#WayBackWednesday – WarGames (1983)

We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.

Today’s #WayBackWednesday film, WarGames, only came on my radar a few years ago. I’ve always found geek culture from the 1970s and 80s to be utterly fascinating. The majority of the nerdy things I love got their start or hit a heyday during that time–computers, video games, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, science fiction film and television, I could go on. However, up until about 7 years ago when I started listening to the Retroist podcast, WarGames had eluded me. After listening to his episode on the film, I knew I had to track it down. Check out the trailer for WarGames and we’ll get started. 


In true retrophile fashion, for this week’s #WayBackWednesday, I watched WarGames on VHS on my old CRT TV, which has my classic video game systems hooked up to it. Some friends of mine gifted the VHS to me after their 80s/90s themed Halloween party last year, where a stack of thrift store VHS tapes served as decor. It just felt right to watch it that way. Ah, nostalgia. Anyway, back to the review. 

Behold my VHS copy of WarGames!

WarGames is a fascinating and realistic look at 1980s hacker culture. David Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick, is a smart, but bored high school kid, that mistakenly hacks into a government computer, while trying to find computer games from a video game company. This isn’t just any government computer; this is the WOPR at NORAD. WOPR stands for War Operation Plan Response–the computer in charge of firing nuclear weapons. Lightman and the girl he’s trying to impress, Jennifer Mack, played by Ally Sheedy, are now on the run from the government and trying to stop World War III. That’s what happens when you try to play, “Global Thermonuclear War.”

There are so many things I’d love to talk about with WarGames, but it’s difficult to do so without spoiling the film. As I think this is a film worth watching today, I would like to offer a few fun facts about WarGames to hopefully whet your appetite for the film.

  • The character of Dr. Stephen Falken, designer of the WOPR, (played by John Wood) is inspired by two people–John Lennon and Dr. Stephen Hawking. In fact, prior to his death, John Lennon was considered for the role. 
  • The character of General Beringer, played by character actor Barry Corbin, is based on a real general and Commander-in-Chief at NORAD at the time, General James Hartinger. 
  • There is speculation that then-president Ronald Reagan was influenced in his Star Wars program by WarGames
  • According to IMDB, WarGames inspired Congress to create the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984. Opening proceedings for this bill included a 4-minute showing of WarGames to illustrate the potential dangers of computer hacking. 
  • The computer set-up in David’s room is a bit dated for the time. The computer is an IMSAI 8080, which was originally released in 1975. 
  • WarGames not only takes a look at computer hacking but also at phone phreaking, where hackers would create a certain tone to get past long-distance charges. If you’d like to learn more about phone phreaking, do some research on “Captain Crunch”. 
  • WarGames still influences popular culture today, most notably in Ernest Cline’s work. His novel, Ready Player One utilizes WarGames as a major plot point. Cline’s second novel, Armada features a protagonist named Zack Lightman. It’s not difficult to imagine where that name comes from. There is also a WarGames reference in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Does any of that sound interesting to you? Want a realistic look at hacking in the 1980s? Need a fun movie with heart? Check out WarGames and come back when you learn what the winning move is. 

WarGames is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime. 

1 Comment

  1. I loved this movie! My sister and I watched it on repeat so often (also coz she had a thing for Matthew Broderick especially after watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). I wonder if I can find it anywhere – we had it on VHS and wore the tape out. Gosh do I feel old now 😀

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