After accidentally hacking into a governmental ‘game’ called “Global Thermonuclear Warfare”, a high school senior (Matthew Broderick) and his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy) are accused of spying for the Russians, and must find the only scientist (John Wood) who can shut the computer down in time to avoid nuclear war.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cold War
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary points out, this popular Cold War thriller for the teenage crowd possesses “fast and furious” pacing, “liberal doses of humor”, and “appealing leads”. I well remember going to see it in the theater as a kid, and feeling not only genuine panic about the precarious state of our world, but empathy for the likeable Broderick, who gets himself (and all of humanity) into a lot more trouble than he ever anticipated. As he laments to Sheedy, “I wish I didn’t know about any of this. I wish I was like everybody else in the world, and tomorrow it would just be over.”
Rewatching the film recently as an adult, however, I can’t help agreeing with Peary’s frustration that the teens’ “casual crime of tapping into their school’s computer to alter their grades is treated humorously and condoned.” It’s also a shame, as Peary and many other critics have pointed out, that the adults in WarGames all come across as age-ist, ignorant jerks. On the other hand, this is a film paying “tribute to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of young people”, so perhaps these teenage heroes deserve their day of glory.
Note: If you’d like to read about a real-life hacker, check out Jonathan Littman’s fascinating book The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen (1997)
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Matthew Broderick as the first “regular person” computer whiz on the big screen
- Ally Sheedy as Broderick’s appealing girlfriend
- A genuinely tense and exciting denouement
Yes. This is one of the better Cold War-era thrillers, and holds a special place in ’80s film history.