The War of the Worlds (1953) - Rotten Tomatoes

The War of the Worlds1953

The War of the Worlds (1953)



Critic Consensus: Though it's dated in spots, The War of the Worlds retains an unnerving power, updating H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi tale to the Cold War era and featuring some of the best special effects of any 1950s film.

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Movie Info

Earth is under attack in the chilling Cold War classic "The War of the Worlds" (1953). In one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, invaders from another world target a small California town with autonomous probes and laser disintegration rays. A terrifying vision of an America under siege based on the novel by H.G. Wells starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson and Les Tremayne and featuring Academy Award-winning special effects. This special Collector's Edition includes a making-of documentary, Orson Welles' original Mercury Theatre Radio Broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" and more. With a French language track.

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Lewis Martin
as Pastor Matthew Collins
Sandro Giglio
as Dr. Bilderbeck
William Phipps
as Wash Perry
Paul Birch
as Alonzo Hogue
Jack Kruschen
as Salvatore
Vernon Rich
as Col. Heffner
Paul H. Frees
as Radio Announcer
Gene Barry
as Dr. Clayton Forrester
Ann Robinson
as Sylvia Van Buren
Les Tremayne
as Maj. Gen. Mann
Carolyn Jones
as Bird-Brained Blonde
Houseley Stevenson Jr.
as General's Aide
Nancy Hale
as Young Wife
Walter Sande
as Sheriff Bogany
Alex Frazer
as Dr. Hettinger
Ann Codee
as Dr. DuPrey
Ivan Lebedeff
as Dr. Gratzman
Frank Kreig
as Fiddler Hawkins
Ned Glass
as Well-dressed Man During Looting
Russ Conway
as Rev. Bethany
Cliff Clark
as Australian Policeman
Edward Colmans
as Spanish Priest
David McMahon
as Minister
Freeman Lusk
as Secretary of Defense
Don Kohler
as Colonel
Sydney Mason
as Fire Chief
Peter Adams
as Lookout
Ted Hecht
as KGEB Reporter
Teru Shimada
as Japanese Diplomat
Herbert C. Lytton
as Chief of Staff
Ralph Dumke
as Buck Monahan
Edgar Barrier
as Prof. McPherson
Wally Richard
as Reporter
Jerry James
as Reporter
Ralph Montgomery
as Red Cross Leader
Russ Bender
as Dr. Carmichael
Douglas Henderson
as Staff Sergeant
Anthony Warde
as MP Driver
Bud Wolfe
as Big Man
Jimmie Dundee
as Civil Defense Official
William Meader
as P.E. Official
Al Ferguson
as Police Chief
Gus Taillon
as Elderly Man
Dorothy Vernon
as Elderly Woman
Hugh Allen
as Brigadier General
Stanley Orr
as Marine Major
Charles Stewart
as Marine Captain
Fred Zendar
as Marine Lieutenant
Jim Davies
as Marine Commanding Officer
Dick Fortune
as Marine Captain
Edward Wahrman
as Cameraman
Martin Coulter
as Marine Sergeant
Hazel Boyne
as Screaming Woman
Cora Shannon
as Old Woman
Mike Mahoney
as Young Man
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Critic Reviews for The War of the Worlds

All Critics (34) | Top Critics (5)

As the perfect crystallization of 50s ideology the film would be fascinating enough, but the special effects in this 1953 George Pal production also achieve a kind of dark, burnished apocalyptic beauty.

June 8, 2007

War of the Worlds is a socko science-fiction feature, as fearsome as a film as was the Orson Welles 1938 radio interpretation of the H.G. Wells novel.

June 8, 2007 | Full Review…

Mind those heat rays!

October 31, 2006 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Too bad about the wooden cast, the tackily conventional romance, and a draggy religious message; but at least, given the time it was made, it isn't imbued with Cold War hysteria.

January 26, 2006 | Full Review…
Top Critic

A half-century after its creation, the film's best moments are still so enjoyably unnerving that they easily carry a viewer through the necessary but inevitably dated exposition.

December 6, 2005

This isn't a "humanity fights aliens" movie; it's an "aliens as natural disaster" movie. The aliens are less an invading threat than an unstoppable force majeure.

September 2, 2020 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds is probably one of the most famous and influential science fiction stories in literature. The story has spawned films, radio dramas, TV adaptations, comic adaptations, videogames and even a record album. One of the lesser known works highly influenced by Wells work would be 'The Tripods' by John Christopher. This itself was adapted into a BBC TV series in 1984 which has since developed a strong cult following. Of course the most infamous adaptation was a live radio broadcast narrated by Orson Wells in 1938. The story was presented in a news broadcast fashion which in turn led to many many listeners actually thinking it was real. Can't blame them really, if you think about it back then the radio was all people had. No internet, very little television, and what was on TV would have been extremely limited. So if a serious sounding news bulletin comes on informing you about destruction from unidentified objects, chances are you'd believe it. But its this 1953 movie that is probably the most well known adaptation of Wells story the world over. Not only was this a loose but solid adaptation of the book, it was also an excellent science fiction film in its own right. For the time this movie was groundbreaking with its special effects, effects that earned the team an Academy Award in 1954. What is incredible is looking back you'd think the effects would be pretty hokey these days (much like many sci-fi movies of the era), but surprisingly they still hold up relatively well. Of course the film is adorably cheesy and quaint, can't avoid that. The feature begins with the typically standard 1950's sci-fi narration accompanied with black and white stock footage. This footage shows us military technology as it progresses through the years, mainly through both world wars. It then cuts to colour with the movies title and then to a series of matte paintings of every known planet in our solar system. The narrator (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) informs us about each planet and its hostile environment, basically why the martian invaders would want Earth (but how would the narrator know this? Is the movie a story being told to someone by the narrator? Is the whole ordeal a flashback?). Anyway my point being the film unfortunately still relies on stock footage but also includes some lovely matte paintings. The meat of the effects comes with the alien invaders themselves, although there were issues. Obviously for starters we all know the classic look of the Martian machines, huge towering tripods. Well at the time the effects crew had problems trying to create the three-legged machines so it was decided to alter the design. I have never really been happy with this look though, I realise there were technical limitations at the time so I'm not angry or anything, but the Martian machines just looked awful in my opinion. They essentially looked like a hovering, crescent shaped platform with a long periscope sticking out on top. They never really looked intimidating to me, more flimsy and fragile, and the green colour scheme was just ugly. To make matters worse (in my humble opinion) the effects team did actually include the tripod legs...only they were force field legs and invisible. If you strain hard enough you can actually see the imprints (with a small pyrotechnic touch) in the ground as the machines move. Alas these look more like small explosions from shells or whatever than imprints from tripod legs. You can also see the wires holding the machines up in some scenes, which was amusing. Indeed the chaos and destruction seen on the movies posters are well imagined in the film. The model Martian machines slowly hover down city streets (some live action, some models), their wires quivering. At every opportunity they unleash their devastating heat-rays from their cobra shaped periscopic eyes. Brilliant flashes of white heat that reduce damn near everything to rubble. Oddly though, at first the heat-rays reduce military equipment, vehicles and men to either piles of white or black charred ash (or just nothing at all). Yet when they take to the city streets the same doesn't seem to happen to buildings, they just crumble and catch fire. Theoretically there should be nothing left standing other than mounds of charred ash. Everything you see is a frantic blur of various effects such as superimposing, models, stock footage, matte paintings etc...That along with the terrific sounds effects for the alien weaponry (think [i]Star Trek: TOS[/i] photon torpedoes) and you have some great sequences of action. The actual aliens themselves were a real achievement also. The level of detail on the rubber puppet was incredible for the time. It had veins, skin texture, skin folds, and it was moist which gave it a more realistic 'living' look. Sure they look silly now but considering this was all done in 53 its extremely impressive for the time. I think the one main visual flaw for me was the ridiculous looking, large three-hued (red, green and blue) eye they had. The actual shape of the aliens body, their short stocky torsos with long thin arms and three thin suction cup fingers, was all perfect, quite scary for the time. The sequence where Dr. Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson) are holed up in an abandoned house, only to be met by one of the little aliens during the night, was executed excellently. I'm very sure that had viewers screaming back in the day. But alas that big colourful bug eye looked like a kids toy from the 80's. It was neat to give the aliens this unique vision, but the three coloured lens sections looked a bit daft to me. Of course this being 50's America you know it wouldn't take long before the Yanks would break out their Atomic weaponry. Although lets be fair here, the humans get their asses handed to them on a plate. But there is a really effective build in tension as the Americans blast the aliens with everything they have, including nukes. But still the Martian machines keep coming, protected by their amusing bell jar shaped force fields. Eventually the military leaders realise they cannot stop the invaders, the fate of the human race lies in Gods hands (not literally). Its actually quite a haunting solemn moment. This again leads to another element of the film I don't really like. After getting separated the main duo (Forrester and Buren) meet up again in a church (now in LA). The Martian machines loom down on the church as they tear through the streets, nothing can stand in their way, not even the house of God. But low and behold just before they are about to destroy the church, the alien crafts falter and come crashing down. Of course I'm sure everyone knows why now, but the fact that its implied there may have been divine intervention from up above that saved the Earth (and that church) is somewhat off-putting. The idea that bacteria infected and killed the Martians was always a brilliant move, genius. Its also perfectly normal to accept that if something like this did happen in reality, there would of course be a lot of religious rhetoric flying around no doubt. But to end this exceptional sci-fi on the notion that mankind was kinda saved by God just sours the fun. Whilst I recognise the brilliance of this film in everything it achieves, I can't quite bring myself to say its a perfect movie. Yes it is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made and it does still hold up today, but the few issues I have with this adaptation I cannot ignore. I think the main peeve for me will always be the look of the Martian machines, I just can't stand the fact they don't have tripod legs. Any imagery you see of towering alien tripods is just so instantly recognisable and evocative, it pains me that they are absent in this film. Nevertheless there is a good balance between the action and exposition scenes. Its not bogged down and boring, its actually a really tense and eerie affair, and you do genuinely care about the main cast (all of which do sterling work I might add). End of the day despite its small flaws, this is an absolute must see for all ages.

Phil Hubbs
Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer


Extremely dated with mind-numbingly wooden acting. Some of the special effects are kinda nice to look at but their is not enough set pieces to hide the thin and uninspired pseudo-documentary screenplay. The religious overtone that comes out of nowhere in the end is face-palmingly over-the-top. The characters are cardboard cut-outs and the pacing is slower than the flying saucers. The aliens look atrociously silly because of their eyes which look like glowing "Simon-Says" toys. Not quite sure why this dumb excuse for a popcorn flick is considered a classic. However I will give the movie credit, it gave me and my friends some great laughs.

Christopher Heim
Christopher Heim

Super Reviewer


Could not help but contrast the original to the Spielberg/Cruise version. Besides the difference that fifty years make, the original film focuses more on the alien takeover of the planet and their aggression, rather than on the emotional aspects of survival that the latter film made the central point. This version does follow a scientist and his female colleague as they try to combat deadly otherworld weaponry with everything from tanks to the atom bomb, all of which are obliterated by the superior beings' lasers and firing mechanisms. Instead of leaving us in the dark to the world's whereabouts like the remake, the original holds a British narration and stock footage from World War Two to show the world spectrum and the devastation that's being caused. The Technicolor contrast was crisp, the color reminiscent of museum dioramas. Still, the film doesn't deal with any real human fears or struggle for survival until the last twenty minutes of the film, once all options are exhausted and hysteria takes hold, making mobs out of the remaining citizens of large metropolises. There are some heart wrenching sequences, but it was very long-winded and boring in the beginning, which can't be made up for. Plus, the female heroine of the film is described as intelligent with a Masters in library sciences, but when trouble comes a calling she shrieks, puts her hand to her temple, and flashes her false eyelashes up at any macho hunk nearby. And the ending, which I won't give away, feels like a blatant copout. It's a quick fix to a problem that's supposedly so big it's unstoppable. There are also many religious overtones as a ploy, unlike the book written by H.G. Wells, a speculated atheist. Still, it was enjoyable as long as I paid attention to the alien ships and not the tiresome humans.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

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