War Of The Worlds Wiki
The War of the Worlds
Film poster The War of the Worlds 1953.jpg


Byron Haskin


George Pál


Barré Lyndon

Based on

The War of the Worlds 1898 novel by H.G. Wells


Gene Barry
Ann Robinson
Les Tremayne
Bob Cornthwaite
Sandro Giglio
Lewis Martin
Housely Stevenson, Jr.
Paul Frees
Bill Phipps
Vernon Rich
Henry Brandon
Jack Kruschen
Sir Cedric Hardwicke


Leith Stevens

Production Company

Paramount Pictures


Paramount Pictures

Release Date

August 14, 1953


85 minutes

The War of the Worlds is a 1953 film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.

The film's story is updated to the 1950s and transported to Los Angeles, California. In addition, several other liberties were taken with the story. For example, the film does not feature the satire that Wells utilized much in Book Two of the novel. The novel's main character of an unnamed narrator were split between a main character named Dr. Clayton Forrester and a narrator who provides only an occasional commentary; whereas the Martians were depicted as small, brown, hulkish bipeds.

The film has a rather long history since Paramount secured the rights in the 1920s. Five unproduced scripts were written. Cecil B. DeMille was the first choice to direct. Sometime in the 1930s legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was approached to direct, as was Sergei Eisenstein. Even Ray Harryhausen had considered making an adaptation, set in the book's original period, even going as far as making sketches and test reel. However, the project did not get off the ground until DeMille handed it off to George Pál.


In southern California, Dr. Clayton Forrester, a scientist who had worked on the Manhattan Project, is fishing with colleagues when a large object crashes near the town of Linda Rosa. At the impact site, he meets Sylvia Van Buren and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins. Later that day, the "cylinder" opens and the inhabitants of the ship kill a welcoming party, simultaneously shutting down all technology in the town with an electromagnetic pulse. The United States military surrounds the crash site in battle formation as reports pour in of identical objects landing all over the world and destroying cities. Collins attempts to make peace with the Mor-Taxans before being killed himself. The Mor-Taxan war machines effortlessly defeat the military with a "Heat-Ray".

Attempting to escape, Forrester and Sylvia hide in an abandoned farm house. They begin to develop romantic feelings for each other before the house is buried by yet another cylinder. They encounter and dismember an "electronic eye" from the Mor-Taxan machine, and collect a blood sample from a Mor-Taxan wounded by Forrester to protect Sylvia. They manage to sneak away from the aliens without being seen. Many of the major capitals of the world are destroyed in the attacks and the United States government makes the decision to use nuclear weapons against the invaders. Forrester brings the Mor-Taxan camera and blood samples to his team at Pacific Tech, with hope they can study the technology. An attempt to destroy a camp of Martians by nuclear strike fails due to the integrity of their shields, but Forrester remains hopeful they can fight the Martians by studying the blood.

As the Mor-Taxans advance on Los Angeles, with nothing left to fight them, the city is evacuated and many of the inhabitants are forced to live in the wilderness. Forrester, Sylvia and the Pacific Tech team are split apart by looters and their scientific equipment is stolen or destroyed. Forrester searches for Sylvia in the city while the Mor-Taxans cause widespread destruction. Based on a story she had told him earlier, he deduces that she would be hiding in a church. After searching through a couple of churches, he finds Sylvia in the third among many praying survivors. Just as the Mor-Taxans strike the church, their machines suddenly crash. Forrester believes the pilot of one such machine dead, and notes that they were "all praying for a miracle". It is revealed by the radio announcer/narrator that while the Mor-Taxans were impervious to humanity's weapons, they had "...no resistance to the bacteria in our atmosphere to which we have long since become immune. Once they had breathed our air, germs, which no longer affect us, began to kill them. The end came swiftly. All over the world, their machines began to stop and fall. After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth..."

Differences Between Book and Movie[]

As noted by Caroline Blake, the film is very different from the original novel in its attitude toward religion, as reflected especially in the depiction of clergymen as characters. "The staunchly secularist Wells depicted a cowardly and thoroughly uninspiring Curate, whom the narrator regards with disgust, with which the reader is invited to concur. In the film there is instead the sympathetic and heroic Pastor Collins who dies a martyr's death. And then the film's final scene in the church, strongly emphasizing the Divine nature of Humanity's deliverance, has no parallel in the original book."

Pal's adaptation has many other notable differences from H. G. Wells' novel. The closest resemblance is probably that of the antagonists. The film's aliens invade Earth for the same reasons as those stated in the novel (the state of Mars suggests that it is in the final stages of being able to support life, leading to the Martians decision to make Earth their new home). They land in the same way, by crashing to the Earth. However, the novel's spacecraft are large cylinder-shaped projectiles fired from the Martian surface from some kind of cannon, instead of the film's meteorite-spaceships; but the aliens emerge from their craft in the same way, by unscrewing a large, round hatch. They appear to have no use for humans in the film. In the novel, however, the invaders are observed "feeding" on humans by fatally transfusing their captives' blood supply directly into Martian bodies by using pipettes; there is also a later speculation about the Martians eventually using trained human slaves to hunt down all remaining survivors after they have conquered Earth. In the film the Mor-Taxans do not bring a fast-growing red weed with them, but they are defeated by Earth microorganisms, as observed in the novel. However, they fall into suspended animation from the effects of the microorganisms within three days of the landing of the first meteorite-ship; in the novel the Martians die within about three weeks of their invasion of England.

The Mor-Taxans themselves bear no physical resemblance to the novel's Martians, who are described as bear-sized, roundish creatures with brown bodies, "merely heads", with quivering beak-like, V-shaped mouths dripping saliva; they have sixteen whip-like tentacles in two groupings of eight arranged on each side of their mouths and two large "luminous, disk-like eyes". Due to budget constraints, their film counterparts are short, reddish-brown creatures with two long, thin arms with three long, thin fingers with suction cup tips. The Martian's "head", if it can be called that, is a broad "face" at the top-front of its broad shouldered upper torso, the only apparent feature of which is a single large eye with three distinctly colored lenses (red, blue, and green). The Martians' lower extremities, whatever they may be, are never shown. (Some speculative designs for the creature suggest the idea of three thin legs resembling their fingers, while others show them as bipeds with short, stubby legs with three-toed feet.)

The film's Mor-Taxan war machines do actually have more of a resemblance than they may seem at first glance. The novel's machines are 10-story tall tripods and carry the heat-ray projector on an articulated arm connected to the front of the war machine's main body. The film's machines are shaped like manta rays, with a bulbous, elongated green window at the front, through which the Martians observe their surroundings. On top of the machine is the cobra head-like heat-ray attached to a long, narrow, goose-neck extension. They can be mistaken for flying machines, but Forrester states that they are lifted by "invisible legs"; in one scene, when the first machine emerges, you can see faint traces of three energy legs beneath and three sparking traces where the three energy shafts touch the burning ground. Therefore, technically speaking, the film's war machines are indeed tripods, though they are never given that designation. Whereas the novel's war machines had no protection against British army and navy cannon fire, the film's war machines have a force field surrounding them; this invisible shield is described by Forrester as a "protective blister".

The alien weaponry is also partially unchanged. The heat-ray has the very same effect as that of the novel. However, the novel's heat-ray mechanism is briefly described as just a rounded hump when first seen in silhouette rising above the landing crater's rim; it fires an invisible energy beam in a wide arc while still in the pit made by the first Martian cylinder after it crash-lands. The film's heat-ray projector when first seen is shaped like a cobra's head and has a single, red pulsing "eye", which likely acts like a targeting telescope for the aliens inside their manta ray-like war machine. The novel describes another weapon, the "black smoke" used to kill all life; the war machines fire canisters containing a black smoke-powder through a bazooka-like tube accessory. When dispersed, this black powder is lethal to all life forms who breathe it. This weapon is replaced in the film by a Martian "skeleton beam", green pulsing bursts fired from the wingtips of the manta-ray machines; these bursts break apart the sub-atomic bonds that hold matter together on anything they touch. These skeleton beams are used off screen to obliterate several French cities.

The plot of the film is very different from the novel, which tells the story of a 19th-century writer (with additional narration in later chapters by his medical student younger brother), who journeys through Victorian London and its southwestern suburbs while the Martians attack, eventually being reunited with his wife; the film's protagonist is a California scientist who falls in love with a former college student after the Martian invasion begins. However, certain points of the film's plot are similar to the novel, from the crash-landing of the meteorite-ships to their eventual defeat by Earth's microorganisms. Forrester also experiences similar events like the book's narrator: an ordeal in a destroyed house, observing an actual Martian up close, and eventually reuniting with his love interest at the end of the story. The film is given more of a Cold War theme with its use of the Atomic Bomb against the enemy and the mass-destruction that such a global war would inflict on mankind.



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