Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The War of the Worlds (1953)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The War of the Worlds (1953)

In director Byron Haskin's and producer George Pal's brilliantly-Technicolored science-fiction cult classic - Paramount Studios' movie was an updating of H.G. Wells' 1898 science-fiction novel (publicized by Orson Welles' infamous narrated radio play of late October, 1938 that scared the world), revising it from its original setting in Victorian England (in the late 1800s), to Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

It has been considered the definitive Martian alien-invasion film, with a vivid depiction of the invasion of the Earth by Martians, and the resilient efforts of Americans to fight back. The story told of the invasion of hostile Martian spacecrafts shaped like green manta rays with cobra probes, and the efforts of US scientist Doctor Clayton Forrester to combat the determination of the alien invaders to spread and conquer the world.

It was the winner of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for its spectacular state-of-the-art visual F/X, and had two other nominations (Best Film Editing and Best Sound). This was the first visual effects-laden "popcorn" film, featuring vibrant color special effects, and the partial destruction of various cities and landmarks, including the famous Los Angeles Courthouse Building, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Taj Mahal in India, etc.

The film has been copied repeatedly afterwards, and has created a major sub-genre of sci-fi alien invasion films - with numerous remakes, re-imaginings and homages. The most prominent film in the sub-category was Independence Day (1996). The 1953 film was remade by Steven Spielberg as the spectacular War of the Worlds (2005) - an updated version with disaster film elements and a post-9/11 mentality, about sinister attacking aliens from the perspective of divorced father Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) with two children in the New York area -- with haunting recollections of the 9/11 nightmare.

  • the terrorizing film of alien invasion opened with a black and white prologue by a pre-titles Narrator (Paul Frees) - a Radio Reporter; a montage told about our war-torn universe as a result of our most recent Second World War, and the possibility for a new "War of the Worlds": "In the first World War, and for the first time ever in the history of man, nations combined to fight against nations, using the crude weapons of those days. The second World War involved every continent on the globe. And men turned to science for new devices of warfare which reached an unparalleled peak in their capacity for destruction. And now, fought with the terrible weapons of super-science, menacing all mankind and every creature on Earth, comes THE WAR OF THE WORLDS" - the title screen and title credits appeared (the text was seen in various primary colors)
  • then, the film's post-titles Narrator (Cedric Hardwicke) described how "intellects" on the dying Martian planet were enviously eyeing Earth: ("No one would have believed, in the middle of the 20th century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, slowly and surely drawing their plans against us. Mars is more than 140 million miles from the Sun. And for centuries, it has been in the last stages of exhaustion. At night, temperatures drop far below zero, even at its equator. The inhabitants of this dying planet looked across space with instruments and intelligences of which we have scarcely dreamed, searching for another world to which they could migrate")
  • in detail, the Narrator - aided by colorful matte paintings during a tour of the planets of our Solar System, eloquently (in voice-over) described how all the other planets were inhospitable and uninhabitable to the Martians, except for the lush green environment of Earth ("the blue planet") - it was viewed as the perfect place for alien migration; he described how the Martians had already looked at other undesirable planets as options - Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury (Venus wasn't included) - but that "of all the worlds that the intelligences on Mars could see and study, only our own warm Earth was green with vegetation, bright with water, and possessed a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility"
  • the Narrator concluded by noting how humanity was completely complacent and unaware of the attack that was coming: "It did not occur to mankind that a swift fate might be hanging over us, or that from the blackness of outer space, we were being scrutinized - and studied"; then, during one "pleasant summer season," Mars' orbit was nearest to Earth
  • a very large and long cylindrical-shaped, other-worldly object created a fireball that sailed across the summer night's sky; patrons in early 1950s Southern California (in the fictitious town of Linda Rosa in early 1950 Southern California, about 30 miles from L.A.) who were outside a showing of Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949) remarked that it might be a comet
  • the bright object crashed in the San Gabriel Mtns. near a forest lookout station at Pine Summit about 10-12 miles away from Linda Rosa; it caused a minor forest fire that was quickly extinguished; nuclear scientist and professor Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) of the Pacific Institute - the film's hero figure - whose fishing trip was interrupted by the incident, was summoned to the scene to investigate the crash
  • the meteor, described as "big as a house and practically red-hot," carved out a small crater at the site of the impact, and brought many onlookers; believing it was some sort of unusual meteorite, three of four individuals (who later served as overnight guards at the site) proposed making it a profitable tourist attraction: ("It will be a real good attraction for Sunday drivers. Better than a lion farm or a snake pit. We won't have to feed it. Sure. We can sell tamales and enchiladas and hot dogs, too! Yeah! Ice cream, cold drinks, souvenirs. I think we should put up a few picnic tables...It will be like having a gold mine in our own back yard")
  • two nearby residents (first seen at the movie theatre) were also intrigued, along with many others, including USC library science instructor Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin); Sylvia spoke to Dr. Forrester on the site, and without knowing who he was, she complimented him as a "top man in astro and nuclear physics" who had appeared on the cover of Time Magazine; Forrester downplayed her glowing assertions: "He isn't that good...I do know him, slightly" and then identified himself to her
  • it was evident by Forrester's beeping Geiger Counter ("ticking like a bomb") that the object (and the whole area) was radioactive, and it was recommended to evacuate the area and post deputies; Forrester planned to make a further study of the site after the 'meteor' cooled off within 24 hours; in the meantime, he was invited to stay overnight in the nearby home of Sylvia and Pastor Collins and attended a Saturday evening square dance at the social hall with them

Middle of Night at Crash Site of Radioactive Object

Three Overnight Guards: Alonzo Hogue (Paul Birth), Salvatore (Jack Kruschen), and Wash Perry (William Phipps)

Hatch-Cover Unscrewing Itself and Falling Away
  • later in the evening, after the manhole-cover-like hatch on the strange radioactive object unscrewed itself and opened, a metallic Martian weapon of some kind (a long-necked, cobra-like probe with a flashing red eye) emitted a deadly heat ray that scorched and disintegrated the three men guarding the site, who were holding up a white flag symbol of peace as they approached; the three victims were Alonzo Hogue (Paul Birth), Salvatore (Jack Kruschen), and Wash Perry (William Phipps)

Long-Necked, Metallic Cobra-Like Probe Peering Out of Opened Cover of Martian Alien Spacecraft

Closeup of the End of the Probe: A Pulsating and Flashing Red Eye

Cobra Probe Noticing the Three Men Approaching With a White Flag

Menacing Eye - The Tentacled Cobra-Snake-like Heat Ray Probe Targeting the Three Men

Heat Ray Disintegrating the Trio of Men

Three Scorched Bodies - Only Ashes Remained
  • immediately, there were further signs of trouble in the area surrounding the site; at the square dance, there was a power outage and lack of telephone service, and due to the effects of magnetization at the site, wrist-watches stopped; at the dance Forrester noticed that a compass - rather than pointing north - was pointing toward the gully where the meteor came down; another forest fire in the gulley was sparked by the death ray
  • Dr. Forrester joined Sheriff Bogany (Walter Sande) and his Deputy (Henry Brandon) to visit the site; a more massive heat-ray vaporized the car carrying the Deputy as he panicked and attempted to flee, while Forrester and the Sheriff took shelter behind some boulders; Dr. Forrester theorized to the Sheriff: "I think that gizmo is a machine from another planet"; another major 'meteor' fireball was seen in the sky that landed in the same vicinity about midnight, and Forrester recommended notifying the military
  • the military was called in from nearby El Toro Marine Base to deploy troops; near the site of the first 'meteor,' Professor McPherson (Edgar Barrier) told reporters that more cylindrical objects were landing elsewhere around the world (France, Spain, and Italy); Chief scientist Forrester speculated that the crashes were of an other-worldly origin: ("It seems certain they're from some planet other than our own"), and there were numerous other theories about the appearance of the Martians, and how they might have propelled their "meteor machines" to Earth
  • Forrester, members of the Marines, and a reporter witnessed another heat-ray attack coming from the long-necked probe; the UFO's death-ray machine fired at an Air Force plane above it; tanks, artillery, trucks, and troops arrived from the 6th Army Command, led by Marine Colonel Ralph Heffner (Vernon Rich) to provide containment efforts; the Army found itself "right between" the location of the two meteors, near the town of Linda Rosa; in one of the Army tents, Forrester spoke to Sylvia (who was dutifully carrying a tray of paper cups of coffee to serve the soldiers); moments later, Maj. General Mann (Les Tremayne) entered the tent; it was observed that the widespread alien-foreign spacecraft neutralized or disrupted communication lines wherever they landed
  • another cylinder was reported to have landed near Huntington Beach at the coastline; the latest reports were that there were crash or impact sites randomly located in nations all around the world (South America, Santiago, London, Naples, more in central California, Sacramento, and on Long Island); once the alien objects began to move and destroy areas with their heat-ray waves, news from the areas ceased; it appeared that the alien objects were landing in groups of three, somehow "joined magnetically"
The First of Three Glowing Green, Manta-Ray Looking War-Machines With a Swan or Cobra-Like Probe (With Heat Ray) To Emerge From the Original Crash Site
  • at the original SoCal crash or impact site, the first of three manta-ray looking, glowing-green, swan-like alien war-machines emerged; Forrested described how it was magnetically levitating at low-altitudes and using its cobra-like neck probe to attack: ("It's supported from the ground by rays, probably some form of magnetic flux, like invisible legs. This is amazing! They must keep the opposing poles in balance and lift the machine")
  • as the military prepared to fire, Sylvia's pacifist uncle Pastor Matthew Collins thought they should first try to communicate that they meant no harm: ("Try to communicate with them first, and then shoot later if you have to"); he felt sympathy toward them: "There are living creatures out there...If they're more advanced than us, they should be nearer the Creator for that reason"; by this time, two additional war machines rose up from the crash site, as the Pastor foolishly walked off toward the disc-shaped spacecrafts to offer a peace resolution, reciting the 23rd Psalm: ("...And I will dwell in the house of the Lord - forever"); he was rapidly vaporized by one of the heat-rays and disintegrated (off-screen)
  • to retaliate, barrages of artillery and missile fire were released, but it was soon realized that they were totally ineffective and "useless" against the impenetrable force-field protected Martian war machines, as Dr. Forrester explained: "Those shells can't get through to them. They've put out some sort of electromagnetic covering, a protective blister"; during the fierce battle; the other-worldly, death-ray weapons were capable of burning, melting, disintegrating and vaporizing weapons and soldiers (using conventional military tactics and forces); Forrester recommended retreat to Maj. Gen. Mann: ("This type of defense is useless against that kind of power. You'd better let Washington know, fast!"), so that the Air Force could be deployed; as Col. Heffner ordered everyone to evacuate, he was zapped and vaporized - exposing his glowing skeleton as he disintegrated
  • as part of the retreat effort, Sylvia boarded a single-engine military plane piloted by Dr. Forrester, but while flying low, they clipped trees and crash-landed during their escape attempt from nearby war machines; they frantically ran off to seek shelter

Dr. Forrester Piloting Single-Engine Plan to Evacuate with Sylvia

Crash-Landing to Avoid Nearby War Machines

Forrester Reassuring Sylvia After Plane Crash
  • meanwhile, headlines of newspapers displayed at a newsstand in Los Angeles heralded: "INVASION - Mobilization Efforts Powerless Against the Martian Men," "U.S. INVADED," "MEN FROM MARS! - European Cities Blasted!", "KILLER RAYS!", "MARS MACHINES IN CALIFORNIA! - Fighting Near Los Angeles"; the probes with green disintegration heat rays were rampaging 30 miles from the downtown Los Angeles area in an attempt to destroy civilization, and nowhere in the entire world had they been stopped; many were already evacuating from the city, and cars and busses were being mobilized; Gen. Mann reported that the Air Force's bomber attack had failed ("They were knocked out of the sky and their bombs did nothing. Nothing was effective against them"), due to their protective "electronic umbrella"
  • Forrester and Sylvia had crashed SW of Corona, CA in an already-evacuated area, and briefly rested and slept in a wooded ditch; shortly later, they found refuge in an abandoned farmhouse, stocked with food, as they prepared a meal and talked together, Forrester presented a hopeful, foreshadowing prediction that he would eventually find a way to destroy the Martians: "We'll get out of here safely. Don't worry... If they're mortal, they must have mortal weaknesses. They'll be stopped - somehow"; Sylvia mentioned how when she was a young girl scared and lonesome, she wandered off and became lost, but found safety and security in a church where she was "praying for the one who loved me best to come and find me"; Uncle Matthew was the one who finally located her
  • the farmhouse were nearly demolished and buried by a crash-landing of another alien cylinder; Forrester was struck and temporarily knocked unconscious, but then revived; one of the three swan-like floating death-ray war-machines that surrounded the house and hovered nearby sent out a long tentacled probe - a tri-colored "electronic eye" (a type of camera) on a cable that peered in through a window, as the two hid; Forrester interpreted what it was: ("Like a television camera. It's looking for us")
  • Sylvia caught a brief glimpse of one of the green-eyed, purple Martian aliens (a hideous crab-like biped with long arms) outside that had emerged from one of the war-machines and was exploring, presumably a Martian crewman

The War Machine Extending a Long Tentacled Probe To View the Interior of the House

The Tri-Colored Electronic Eye-Camera at the End of the Martian Tentacled Probe

Sylvia's Brief Glimpse of A Purple, Green-Eyed Martian Alien Outdoors
  • as they attempted to make their way into the attic, the electronic-eye tentacle again entered through an opening in the damaged house and threatened Sylvia; Forrester defended Sylvia by slashing and 'beheading' the tentacle with an axe, causing it to withdraw its tentacled probe and leaving behind its detached 'camera'

3-Colored Camera Probe Again Spotting and Threatening Sylvia Before The Tentacle Was Smashed by Forrester

A Fingered Alien Hand Snuck up on Sylvia and Placed Its Hand on Her Shoulder

Quick View of Alien Creature in the Dark Behind Sylvia

Closeup of Threatening Alien

Alien Covering Its Eye From a Bright Flashlight to Defend Itself Against Forrester

Alien Screaming in Pain As It Fled
  • then as they turned their backs and were removing debris blocking their exit, in a scary moment, an alien Martian crewman placed its creepy, tentacled and spindly-fingered hand on Sylvia's left shoulder; again, Forrester sprung into action - he pulled Sylvia away, blinded the alien with a flashlight, and it responded by trying to cover its tri-colored eye - and then he heaved his axe at it, and it fled with a painful scream
  • as they prepared to flee, Forrester grabbed the amputated eye-probe camera, and Sylvia's blood-splattered scarf, and noticed a vital Martian-blood sample; they made a run for it just before the house was incinerated by the heat-ray of a hovering war machine
  • the post-titles narrator (in voice-over) again summarized what was happening: "The Martians had calculated their descent upon our Earth with amazing perfection and subtlety. As more of their cylinders came from the mysterious depths of space, their war machines, awesome in their power and complexity, created a wave of fear which swept into all corners of the world. In every country, government officials met in desperate conclave, seeking ways to coordinate their defenses with those of other nations....Every effort against the tremendous power of their other-world antagonists ended in the same frantic rout. As the Martians burned fields and forests, and great cities fell before them, huge populations were driven from their homes. Streams of flight rose swiftly to a torrent. It became a giant stampede, without order and without goal. It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, as the massacre of humanity"
  • meanwhile, as more cylinders were deposited throughout the world, political leaders met to discuss ways to meet the threat to the planet as the warring invaders' assault on Earth intensified, effectively blocked all means of communication, and destroyed everything that resisted by employing protective force-fields; from evidence in a sonic radar picture, it was clear that the Martians had created a nest to surround the major city of Los Angeles; military leaders felt that there was no other choice for them other than to drop drop a nuclear A-bomb in the LA area, 10 times stronger than anything previously used: (later, a Radio Reporter (Paul Frees) - the pre-titles Narrator dictated into a recorder: "This will decide the fate of civilization. Whether we live or die...")
  • Forrester and Sylvia were eventually able to leave the Corona area after finding an abandoned truck and driving to his Pacific Insititute of Science and Technology; there, preparations were made to experiment with and dissect the amputated electronic eye that functioned like a human periscope; it could provide information about their metals and optics
  • first, the blood sample was examined by Dr. Dupre (Ann Codee) who determined that the aliens' blood was anemic: ("They may be mental giants, but by our standards, physically, they must be very primitive"); other characteristics included that everything of the Martians was organized into "threes" (i.e., three lenses, three pupils, three cylinders at each site, three war machines in each cylinder, etc.), and that they could be semi-blinded by bright light; a simulation of Martian vision using the electronic eye revealed that Martians perceived color unlike humans, due to a shift in the color spectrum and differences in color absorption
  • while awaiting the detonation of an atomic bomb from a Flying Wing by military leaders, that was planned to target a recently-created nest of cylinders in the Puente Hills area of LA, Dr. Bilderbeck (Sandro Giglio) forecast: "If the A-bomb fails, the Martians can conquer Earth in six days"; Sylvia added: "The same number of days it took to create it"; the nuclear option was ineffective - one of the Martian flying machines with a force-field, seen in a binocular view, emerged unscathed from the mushroom cloud; Maj. General Mann was dismayed: "It didn't stop them. Guns, tanks, bombs - they're like toys against them!"; Dr. Bilderbeck felt defeated: "We're beaten!"

The Mushroom Cloud of the A-Bomb

Binocular View of Ineffective A-Bomb Against the Martian War-Machines

Maj. General Mann: "Guns, tanks, bombs - they're like toys against them"
  • with only six days left until extinction, Forrester's plan was to set up a separate base laboratory in the Rocky Mountains, to develop biological weapons against the Martians: ("We know now that we can't beat their machines. We've got to beat them!")
  • soon after, Los Angelenos were evacuated as the Martians were proceeding to conquer and totally dominate the world; although the mass LA exodus began in an orderly fashion, and evacuees were led to welfare centers in the hills, mobs of people panicked as the evacuation continued; desperate groups of looters in the city sabotaged the Institute's truck (stocked with instruments and tech supplies) driven by Forrester, and his plan for a laboratory was doomed; two military policemen were dismayed: "We can't stop 'em. The law's no good here now. They're thieves, robbers, worse. They wouldn't leave with the rest. It's like this all over!"
Green Flying Saucers with Heat Ray Weapons and Tremendous Fire Power Assaulted Los Angeles
  • Sylvia (on a school bus that was also ransacked and stolen) and Forrester were separated in the chaos of Los Angeles' riots and evacuation during the city's assault; he began to look for her in various churches - places of refuge - because of the story she had told him about her childhood when she was lost and sought shelter in a place of God
  • after locating Sylvia in a bombarded church (with a destroyed stained-glass window and crumbling pillars) and they were reunited as frightened worshippers around them prayed and sang, the alien machines continued to fire at the church
  • but then miraculously, one of the alien ships outside the church lost power and crashed into a neighboring building; Forrester watched as the saucer's door opened and one of the Martian creatures, with its outstretched weakened arm, tried to crawl from the door of its downed heat-ray machine; its arm flopped down as it stopped, turned gray, and expired; other attacking Martian flying ships began to collapse in the city and throughout the world, with dead aliens inside; Forrester noted: "We were all praying for a miracle" - and he looked heavenward as bells chimed

Sylvia and Forrester Reunited in Church
Outside the Church The Martian Creatures Suddenly Stopped Moving and Died
  • the aliens appeared to be decimated and forestalled only by simple, minute, infectious bacterial agents or microbes, created by God; the film ended in an uplifting scene with survivors standing on a hillside thankfully singing hymns - their faith (rather than science) had conquered the threat; the Martians had fallen prey to bacterial infection (an ironic twist), described by the post-titles Narrator who intoned (in voice-over) that God had saved humanity "by the littlest things" --
    • "The Martians 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"

Prologue: The Hospitable Earth - A Perfect Environment For Martian Migration

Fireball Object (A Flaming Meteor?) in the Sky

Patrons at Movie Theatre Watching Skyward

Red Hot Object on the Ground

Onlookers at the Crash Site ("Better than a lion farm or a snake pit")

Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) At the Site

The Crash Impact Site

(l to r): Sylvia, Dr. Forrester, Pastor Collins (Lewis Martin)

At the Site, a Cobra-Like Probe Began to Target Sheriff, Forrester, and Deputy

Massive Heat Blast From Probe Vaporizing Car Carrying the Deputy As He Fled

Deadly Heat Rays Were Emitted From a Green, Cobra-Like Probe At Military Aircraft Above Them

Military Commanders (l to r): Maj. General Mann (Les Tremayne) and Marine Colonel Ralph Heffner (Vernon Rich)

Two Additional Glowing-Green, Floating Alien War-Machines Rose Up From the Original Crater Impact Site

Pacifist Pastor Matthew Collins Vaporized (off-screen) By a Heat Ray

The "Protective Blister" or Force-Shield Surrounding Each War-Machine

Soldiers Vaporized by Heat Ray

A Military War Tank Was Melted and Disintegrated by a Heat Ray

Col. Ralph Heffner Zapped and Vaporized - Revealing a Glowing Skeleton

Scary Newspaper Headlines in Downtown Los Angeles

A Cylinder Crash-Landed Next to the Abandoned Farmhouse

A Death-Ray War Machine Hovering Outside the Demolished Farmhouse

Afterwards, Forrester and Sylvia Fleeing From the Farmhouse As It Was Incinerated by a Floating War-Machine

Depiction of More Martian Cylinders Arriving from Space

The Martians' Amputated Electronic Eye

Analysis of Alien Blood Revealed It Was Anemic

At the Pacific Institute, A Simulation Demonstrated Differences in Martian Vision

Anticipating the A-Bombing, the Martian War Machines Defended Themselves with Their Force Fields

The A-Bomb Failed -- Forrester: "We know now that we can't beat their machines. We've got to beat them!"

Forrester Assaulted in a Pacific Tech Truck Loaded With Supplies

Los Angeles Streets Evacuated - Forrester Searching For and Separated from Sylvia

Attacks Worldwide (Such as at the Eiffel Tower) Ceased


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z