Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy in WarGames (1983)

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John Badham Directs WarGames

Lawrence F. Lasker, Walter F. Parkes and Walon Green penned the screenplay, with John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Stakeout, Nick of Time) directing. Arthur Rubinstein created the original music score and William F. Fraker served as cinematographer.

Matthew Broderick (David Lightman) and Ally Sheedy (Jennifer Mack) head the cast. Other players include Dabney Coleman (Dr. John McKittrick), John Wood (Dr. Stephen Falken), Barry Corbin (General Beringer), Juanin Clay (Pat Healy), Kent Williams (Cabot), Dennis Lipscomb (Watson), Joe Dorsey (Conley), Irving Metzman (Richter), Michael Ensign (Beringer’s Aide), William Bogert (Mr. Lightman), Susan Davis (Mrs. Lightman), David Clover (Stockman), Michael Madsen (Steve Phelps), Jason Bernard (Captain Knewt), Eddie Deezen (Malvin), Alan Blumenfeld (Mr. Liggett) and John Spencer (Jerry).

WarGames Filmed in California, Colorado and Washington State

Budgeted at $12 million, WarGames was filmed in Washington State, California and Colorado. Griffith Park in Los Angeles doubled as the entrance tunnel to NORAD while El Segundo (California) High School served as David and Jennifer’s institution of higher learning.

The principal set was NORAD headquarters, constructed in Washington’s Cascade Mountains at a cost of $1 million. One of the main props was David’s computer, a clunky (by today’s standards) IMSAI 8080.

WarGames: Shall We Play Global Thermonuclear War?

WarGames opens in an American missile silo where a secret test is being conducted on combat readiness. When the order is given to launch, one of the Air Force officers refuses to turn his key, even when threatened by another officer who aims a loaded gun at his head. In order to prevent such an occurrence in the event of the real thing, an automated computer system called WOPR – War Operation Plan Response – replaces the human element.

Seattle high school student David Lightman is a technical whiz, breaking into his school computer with stolen passwords and subsequently altering grade scores. With girlfriend Jennifer at his side, David eventually gains access to WOPR, which he believes is simply a new video game from a company in Sunnyvale, California. From the menu David chooses Global Thermonuclear War, which inadvertently activates the real simulation at NORAD command center, nearly resulting in World War III.

The FBI eventually track down David, who is brought to NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain. David escapes the facility and heads to Goose Island with Jennifer, where they find the elusive Dr. Stephen Falken, one of WOPR’s designers. The three return to Cheyenne Mountain where WOPR is preparing a counterstrike against the Soviet Union, cracking launch codes and activating missile silos.

Dr. Falken and David try to “reason” with the supercomputer, initiating a game of tic-tac-toe whereby WOPR plays against itself, resulting in a series of ties. The computer now runs through the entire gamut of nuclear war simulations, trying to find a winning outcome. But in global thermonuclear war, are there any true winners?

WarGames Release, Reviews

  • WarGames was released on June 3, 1983.
  • “The best thing about WarGames is this initial gimmick, which perfectly realizes our worst suspicions about the susceptibility of computers, even very advanced ones, to tinkering by smart kids,” reported Vincent Canby of The New York Times (6/3/83).
  • “There’s not a scene where Badham doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, weaving a complex web of computerese, personalities and puzzles…And the ending, a moment of blinding and yet utterly elementary insight, is wonderful,” crowed Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (6/3/83).

WarGames Box Office, Oscar Nominations, Notes, DVD

  • WarGames grossed $79.567 million at the American box office, earning the #5 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1983.
  • Academy Award nominations: Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound.
  • Martin Brest was the original director, lasting only 12 days before being fired by producers.
  • Tobacco free NORAD? Not here, as Dabney Coleman smokes cigarettes and Barry Corbin chews. And no running in the war command center, Corbin warns a subordinate, as someone could get hurt!
  • Falken’s Maze, one of the games listed on the WOPR menu.
  • Backdoor password to WOPR: “Joshua,” the name of Dr. Falken’s dead son.
  • Heard in the film is the military term DEFCON – defense readiness condition. The highest alert, DEFCON 1, with war imminent.
  • On DVD: WarGames 25th Anniversary Edition (MGM, 2008).

Mr. Liggett, High School Biology Teacher: “Alright, Lightman. Maybe you could tell us who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex.”

David: “Umm…Your wife?”

A little humor never hurts, especially when playing Global Thermonuclear War…


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