The Philadelphia Experiment is a 1984 science fiction film. It is directed by Stewart Raffill and stars Michael Paré, Bobby Di Cicco, and Nancy Allen and based on the urban legend of the Philadelphia Experiment.
The film is set in 1943 where two sailors, David Herdeg (Paré) and Jim Parker (Di Cicco), are stationed on a ship used for an experiment to make it invisible to radar. However, the experiment goes horribly wrong and the ship completely disappears and Herdeg and Parker find themselves in the Nevada desert in the year 1984. They find out the programme has been revived in 1984, unexpectedly interacting with the experiment in 1943 and putting the entire world in danger.
In 1943 United States Navy sailors, David Herdeg (Michael Paré) and Jim Parker (Bobby Di Cicco), are assigned to the destroyer escort USS Eldridge during a project to make it invisible to radar. The ship is in Philadelphia Harbour, filled with equipment from a team led by James Longstreet (Eric Christmas). During the experiment, the equipment begins malfunctioning. Observers simply see the ship disappear but sailors on board experience a bizarre and disorienting phase shift. David and Jim try to shut down the generator to stop the experiment but receive severe electric shocks when they touch the equipment. The two men jump overboard to escape.
Instead of landing in Philadelphia Harbour during the daytime, David and Jim land during the night in a small desert town, which then disappears as well, leaving them in the dark open desert. They are startled by the appearance of bright light in the sky – it is a military helicopter with a spotlight looking for intruders. They escape into the desert and after walking for miles, they eventually find their way to a roadside diner the next day.
An energy discharge from Jim destroys two arcade games in the diner, and the angry diner owner grabs a revolver, demanding that Jim pay for the damages. David grabs the gun and the men run and carjack a car in the parking lot. Since he is unfamiliar with the automatic transmission, David takes the driver, a woman named Allison (Nancy Allen), as a hostage and driver. They are shocked when she tells them that they are in the year 1984.
The police eventually catch them. Jim, who is suffering increasingly severe seizures, is hospitalized. David explains that he and Jim accidentally travelled through time, but no one believes the story. Jim eventually disappears from his hospital bed in a corona of energy. David and Allison then evade military police, who have arrived to take David into custody.
Jim was from nearby California, so David decides to try to find his family. He and Allison find the family listed in a phone book and drive to see them. Jim’s wife Pamela (Louise Latham), who is now a senior citizen, immediately recognizes David from 1943. She says that the Eldridge had reappeared minutes after disappearing and that a lot of the sailors on board had been horribly burned. Jim had also returned and had been chastised and hospitalized after telling the truth about temporarily visiting 1984. David asks about himself and finds that he never came back. David sees Jim outside a window riding a horse, but Jim, who had slowly come to terms with the bizarre events of 1943, refuses to speak with David. As David and Allison reluctantly leave, they see military police approaching and a high speed chase through Jim’s ranch ensues. The two manage to elude them when the pursuing vehicle crashes and burns. From the burning wreck, David salvages documents mentioning Dr. Longstreet. Recognizing that Longstreet had been involved with the Philadelphia experiment in 1943, David decides to find him. As they spend time together, David and Allison fall in love.
In 1984, Dr. Longstreet has attempted to use the same technologies that were used in the original Philadelphia experiment to create a shield to protect from an ICBM attack. When the equipment was tested, the shielded town disappeared into “hyperspace”, just like USS Eldridge had. The scientists are unable to shut down the experiment, despite cutting the power. Worse, the experiment has left a vortex in 1984, which starts drawing matter into it. The vortex causes extremely unstable and severe weather, including tornadoes and monstrous bolts of lightning. Longstreet predicts that the vortex will continue to expand until the entire world is consumed. The scientists send a probe into the vortex and discover the Eldridge inside; the two experiments have linked together across time. They theorize that the generators on the Eldridge are providing the energy to keep the vortex open.
David captures an assistant at Longstreet’s home and forces the man to take them onto the base, but is captured when they get off the elevator in the control centre. Longstreet tells the military police to let David in and shows him the situation. He tells David that, according to surviving sailors from the Eldridge, the ship returned to Philadelphia in 1943 after David shut down the generator. Longstreet says that David must go through the vortex to the Eldridge and shut off the generator, or the vortex will destroy the Earth.
Allison does not believe Longstreet and urges David not to do it, but he volunteers to go and save his ship and is outfitted with an electrically insulated suit to enable him to shut down the generator. He is catapulted into the vortex and lands on the deck of the Eldridge, where he finds the crew panicked and injured. He hurries to the generator room and smashes arrays of vacuum tubes using a firefighting axe. The generator shuts down and David looks for Jim. Assured that Jim is fine, David jumps over the side of the ship and disappears. Back in 1943, Longstreet and others watch the Eldridge reappear in Philadelphia, and long-range observers note some crewmen are badly burned and others fused alive into the ship’s hull.
Likewise in 1984, the missing town reappears. Allison steals a jeep to drive to it. She finds David and they kiss passionately.
- Michael Paré as David Herdeg.
- Nancy Allen as Allison Hayes.
- Eric Christmas as Dr. James Longstreet.
- Bobby Di Cicco as Jim Parker.
- Louise Latham as Pamela.
- Stephen Tobolowsky as Barney.
- Ralph Manza as Older Jim.
- Kene Holliday as Major Clark.
- Joe Dorsey as Sheriff Bates.
- Michael Currie as Magnussen.
- Gary Brockette as Adjutant / Andrews.
- Debra Troyer as Young Pamela.
- Miles McNamara as Young Longstreet.
- James Edgcomb as Officer Boyer.
- Glenn Morshower as Mechanic.
- Vaughn Armstrong as Cowboy.
Development and Writing
John Carpenter wrote an original draft. He called it a “great shaggy dog story. Absolute bullshit, but what a great story. While I was writing it, I couldn’t figure out the third act. A friend suggested the revenge of the crew against the people who put them there, but I thought it was too much like The Fog.”
Stewart Raffill says by the time he became involved with the film, the script had been rewritten nine times. He agreed to do the film, subject to the next rewrite which he thought was “terrible”. The head of the studio agreed with Raffill’s additions to the script, even though it was only three weeks before filming. “So, he asked if I had ever dictated a screenplay before. I told him I had not. Then he said, “Well, I’m gonna send someone to your house, a girl, every afternoon, and just dictate the story you told me and fill in the dialogue and we’ll make that.” And I said, “Okay.” So that’s what I did.”
Parts of the film were shot in Salt Lake City and Wendover, Utah, Denver, Colorado, Santa Paula, California, and Charleston, South Carolina. The destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724) represented USS Eldridge in the film.
- 1985, Nancy Allen was nominated by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for the Saturn Award for Best Actress.
- 1985, Stewart Raffill won the Best Film Award at Fantafestival.
- At the time of its release, it had the fastest theatrical-to-video window in film history (it opened in August and was released on video by late October).
- Although John Carpenter is listed as executive producer on this film, he and director Stewart Rafill never met in person.
- Stewart Rafill re-wrote the screenplay so that a love story developed between the characters David (Michael Paré) and Alison (Nancy Allen).
- Rafill also removed a lot of scientific dialogue concerning explanations for the why and how of the time travel element of the film.
- The US Navy did not support the making of the film, as it did not wish to be associated with the alleged events surrounding the events of Philadelphia Experiment.
- The original script had more incidents that demonstrated David’s newness to arriving in the new time period. Stewart Rafill toned down these elements, to concentrate more on the two central characters.
- The town showing the destruction of buildings was shot in Utah. The city needed funds to help pay for a new sewage system, so Stewart Rafill purchased a block of run-down, abandoned buildings and had his special effects team blow it up for the film.
- According to “The Making of The Philadelphia Experiment”, the Wendover, Utah air base used in the film’s climactic fire sequence, was where the Enola Gay was outfitted for its historic flight in 1945.
- The aircraft carrier seen in this film is the U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-10), the submarine is the U.S.S. Clamagore (SS-343), and the destroyer “U.S.S. Eldridge” is actually the U.S.S. Laffey (DD-724).
- All three vessels are on display as museum ships at Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum, in Charleston, South Carolina.
- The aircraft carrier, destroyer, and submarine are docked in the same positions as the movie.
Philadelphia Experiment Film Series
- The Philadelphia Experiment, a 1984 science fiction film starring Michael Paré.
- The Philadelphia Experiment 2, a 1993 sequel.
- The Philadelphia Experiment, a 2012 made for TV film, starring again Michael Paré and Malcolm McDowell.
- Forever Young: A 1992 time travel through cryostasis film.
- The Final Countdown: A 1980 film with a warship travelling back in time.
Production & Filming Details
- Stewart Faffill.
- Pegi Brotman … associate producer.
- John Carpenter … executive producer.
- Douglas Curtis … producer.
- Joel B. Michaels … producer.
- Michael Janover … (screenplay).
- William Gray … (screenplay).
- Wallace C. Bennett … (story by) (as Wallace Bennett).
- Don Jakoby … (story by).
- Charles Berlitz … (book).
- William L. Moore … (book).
- Kenneth Wannberg … (as Ken Wannberg).
- Dick Bush … director of photography.
- Neil Travis.
- New World Pictures (presents).
- Cinema Group Ventures (presents) (as Cinema Group).
- New Pictures Group (in association with).
- New World Pictures (1984) (USA) (theatrical).
- Roadshow Films (1984) (Australia) (theatrical).
- Shochiku-Fuji Company (1984) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Succéfilm AB (1984) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Artédis (1985) (France) (theatrical).
- Suomi-Filmi (1985) (Finland) (theatrical).
- Home Video Hellas (HVH) (1985) (Greece) (VHS).
- Thorn-EMI Video (1985) (UK) (video) (VHS/Betamax/Laserdisc).
- Cannon Screen Entertainment (1986) (West Germany) (VHS).
- Columbia-EMI-Warner (1984) (UK) (theatrical).
- Senator Filmverleih (1985) (West Germany) (theatrical).
- AVU-Video-Vertriebs-GmbH (2001) (Germany) (DVD).
- Anchor Bay Entertainment (2000) (USA) (DVD).
- Anchor Bay Entertainment (2000) (USA) (VHS).
- Anchor Bay Entertainment (2009) (USA) (DVD).
- Aquarius TV (1993) (Greece) (TV).
- Astro Distribution (1998) (Germany) (VHS).
- Best Entertainment (2005) (Germany) (DVD).
- Embassy Home Entertainment (1985) (France) (VHS).
- Flashstar Home Vídeo (Brazil) (VHS).
- Fram Film (1987) (Norway) (VHS).
- France Film (1993) (Canada) (VHS).
- Future Film (2000) (Finland) (DVD).
- Image Entertainment (1992) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- Image Entertainment (2011) (USA) (DVD).
- Kinowelt Home Entertainment (2008) (Germany) (DVD).
- Koch Films (2020) (Germany) (DVD) (BluRay).
- Laurus Entertainment (Netherlands) (VHS) (rental).
- Lumivision (1996) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- M.I.B. (2004) (Germany) (DVD).
- Manga Films (2004) (Spain) (DVD).
- Nordic Video (Finland) (VHS).
- R&G Video (1995) (USA) (VHS).
- RCV Home Entertainment (2005) (Netherlands) (DVD).
- Roadshow Home Video (1985) (Australia) (VHS).
- Starmaker Entertainment (1995) (USA) (VHS).
- Starz / Anchor Bay (2005) (UK) (DVD).
- Thorn EMI Video (USA) (VHS).
- VZ-Handelsgesellschaft (2014) (Germany) (DVD) (and Blu-ray).
- Varus Video (Russia) (VHS).
- Warner Filipacchi Vidéo (1985) (France) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1989) (UK) (VHS).
- Yleisradio (YLE) (1994) (Finland) (TV).
- Release Date: 03 August 1984 (US).
- Running time: 102 minutes.
- Rating: PG.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.