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Film: The War of the Worlds
Once they begin to move, no more news comes out of that area.

Note: This is about the 1953 adaptation. For the 2005 one, see War of the Worlds.

The first of several film adaptations of H.G. Wells' seminal alien invasion novel, directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal. It stars Gene Barry as the scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and Ann Robinson as Sylvia Van Buren, as they must survive a full-scale invasion of Earth by Martian forces.

The film is a Pragmatic Adaptation of the novel, taking only the premise and ending with little else from the source material. Nonetheless in an age of alien invasion films such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Invaders From Mars and The Thing from Another World this film is regarded as one of the best of that category.

Many years later the film would get a sequel in the form of a television series. Due to history marching on the series RetConned several aspects from the original film, namely the aliens coming from the planet Mor-Tax instead of Mars. Elements of the film would also inspire future science-fiction media, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Iron Giant and Independence Day.


This film contains examples of:

  • Biological Weapons Solve Everything: Zig Zagged Trope. The film maintains the original ending where the Martians die from regular Earth germs that humanity is immune to, but the emphasis here is that it's regular Earth germs. When nuking them does nothing, the military asks the scientist at Cal Tech to figure out a bio-warfare method to kill the Martians out of desperation... and the trucks carrying the equipment are robbed by desperate Angelenos trying to evacuate, destroying all of the equipment (in Forrester's words, "they sliced their own throats!"). The implication being that the bio-warfare attack would have worked, had the story not decided to stick to the original's ending and letting God do the job.
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Dr. Forrester brings a Martian probe with blood samples to a group of scientists, they see that the blood is highly anemic. This foreshadows how they were eventually killed by terrestrial bacteria.
  • Darkest Hour: The film's final act. It's probably among the darkest and bleakest atmospheres put into a 50's alien invasion film; there's absolutely nothing left to hold on to and the protagonist's last remaining goal is to spend the next few minutes of his life with his loved one.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sounds of the Martian fighting machines moving and the sound of the heat ray firing-a sound that is now oft-copied as a generic "energy weapon" noise in homage.
  • Nuke 'em: The military tries to kill one of the tripods using a nuke, when all other weapons have been exhausted. When the shields of the Martians turns that into a No Sell, Forrester says that attacking the machines is of no use, and they need to focus on trying to kill the Marians themselves (through biological warfare).
  • Money Is Not Power: As Los Angeles is being evacuated, people are rioting in the streets. One guy tries to buy his way onto a truck, only to be thrown off while being told "Money's no good anymore!"
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The original novel took place in late 1800's England and the aliens piloted towering tripod walkers. This film takes place in 1950's California, and the aliens pilot hovering manta-ray/scorpion spacecraft.
    • Originally the spacecrafts were meant to be tripods, but since a tripod effect was difficult to achieve the film instead states that the spacecraft hover via invisible tripod "stilts". In a few shots you can see vague outlines of the "stilts" along with sparks on the ground.
  • Religion Is Wrong: Averted in a strange way. The source material (at least the second half) is a firm criticism of religion, and there are religious characters who eventually turn out unhinged and dangerous in the wake of the invasion. The film is almost the complete opposite - the main religious character is kind and righteous and is given a meaningful death, and the closing narration comments on how the smallest creatures of God's kingdom defeated the invaders.
  • Science Marches On: The movie opens with impressive Chesley Bonestelle paintings of the other planets of the Solar System except for Venus. In 1953, the nature of what lay beneath that world's clouds was unknown deserts, swamps, and global seas of carbonated water or petroleum were all considered possibilities.
    • Ironically, the grossly inaccurate description of Jupiter is far more telling of Venus' surface conditions.
  • Technology Marches On: Back in the source novel the alien war machines were vulnerable to artillery fire and a torpedo ram, which were the most powerful weapons available at the time. In this film the aliens can survive an atom bomb blast, because otherwise they would be defeated very quickly.
    • Reportedly, George Pal asked a Pentagon representative how contemporary armed forces would do against the Martians from the novel. He replied in no uncertain terms it would be a Curb-Stomp Battle for humanity.


House of DraculaHugo AwardIt Came from Outer Space
The Wages of FearFilms of the 1950sThe Wild One
Under The SkinScience Fiction FilmsWar of the Worlds
The Big HeatNational Film RegistryStand and Deliver
VertigoCreator/ParamountWar of the Worlds

alternative title(s): The War Of The Worlds 1953
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