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WarGames (1983, Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy)

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John Badham, whose breakthrough as a director came with Saturday Night Fever and who went on to direct Blue Thunder and Short Circuit , also helmed this teen thriller, which launched Matthew Broderick’s career. Broderick plays David Lightman, a high school computer geek who uses his expertise to tap into the school system and up his grades. Encouraged by his success, he targets a videogames company to get their latest game before it goes on sale. Soon, he’s playing Global Thermonuclear Warfare. Unfortunately, he’s accidentally locked into the military’s early defence computer, which is designed to detect attacks and launch retaliation. Unless the experts in the government’s war room can track David down, World War III beckons…

When the film was made, computers were for experts and universal internet access was a gleam in the eye of a few technicians. Hence the inability of the military experts, led by John Woods’ scientist (allegedly based on Stephen Hawking) and Dabney Coleman as the war room leader, to resolve the situation immediately. Although the film is dated technically, Badham creates the sort of tension Fail-Safe and The Bedford Incident evoked, but for a teen audience (Ally Sheedy plays Jennifer Katherine Mack, Lightman’s girlfriend, in her debut feature). Neatly shot (some of the camerawork in the war room is superb) and with a believable cast of military characters ranging from deranged to deluded, this is a smarter thriller than its plot might suggest.

production details
USA | 114 minutes | 1983

Director: John Badham
Script: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes,

cast
Matthew Broderick as David Lightman
Dabney Coleman as Dr. John McKittrick
Ally Sheedy as Jennifer Katherine Mack
John Wood as Dr. Stephen Falken
Barry Corbin as General Jack Beringer
Juanin Clay as Pat Healy
Kent Williams as Arthur Cabot
Dennis Lipscomb as Lyle Watson
Joe Dorsey as Col. Joe Conley
Irving Metzman as Paul Richter
Michael Ensign as Beringer’s Aide
William Bogert as Mr. Lightman
Susan Davis as Mrs. Lightman
James Tolkan as Nigan
David Clover as Stockman
Drew Snyder as Ayers
John Garber as Corporal in the Infirmary
Duncan Wilmore as Major Lem
Billy Ray Sharkey as Radar Analyst
John Spencer as Jerry
Michael Madsen as Steve
Erik Stern as Commander
Gary Bisig as Deputy
Gary Sexton as Technician
Jason Bernard as Captain Knewt
Frankie Hill as Airman Fields
Jesse D. Goins as Sergeant
Alan Blumenfeld as Mr. Liggett
Len Lawson as Boys Vice Principal
Maury Chaykin as Jim Sting
Eddie Deezen as Malvin
Stack Pierce as Airman
William H. Macy as NORAD Officer

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