The NORAD command center built for the movie was the most expensive set ever constructed up to that time, built at the cost of one million dollars. The producers were not allowed into the actual NORAD command center, so they had to imagine what it was like. In the DVD commentary, director John Badham notes that the actual NORAD command center isn't nearly as elaborate as the one in the movie; he refers to the movie set as "NORAD's wet dream of itself."
The WOPR, as seen in the movie, was made of wood and painted with a metal-finish paint. As the crew filmed the displays of the WOPR, Special Effects Supervisor Michael L. Fink sat inside and entered information into an Apple II computer that drove the countdown display.
The writers' main inspiration for the character of Professor Stephen Falken was Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking. Hawking was originally approached to appear in the movie, but he declined because he didn't want the producers exploiting his disability.
A February 2016 New York Times article reported that this movie ended up having a significant effect on President Ronald Reagan's understanding of and policy on telecommunications and computer systems security, and led directly to Reagan pushing the first federal laws intended to outlaw hacking. Reagan saw the movie at Camp David on June 4, 1983, and the next week, while in a meeting with some congressmen and his national security advisers to prepare for Russian arms negotiations, he asked if any of them had seen the movie. When they said they had not, he recounted the plot and then asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John W. Vessey Jr. if "someone [could really] break into our most sensitive computers?" Vessey, who didn't know anything about "hacking" or cyber-security, asked a former NSA analyst, Donald Latham, who replied that it was not only possible but very plausible--since the NSA had already been hacking into China's and the USSR's telecommunications and computer systems for years. Latham had first become acquainted with this danger through his friendship with Willis Ware, a computer scientist at the RAND Corporation; Ware had written a paper in the 1960s about the high likelihood that as the use of shared computer networks increased, so would the risk of those networks being accessed, even remotely. Ware, in turn, was also a source for the War Games screenwriters Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes--when they wanted to make sure that the plot they were devising for the movie was plausible, they called RAND (which was headquartered close to Lasker's house) and ended up meeting with Ware, who served as a technical consultant for them.
The computer seen in the black and white film of Falken is made up from components of an IBM AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central, built in 1954 to protect the United States from Soviet bomber attack. It was the largest and heaviest computer system ever built, the full system weighing 6000 tons and taking up an entire floor of a bomb-proof blockhouse. Components of decommissioned systems were sold for scrap and bought by film and television production companies who wanted futuristic looking computers, despite the fact they were built in the 1950s. The components used in this film were previously used in The Time Tunnel (1966) and The Towering Inferno (1974) amongst many others.
According to John Badham, the scene of the jeep trying to crash through the gate at NORAD and turning over was an actual accident. The jeep was supposed to continue through the gate. They added the scene of the characters running from the jeep and down the tunnel and used the botched jeep stunt.
When David is having his computer dial random phone numbers in his search for Protovision, the telephone numbers listed on the screen are not of the traditional fake "555" variety. This isn't a problem since the area code is "311" does not exist and will never be used as a real telephone number. This number was set aside by AT&T years ago for special purposes as was the case of "411" and "911".
When David makes a joke directed at his teacher about asexual reproduction the laughter heard afterwards is considered to be the rest of the kids in the classroom. But John Badham (director) said that some of the crew didn't know the punch line and laughed out loud during the scene. That laughter was left in the sound track, and if you listen closely you will hear what is clearly adults laughing out loud, rather than classroom sniggering.
This movie inspired congress to create and update the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984. Representative Dan Glickman (D-Kansas), opened the proceedings by saying: "..are gonna show about four minutes from the movie 'WarGames,' which...outlines the problem fairly clearly." A House committee report solemnly intoned: "'WarGames' showed a realistic representation of the automatic dialing and access capabilities of the personal computer."
The NORAD Computer System (NCS) used 1950's-era systems in 1983. After WarGames, visitors for the NORAD tour constantly asked to see the modern computer rooms. Partly driven by this, in coming years color displays (mostly on Sun workstations) started replacing the much older equipment. Incidentally, NORAD only detected threats. Strategic Air Command, until 1992, handled responses to threats.
During their extensive research for the film, writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes made friends with many 'hackers' and security experts. They later wrote Sneakers (1992) another film featuring 'hackers' and security experts.
The tunnel and exterior used for the entrance into NORAD is the same tunnel used to enter and exit Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), as well as in the climax of Back to the Future Part II (1989). The tunnel is located in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California.
The computer in David's room is actually an IMSAI 8080. The person who supplied the computer for the film tells how Matthew Broderick saved a shooting day by figuring out a programming sequence for the keyboard on his own after instructions were lost.
The main NORAD Command Center is located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The underground facility portrayed in the film is the Alternate Command Center, which is located in a nuclear bunker deep within the nearby Cheyenne Mountain.
At the start of the first NORAD Command Center scene, many large white springs are visible on the floor. These are the set designer's concept of seismic base isolation springs, which are a common means of protecting structures from earthquake damage. In the case of the underground NORAD bunker, the springs would isolate some kind of foundation platform from the cave floor.
Graphics on the large NORAD war room screens were rendered in advance by an HP 9845C desktop computer running BASIC. In 1982 the 9845C was comprised of a base with built-in keyboard and a 14" color monitor that mounted on top. Cost of a 9845C was about $90,000 (inflation-adjusted) and the entire "desktop" computer weighed about 100 pounds. The computer's resolution was not good enough to project on a large screen or to be filmed from directly, so a high-resolution monochromatic display was connected. The images were filmed from the display, one frame at a time, one color at a time, using filters for red, green, and blue. The process took about 1 minute per frame of film.
A video game version of this movie was made in 1984 for the ColecoVision, Commodore 64 and Atari 8-Bit Computer. The game started out greeting you as Professor Falken and you would play a game of Global Thermonuclear War. Your objective was to stop nuclear war from occurring by protecting the country with various military vehicles and weapons in a set time limit without reaching Defcon 1.
According to John Badham, Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy were "stiff as boards" when they came onto the sound stage, having both Martin Brest's dark vision and the idea that they would soon be fired. Badham did 12-14 takes of the first shot to loosen the actors up. At one point, Badham decided to have a race with the two actors around the sound stage with the one who came last having to sing a song to the crew. Badham lost and sang "The Happy Wanderer", the silliest song he could think of.
The touch-tone sequence to reach the President from NORAD control center is the famous "da da da dum" from Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. These four notes are also the letter V in Morse Code, used variously as a symbol of victory and peace.
NORAD HQ set was built in the Cascades, the "Oregon" airport was really Boeing Field, "Goose Island" is really Anderson Island in the southern part of Puget Sound (all in Washington State). The last ferry off the island really is at 6:30 pm, and you really are stuck there if you miss it.
The movie is featured as a central plot device in the book "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline. The protagonist must re-enact the movie playing the part of David, line by line, movement by movement in order to unlock a door.
In the first scene, Jerry mentions the phrase "Om mani padme hum," an ancient Sanskrit mantra. The six syllables remind the speaker of the six Buddhist perfections: generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, renunciation, and wisdom.
The huge door into the underground Cheyenne Mountain complex looked very similar to the actual door, as seen during a December 1987 media tour. The biggest difference is that it opened the opposite direction.
This is an non-exhaustive list of the possible war scenarios run by Joshua in Global Thermonuclear War: U.S. First Strike, USSR First Strike, NATO/Warsaw Pact, Far East Strategy, US USSR Escalation, Middle East War, USSR China Attack, India Pakistan War, Mediterranean War, HongKong Variant, SEATO Decapitating, Cuban Provocation, Atlantic Heavy, Cuban Paramilitary, Nicaraguan Preemptive, Pacific Territorial, Burmese Theaterwide, Turkish Decoy, Angentina Escalation (possible misspelling of "Argentina Escalation"), Iceland Maximum, Arabian Theaterwide, U.S. Subversion, Australian Maneuver, Sudan Surprise, NATO Territorial, Zaire Alliance, Iceland Incident, English Escalation, Middle East Heavy, Mexican Takeover, Chad Alert (repeated twice), Saudi Maneuver, African Territorial, Ethiopian Escalation, Turkish Heavy, NATO Incursion, U.S. Defense, Cambodian Heavy, Pact Medium, Arctic Minimal, Mexican Domestic, Taiwan Theaterwide, Pacific Maneuver, Portugal Revolution, Albanian Decoy, Palistinian Local (possible misspelling of "Palestinian Local"), Moroccan Minimal, Czech Option, French Alliance, Arabian Clandestine, Gabon Rebellion, Northern Maximum, SEATO Takeover, Hawaiian Escalation, Iranian Maneuver, NATO Containment, Swiss Incident, Cuban Minimal, Iceland Escalation, Vietnamese Retaliatio (possible truncated name for "Vietnamese Retaliation"), Syrian Provocation, Libyan Local, Gabon Takeover, Romanian War, Middle East Offensive, Denmark Massive, Chile Confrontation, S.African Subversion, USSR Alert, Nicaraguan Thrust, Greenland Domestic, Iceland Heavy, Kenya Option, Pacific Defense, Uganda Maximum, Thai Subversion, Romanian Strike, Pakistan Sovereignty, Afghan Misdirection, Thai Variation, Northern Territorial, Polish Paramilitary, S.African Offensive, Panama Misdirection, Scandinavian Domestic, Jordan Preemptive, English Trust, Burmese Maneuver, Spain Counter, Arabian Offensive, Chad Interdiction, Taiwan Misdirection, Bangladesh Theaterwid (possible truncated name for "Bangladesh Theaterwide"), Ethiopian Local, Italian Takeover, Vietnamese Incident, English Preemptive, Denmark Alternate, Thai Confrontation, Taiwan Surprise, Brazilian Strike, Venezuela Sudden, Maylasian Alert (possible misspelling of "Malaysian Alert"), Isreal Discretionary (possible misspelling of "Israel Discretionary"), Libyan Action, Palistinian Tactical (possible misspelling of "Palestinian Tactical"), NATO Alternate, Cypress Maneuver, Egypt Misdirection, Bangladesh Thrust, Kenya Defense, Bangladesh Containmen (possible truncated name for "Bangladesh Containment"), Vietnamese Strike, Albanian Containment, Gabon Surprise, Iraq Sovereignty, Vietnamese Sudden, Lebanon Interdiction, Taiwan Domestic, Algerian Sovereignty, Arabian Strike, Atlantic Sudden, Mongolian Thrust, Polish Decoy, Alaskan Discretionary, Canadian Thrust, Arabian Light, S.African Domestic, Tunisian Incident, Maylasian Maneuver (possible misspelling of "Malaysian Maneuver"), Jamaica Decoy, Maylasian Minimal (possible misspelling of "Malaysian Minimal"), Russian Sovereignty, Chad Option, Bangladesh War, Burmese Containment, Asian Theaterwide, Bulgarian Clandestine, Greenland Incursion, Egypt Surgical, Czech Heavy, Taiwan Confrontation, Greenland Maximum, Uganda Offensive and Caspian Defense.
Crosby Stills & Nash submitted a song for the soundtrack called "Wargames", (that was originally from their "Allies" album) but was edited out of the film at the last second. However, United Artists still used the video for the song, featuring footage for the film, as a promotion video that did receive airplay on MTV.
Matthew Broderick's character hacks into his high school's computer to change his grade. His character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) does the same, although his purpose was to change his attendance record rather than his grades.
The original director was Martin Brest, and several of the scenes he shot are still in the movie. He was fired due to creative differences. He has stated that he took NORAD'S control center layout and did a scaled down version of it for Beverly Hills Cop (1984)'s police control center.
The medals displayed on General Beringer's uniform are: Air Force Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon, two Croix de Guerre ribbons, and four additional foreign decorations. Of interest is that there are no medals for service in the Vietnam War (highly unlikely for an Air Force General in the 1980s) and the ribbon spread in 1983 would mean Beringer had at least 42 years of active service and was no younger than 60 years of age (actor Barry Corbin was 43 at the time of the film).
The dual 8-inch floppy drive is an IMSAI FDC-2, the monitor is a 17-inch Electrohome, the keyboard is an IMSAI IKB-1, and the 1200 baud modem (on top of the monitor) is a Cermetek 212A relabeled with the name "IMSAI". The acoustic coupler prop was added for visual effect only.
When the message for the tour group in NORAD is activated, the sound effect that plays is actually used in the video game Galaga (1981). It can also be heard if you listen carefully when David is playing the game in the beginning of the movie.
In the Director's commentary, one of the writers says that the writers got the DEFCON numbers wrong in the movie - in the movie, DEFCON 5 is peace, while DEFCON 1 is war. The person doing the commentary is actually wrong about the movie getting DEFCON wrong. DEFCON 5 is indeed the "peace" rating, while DEFCON 1 is the war rating.
The code for the lock of the infirmary, identified as "333-222," matches the tone for the chorus of the 1969 Edwin Starr song "War (What is it good for?)", a song also covered by Bruce Springsteen (1985) and Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984).
The computer display showing "Game Time Elapsed" and "Game Time Remaining" is framed in a bezel with stenciled labels reading "GST", "TEP", "SIM", and "TTG". These are standard acronyms used with electronic, and other, test equipment. Respectively, they stand for Ground System Test, Test Evaluation Plan, Scientific Instrumentation Module, and Time To Go.
The video arcade where David is playing in the early parts of the movie was located on the southwest corner of Ventura Boulevard and Quakertown Avenue, in Woodland Hills, California. That building is now a Chase Bank branch, and the "Ryons" restaurant visible through the arcade building doors was later renamed to "Lyons", and is (as of this writing in 2016) an automobile repair shop. The school right next door to the arcade was "Taft High School", and that arcade was indeed packed pretty much every day with high school students back when the movie was filmed.
One version of the script had an early version of WOPR named "Uncle Ollie", or OLI (Omnipresent Laser Interceptor), a space-based defensive laser run by an intelligent program, but this idea was discarded because it was too speculative
The infirmary door lock keypad has 16 buttons. With a six-digit code as audibly signified as using only two of those buttons, each pressed three times in succession, there would be only 120 possible combinations. Adding the restriction that they be adjacent to each other, there would be only 24 possible combinations for David to try, and only 12 if they were known to be adjacent horizontally.
At the end when Joshua says "How about a nice game of chess?" the lights come up. The cut right after you see David and Jennifer shows the war room as viewed from the front of the room. At the back of the room, the entire row of computers and electronic equipment lights up for about half a second and then all go off while the rest of the equipment in the room remains on. Clearly, switching that group on tripped a circuit breaker for those props alone.
During the scene where David first makes contact with the WOPR, in response to the question about what happened to Professor Falken's account, David types his response, "People sometimes make mistak" A cheap joke, but entertaining.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When McKittrick is showing David around the war room, David asks him about working with Professor Falken; 'he must have been pretty amazing, huh?' referring to Falken in the past tense because Falken is officially dead. McKittrick replies in the present tense; "Well, he's a brilliant man, a little flakey..." revealing, if you catch it, that Falken is not dead.
When Falken starts the film for David and Jennifer, he uses the phrase "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin." This was the opening line from Listen with Mother, BBC radio program for children which ran between 1950 and 1982. It is likely that Falken's son Joshua would have listened to this program.