WarGames (1983) was a favorite of mine in my early teens when I first saw it. Recently I re-watched it and found it still an enjoyable nuclear, techno thriller that captures some of the 1980s nuclear war paranoia that the Cold War was still creating.
WarGames was one of the first films to introduce the computer, or technology, as one of the main stars or aspects of the story. Watching the film in 2006 makes the technology extremely primitive but that’s part of the charm of the film. The raw, low-tech computers almost “time capsule” the film in the era of the early ‘80s and I kind of like that. Plus, I could listen to the computer speak in its “robot” voice all movie long.
Matthew Broderick plays a high school computer geek, who spends his time hacking, playing video games (there’s some great Galaga action in the movie!), doing poorly at school and romancing a classmate (Ally Sheedy) by going into the school’s system and changing her grade.
When I saw this in 1983 I thought nothing could be cooler than hacking into the school’s computer and altering my grade. Unfortunately, I’d never even touched a computer and doubt the school in my small Oklahoma hometown even had one. So, the whole concept of the film was fantastical and futuristic to me—no matter how “old” the computers look 23 years later.
Broderick gets into trouble when he hacks a government program known as “Joshua” that imitates very realistic war simulations that fool military officials into thinking the U.S.S.R. is launching nukes at us! Broderick is arrested and then goes on an adventure trying to stave off nuclear war by understanding “Joshua.”
WarGames has a sweet, pro-geek story that is surprisingly to the point. The hero is a computer geek (before the term was mainstreamed and connected to technology lovin’ folks) obsessed with video games yet who can also save the world. He even gets to romance the All-American beauty Sheedy (who I had a massive crush on as a teenager). WarGames never portrays Broderick as a geek but as a “can do” teenager and that’s one reason the film holds up well through the years.
WarGames is a gem from director John Badham that deserves to be seen again as it is one of the smarter teen orientated films from the era.