Released: June 3rd, 1983
Matthew Broderick: David
Ally Sheedy: Jennifer
John Wood: Falken
Dabney Coleman: McKittrick
Barry Corbin: General Beringer
Written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes
Directed by John Badham
The fear of World War III hung over the 80s. Maybe not as much as earlier in the Cold War, but I still worried that at any moment the bombs would drop and the world would either be at war or, more likely, end while I was still a virgin. What do you want from me? Teenagers tend to be naturally narcissistic and I was no different. When WarGames opened, I went in expecting to be entertained and then go on with my life. The movie got under my skin, though, and scared me more than Poltergeist had the previous summer because it stayed with me a lot longer and kept me up at night.
Could some yahoo somewhere hack into a top secret computer database and unwittingly start a nuclear war? That's the premise of the movie and I still worry about it nearly 40 years later.
Matthew Broderick plays David, an average teenager who would rather play computer games than anything else, including school work. He strikes up a friendship with Jennifer, played by Ally Sheedy, he introduces her to the power of computers. He hacks into their high school's database and changes their grades. It was in that moment that I knew I wanted a home computer. David manages to get his hands on a game designed by Stephen Falken, an early pioneer in artificial intelligence. The scene where David interacts with the A.I. for the first time chilled me. A seemingly innocent activity sets a series of events in motion that could plunge the world into nuclear Armageddon.
Just a movie, though, right?
I watched WarGames again a few years ago and it holds up surprisingly well. It's a tense, taut, and entertaining thriller fraught with real world consequences. The movie doesn't pander with its teen leads. They're believable performances of kids that age. I appreciated it at 15 and again during that later viewing. It's always refreshing to see a piece of fiction not paint its teen characters with broad strokes. I knew kids like David and Jennifer in WarGames. They were relatable in a way many teen characters of that day weren't.
The movie still brings to mind the moral implications of the role we allow technology to play in our lives. In 1983, I considered having a home computer a luxury. Now, I carry not one, but two cell phones and own three computers. They're necessities in this 21st century world. Yet, I still worry that some yahoo is going to hack into something thinking they're just playing around and then it's all over. I have WarGames to thank for that worry. If that happens, at least I'm not still a virgin.