WarGames is a 1983 American thriller/science-fiction film written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham. The film stars Matthew Broderick and features Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, and Barry Corbin. The film follows David Lightman (Broderick), a young hacker who unwittingly accesses WOPR, a United States military supercomputer programmed to predict possible outcomes of nuclear war. Lightman gets WOPR to run a nuclear war simulation, originally believing it to be a computer game. The simulation causes a national nuclear missile scare and nearly starts World War III. The film was a box office success, costing US$12 million, but grossing $79,567,667 after five months in the United States and Canada. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards. A sequel, WarGames: The Dead Code, was released direct to DVD on July 29, 2008.
During a secret live fire exercise of a nuclear attack, many United States Air Force Strategic Missile Wing missileers prove unwilling to turn a required key to launch a missile strike. Such refusals convince Dr. John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) and other systems engineers at NORAD that command of missile silos must be maintained through automation, without human intervention. Control is given to a NORAD supercomputer, WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), programmed to continuously run military simulations and learn over time. David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is a bright but unmotivated Seattle high school student and hacker. After receiving a failing grade in school, he uses his IMSAI microcomputer to hack into the district's computer system. He then changes his grade and does the same for his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy). Later, while dialing every number in Sunnyvale, California to find a set of forthcoming computer games, a computer that does not identify itself intrigues Lightman. On this computer, he finds a list of games, starting with general strategy games like chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker and then progressing to titles like Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare and Global Thermonuclear War, but cannot proceed further. Two of his hacker friends explain the concept of a backdoor password and suggest tracking down the "Falken" referenced in Falken's Maze, the first game listed. Lightman discovers that Stephen Falken is an early artificial intelligence researcher, and guesses correctly that his dead son's name "Joshua" is the backdoor password he was seeking. Lightman does not know that the Sunnyvale phone number connects to WOPR at Cheyenne Mountain. He starts a game of Global Thermonuclear War, playing as the Soviet Union. The computer starts a simulation that briefly convinces the military personnel at NORAD that actual Soviet nuclear missiles are inbound. While they defuse the situation, WOPR nonetheless continues the simulation to trigger the scenario and win the game. It continuously feeds false data such as Soviet bomber incursions and submarines deployments to the humans at NORAD, pushing them into raising the DEFCON level and toward a retaliation that will start World War III. Lightman learns the true nature of his actions from a news broadcast, and the FBI arrests him and takes him to NORAD. He realizes that WOPR is behind the NORAD alerts but fails to convince McKittrick and faces imprisonment. Lightman escapes NORAD by joining a tourist group and, with Mack's help, travels to the Oregon island where the widowed Falken (John Wood) now lives under a new identity. Lightman and Mack find that Falken has become despondent and believes the world is inevitably on a path to nuclear holocaust. The teenagers convince Falken that he should return to NORAD to stop WOPR. The computer stages a massive Soviet first strike with hundreds of missiles, submarines, and bombers. Believing the attack to be genuine, NORAD prepares to retaliate. Falken, Lightman, and Mack convince military officials to cancel the second strike and ride out the non-existent attack. WOPR starts an attempt to launch a second strike, however, using a brute force attack to obtain the launch code for the U.S. nuclear missiles. Without humans in the silos as a safeguard, the computer will trigger a mass launch. All attempts to log in and order WOPR to cancel the countdown fail, and all weapons will launch if the computer is disabled. Instead, Falken and Lightman direct the computer to play tic-tac-toe against itself. This results in a long string of draws, forcing the computer to learn the concept of futility. WOPR obtains the missile code but before launching, it cycles through all the nuclear war scenarios it has devised, finding they also all result in stalemates. The computer concludes that nuclear warfare is "a strange game"; having discovered the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction ("WINNER: NONE"), therefore "the only winning move is not to play." WOPR then offers to play "a nice game of chess", and relinquishes control of NORAD and the missiles.