I recently included War Games in my list of great movie computers. Wired Magazine has a fascinating salute to the movie’s 25th anniversary and the way it influenced a generation of proto-geeks in the current issue, featuring interviews with the screenwriters (and the legendary hackers they consulted) about developing a script centering on this still-exotic technology. And they actually considered casting John Lennon as the designer of the computer program! Even more astonishing was the impact the film had on one very powerful viewer, the President of the United States.
Days after the screening, wrote Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon, Reagan held a closed-door briefing with some moderate members of Congress, wherein he sidetracked discussion of the MX ballistic missile program by bringing up “WarGames.” Had any of them seen the film? he asked, then launched into an animated account of the plot. “Don’t tell the ending,” cautioned one of the lawmakers.
The Defense Department was so taken with the display system created for the movie that they designed one like it. But if the movie raised the consciousness of those creating defense systems, it also made them warier of those who might try to hack into them. Kevin Mitnick, who served five years in prison for hacking says,
That movie had a significant effect on my treatment by the federal government. I was held in solitary confinement for nearly a year because a prosecutor told a judge that if I got near a phone, I could dial up Norad and launch a nuclear missile. I never hacked into Norad. And when the prosecutor said that, I laughed — in open court. I thought, “This guy just burned all his credibility.” But the court believed it. I think the movie convinced people that this stuff was real. They tried to make me into a fictional character.
There’s a new 25th Anniversary Edition DVD with some excellent features and interviews.