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 science-fiction cult classic - it was an updating of H.G. Wells' 1898 science-fiction novel. The story told of the invasion of hostile Martian spacecrafts shaped like green manta rays with cobra probes. 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):

  • [Note: The film has been copied repeatedly afterwards, especially by the plot of Independence Day (1996). It 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 tale opened with a prologue about our universe (illustrated with colorful matte paintings of the planets of our Solar System). The film's narrator (Cedric Hardwicke) described how all the other planets were inhospitable to the Martians, except for the lush green environment of Earth ("the blue planet") - it was viewed as the perfect place for alien migration: (" ...on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, slowly and surely drawing their plans against us...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")
  • the narrator also spoke about how humanity was unaware that during one summer, Mars' orbit was nearest to Earth: "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"
  • the remainder of the film was set in 1950s Southern California (first in the town of Linda Rosa, about 30 miles from L.A.); a very large cylindrical-shaped, other-worldly object created a fireball and crashed in the San Gabriel Mtns. It caused a minor forest fire, carved out a crater at the site of the impact, and brought many onlookers. It was evident that the object was radioactive. Believing it was some sort of unusual meteorite, some proposed making it a tourist attraction: ("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")
  • two nearby residents were intrigued, along with many others: USC library science instructor Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin)
  • while investigating the crash, Sylvia became the love-interest of heroic scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) of the Pacific Technical Institute (PTI) who arrived at the scene
  • when the 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 three men guarding the site, who were holding up a white flag as they approached

Cobra-Like Probe

End of Probe: Flashing Red Eye

Menacing Eye

Heat Ray Disintegrating Three Men

Scorched Bodies - Only Ashes Remaining

Massive Heat Blast Vaporizing a Car Carrying a Deputy
  • immediately, there were further signs of trouble in the area surrounding the site - there was a power outage and lack of telephone service (and wristwatches also stopped); a more massive heat-ray vaporized the car carrying a deputy as he attempted to flee. Dr. Forrester theorized: "I think that gizmo is a machine from another planet." Other fireballs were seen - and when there were reports that cylindrical objects were landing elsewhere around the world, and more heat-ray attacks by the long-necked probes were occurring, the military was called in. Chief scientist Forrester speculated about the Martian creatures and their weaponry.
  • soon after, manta-ray looking, swan-like alien war-machines emerged at each crash or impact site. They were magnetically levitating at low-altitudes and using their cobra-like probes to attack ("It's supported from the ground by rays, probably some form of magnetic flux, like invisible legs"); Sylvia's pacifist uncle Pastor Matthew Collins foolishly walked toward the war-machines, reciting the 23rd Psalm ("...And I will dwell in the house of the Lord - forever"), and was rapidly destroyed (off-screen)
  • barrages of artillery and missile fire were ineffective and "useless" against the 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"; the probes zapped objects with green disintegration heat rays throughout the Los Angeles area (and elsewhere in the world) to attempt to destroy civilization. These other-worldly weapons were capable of burning, melting, and vaporizing weapons and soldiers
  • after Sylvia and Dr. Forrester crash-landed in a military plane during an escape attempt, they sought refuge in an abandoned farmhouse. As they talked, Forrester presented a foreshadowing prediction: "If they're mortal, they must have mortal weaknesses. They'll be stopped... somehow." The farmhouse were soon surrounded and buried by a nearby crash-landing of several more alien cylinders. The two hid as three floating war-machines hovered nearby, and one of them sent out a long tentacled probe - a tri-colored "electronic eye," that peered in through a window ("Like a television camera. It's looking for us")

Cylinder Crash-Landed at Farmhouse

Tri-Colored Electronic Eye of Martian Tentacled Probe

Brief Glimpse of Purple Martian Alien

Probe Spotting Sylvia

Fingered Alien Hand on Sylvia's Shoulder

Close-Up of Alien

Dr. Forrester Defended Sylvia in Abandoned Farmhouse

The Farmhouse Was Incinerated by Floating War-Machines
  • Sylvia caught a brief glimpse of one of the green-eyed, purple Martian aliens (a hideous crab-like biped) that had emerged from a war-machine and was exploring, presumably a Martian crewman. Then, she was spotted by the "electronic eye" probe - Forrester defended her by smashing it with an axe, and it withdrew its 'beheaded' tentacle; then as they turned their backs and were removing debris blocking their exit, in a scary moment, the alien Martian placed its creepy, tentacled and fingered hand on Sylvia's left shoulder. Again, Forrester sprung into action - he blinded it 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 scream. They fled just before the house was incinerated by the hovering war machine
  • in the film's next section, the warring invaders began an assault on Earth, and destroyed everything that resisted by employing protective force-fields. The dropping of an A-bomb was ineffective - one of the Martian flying machines with a force-field, seen in a binocular view, emerged unscathed from a cloud of dust. One of the military generals, Maj. General Mann (Les Tremayne) was dismayed: "Guns, tanks, bombs - they're like toys against them!" Soon, Los Angeles was evacuated as the Martians were proceeding to conquer the world, and mobs of people panicked during their flight
  • miraculously, the Martian flying ships began to collapse throughout the world; outside a church in SoCal where Sylvia and Clayton were reunited, the aliens were dying
The Martian Creatures Suddenly Stopped and Were Dying
  • the film ended in an uplifting scene with survivors standing on a hillside thankfully singing hymns; the Martian threat fell prey to bacterial infection (an ironic twist), described by the 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"

The Hospitable Earth Environment For Martian Migration

Fireball Object in the Sky

The Crash Impact Site

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

Deadly Heat Rays Were Emitted From Cobra-Like Probes

Floating Alien War-Machines Emerged From Crater Impact Sites

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

The Manta-Ray War Machines Were Protected by Force-Shields

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

A Soldier Was Vaporized

Worldwide Destruction - an Attack on Eiffel Tower

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

Green Flying Saucers with Long Necked Heat Ray Weapons and Tremendous Fire Power Assaulted Los Angeles


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