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The Wave (1981)

An experiment in an American High School where students learn how easy it is to be seduced by the same social forces which led to the horrors of Nazi Germany. Based on a true story.


(as Alex Grasshoff)


(teleplay), (short story)
Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview:
Johnny Doran ...
Pasha Gray ...
Wesley Pfenning ...
Christy Ross (as Wesley Ann Pfenning)
Marc Copage ...
Robert DeLapp
Matthew Dunn
Frank Lloyd
Danny Marmolejo
Teri Ralston ...
Larry Keith ...


To explain to his students the atmosphere in the 1930's Nazi Germany, history teacher Burt Ross initiates a daring experiment. He declares himself leader of a new movement, called 'The Wave'. Inspired, he proclaims ideas about Power, Discipline and Superiority. His students are strikingly willing to follow him. Soon the entire school is under the spell of 'The Wave'. Anyone who refuses to be a part of the Movement, faces threats or worse. Ross himself gets carried away by his own experiment. Or has it turned into something more than an experiment? A climax is unavoidable, resulting in a hard lesson for both Ross and his students... Written by Diederik B.A. Rep

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TV-G | See all certifications »




Release Date:

4 October 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Onda  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Originally produced as an ABC Afterschool Special, the network chose to instead debut this film in prime time as part of its 'ABC Theater for Young Americans' series. See more »


David: Laurie, this is a very important meeting, all the new members are going to be there.
Laurie: So what? David, don't you think you're taking this whole thing just a little too seriously?
David: No I'm not, you're not taking it seriously enough. Look Laurie, you've always been a leader the other kids have always looked up to, you've got to be at that meeting.
Laurie: That's exactly why I'm not going, let them make up their own minds about the Wave, they're individuals.
David: I don't understand.
Laurie: I can't believe how crazy ...
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Edited into ABC Afterschool Specials: The Wave (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

Most famous After School Special ever. Teacher conducts psych experiment on students.
3 August 2006 | by See all my reviews

Based on a true story (do a Wiki search on "Ron Jones" & "The Third Wave" experiment), a Palo Alto, CA high school teacher in 1967 decides to give his students a lesson in "mob mentality" and it evolves into a psychological experiment on the evolution of fascism.

The movie was both highly praised for the ground-breaking nature of the subject and widely condemned for glorifying the almost certain devastating emotional distress inflicted upon the unwitting students/subjects.

Either way, the video is still replayed in high school and college sociology classes across the country to this day... and it must be on third and fourth generation video tape by now since (afaik), it is not yet available on tape or DVD.

The most memorable ABC After School Special ever made.

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