Synopsis of Movie

“Shall we play a game?”

With the advent of computing systems like Apple and Commodore, home computers became a major fad in the early 1980’s. Soon enough, home computers began popping as a plot device in films like For Your Eyes Only and Superman III. However, the film that best captured the cinematic possibilities of a story about computers was (and still is) WarGames. This clever, comedic thriller managed to blend the home-computing fad, teen romance, and a dash of Cold War paranoia into a cautionary tale that appealed to teens and adults alike.

WarGames focuses on budding high-school genius David Lightman. He could be using his smarts to get ahead in school but is content to spend his time playing with his home computer. He soon becomes a skilled ‘hacker,’ good enough to break into the school’s computer to change his grades. Just the same, these skills get him into trouble when he unintentionally breaks into WOPR, a Pentagon computer that controls missile tracking systems. Thinking he is playing a simulation game called ‘Global Thermonuclear War,’ David accidentally triggers the countdown to a real-life nuclear missile launch that could start World War III.

Soon enough, the U.S. government figures out what has happened and goes after David. He is almost arrested by the FBI but escapes with the help of Jennifer, his spunky and intelligent girlfriend. Together, they go on the run and elude government agents as David tries to figure out how to undo the damage he has done with his home computer. Their only hope is to track down Dr. Stephen Falkin, the man who designed the WOPR computer, and enlist his help to reverse the countdown. This leads to an intense finale where man battles machine for the fate of the free world.

Although its story was about modern technology, WarGames was a grand, old-fashioned thriller in the Hitchcock style. Instead of relying on violence or action, it relied on clever plotting, likable and unique characters, and a tight, well-written script. Director John Badham, who had previously shown a flair for suspense with Blue Thunder, balanced humor and thrills well, keeping both elements rolling at a fast clip.

WarGames also benefited from excellent performances by a gifted and well-chosen cast. Matthew Broderick became a star thanks to his turn as the smart aleck who has to stay one step ahead of the adults to save the world, and Ally Sheedy gave an appealingly witty and lively performance as his resourceful girlfriend. Dabney Coleman and Barry Corbin were appropriately menacing as military bigwigs, while John Wood added an humorously eccentric element as the hermetic Malkin.

In short, WarGames was top-drawer entertainment. It became a hit with both critics and audiences, earning several Oscar nominations and making over $80 million in the U.S. alone. It also inspired several other computer-themed films like Electric Dreams and Weird Science. However, WarGames still stands out among the rest for its clever blend of technology, thrills and humor. Also, as countless ‘hacking’ incidents have proven since the film’s release, it was definitely a film ahead of its time. For many film fans, WarGames is and will continue to be the definitive computer thriller.

Movie Release History

1983 - WarGames

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David Lightman Matthew Broderick
McKittrick Dabney Coleman
Stephen Falken John Wood
Jennifer Ally Sheedy
General Beringer Barry Corbin

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