Taglines: Is it a game, or is it real?
A young computer whiz kid accidentally connects into a top secret super-computer which has complete control over the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It challenges him to a game between America and Russia, and he innocently starts the countdown to World War 3. Can he convince the computer he wanted to play a game and not the real thing?
WarGames is a 1983 American Cold War thriller film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film stars Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Juanin Clay, Dennis Lipscomb and Susan Davis
The film follows David Lightman (Matthew 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.
About the Story
During a surprise drill of a nuclear attack, many United States Air Force Strategic Missile Wing controllers prove unwilling to turn a required key to launch a missile strike. Such refusals convince John McKittrick 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, programmed to continuously run war simulations and learn over time.
David Lightman, a bright, but unmotivated Seattle high school student and hacker, uses his computer to break into the school district’s computer system and change his grades. He does the same for his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack. Later, while war dialing numbers in Sunnyvale, California to find a computer company, he connects with a system that does not identify itself.
Asking for games, he finds a list that starts with chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker, as well as 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 was an early artificial intelligence researcher, and guesses correctly that his dead son’s name, “Joshua,” is the password.
David does not know that the Sunnyvale phone number connects to WOPR at the 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 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 FBI agents arrest him and take him to NORAD. He realizes that WOPR is behind the NORAD alerts, but because he fails to convince McKittrick, he faces espionage charges. David escapes NORAD by joining a tourist group and, with Jennifer’s help, travels to the Oregon island where Falken 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 WOPR.
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 attack. WOPR 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.
Directed by: John Badham
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Juanin Clay, Dennis Lipscomb, Susan Davis
Screenplay by: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Production Design by: Angelo P. Graham
Cinematography by: William A. Fraker
Film Editing by: Tom Rolf
Costume Design by: Barry Francis Delaney
Set Decoration by: Jerry Wunderlich
Art Direction by: James J. Murakami
Music by: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Distributed by: Metro Goldwyn Mayer, United Artists
Release Date: June 3, 1983