WarGames (1983) was written at a time when computers where making the initial transition from the military and business world into children's rooms and basements. The world really was on the brink of annihilating itself with nuclear arms.
It might be hard to believe but the movie was quite remarkable and accurate for its time. As someone who has been into computers since I was 5 (1981), had a computer at home since then and now work as a computer system administrator, I'd like to give some insight into what makes this movie so great.
Coming to terms
I think one of the great things that this movie does is introduce the technologies to the audience properly and accurately for the most part. Jennifer is kinda the role of the audience's liaison.
Its not like today where practically every crime drama has a computer center has its own custom operating system that looks futuristic and can do things and interface with things that aren't realistic. In WarGames the computers can only do what they could at the time. You have to wait for the text to be sent to the screen character by character. You have to put the phone on the old modem coupling device. The speech synthesis device is one of the real ones.
Showing the lost generation
A more subtle thing that this movie shows is the transition at the time and how computers had a sort of secret history between 1950 and 1980. There were many great things done during that time that often go unrecognized. For instance, they show how Stephen Falken did a lot of original research, experiments and wrote a whole simulation system during this time frame, but is now largely forgotten.
Its also a good nod that David's computer is more of 70s technology (IMSAI 8080) than the more off the shelf consumer oriented computers of the 80s like a Commodore 64. Also, David uses an 8" floppy disc.
At some points in the movie I feel like the camera man just walked directly into a real office, military complex or someone's home. So many of the characters have depth to them. For instance when David visits Jim and Melvin at the corporate computer center, they have some little disagreements with them about how Melvin acts rudely and insensitively and is trying to curb that behavior. Those two characters are so much like computer professionals at the time that I could swear they pulled them right out of real life jobs.
David, the cracker
They don't even refer to David as a cracker or hacker as people like to say because those terms weren't even commonplace enough at the time. But the portrayal of David is remarkable. The movie shows what a determined cracker is willing to go through to get into the system, completely oblivious to what hot water he is about to get into.
Probably the best line said in the movie is when David says "I don't think there is any system that can't be broken into". This is very true. One of the first things you have to come to terms with in the world of security is that, no matter what you do, if someone is determined to access something they are not supposed to, they will eventually find a way to access it. No matter what you do.
The use of Joshua as the password of the program writer is brilliant. So many people in real life use names or ages of family members in their passwords, even computer people. This also shows how David, being as determined as he was, was able to uncover enough information to break in.
An unlikely story? Not really. There have been at least two screwups at NORAD where the computer gave false alarms of a Soviet attack due to bad human-computer interaction. Also, you kids around the world are constantly trying to break into computers. This has been occurring since practically the first computer became available to someone in their home.
People unfamiliar with the computer world may brush this movie off as some 80s fantasy film, but it is quite accurate. Of all the computer oriented movies I've seen (which is practically all of them), WarGames is the best and still holds to that today.