A Story Well Told: War Games at 40

The film “War Games” was released on June 3, 1983, forty years ago.  (I meant to get to this earlier.)  Hollyweird is often terrible when it comes to computer and technology in movies, but War Games was (both then and now) one of the more realistic and believable computer films. It shouldn’t surprise you then to learn that the “War Games” screenwriters Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes also wrote “Sneakers” (1992).  Some details in the movie seem less credible (i.e. the idea that a hacker could break into NORAD), but several events depicted happened both before and after the movie.

The video below, “WarGames (1983) Behind the Scenes” gives a lot of details about the movie: the script, the process of filming, the prescience on future events.  Lasker and Parkes came up with the idea in the late 1970s and went through many revisions of their script, some more elaborate than the simple and believable story of the final draft (e.g. the character Stephen Falken was supposed to be like Stephen Hawking, in a wheelchair with a computer voice, and played by John Lennon).  The home computer revolution influenced the story’s development, changing Matthew Broderick’s character from a science prodigy to a high school hacker.

Youtube: IMSAI 8080 – You know that computer from War Games

At one point in the video below, Lasker says how he was worried (sometime in 1981) that the plot line of nuclear war starting by mistake was unrealistic . . . until he was informed about the Kuril Island incident in March 1980, when the US mistook a Soviet missile test for an actual nuclear attack.  And of course, the film was released only six months before the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident which almost started World War III, the incident where Stanislav Petrov may have saved the world.  More on that topic in posts to come.

And I’m not even delving into the other aspects of the movie, how it was one of the first 1980s blockbusters with young protagonists, the strong cast of supporting actors (especially Dabney Coleman and Barry Corbin), or the problem with directors that became a solution.  As a technology movie, it still stands up today.

“Spam, with cream sauce.”


  1. jenorafeuer says

    I have been saying for many many years that ‘War Games’ remains the most realistic depiction of ‘hacking’ that Hollywood has ever produced. The social engineering aspect of ‘hunh, looks like this guy was involved, what password might he have used for a personal back door into the system’ followed by a lengthy research montage… yeah, that makes perfect sense to me as someone who has actually done computer security work before.

    Not to mention a curiosity as to whether ‘Joshua’ was chosen as the name for his dead son deliberately, considering the religious implications. (Joshua being the Anglicization of the Hebrew ‘Yeshua’, which is the same name that became ‘Jesus’ after being run through Greek and Latin. Interesting name for the dead son of someone who’d created intelligence.)