This article is about the 1983 film. For the 2001 film, see War Game (film). For other uses, see War Game (disambiguation).

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Badham
Produced by Leonard Goldberg
Rich Hashimoto
Harold Schneider
Bruce McNall
Written by Lawrence Lasker
Walter F. Parkes
Walon Green
Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cinematography William A. Fraker
Edited by Tom Rolf
United Artists
UAA Films
Sherwood Productions
Distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment Company
Release dates
  • May 7, 1983 (1983-05-07) (Cannes)
  • June 3, 1983 (1983-06-03) (US)
Running time
114 minutes
Country United States & Australia
Language English
Budget $12 million
Box office $79.6 million

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

The film follows David Lightman (Broderick), a young hacker who unwittingly accesses WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), a United States military supercomputer originally 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 computer, now tied into the nuclear weapons control system and unable to tell the difference between simulation and reality, attempts to start World War III.

The film was a box office success, costing US$12 million, and 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 surprise drill 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 John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) and other systems engineers at NORAD that missile launch control centers must be automated, 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 and hacker. After receiving a failing grade in school, he uses his IMSAI 8080 microcomputer to hack into the district's computer system. He then changes his grade and does the same for his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy). Later, while dialing every number in Sunnyvale, California to find a set of forthcoming computer games, a computer that does not identify itself intrigues David. On the computer he finds 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 hacker friends explain the concept of a backdoor password and suggest tracking down the Falken referenced in "Falken's Maze", the first game listed. David discovers that Stephen Falken is an early artificial intelligence researcher, and guesses correctly that his dead son's name "Joshua" is the backdoor password.

David does not know that the Sunnyvale phone number connects to WOPR, or "Joshua", at Cheyenne Mountain Complex. He starts a game of Global Thermonuclear War, playing as the Soviet Union. The computer starts a simulation that briefly convinces the military personnel at NORAD that actual Soviet nuclear missiles are inbound. While they defuse the situation, Joshua nonetheless continues the simulation to trigger the scenario and win the game, as it does not understand the difference between reality and simulation. It continuously feeds false data such as Soviet bomber incursions and submarine deployments to the humans at NORAD, pushing them into raising the DEFCON level and toward a retaliation that will start World War III.

David learns the true nature of his actions from a news broadcast, and the FBI arrests him and takes him to NORAD. He realizes that Joshua is behind the NORAD alerts but because he fails to convince McKittrick about this, he faces imprisonment. David escapes NORAD by joining a tourist group and, with Jennifer's help, travels to the Oregon island where Falken (John Wood) now lives. David and Jennifer find that Falken has become despondent and believes that nuclear war is inevitable, that it is as futile as a game of tic-tac-toe between two experienced players. The teenagers convince Falken that he should return to NORAD to stop Joshua.

The computer stages a massive Soviet first strike with hundreds of missiles, submarines, and bombers. Believing the attack to be genuine, NORAD prepares to retaliate. Falken, David, and Jennifer convince military officials to cancel the second strike and ride out the non-existent attack. Joshua tries to launch the missiles itself, however, using a brute force attack to obtain the launch code. Without humans in the control centers 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.

Falken and David 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 and no-win scenarios. Joshua obtains the missile code but before launching, it cycles through all the nuclear war scenarios it has devised, finding they too all result in stalemates. Having discovered the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction ("WINNER: NONE"), the computer tells Falken that it has concluded that nuclear war is "a strange game" in which "the only winning move is not to play." Joshua relinquishes control of NORAD and the missiles and offers to play "a nice game of chess."




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 as part of the film was not yet present.[1]

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.[1] Parkes and Lasker also met with computer-security expert Willis Ware of RAND, who assured them that even a secure military computer might have remote access so users could work from home on weekends, encouraging the screenwriters to continue with the project.[2]

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), a space-based defensive laser run by an intelligent program, but this idea was discarded because it was too speculative.[1] Director John Badham coined the name "WOPR", feeling that the name of NORAD's SIOP (Single Integrated Operational Plan) was "boring, and told you nothing".[3] The name "WOPR" played off the Whopper hamburger, and a general sense of something going "whop".[3]

The WOPR computer as seen in the film was a prop created in Culver City, California, by members of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 44.[4] It was designed by production designer (credited as visual consultant) Geoffrey Kirkland based on some pictures he had of early tabulating machines, and metal furniture, consoles, and cabinets used particularly in the U.S. military in the 1940s and 50s. They were adapted in drawings and concepts by art director Angelo Graham. WOPR was operated by a crewmember sitting inside the computer, entering commands into an Apple II at the director's instruction.[4] The prop was broken up for scrap after production was completed. A replica was built for a 2006 AT&T commercial.[5]

David Lightman was modeled on David Scott Lewis, a hacking enthusiast Parkes and Lasker met.[1][6] Falken was inspired by and named after Stephen Hawking, with the appearance of John Lennon, who was interested in the role, but was murdered in New York while the script was in development. General Beringer was based on General James V. Hartinger (USAF) 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.[1]


Martin Brest was originally hired as director but was fired after 12 days of shooting because of a disagreement with the producers,[7] and replaced with John Badham. Several of the scenes shot by Brest remain 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 would soon be fired. 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 who came last having to sing a song to the crew. Badham lost and sang "The Happy Wanderer", the silliest song he could think of.[8]

Tom Mankiewicz says he wrote some additional scenes during shooting which were used.[9]


WarGames did well at the North American box office, earning $79,567,667, the fifth-highest of 1983.[1][10] The film was screened out of competition at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.[11]


Critical response

The film received critical acclaim. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, calling it "an amazingly entertaining thriller" and "one of the best films so far this year", with a "wonderful" ending.[12] Softline praised the film as being "completely original"; unlike other computer-related films like Tron that "could (and do) exist in substantially the same form with some other plot", WarGames "could not exist if the microcomputer did not exist ... It takes the micro and telecommunications as a given—part of the middle-class American landscape". The magazine praised the film as "Very funny, excruciatingly suspenseful, and endlessly inventive, this movie is right on the mark; authentic even when highly improbable".[13] Computer Gaming World stated that "Wargames is plausible enough to intrigue and terrifying enough to excite ... [it] makes one think, as well as feel, all the way", raised several moral questions about technology and society, and recommended the film to "Computer hobbyists of all kinds".[14] Leonard Maltin gave it a mixed review calling it "Fail Safe for the Pac-Man Generation" and "Entertaining to a point". He concluded, "Incidentally, it's easy to see why this was so popular with kids : most of the adults in the film are boobs."[15] Currently, film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 93% of sampled critics give the film positive reviews and that it receives a rating average of 7.6 out of 10.[16]


WarGames was nominated for three Academy AwardsBest 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).[1][17] 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.)[1] The images seen on the NORAD displays were all pre-prepared animations projected "live" onto the screens from behind using 16mm film, so they were visible to the actors and no post-production work was needed. For this, the company was awarded an Academy Scientific and Technical Award.


Bulletin Board System operators reported an unusual rise in activity in 1984, which at least one sysop attributed to WarGames introducing viewers to modems.[18] The scenes showing Lightman's computer dialing every number in Sunnyvale led to the term "war dialing" (earlier known as "demon 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".[19]

President Reagan, a family friend of Lasker, watched the film and discussed the plot with members of Congress,[1] his advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Reagan's interest in the film is credited with leading to the enactment 18 months later of NSDD-145, the first Presidential Directive on computer security.[2]

Video games

A video game, WarGames was released for the ColecoVision in 1983 and ported to the Atari 8-bit family and Commodore 64 in 1984. 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. WarGames: Defcon 1, a real-time strategy game that was only loosely related to the film was released for the PlayStation and PC in 1998. A tile-matching video game, WarGames: WOPR, was released for iOS and Android devices in 2012.[20][21]

A game inspired by the film, called Computer War from Thorn EMI, in which the player must track and shoot down ICBMs as well as crack a computer code, was released for the Atari 8-bit family, TI-99/4A and Commodore VIC-20. The film also inspired the Introversion game DEFCON (2006).[22]


The film's music was composed and conducted by Arthur B. Rubinstein. A soundtrack album including songs and dialogue excerpts was released by Polydor. Intrada Records issued an expanded release in 2008 with the complete score, with expanded horn sections and without the film dialogue.

WarGames (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [23] (The Beepers ("Video Fever" and "History Lesson"): Brian Banks, Anthony Marinelli, Cynthia Morrow and Arthur B. Rubinstein)

The folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash were tapped at one point to write a title song for the film, but at the last minute it was scrapped from the project. The band released the song anyway, with a video made of footage from the movie airing on MTV. It was available on their now out-of-print album Allies.

WARGAMES[24] (Special Collection release limited to 2500 copies. Expanded brass including extra trumpets, trombones, and baritone horns.[25])

  • Released: 1983 (2008)[24]
  • Format: LP/2 disk CD
  • Label: Intrada Special Collection Volume ISC 65
  • Writer: Arthur B. Rubinstein
  • Bonus tracks: "Two" Bonus Track Time = 3:39 -- Total Score Time = 65:49 -- Total Time: 69:18

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.[26] 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 twenty-fifth anniversary event on July 24, 2008.[27]

There have been various rumors of reboots. It was reported in February 2009 that Leonardo DiCaprio was looking to produce one,[28] and in 2011 MGM Studios were said to be planning a reboot with Seth Gordon signed on to direct, although no writers or cast were yet on board.[29]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 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. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  2. 1 2 Kaplan, Fred (2016-02-21). "Cybersecurity's Debt to a Hollywood Hack". The New York Times. pp. AR24. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  3. 1 2 Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer "WarGames 25th Anniversary Edition DVD"
  4. 1 2 Mike Fink (March 5, 2006). "What happened to the WOPR?". The Wargames IMSAI. Retrieved March 27, 2009.
  5. "New Page 1". imsai.net.
  6. 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. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  7. Erickson, Hal. "Martin Brest: Biography". Allmovie. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  8. Simon, Alex (August 2, 2008). "John Badham: The Hollywood Interview". The Hollywood Interview. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  9. Mankiewicz, Tom (2012). My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider's Journey Through Hollywood. with Robert Crane. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 253–254.
  10. "WarGames (1983)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  11. "Festival de Cannes: WarGames". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved June 22, 2009.
  12. Ebert, Roger (June 3, 1983). "WarGames review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  13. "Games at War". Softline. Jul–Aug 1983. pp. 31–32. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  14. Wilson, Dr. Johnny L. (Jul–Aug 1983). "Movie Micro Review / "WarGames"". Computer Gaming World. p. 43. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
  15. "23. WarGames (1983)". Leonard Maltin's Worst Ratings. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  16. "WarGames (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  17. "The 56th Academy Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved October 9, 2011.
  18. Yakal, Kathy (November 1984). "Bulletin Board Fever". Compute!'s Gazette. p. 16. Retrieved July 6, 2014.
  19. Patrick S. Ryan (Summer 2004). "War, Peace, or Stalemate: Wargames, Wardialing, Wardriving, and the Emerging Market for Hacker Ethics". Social Science Research Network. Retrieved April 2, 2008.
  20. "WarGames: WOPR for iOS".
  21. "WarGames: WOPR for Android".
  22. Delay, Chris. "Detonating Introversion's Defcon". Game Developer Magazine. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved June 2, 2009.
  23. Rubinstein, Arthur B. (1983). WarGames (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Album notes). Artist. Los Angeles and New York: United Artists / Polydor. p. 2. 422-815 005-1 Y-1.
  24. 1 2 Editorial Review (2008). "WarGames". FilmTracks. Archived from the original on May 29, 2015. Retrieved May 29, 2015. Overall, WarGames is among Rubenstein's most respected career works, and given its highly disparate components, it's likely best that you preview the music in the context of the highly entertaining movie before exploring the Intrada album blindly.
  25. "WarGames". Intrada Records. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
  26. "WarGames 2 Casting". Stax. IGN. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved November 9, 2006.
  27. "WarGames 25th Anniversary". NCM Fathom. July 24, 2008. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  28. Sciretta, Peter (February 16, 2009). "Leonardo DiCaprio To Reboot WarGames?". /Film. Archived from the original on December 22, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  29. "Seth Gordon To Direct WarGames Reboot". We Got This Covered. June 24, 2011. Retrieved April 11, 2012.

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