David Lightman (Broderick) is a teenaged Playful Hacker from Seattle who nearly sets World War III into motion by playing a game with a computer that doesn't know the difference between games and reality. Believing he has hacked into a video game software company, he challenges the computer to a game of "Global Thermonuclear War." This launches no real missiles on the Russian side, but it plays hell with said computer opponent, WOPR, the US military's computerized missile-detection and launch system.
The Government does figure out that someone has hacked into their supercomputer before they release any missiles. They have no problem figuring out who the hacker in question is, and forcibly capture him for questioning. It takes a while for David to explain that he didn't want to cause a real thermonuclear war — he was just trying to play some video games, and impress his classmate Jennifer (Sheedy) along the way. It didn't help that David booked himself and Jennifer on a flight to Paris before he started this game (he was showing off that he could do it; booking tickets online was novel back in the '80s). So not only does David have to convince everyone of the imminent danger, he has to do so while the US government believes him to be a Russian spy.
But meanwhile, WOPR wants to keep playing — and figures out how to break out the real missiles. David and the government now have to find a way to stop a nuclear war that no one really wants.
This film was released in the early 1980s, when personal computers were still new, and networking them was something few had ever seen — networks at that time only existed in the academic realm of universities and research facilities, while a few home computer hobbyists were lucky enough to dial into local BBSes or CompuServe. The general public didn't think much about hackers before this film. It also popularized the use of the term "hacker" as someone who breaks into computers, and gave an early taste of what online services could provide.
There's a novelization by David Bischoff. Also, a direct-to-DVD 2008 sequel was made, called WarGames: The Dead Code, where the US government develops another AI supercomputer called RIPLEY, this time to combat terrorism. Apparently, they didn't learn their lesson the first time.
Not to be confused with games about war: if you're looking for that, then you were probably looking for Real-Time Strategy or First-Person Shooter (most likely the former.) The ColecoVision had an adaptation a year after the film's release, while in the nineties, there were additional videogame adaptations of the movie; the PC saw a real-time strategy game, while the PlayStation had more action-oriented, third-person vehicular combat. Both versions served as a sequel, with the again-rogue WOPR becoming something akin to Skynet and massing a full-blown military force against humanity, and the player was allowed to fight for either side. The games were generally well-received when they were released, but have since faded into obscurity. In 2006, British software developer Introversion released DEFCON, a strategy game where "Nobody wins, but maybe you lose the least." with a visual style clearly (and acknowledged to be) inspired by WOPR's graphics. DEFCON became enormously popular in several gaming circles.
It also has an official mobile game, in which you play through a storybook version of the original film's storyline by playing a quirky chain-matching Puzzle Quest variant with nukes, money, radar, and health tiles, and "tactics" and "mods", as well as an action-packed vehicle-shooting game for the Playstation, WarGames Defcon 1. Notable in that you can actually play as WOPR trying to beat each of the major characters.
- 555: Protovision's phone number starts with 555.
- The '80s: The hair, clothes, soundtrack and technology. More importantly and harder to define is the tone — this movie wouldn't be the same if made at any other time.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Falken tells David that he was amused by how he had "nuked" Las Vegas, saying that it was a "suitably Biblical ending to that place, don't you think?"
- An Aesop:
- There's no winning a nuclear war. Please, for the love of God, don't start one.
- Sometimes futility has great value, because there are times when giving up is actually the best solution.
- Affectionate Gesture to the Head: During the movie, Dr. McKittrick is suspicious of and antagonistic toward David. At the end, after David prevents World War III, Dr. McKittrick tousles his hair in a friendly way and David returns the gesture.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
- Actually averted. It's less that WOPR is bad and Ludd Was Right, which is the Aesop behind that trope, and more that someone screwed up programming this specific AI and someone was unlucky enough to trigger the bug by accident ("garbage in, garbage out"). If the AI were as intelligent as most examples, WOPR would have understood the difference between games and reality, and the plot of the movie would not have happened. It also wouldn't have happened had anyone listened to Beringer's opinion to keep humans in the loop, and just use the AI as a tool to analyze many potential scenarios.
- Additionally, part of the problem is that while JOSHUA is an AI, he's also a Genius Ditz, and essentially a very gifted child. He can come up with dozens of iterations of gameplay, but neither understands the difference between reality and his games, nor the consequences of any of his game's outcomes.
- Air-Vent Passageway: While escaping from NORAD, David gets into the ventilation system. He uses it to reach the War Room, where he infiltrates a tour group.
- And Mission Control Rejoiced: After Stephen and David convince General Berringer to hold off on launching the missiles there’s a huge celebration when they get confirmation that the first targets have not been hit. But not for long. After they are able to convince JOSHUA not to launch it’s much more of a downplayed sigh of relief.
- And You Thought It Was a Game: David was thrilled to have hacked into what he believed was ProtoVision's computers. Until he sees the news report about a "system error" at NORAD. And not long afterwards, JOSHUA calls David back.
- Anywhere but Their Lips: On the ferry it seems David and Jennifer are about to share The Big Damn Kiss, but she decides to go for the cheek instead.
- Armor-Piercing Question
- Asked by David to Falken, "What was the last thing you cared about?" Has a delayed effect.
- Asked by McKittrick to David: "Who are you going to Paris with, David?"
- Artistic License – Geography: Stephen Falken is stated to live on Goose Island, Oregon. However, the Oregon coast does not have inhabitable islands, nor does it have a feature like Puget Sound near Seattle where it was actually filmed. This might be justified as it might've been deemed too big of a coincidence to have the hacker live just a few miles from the writer of the program.
- Artistic License – Military:
- Up until 1992, NORAD only detected threats while Strategic Air Command handled responses to threats.
- While the FBI would have handled the investigation into David hacking WOPR and also would have apprehended him, he would not have been handed over to the military, he would not have been taken to the NORAD Command Complex, he would not even have been taken out of Washington State. He would not have been held by the military and guarded by US Air Force Security Police. The US military cannot hold or interrogate US citizens (unless during wartime/national emergency). Even if you are caught trespassing on a military base, you will only be held as long as it takes for local law enforcement to collect you. Also, David is a minor, and he cannot be transferred out of state or interrogated without a lawyer or his parents present. When David is told he can't have a lawyer until he answers questions, it's a clear violation of his Constitutional rights. In fact, so many of his rights are violated that not only would any lawyer would have no difficulty whatsoever having every statement he made thrown out, but would also have all charges against him dismissed. Of course, McKittrick was implying that they would more or less ignore the rule of law entirely. Before McKittrick finally believed him, he was convinced David was a spy caught in espionage on "enemy" territory, attempting to steal nuclear secrets and compromise national security. Real-world black operations have undoubtedly killed people for much less.
- During the scene where JOSHUA is running the attack program for the first time and the war room is convinced it's an actual attack, one of the computer techs figures out what is really going on and rushes into the room, making a beeline for General Beringer and yelling at the top of his lungs. While he does manage to defuse the situation, in reality, he wouldn't have made it within fifty feet of the General before being either gunned down or tackled by the security personnel. Security is there to shut down precisely that sort of behavior during an emergency. Beringer even throws a lampshade on it by telling the tech that's a good way to get hurt (although the way he delivers it sounds more like an admonishment about running near a swimming pool, not appearing to attack a command officer).
- A USAF missile silo site would not have been disguised as a home out in the middle of nowhere. Missile silo sites look pretty much like what you'd expect from a military installation - a fenced in area with a few military buildings, and large metal/concrete covers for the missiles themselves.
- Attack Pattern Alpha: WOPR runs through several variants of Global Thermonuclear War when he's convinced to play both sides himself, which have creative names like the "Indochina Variant."
- Award-Bait Song: Edge of the World by Yvonne Elliman.
- Bait-and-Switch: The opening scene with the launch sequence leads the audience to think the junior officer is going to panic when, in fact, it's the senior officer that panics instead.
- Batman Gambit: By faking hostile targets, WOPR gets the DEFCON level lowered, so the locks on its missiles are removed and it can launch.
- Beeping Computers: All of NORAD's computers have a default setting of "Beep" and "Boop". Also David's computer is very noisy, emitting a warbling sound for every character it displays. Words cannot describe how fast something like this would get old in the real world.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Finally happens near Stephen Falken's house.
- Billions of Buttons: All over NORAD. WOPR in particular has an impressive panel of blinking lights.
- Blatant Lies: During the climax, when JOSHUA is trying to get the launch codes and heroes are thinking of their options, Jennifer says to David "I told you not to play games on that thing". No, she did not. On the contrary — she encouraged him the whole time.
- Bombers on the Screen: Thousands of nuclear missiles were shown on a giant map traveling across the world and exploding, not once but hundreds of times, as the WOPR computer displayed multiple strategies to try to "win" a nuclear war.
- Both Sides Have a Point: McKittrick definitely has a point that the entire complex defense network is completely useless unless both men in the silos turn their keys. If 22% don't, that's pretty serious. But General Beringer justifiably doesn't want it all entrusted to an unproven system. To say nothing of also undermining the entire point of ensuring that one person alone cannot launch a missile.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The list of games David could play with WOPR when he hacked into its servers:FALKEN'S MAZEBLACK JACKGIN RUMMYHEARTSBRIDGECHECKERSCHESSPOKERFIGHTER COMBATGUERRILLA ENGAGEMENTDESERT WARFAREAIR-TO-GROUND ACTIONSTHEATERWIDE TACTICAL WARFARETHEATERWIDE BIOTOXIC AND CHEMICAL WARFAREGLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR
- Brick Joke:Jennifer: David, is this about what you did with my grade?
- After the missile crew discuss a colleague who grows potent marijuana by chanting over it, David finds a tape recorder in a drawer in the infirmary that has a recording of a doctor noting that a patient has eyes dilated consistent with marijuana or PCP usage.
- After David and Jennifer explain the entire situation to Falken (off screen) he laughs about how funny it was that they nuked Las Vegas.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: The psychological profile the FBI agents draw up of Lightman describes him as "intelligent but an underachiever", amongst other traits that would in their minds make him a good candidate for Soviet recruitment.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Overlapping with What the Hell, Hero?, when David tells Falken "You don't care about death because you're already dead!".
- Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: WOPR is unable to recognize the difference between a simulation and a real nuclear war, and is what drives the plot.
- Changed My Mind, Kid: Professor Falken gives up on everyone, Lightman and Jennifer included. Last minute change of heart: cue the helicopter!
- Chekhov's Gun: A few instances of it in this film. In particular, they included a scene of a guided tour at NORAD early on in order to avoid an Ass Pull with David's escape via such a group later.
- Coincidental Broadcast: David sees the news report about the nuclear alert on TV when talking to his father in the living room.
- Continuity Nod: The videogame sequel went out of its way to have more in common with the movie than the WOPR acronym; the human forces are commanded by General Beringer, and David, grown up, is CEO of Joshua Information Systems. There is an actual narrative that references the events of the movie directly at many points. In The Dead Code, Falken and WOPR make a return to help the second set of protagonists combat RIPLEY.
- Contrived Coincidence: The payphone that he gets dropped off near just happens to be one of the older models where a discarded pop-top can cause a dial tone to register.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: David's mother proudly serves raw corn on the cob at dinner.
- Cut the Juice: When WOPR starts doing a brute force decryption for the launch codes, the general orders the computer depowered ("Just unplug the goddamn thing, Jesus Christ!"), but is then told that that would be disastrous, since the system has a fail-deadly function: a sudden loss of power will be interpreted by the launch sites as the destruction of the NORAD base. Without communication from WOPR the keep-alives would fail, and the launch sites would default to their final instruction — spin up everything and launch.
- Dead Man's Switch: At the end, WOPR attempts to extract the silo launch codes itself. General Berenger asks why they don't simply shut WOPR down, but the techs answer that the system would interpret this to mean that NORAD has been destroyed and initate an automatic "counter-strike" against the USSR.
- Decapitation Strike: This is the reason why WOPR cannot be "unplugged" to resolve the problem. A power loss would be interpreted as a decapitation strike and would launch immediately. Many real-world nuclear powers do have safety measures in place that will launch if there is no positive signal from Command.
- Defcon 5:
- Averted utterly though Word of God thought they had it wrong in the DVD commentary. Includes the memorable line:Beringer: Flush the bombers. Get the subs on launch mode. We are at DEFCON 1.
- And at the end of the movie, when everyone's cheering and the day has been saved:Beringer: Col. Conley... take us to DEFCON 5.
- Averted utterly though Word of God thought they had it wrong in the DVD commentary. Includes the memorable line:
- Distracted by the Sexy: The guard who is supposed to be watching David —now considered a possible foreign asset— ignores him entirely to hit on the receptionist for the department. This allows David to trick him into using the touch tone code so David can record it and unlock the infirmary so he can escape.
- Easter Egg: During the scene where David initiates the game, he says "sometimes people make mistakes." If you look at the screen afterwards, you can see that he demonstrated this himself by typing "sometimes people make mistak".
- Elaborate Underground Base: Where NORAD and WOPR are kept. So elaborate, in fact, that according to Peter Schwartz the military replicated the film design because the real-life version was so unimpressive and small in comparison. Interestingly, it all came about after the makers of the film were denied permission to visit the real-life NORAD, so they had to build a fancy set based on what they thought it would look like.
- The End of the World as We Know It: Subverted. Having it actually happen is stopped Just in Time, but Falken believes (at first) that it's an inevitable fate brought upon because humans are warmongering morons and says we should just let it happen, and various other characters believe it's a pretty real possibility of the Cold War and at least want to make sure that, when it happens, they will have a clean conscience about it not having occurred because of a snafu.
- "Eureka!" Moment
- While trying to figure out the password to log onto the W.O.P.R. computer, David and Jennifer watch a short film featuring Falken and his son. David asks about the son's name, and when she answers that it's "Joshua", he mutters "It can't be that easy..." It does indeed turn out to be the password.
- During the tense final scene, when Falken tries to access Joshua with his password and finds it's been taken out, David asks what they're going to do. Falken says "I don't know. Do you?", then for some reason, Jennifer says "I told you not to play games with that thing". So, David thinks for a moment, then says "It's games. GAMES!", and proceeds to play games with Joshua.
- "Everybody Laughs" Ending: At the end everyone is cheering and happy. Things like stopping global nuclear war and The End of the World as We Know It twice in the span of fifteen minutes are likely to do that to you.
- Everything Is Online:
- Played straight with the school computer that stores pupils' grades; it can be remotely dialed into by modem.
- Justified with the military network, since David only discovered WOPR by "war-dialing" random numbers looking for one with a modem on the other end, and it's explained in-dialogue that the only reason WOPR had a modem connection to the outside world was due to a grave switching error at the phone company. After David's initial hack alerts the Air Force to this problem, they remove it, requiring David to use internal NORAD terminals to communicate with WOPR for the remainder of the movie.
- Explosive Instrumentation: While it doesn't explain why it takes so long to cycle the game iterations of Tic-Tac-Toe, the explosions are coming because JOSHUA's overclocking WOPR, briefly running at higher potential, which its hardware can't withstand.
- Failsafe Failure: Inverted. WOPR doesn't fail-safe, it "fails deadly", and said "fail-deadly" works perfectly. Any "failure" in the master computer is interpreted by the slave computers as the result of hostile action, and "launch the nukes" is the response.
- Failure Montage: After David learns of the possibility of a back door into the system he wants to hack into, there's a long montage of him trying various means of discovering the password needed to open the back door.
- The Fatalist: Stephen Falken.Stephen Falken: Nature knows when to give up, David.
David Lightman: I'm not giving up. If JOSHUA tricks them into launching an attack, it'll be your fault.
Stephen Falken: My fault? The whole point was to find a way to practice nuclear war without destroying ourselves. To get the computers to learn from mistakes we couldn't afford to make. Except, I never could get JOSHUA [WOPR] to learn the most important lesson.
David Lightman: What's that?
Stephen Falken: Futility. That there's a time when you should just give up.
- In a subtle example, when McKittrick is first showing David around NORAD, David says that Falken "must have been pretty amazing," referring to him in the past tense. McKittrick replies that "he's a brilliant man, a little flakey..." referring to him in the present tense. This is our first clue that Falken is still alive; David learns this for himself a few scenes later when JOSHUA reveals the classified address at which Falken is living under an assumed name.
- In the library video, Joshua Falken is shown playing Tic-Tac-Toe against a computer. Guess what game the JOSHUA AI plays towards the end?
- For Want Of A Nail: If David had only decided to be the Americans instead of the Russians, the military would've known it was all a simulation. Plus if David hadn't reserved a seat to Paris or found so many other things to allow him to hack into the network, he likely wouldn't have come across as so suspicious, especially to McKittrick.
- Free-Range Children: David has a lot of free time on his hands to do whatever he wants.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: When JOSHUA plays global thermonuclear war against itself in the climax, the scenarios it runs are Real Life scenarios. Some of the names only appear for a split second.
- Fridge Logic: Invoked by Jennifer, astonished that David, a Seattle born kid, doesn't know how to swim. Then again, that water is pretty cold.
- Gallows Humor: When it looks like humanity is about to be wiped out in a nuclear apocalypse (and just a few moments ago everyone was jubilant with relief at apparently having averted that apocalypse), General Beringer's response is to be Sophisticated as Hell.Gen. Beringer: Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I've come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.
General Berringer: What does WOPR recommend?Healy: Full retaliatory strike.General Berringer: I need a machine to tell me that?
- Before David, Jennifer, and Falken arrive:
- Geek Physiques: Both the fat and the skinny (Maury Chaykin and Eddie Deezen).
- General Ripper: General Beringer is set up with all of the classic hallmarks of one (ego, Southern drawl, Sophisticated as Hell speech patterns, willingness to launch), but turns out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure instead, and to display better judgment than his civilian colleague McKittrick.
- Genius Ditz: JOSHUA can commandeer the nuclear arsenal beyond anyone's ability to stop him, track David's movements, and run its algorithms with such variety and speed that the most advanced hardware in the world shorts out and explodes. JOSHUA also has no understanding of the difference between his simulations and the real world and doesn't think to check for an inevitable Pyrrhic Victory until he's pointed in the right direction.
- Get Out!: David Lightman's teacher Mr. Ligget is reviewing the answers to the Biology test when Lightman makes a joke that creates ripples of laughter through the classroom. Mr. Ligget is not amused. note Mr. Ligget: All right, Lightman...maybe you can tell us who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex.
Lightman: Um...your wife?
(classroom erupts in raucous laughter)
Mr. Ligget: Get out, Lightman. Get out.
- Girl Next Door: Jennifer Mack.
- Godzilla Threshold: "Goddammit, I'd piss on a spark plug if I thought it'd do any good!"
- Good Old Boy: General Beringer has a prominent Southern accent and is seen chewing tobacco.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: No one is doing a headcount on the tour leaving the base. None of the guards (who you would have thought would have checked the prisoner in when he got there) recognize him when they come back up.
- And Apathetic Citizens: No one in the tour says "Hey, who are you?" to the kid who wasn't there at the beginning. However they do in the novelization:"Who are you? I didn't see you along on the tour."
"I'm a Russian spy and I gotta get out of here, fast, before they catch me," said David.
The guy laughed. "Yeah, and I'm John Riggins and I'm America's new secret weapon against you Russkies so you better watch out!"
- David was able to escape his locked room in the infirmary in the first place, because the guard posted in front of the door decided to go hit on the nurse.
- And Apathetic Citizens: No one in the tour says "Hey, who are you?" to the kid who wasn't there at the beginning. However they do in the novelization:
- Guile Hero: David's strength is his cleverness, which helps him out whenever he finds himself in a tight spot.
- Hey, Wait!: When David climbs out of the Air-Vent Passageway to join the tourist group, an officer stops him. But instead of recapturing David, the officer lectures him not to stray from the group.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: David uses his hacker skills to reserve two plane tickets to Paris so he can impress Jennifer. This bites him in the ass hard when the feds find this and assume it means he's working with somebody and thus just makes him all the more suspicious.
- Hollywood Hacking: Along with the William Gibson novel Neuromancer, this movie is the father of Hollywood Hacking, and invented ninety percent of the standard conventions, such as talking out loud while typing. On the other hand, at its time it was an incredibly accurate portrayal of how phreaking and hacking worked; Hollywood simply never left the '80s. It is the Trope Namer for many real life hacking/phreaking activities.
- Humans Are Flawed: The opening simulation scene with the two Air Force missile officers getting in a fight because one of them wants to make absolutely sure that World War III has started (because he obviously doesn't wants to nuke people by accident), and the other not only insisting that orders need be followed to the letter (which means no calling someone who could confirm the situation and the issuing of the launch code), but drawing a gun on the first officer to make him turn the launch key, is what makes NORAD say that giving the nuclear launch capability to WOPR is the way to go: from first detection of incoming nukes to retaliation, it will do so quickly and without hesitation from such things as moral conundrums.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: WOPR would rather play a nice 1-on-1 game of chess against you, than global thermonuclear warfare that involves the entire world.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Our hero gets one of these moments. In a variation, he doesn't want to lead a normal life, he just wishes he didn't know about the impending apocalypse so he could be happily ignorant until the bombs kill him in a flash. Alternatively, he's wishing how he wasn't so obsessed with computers so he wouldn't have caused the impending World War 3.
- Improbable Age: Barry Corbin was only 43 at the time of the film’s release, very young for a Four-Star General and Commander of NORAD. Every other Commander of NORAD has been in their 50’s or 60’s when appointed.
- Improperly Paranoid: An awful lot of David's obstacles during the film happen because most authority figures he could talk to took one look at the situation and his social status and immediately theorized "Soviet spy".
- Incredibly Obvious Tail: The FBI agents picking David up at the 7/11. It's likely they wanted to tip him off to see if he'd run to the Russian handler he's assumed to have.
- Insecurity System: NORAD's staff weren't fully aware of what types of security WOPR had running and what backdoors David had been using. One staffer even comments that they "keep hitting a damn firewall" when they try to regain control from WOPR hunting for the launch codes by invading the deep logic. But also see Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard which, combined with a bit of Air-Vent Passageway escape and a handy tourist crowd, allows David to escape from a locked, guarded room in the middle of NORAD and make it all the way out of the complex unimpeded.
- Invisible President: Subverted. The President's name is not said and he's only ever referred to or spoken to on the phone, but there's a picture of Ronald Reagan next to the DEFCON sign, implying he's the incumbent President. Understandable as this movie was made in 1983, during Reagan's first term.
- Just Plane Wrong: When two Soviet bombers are (supposedly) detected in Alaskan air zone, General Beringer gives an order to dispatch two F-16 fighters for visual confirmation. A few moments later, we see two F-15 fighters instead.
- Just Think of the Potential!: Falken's colleague McKittrick says the "flaky" scientist failed to see the potential applications for their work on game theory and nuclear war, namely teaching computers how to take care of it for them. When we meet Falken, he gives a different story — he was trying to teach the computer that it was impossible to win the "game".
- Know When to Fold 'Em: "THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS NOT TO PLAY".
- Layman's Terms: Halfway through when the nerd at NORAD is explaining something in Techno Babble, the officials demand a translation into English.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: NORAD seems oddly short on any brigs, settling on leaving David in the infirmary. He finds a doctor's tape recorder and uses it to hack the touch-tone lock on the door.
- Logic Bomb: Kinda. One interpretation of the climactic scene is that WOPR is convinced not to start WWIII by the realization that the Min-Max outcome isn't good.
- Logo Joke: At the very end of the film, the MGM/UA Entertainment Co. logo has its constituent elements typed on to screen accompanied with keyboard sound effects.
- Long List: The full list of nuclear war scenarios that WOPR runs through at the end, from "USSR First Strike" to "Atlantic Heavy" to "Moroccan Minimal" to "Taiwan Surprise." You can read the entire list here.
- MacGyvering: David manages to hack his way through the infirmary's voice lock with a doctor's recorder he found in a drawer.
- Machine Monotone: WOPR. Its voice was provided by Falken's actor John Wood, who recited his dialogue word-for-word in reverse to give it a flat affect: "game? a... play... we... Shall"
- Madden Into Misanthropy: Falken, especially after his son died. He's perfectly A-OK with nuclear war because Humans Are Bastards.
- Meaningful Echo: Early in the movie, David asks to play Global Thermonuclear War, WOPR responds with "Wouldn't you prefer a good game of chess?" After WOPR learns the concept of a no-win scenario: "How about a nice game of chess?"
- Meaningful Name: In-universe. The AI JOSHUA is named for Falken's dead son.
- Military Alphabet: Used in the opening scene to establish that this is tough military business.
- A Million Is a Statistic: WOPR/JOSHUA is programmed to calculate damages from different nuclear attack scenarios, including civilian deaths. Falken tells David that he soon became disgusted by this dispassionate attitude.Falken: Back at the war room, they believe you can win a nuclear war. That there can be "acceptable losses."
- Miranda Rights: These are being read to David when he is arrested by the agents.
- Mistaken for Spies: When the FBI tracks David down and takes him in for interrogation, they think he's working with the Soviets since he seems to be too young to tap into WOPR himself and he fits their profile of a collaborator. It didn't help that, prior to hacking into WOPR, he'd hacked into Pan-Am's systems and seemingly purchased two tickets to Paris.
- Mock Surprise Reaction: Mr. Kessler, the high school principal, whom David is sent to see to talk about his attitude problem.
- Mood Whiplash: The opening scene in the silo is pretty lighthearted and it's obvious the men all know each other well. Then the (fake) order comes in and within moments a man is pointing a gun at his commanding officer/friend.
- Mutually Assured Destruction: Deconstructed in the end sequence, where JOSHUA visually simulates every possible nuclear warfare scenario on NORAD's displays.
- My God, What Have I Done?: David's reaction when he sees the news story and realizes the "game" he thought he was playing almost started World War III.
- Mythology Gag: The opening cinematic to the '90s console game was a fake game advertisement allegedly from the people who brought you "Proto Chess", "Proto Tic-Tac-Toe", and "Proto Biological Warfare".
- Naïve Newcomer: Since this movie introduced a lot of things the general public was unaware of, the trope gets used a lot. The White House aides are ones when explaining how the keys in the missile silos work. Jennifer is frequently one to David so he can explain basic things about a computer and the internet. David even becomes one when needing to learn how to use a backdoor to hack into a system.
- No Antagonist: David hacks into a military AI, WOPR/JOSHUA, mistakenly believing he'd hacked into a video game company's computer system, and he, the military, and its programmer Dr. Falken, try to stop it from causing The End of the World as We Know It.
- Nobody Poops: Averted when David excuses himself to go use his bathroom after Jennifer comes up to his room.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Stephen Falken. Word of God says that he is similar to Stephen Hawking, complete with having the same first name and bird-related last names.
- No Mere Windmill: There's nothing wrong with the computer. Nope. It's just a hacker. It's all his fault. And since this disaster couldn't have been caused by some random kid, he must have been working with the Russians. No, it was the computer all along: A dangerous case of Garbage In Garbage Out, ascending towards The Computer Is Your Friend. This is a Type B case of No Mere Windmill: The main character knows what WOPR is up to, but nobody believes him.
- No Social Skills: Malvin is so bad, he has to be reminded by his friend when he's acting like a prick. Nowadays, he'd be diagnosed with severe Asperger Syndrome.
- Not So Above It All: McKittrick normally projects an air of calmness and unflappability derived from years of computer system design, but he readily calls Beringer a "pig-eyed sack of shit" when the general derides the WOPR's poor performance.
- Not What It Looks Like: David wasn't planning to board that flight to Paris — especially not to escape Global Thermonuclear War...note
- Nuke 'em. Or "Oh hell, I beg you not to."
- Obligatory Earpiece Touch: When the FBI seizes David, one of the agents does the touch gesture to his ear.
- Oh, Crap!:David: (typing) Is this a game, or is this real?
WOPR: What's the difference?
David: Oh, wow...
- Very subtly done when David gets the list of games in WOPR's system. His excited grin dissolves once it starts listing games like "Global Thermonuclear War", and he mutters a subdued "Oh, my God..."
- When David is ripping the evidence of his Global Thermonuclear War game from the printer to throw it in the trash, after hearing Jennifer's advice over the phone, he is startled when JOSHUA calls him and says, "Greetings, Professor Falken." He realizes that it's going to be a lot harder to cover his tracks than he thought if this computer can find him so easily.
- During the above, when David is conversing with WOPR/JOSHUA, the AI mentions that it is getting closer to achieving its primary objective. David asks what that is; WOPR's reply: "TO WIN THE GAME". For added flavor, its digitized voice seems to change tone. David's reaction is this trope.
- On a lighter note, the tour guide pranking a tourist into pushing the Big Red Button. The guide acts as if she has accidentally set off a nuclear warhead for a split second until he reassures him that all's well and the screen shows a "greetings" message.
- Ominous Multiple Screens: NORAD's War Room has 12 giant projector screens. Each hooked up to a projector, when you know it is quite an achievement for the time.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Falken truly loses his composure only once and even then he seems just mildly disturbed, but it still underscores how grave the situation is. After successfully convincing General Beringer and NORAD staff that the supposed Soviet attack is just a simulation, amidst all celebration that nuclear war has just been averted, Falken notices that WOPR is performing a brute force attack to get the launch codes anyway and utters — with visible and uncharacteristic (for him) unrest — "Joshua, what are you doing?". It instantly tells you that no, the nuclear apocalypse is not yet averted and our heroes' problems are far from over.
- Oral Fixation: General Beringer is seen with chewing tobacco and cigars in the film.
- Pac Man Fever: Averted, Broderick practiced playing Galaga for the role and was a pretty competent player by the time the arcade scenes were shot.
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Lampshaded by David when he suspects that Falken used the name of his deceased son as his password."It can't be that simple."
- Password Slot Machine: Popularized the trope, if not invented it. "Nine numbers... Ten! It's got the code; it's going to launch!"
- Percussive Maintenance: At the beginning of the film, an instrumentation malfunctions and one of the officers advises his comrade to tap the blinking light. This indeed solves the problem.
- Phone-Trace Race: After David accidentally hacks into NORAD and takes over its main computer system, he hangs up before they can trace the connection and determine his location. When the Artificial Intelligence calls David back, the FBI manages to trace the calls and find him.
- Playful Hacker: "Let's bomb Seattle!" "Let's bomb us!"
- Poor Communication Kills: David could have contacted the authorities immediately, pointed out that he was trying to hack into a games company that was indeed in the same city he found the number in, assumed that it was the game company (because games were listed) and therefore played with it. (He actually would have a fairly firm legal leg to stand on — the site never said it was a military computer network, and had a ridiculously easy password.) However he's a high school student and freaks out a bit, understandably.
- Product Placement: Century 21note , Tab soda, 7/11, State Farm Insurance, lots of arcade games in the beginning.
- The Professor: Stephen Falken is described by McKittrick as brilliant but flakey, and when David and Jennifer meet him, he lives up to this description; though still very knowledgeable about artificial intelligence despite his ten years out of the field, his disillusionment with the military's cavalier attitude toward the losses that nuclear war would unavoidably incur on both sides has led him to become a fatalist far more interested in flying model pterodactyls than in anything to do with computers (he pointedly does not have a terminal at his home in Oregon).
- Race Against the Clock: The main characters have 52 hours to prevent World War III.
- Ramming Always Works: Scripted as a straight example when the jeep was to crash through the gate at NORAD and continue its ride. However, the stunt failed and the jeep turned over due to the impact with the gate. They used the scene anyway and had the characters continue down the tunnel on foot — after all, nothing raises the tension level like being forced to abandon your ride and continue on foot when time is of the essence.
- Reaction Shot: In the film's climax, as JOSHUA plays both sides in dozens of variants of Global Thermonuclear War while the military frantically try to get confirmation of whether or not the missiles have actually been launched, we see reaction shots from each of the film's major characters that encapsulate their personalities. David is fascinated, Jennifer is so overwhelmed that she eventually buries her face in David's shoulder, McKittrick looks disturbed, Falken seems almost amused, and Beringer has an expression that can best be described as "WTF!?"
- Real Time: Apparently, Joshua the WOPR is even better than its programmers know. While Pat Healy, McKittrick's assistant, tells the general that Joshua will determine the launch codes in 5.3 minutes (5 minutes 18 seconds), Joshua does it onscreen in 4 minutes 30 seconds. Somehow, that's not very reassuring.
- Reasonable Authority Figure:
- General Beringer, who not only turned out to be right on every significant point, but was one of the very few people in the movie who had a rational, well-thought-out reason for every decision he made (even the incorrect ones). Tellingly, even when he is utterly convinced that a Soviet first strike is imminent, he ultimately decides to err on the side of caution before ordering the launch of his own weapons.Falken: General, are you prepared to destroy the enemy?
Beringer: You betcha!
Falken: Do you think they know that?
Beringer: I believe we've made that clear enough.
Falken: Then don't. Tell the President to ride out the attack.
NORAD Personnel #1: Sir? They need a decision.
Falken: General, do you really believe that the enemy would attack without provacation, using so many missiles, bombers and subs, so that we would have no choice but to totally annhiliate them?
NORAD Personnel #2: One minute and thirty seconds to impact.
Falken: General, you are listening to a machine! Do the world a favor and don't act like one.
NORAD Personnel #2: One minute and twenty seconds to impact.
Beringer: [picks up phone to the President] Yes, Mr. President. Sir, at this point in time, we cannot positively confirm the inbounds. We have reason to believe they may not exist. Yes sir, that's affirmative. Yes sir. I do, too.
- McKittrick isn't too far off this trope either. He doesn't seem to buy the FBI profiler's assertion that David was turned by the Soviets and tries chatting with David to find out what's going on. His only problem is that he can't buy David's story that WOPR is running a game of its own. He's willing to go a ways down the path with David... until David tries to contact WOPR while he's alone to find out if it's really playing the game so he can avert the catastrophe if possible — this "suspicious" behavior is what pushes McKittrick over the edge as far as trusting David.
- General Beringer, who not only turned out to be right on every significant point, but was one of the very few people in the movie who had a rational, well-thought-out reason for every decision he made (even the incorrect ones). Tellingly, even when he is utterly convinced that a Soviet first strike is imminent, he ultimately decides to err on the side of caution before ordering the launch of his own weapons.
- Rule of Drama: The helicopter buzzes the two kids, chasing them around for a bit before Falken gets on the loudspeaker to tell them he's there to take them to NORAD.
- School Grade Hacking: The Trope Codifier. David remotely dials into the school computer via modem to change his Biology grade from F to C so he can skip summer school, and he also changes Jennifer's grade from F to A.
- Secret Test: At the beginning of the film, a U.S. ICBM base receives orders to launch its missiles. One of the officers refuses to participate in the launch, preventing it from occurring. It's later revealed that the situation was a nationwide test of the officers' willingness to launch on command. 22% of the bases failed to launch their missiles, causing serious dismay in the political and military leadership.
- Just before hacking into the Protovision computer, David Lightman says "Protovision, I have you now". This is a reference to Darth Vader's Tempting Fate line "I have you now" in A New Hope that he spoke as he prepared to shoot Luke's X-wing fighter during the battle over the Death Star.
- General Beringer has an Oral Fixation with cigars and chewing tobacco similar to General Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove.
- Shown Their Work: The producers had actual bona-fide hackers on hand that they consulted constantly to make sure the Hollywood Hacking was grounded in reality and is still one of the most realistic portrayals to come out of Hollywood. The places where it's wrong were deliberate Rule of Cool, since the hours of boring number-crunching involved in real hacking would not have made a good movie.
- It was perfectly normal to drop your phone into an acoustic coupler and let it wardial all day long, then come home and try logging into the successful numbers by using educated guesses. After all, this movie isn't the Trope Namer for no good reason.
- David figured out the password through realistic means — by discovering who wrote the system and investigating his background, successfully guessing that the password might be "Joshua" — the name of Falken's dead son. This kind of social hacking is still done (very successfully) today. Similarly, earlier he finds the password to the school computer by checking the hidden spot where the teachers write it down — and even gets sent to the principal's office on a regular basis just so he can access that spot (the tendency of people in Real Life to write passwords down in an easy-to-find location - when they are hidden at all - remains a serious problem today).
- Another thing that's really neat is the fact that the school is changing the password that accesses their system at all. At the time, most schools would have just let a single password keep going if there was no obvious reason to change it. The fact that they seem to change it regularly is very similar to modern security practices, which forces David to keep getting in trouble so he can check what the new password is.
- At the time of the movie, the concept of "computer security" was virtually unknown, since most computers weren't connected to anything to begin with.
- The opening scene is based on the "Two-Man Rule" and "No-Lone Zone" control mechanisms, both of which were (and still are) widely used by the United States military. The Two-Man Rule requires the consent of at least two authorized people before any mission-critical action can occur, while an area designated as a No-Lone Zone must always be staffed by at least two people who must stay in visual contact with each other and with the item being protected.
- The FBI's description of how David being a brilliant but lazy loner making him a perfect candidate for Russian recruitment was spot on.
- Simple Solution Won't Work: In the climactic scene, as the WOPR supercomputer is seeking the codes to launch all of America's nuclear arsenal at Russia, General Beringer tells McKittrick to "just unplug the goddamn thing". He's then told that it's not an option, because the silos' network is hard-wired to answer to the shutdown of WOPR (which was assumed by the creators would only happen if NORAD was somehow destroyed) by activating a "fail-deadly" override and instantly launch all the missiles.
- Small Role, Big Impact:
- The missile crewmen played by John Spencer and Michael Madsen. Their disagreement during the opening simulation is used to help justify the implementation of the WOPR system.
- Jim and Malvin (played by Maury Chaykin and Eddie Deezen, respectively), the computer nerds who give David the idea of looking for a backdoor to get into the system.
- Sophisticated as Hell:General Beringer: Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, I've come to the conclusion that your...new defense system sucks.
McKittrick: I don't have to take that, you pig-eyed sack of shit!
General Beringer: Oh, I was hoping for something a little better than that from you, sir. A man of your education.
- Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: Lots of examples pop up on the screens at NORAD, depicting the hundreds of strategies WOPR devises as it plans how to win a nuclear war. Swelling circles scattered across a global map indicate nuclear strikes to cities, military bases and missile silos. All of them show every side getting eliminated completely, which turns out to be a very good thing as it convinces WOPR that it can't win.
- Storyboarding the Apocalypse: Arguably, the multiple variations of "Global Thermonuclear War" near the end. The list begins with "US First Strike", "USSR First Strike" and the like, but towards the end the scenarios include "Greenland Maximum", "Cambodian Heavy" and "Gabon Surprise". Those darn Gabonese, always causing trouble...
- Super Drowning Skills: David admits during the climax he never learned to swim. Jennifer is incredulous: "You live in Seattle and never learned to swim?!" Possibly justified, as the water is very cold there.
- Superweapon Suspense Subversion:
- The film opens with two USAF airmen reporting for their shift in a missile control bunker suddenly confronted with the prospect of having to order a launch. It is ultimately revealed to be a Secret Test of Character of whether such personnel would in fact carry out their orders in a crisis.
- A brief one occurs late in the film. As soon as WOPR gets the launch codes to the ICBMs, the screens in the War Room depict missile tracks originating from the US... cue a momentary panic until it's established that WOPR is still running simulations.
- Surprise Vehicle: The helicopter is heard very briefly while the main characters are having their first kiss, but they only notice it when it's right there, flashing its light at them.
- Technology Porn: The film is popular with computer enthusiasts for its (largely accurate!) depiction of the computer technology of the era, especially the acoustic coupler modem.
- Those Two Guys: Cabot and Watson, the White House staffers.
- Too Dumb to Live: The FBI agents. Although it's obvious that David knows what is going on and may be their best hope of defusing the situation, they fail to question him properly, refuse to listen to what he has to say, blindly and uncritically believe their own first assumption of him being a Soviet spy, and insist on putting him on trial for "espionage"... even though if the whole crisis was allowed to go on unchecked, there would be no court (or anything else) to put David in to begin with. Seriously, those idiots are so dumb that they seem not to realize what is going on around them at all. They're basically dooming all mankind because "phew, World War Three can wait, we've got a teenager to convict".
- Trust Password: When David and Jessica meet Falken on the island, the professor is having none of the kids' talk until David mentions JOSHUA.
- Truth in Television:
- At least, November 9, 1979 NORAD saw Mnogo Nukes launched by belligerent computer bugs. Later they had a simulated "nuclear attack", though it wasn't exactly a software issue. A massive launch was played from the test tape right into the working system while personnel didn't know what the hell was going on. It was down to someone at NORAD to balance what they were seeing on screen and what the radar stations were saying, and decide to tell the President whether World War III was happening or not. And you think you had a bad day at work?
- Happened in 1983 on the Soviet side..
- Two-Keyed Lock: "TURN YOUR KEY, SIR!" A scene highlighting the stress silo officers are under and the commitment to follow orders. It is a stark choice: turn the key, potentially killing millions, or die.
- Unbuilt Trope: Every hacking-related trope from the past 30+ years owes its existence to this film, right down to the first cinematic reference to the term "firewall". Yet the hacker boy who saved the world nearly precipitated its destruction in the first place (way to save on major characters). Plus, even though the film helped popularize the Everything Is Online trope, WOPR wasn't supposed to be accessible from the outside. It was a grave switching error at a phone company that made it possible. It doesn't help that much of what gave WarGames its punch is fading from collective memory. Having a plucky young hacker almost precipitate World War III was an allegory on how nonsensical the Cold War was to the average person.
- Unwinnable by Design: "The only winning move is not to play".
- Unwinnable Training Simulation: The Global Thermonuclear War simulation is "unwinnable" by its nature. Getting WOPR/JOSHUA to realize the simulation is unwinnable is the climax of the film.
- Viewer-Friendly Interface: The first time David logs into the WOPR, Joshua's responses are merely text on his screen; he turns on a speaker to give a voice to the text. Every time Joshua is accessed from then on, that same speaker voice is used, no matter how little sense it would make for the terminals used to be equipped with one, allowing the film's pace to not be hindered by overly long shots of computer screens or confused by suddenly changing Joshua's "character".
- Or, it could an exposition device, and the voice is just Voiceover Letter in Lightman's head, which explains why "to win the game" sounds even more sinister, why when he's scared as hell he still has the speaker on in his room, etc. Remember that nobody else interacts with WOPR in this conversational way, everyone else just has a normal shell where speech would make no sense. Perhaps believable at the end, though, considering the echo in the room.
- The War Room: Hell, this film's version of NORAD might well be a trope of its own; it was the most expensive set ever built at the time... It was even far fancier than the real NORAD command and control room, which looked positively poor compared with this (there's a picture in a 1983 book called The Intelligence War).
- The Watson: David plays this to Jim String, who explains computer terminology to David, and by extension, the audience.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: McKittrick. He advocates placing WOPR in charge of America's nuclear arsenal, not out of a lust for power or to show up the human Air Force personnel, but because he genuinely believes it's the best choice for the nation's defense.
- We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: WOPR manages to subvert all of NORAD's sensors to the point where they only realize that the Soviet Union hasn't launched missiles when they're able to call bases in areas that were already "nuked".
- Wham Line: "Joshua, what are you doing...?"
- World War III: Thankfully averted, but the threat of it happening because of WOPR's actions drives the plot.
- You Had Us Worried There: The long delay before the apparently nuked bases confirm that they are OK. While their continued survival would let them know that they hadn't taken a direct hit, presumably the base control officers were waiting for reports from topside that no nuclear missiles had landed near them before calling the all-clear. Be a tad embarrassing if they called away 'Everything's fine' when a Soviet ICBM had had a navigation error and hit five miles away, only to have to call NORAD back a minute later and say 'Um, about that...' Though that's probably why they called three separate bases. Base 1, do you read? <static> Base 2, do you read? <static> Base 3, do you read? Yeah we're still here...a little crispy, and probably not operational, but alive. Mostly.
- Younger Than They Look: Barry Corbin was only 43 at the time of the film’s release
- Your Mom: David uses a variant with his teacher when he asks who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex, with "uhm.. your wife?", leading to Get Out!.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: When several bases predicted to be destroyed by the Russian offensive report they're still standing, the NORAD command center erupts with cheers... meanwhile, Falken quietly notices a single screen cycling through nuclear launch codes. Joshua has begun preparing to launch the missiles itself, and is smart enough to calculate the correct code in a matter of minutes.
- Aesop Amnesia: The government apparently completely forgets why they created JOSHUA in the first place and creates RIPLEY, another AI with absolute control over American military assets.
- Arc Words: Greetings, Professor Falken. Shall We Play A Game? and A Strange Game. The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: RIPLEY keeps tabs on her creators to see what they're saying about her.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: JOSHUA was up in Canada controlling a power plant and losing chess games to a Russian. At this point in the film, it is about 20 years old and the only way the day could be saved was by having JOSHUA uploaded into RIPLEY's mainframe.
- Camera Sniper: Amy doesn't realize she's being watched through a viewfinder.
- Disappeared Dad: Will's father, though there's an explanation: he picked up an infection while out on the field...and that turns out to have been a cover story for the government.
- Driven to Suicide: Doctor Falken, in response to the government replacing JOSHUA with RIPLEY, to protect his family from retaliation.
- Fake-Out Make-Out: It started out as a real one, but then Annie spotted that they were appearing on television wanted shots, and kissed him again to distract the police.
- Faking the Dead: Falken's suicide (mentioned at the beginning of the film) turns out to have been him pulling this trope both to protest RIPLEY and keep his family safe. The fact that he was already dying of cancer made his decision easier.
- Happy Ending Override: For Falken, at least: not only did the government learn NOTHING about the snafu with JOSHUA and thus create RIPLEY with more capabilities (and ways to terrorize if it goes bad), but also he was diagnosed with cancer (which drove him to fake his suicide in order to both protest RIPLEY and prevent the government guys from strong-arming his family).
- Heroic Sacrifice: Doctor Falken stays behind to upload the JOSHUA AI into RIPLEY, knowing he won't make it out in time to escape the missile she's sent.
- He's Dead, Jim: The glasses are knocked off an agent's jogging partner when RIPLEY uses vehicular homicide to wipe out perceived opposition.
- Hollywood Game Design: RIPLEY's game looks too advanced to what is supposed to be some kind of freemium browser game that people with any kind of computers, especially very cheap ones (read: potential terrorists with limited resources and working out of middle-of-nowhere places), should be able to run. Also the designers' belief that any good player should immediately be placed under scrutiny. And finishing it off with the game being about drone mass-murder warfare, but it has a woman going "play me!" in an orgasmic voice on the title screen and nothing else (even without the government super-computer doing the Big Brother business, it screams "spyware").
- Hollywood Hacking: A near-complete 180 from the original film, including the talking while typing. And once more, yeah, the super-duper computers being able to access nuclear weapons as fast as the protagonists are able to say that it's what's happening (really, after it happening ONCE already, Aesop Amnesia doesn't even BEGIN to describe it).
- Idiot Ball: Will's best friend Dennis, upon realizing he and Will have ended up on the wrong end of DHS. They deliberately leave a jacket with a cellphone in it. He dives for it and uses it to text Will, thus giving the DHS just what they need to track Will's phone. He also is the one to start the whole mess, by setting the RIPLEY game on its highest difficulty (and thus attracting RIPLEY's attention when Will used chemical warfare (which his mom had some knowledge about with her background) to reach the difficulty's desired kill count).
- Improperly Paranoid: Will's whole dilemma occurs because RIPLEY analyzed his somewhat-unusual profile (details of which, including his dad's history as an Agency operative that died on the field, Will didn't know about) thanks to Dennis' selection of the highest difficulty in her game and immediately assumed "home-grown terrorist". The situation goes From Bad to Worse because RIPLEY's analysis eventually starts connecting some pretty important people (including the men who built her) to Will's alleged "terrorist cell" and starts taking appropriate actions.
- MacGyvering: Will turns a Pringles can into a signal amplifier for a listening device.
- Magical Database: RIPLEY is connected to one of these, which it runs anybody who enters the game through to detect if he's a potential terrorist. The problem that Will's specific case then showcases is that not having any contextual grasp of the facts can make RIPLEY take even the smallest of them and classify you as a threat because of them.
- Manly Tears: Will, on hearing from Professor Falken that everything he knew about his dad's death was just a cover story.
- Mexican Standoff: JOSHUA and RIPLEY get into one near the end, with JOSHUA threatening to start a global thermonuclear war if RIPLEY tries to self-destruct via nuclear warhead.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: In-Universe, JOSHUA has a reputation for that. Even one of RIPLEY's Technicians is genuinely afraid when WOPR joins the fight against her.
- Not What It Looks Like: Will in The Dead Code has a computer programmer father and a biotechnician mother, so he knows a lot about computers and biological and chemical compounds. Guess what RIPLEY thinks he is?
- Oh, Crap!: The moment the humans realize that RIPLEY, being forced to self-destruct, means she moves the target from Philadelphia, PA to Washington, DC — where they're all standing.
- A more subtle one when Bill Carter recognizes the voice of the A.I. battling R.I.P.L.E.Y.
- One Degree of Separation: One of RIPLEY's detractors mentions the "six degrees of separation" theory—that everybody is connected and all it takes to find these connections is a thorough enough research, which RIPLEY can pull off, and would turn one actual terrorist or suspected terrorist into an immense web of people who are suspected of terrorism for no good reason other than having the faintest connection to the one that started it. Most unfortunately for the project supervisors, RIPLEY's search into Will's connections then escalates so far as reaching them, so RIPLEY sees them as threats.
- Overreacting Airport Security: Invoked by the government on purpose to catch Will and Annie.
- Playful Hacker: Will, except he was trying to be a reformed Playful Hacker.
- Schmuck Bait: RIPLEY has a sexy female voice and her avatar online is a hot winking woman who repeats "Play with me, baby, play with me." This is how RIPLEY lures in potential terrorists.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: RIPLEY has one that turns up when she feels threatened.
- Shout-Out: Dennis' screensaver is the main screen for Stargate SG-1. More accurately it is Stargate Worlds, a now-cancelled MMORPG/Third-Person Shooter. Dennis is seen playing the game in his and Will's introduction.
- Soft Glass: "This is two inch thick, steel-reinforced..." BLAM! One gunshot shatters it.
- Tell Me About My Father: Will to Falken. Turns out that Will's dad was a covert operative that died on a mission and Will never knew. Which makes RIPLEY's reaction (it knows that Will's dad was an operative, but doesn't know that he never told his family, so it assumes that Will and his mother have somehow spent all of this time gathering resources for insurgency) an even bigger case of overkill in perspective.
- Title In: Locations and times throughout the movie.
- Videogame Cruelty Potential: R.I.P.L.E.Y.'s game involves a high application of this—the player bets money that he will be able to produce a certain massive amount of casualties within a certain period of time and the higher the bet, the smaller the time. Will's situation starts when he enters the game to get enough money to spend on a school trip to Canada, and accumulates a record amount of casualties by using chemical warfare (which his mother, because she works at a chemical company, absent-mindedly helps him with). Because, obviously, everybody who has ever played the game on the highest difficulty/reward setting must be a terrorist.
A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.
How about a nice game of chess?