The Summer of '83: WarGames -

The Summer of '83

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  • Starring: Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and Barry Corbin
  • Written by: Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes
  • Directed by: John Badham
  • Studio: MGM/UA
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 114 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '83: WarGames

Let's play Global Thermonuclear war...

By Rob Vaux     June 03, 2013

 Remember when personal computers scared the crap out of us? If you weren’t around in 1983, probably not. But the burgeoning PC revolution made a lot of folks nervous… which Hollywood was all too happy to parlay into a suitably ludicrous series of thrillers. Toss in some Cold War paranoia, add a bit of teen mischief, and hey, you’ve got yourself a vaguely memorable cultural icon!

Hence, WarGames: the film that put Matthew Broderick on the map and gave suburbanites an entirely unnecessary reason to gaze suspiciously at that weird box on their desk. Back in the day, it felt chilling in its possibilities. Today, it’s pretty quaint… which, of course only adds to its nostalgia factor. It posits a nice kid named David (Broderick) who's a genius at those newfound computer things. He hacks into what he thinks is a game company, but which actually turns out to be a NORAD defense computer. Through a rather far-fetched series of events, what he perceives as a bit of fun may actually herald the beginning of a nuclear war… unless he can find the defense computer’s reclusive designer, who can convince it to play tic-tac-toe until it expires of boredom.

I’m a little snarky here, but it’s not intended unkindly. Director John Badham assembles the various pieces remarkably well, and once you get past the innate goofiness of the scenario, WarGames become a pretty solid thriller. Broderick’s boyish charms work wonders when he’s playing an actual boy; he handles his character’s puckishness with the same aplomb as his growing horror at a prank spinning out of control.

The worst of it involves the government’s pursuit of David and the way he escapes their clutches. The kid-friendly approach jars with the Cold War elements, as well as the nascent paranoia that supposedly informs the film’s more serious elements. Badham struggles from time to time to reconcile the disparate tones, especially towards the end when he takes a full-bore leap into science fiction. WarGames also stumbles a bit in its messaging, which gets inordinately heavy handed towards the end.

Ultimately, the director makes it all work through plain old-fashioned storytelling. We care about David and his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy), and we want them to get to the bottom of it all. So we're willing to follow them no matter where they go. That, the doses of humor and the effective ticking clock help us skip past the goofier elements, and even embrace them as part of the fun. A lot of us experienced WarGames as our first real spy thriller, and while the adult in us can see its threadbare fundaments, the kid in us can revel in the “grown-up” entertainments it provides nonetheless.

And today, it marks an interesting pop-culture phenomenon, increasing its nostalgia factor considerably. Before the early 80s, computers were always the stuff of Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes. Suddenly, we could actually buy one and set it up in our homes. Even worse, those punk kids seems to innately understand it in ways the grown-ups couldn’t. We saw that reflected in films like this one and Electric Dreams: ridiculous perhaps, but with an eye on the real anxieties surrounding a profound social change. One year later, James Cameron put his finger on it with The Terminator, but for now, Hollywood worked hard at expressing our common unease. While The Terminator transcended that moment, WarGames became an indelible imprint of it. Memory makes the heart grow fonder, even when you’re blowing up the world. This one, thank God, provide as silly, sweet and undeniably fun as we remember. 


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VermithraxPejorative 6/3/2013 9:03:19 AM

I saw Wargames in the theaters back in 83, and loved it. I still do! Sure, it looks dated due to the technology David has, but I grew up with that same technology, so for the time, it was "high tech". This movie takes me back to a more enjoyable time when computers were devices only geeks and nerds had, and we were special for knowing how to use them.

RedHood2010 6/3/2013 9:07:15 AM

Ditto that.  Knowing how to use the command line made you special back in the day.  lol  Good times and and fun movie.  My teenagers didn't give it a chance, I just wanted them to laugh at it.

aegrant 6/3/2013 10:22:53 AM

Ah when i was twelve and thought about becoming a computer geek... then I saw this and said eff it, its sports for me.

HomestarRunner 6/3/2013 11:56:23 AM

Saw it in the theaters as well (I was 12) and loved it. I fondly recall crushing on Ally Sheedy and, once I got into high school, wondered if I could change my grades as well.

Broderick, Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin...and Eddie freakin' Deezen! Great cast. Great movie. I'd watch it today.

"Mister Potato Head! MISTER POTATO HEAD!!! Back doors are NOT secrets!"

DarthoftheDead 6/3/2013 2:14:36 PM

Yup, I LOVE this movie!!! It started my love affair with PC's and electronic's, lol!!!

And I'm STILL crushing on Ally Sheedy......

DarkXid 6/3/2013 2:25:01 PM

 "We care about David and his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy)..."  Mainly Ally Shedy.  Yum!

Does the story hold up to sophistications of modern society/culture?  No.  Still a damned fun movie?  Yes.

Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin (I always laugh at the stuff that comes out of his mouth in this movie), Eddie Deezen (in a small typical role), and evidently Michael Madsen was in the movie somewhere.

I loved the shit out of Wargames.

Oh, yeah.  And Matthew Broderick does okay.

VermithraxPejorative 6/3/2013 5:41:27 PM

Michael Madsen was the younger of the two Air Force Men at the beginning that came into the house that led to the Missle Silo. He was the one pointing his gun at the older Air Force Man, telling him to "Turn your key, sir!" Great small role because it started the whole series of events that led to the use of the W.O.P.R.

HomestarRunner 6/4/2013 8:59:02 AM


You would have thought that Burger King would have done some tie-in promotion. Wasted opportunity. They were probably too busy planning the Where's Herb marketing campaign.



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