34. "Edge of the World" (Yvonne Elliman) – 1:51

Sequel and possible remake

In November 2006, pre-production began on a sequel, titled WarGames: The Dead Code. It was directed by Stuart Gillard, and starred Matt Lanter as a hacker named Will Farmer facing off with a government supercomputer called RIPLEY.[13] MGM released the sequel directly to DVD on July 29, 2008 along with the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of WarGames. To promote the sequel, the film returned to selected theaters as a one night-only 25th Anniversary event on July 24, 2008.[14]

It was reported in February 2009 that Leonardo DiCaprio is looking to produce a reboot of WarGames.[15]

There is a reboot in the works by MGM Studios. Seth Gordon just signed on to direct, in news released June 24, 2011. [16]

Russia's Dead Hand System

Russia developed a method of optionally launching its weapons automatically from the top-down, bypassing human layers in between, known as Dead Hand or Perimeter. It was featured in 1997 in Doomsday: On The Brink on the Learning Channel. It is what McKittrick wanted, "control at the top, where it belongs", but has no artificial intelligence like WOPR to set it off.

See also


  1. ^ IMSAI 8080 from OldComputers.net
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Brown, Scott (July 21, 2008). "WarGames: A Look Back at the Film That Turned Geeks and Phreaks Into Stars". Wired. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9xgcyHQ. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  3. ^ Takahashi, Dean (August 12, 2008). "A Q&A that is 25 years late: David Scott Lewis, the mystery hacker who inspired the film "War Games"". VentureBeat. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9y5REPI. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  4. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Martin Brest: Biography". Allmovie. http://www.allmovie.com/artist/martin-brest-82954/bio. Retrieved March 15, 2009. 
  5. ^ Simon, Alex (August 2, 2008). "John Badham: The Hollywood Interview". The Hollywood Interview. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9yECzuB. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  6. ^ "WarGames (1983)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=wargames.htm. Retrieved December 22, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Festival de Cannes: WarGames". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/1374/year/1983.html. Retrieved June 22, 2009. 
  8. ^ "WarGames (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/wargames/. Retrieved December 22, 2010. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 3, 1983). "WarGames review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9yJw9dL. Retrieved December 22, 2010. 
  10. ^ "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/56th-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-10-09. 
  11. ^ Patrick S. Ryan (Summer 2004). "War, Peace, or Stalemate: Wargames, Wardialing, Wardriving, and the Emerging Market for Hacker Ethics". Social Science Research Network. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=585867. Retrieved April 2, 2008. 
  12. ^ Delay, Chris. "Detonating Introversion's Defcon". Game Developer Magazine. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9yPWJgy. Retrieved June 2, 2009. 
  13. ^ "WarGames 2 Casting". Stax. IGN. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9yTCNgp. Retrieved November 9, 2006. 
  14. ^ "WarGames 25th Anniversary". NCM Fathom. July 24, 2008. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9yjIV5S. Retrieved December 22, 2010. 
  15. ^ Sciretta, Peter (February 16, 2009). "Leonardo DiCaprio To Reboot WarGames?". /Film. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. http://www.webcitation.org/5v9ynfi6e. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  16. ^ http://wegotthiscovered.com/movies/seth-gordon-direct-wargames-reboot/

External links

External videos
War Games Panel, Google

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