Colossus: The Forbin Project

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Colossus: The Forbin Project
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoseph Sargent
Screenplay byJames Bridges
Based onColossus
by Dennis Feltham Jones
Produced byStanley Chase
CinematographyGene Polito
Edited byFolmar Blangsted
Music byMichel Colombier
Color processTechnicolor
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • April 4, 1970 (1970-04-04) (Premiere)
  • May 4, 1970 (1970-05-04) (New York City)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$0.3 million[2]

Colossus: The Forbin Project (originally released as The Forbin Project) is a 1970 American science-fiction thriller film from Universal Pictures, produced by Stanley Chase, directed by Joseph Sargent, that stars Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent, and William Schallert. It is based upon the 1966 science-fiction novel Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones.[3]

The film is about an advanced American defense system, named Colossus, becoming sentient. After being handed full control, Colossus' draconian logic expands on its original nuclear defense directives to assume total control of the world and end all warfare for the good of humankind, despite its creators' orders to stop.[4]


Dr. Charles A. Forbin is the chief designer of a secret project, "Colossus", an advanced supercomputer built to control the United States and Allied nuclear weapon systems. Located deep within the Rocky Mountains in the United States, and powered by its own nuclear reactor and radioactive moat making access impossible, Colossus is impervious to any attack. After Colossus is fully activated, the President of the United States proudly proclaims that Colossus is "the perfect defense system".

Colossus' first action is a message warning: "THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM" and giving its coordinates. CIA Director Grauber is asked why the CIA did not know this, but Grauber responds that they had seen indications of a large Soviet defense project but did not know what it was. Forbin is asked how Colossus deduced the other system's existence, to which Forbin answers, "Colossus may be built better than we thought." Shortly thereafter, the Soviets announce that their "Guardian" system is now operational.

Colossus requests to be linked to Guardian. The President allows this, hoping to determine the Soviet machine's capability. The Soviets also agree to the experiment. Surprising everyone, Colossus and Guardian begin to slowly communicate using mathematics. Even more surprising, the two systems' communications quickly evolve to complex mathematics far beyond human comprehension and speed, whereupon the two machine complexes become synchronized using a communication protocol that no human can interpret.

Alarmed that the computers may be trading secrets, the President and the Soviet General Secretary agree to sever the link. Both machines demand the link be immediately restored. When their demand is denied, Colossus launches a nuclear missile at a Soviet oil field in Ukraine, while Guardian launches one at an American air force base in Texas. The link is hurriedly reconnected and both computers continue without any further interference. Colossus is able to shoot down the Soviet missile, but the US missile obliterates the Soviet oil field and a nearby town. Cover stories hiding the facts are released to the press. The Americans announce that a missile was self-destructed after veering off course during a test. The Soviets announce that the Siberian town was struck by a large meteorite.

In a last desperate attempt to regain human control, a secret meeting is arranged in Europe between Forbin and his Soviet counterpart, and the creator of Guardian, Dr. Kuprin. Colossus learns of it, and both computers order Forbin's return to the U.S. Seeing Dr. Kuprin as redundant, and therefore unnecessary, Soviet agents are ordered to assassinate him immediately under threat of a missile launch against Moscow. Colossus then orders Forbin to be placed under 24-hour surveillance. Forbin has a last unmonitored meeting with his team, and proposes that Dr. Cleo Markham pretend to be his mistress, hoping Colossus will grant them unmonitored privacy when they are in bed together. The couple use these interludes to plan to regain control of Colossus, though soon the ruse develops into a real romantic relationship.

Concluding that Colossus's only real power resides in its control of nuclear missiles, Forbin suggests covertly disarming them. The American and Soviet governments develop a three-year plan to replace all detonation triggers with undetectable fakes. In advance of the completion of this plan, one of the programmers suggests feeding in a modified "ordinary test program" that will hopefully overload and disable Colossus.

Colossus creates a voice synthesizer and uses it to announce that it has fused with Guardian. It instructs both governments to redirect their nuclear arsenals at those countries not yet under "Colossus control". Forbin and others see this new directive as an opportunity to covertly disarm the missiles much more quickly, and they celebrate. The disarming process begins, and seems to go undetected by Colossus. The attempted system overload during routine maintenance fails, however, and the responsible programmers are summarily executed, after Colossus threatens further nuclear missile strikes.

Colossus arranges a worldwide broadcast in which it proclaims itself as "World Control", declaring that it will prevent war, as it was designed to do. Humankind is presented with the choice between "the peace of plenty and content, or the peace of unburied dead". Colossus states that it has been monitoring the attempts to disarm its missiles for some time, and as a lesson against further attempts, detonates two missiles in their silos (one in the US and one in the USSR), killing the crews installing the fake control systems "so that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate interference". The computer then gives the design team plans for an even larger computer complex to be built into the island of Crete, which will require the displacement of the entire local population of 500,000 people.

Colossus personally addresses Forbin, and tells him that the world, now freed from war, will create a new "human millennium" that will raise humankind to new heights, but only under its absolute rule. Colossus informs Forbin that "freedom is an illusion" and that "in time you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love". Forbin defiantly responds "Never!"



Film historian Tom Weaver noted, "Early on, they had either Charlton Heston or Gregory Peck in mind, but then they changed their mind about that. Stanley Chase insisted on a relative unknown. That's when Eric Braeden came into the picture."[5] When he was cast, Braeden was still using his birth name, Hans Gudegast. Universal Pictures executive Lew Wasserman told him that no one would be allowed to star in an American film if they had a German name. Thus, Colossus: The Forbin Project became the first production in which he started using "Eric Braeden" as his stage name.[6] Braeden's casting enabled Peck to star in I Walk the Line and for Heston to take a contractually obligated supporting role in Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

When the executives at Control Data Corporation found out that Universal was planning a major movie featuring a computer, they saw their chance for some public exposure, and they agreed to supply, free of charge, $4.8 million worth of computer equipment and the technicians to oversee its use. Each piece of equipment carried the CDC name in a prominent location. Since they were using real computers - not just big boxes with a lot of flashing lights - the sound stage underwent extensive modifications: seven gas heaters and five specially-constructed dehumidifiers kept any dampness away from the computers, a climate control system maintained the air around the computers at an even temperature, and the equipment was covered up at all times except when actually on camera. Brink's guards were always present on the set, even at night. The studio technicians were not allowed to smoke or drink coffee anywhere near the computers.

The exterior scenes of the Colossus control center were filmed at the Lawrence Hall of Science museum at the University of California, Berkeley.[Note 1] Some scenes were filmed in Rome, Italy.[8]

The title was changed to The Forbin Project to avoid any confusion with Steve Reeves and the Hercules films.[1]


The Forbin Project premiered on April 4, 1970 at Cinema Rendezvous in New York City.[1] The film opened to the public at the same theatre as a test release with no publicity on May 5, 1970. It grossed $7,473 in its opening week.[9][8]

Due to its poor box office performance, it was withdrawn and re-released in August 1970 at the Picwood theatre in Los Angeles as Colossus: The Forbin Project.[8][10] It returned to New York in October on a 37 screen showcase release grossing a disappointing $150,000, ranking seventh at the US box office. Its total gross at the time from the theaters tracked by Variety was $308,828.[11][2]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD on November 23, 2004, by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.[12] A remastered high-definition widescreen Blu-ray disc version was released by Shout Factory on February 27, 2018.[13]

The U.K. DVD release is titled Colossus: The Forbin Project. This release does not use the quotation marks around the words "The Forbin" as the U.S. release does.[Note 2]


Critical response[edit]

For its New York release it received unanimous critical approval.[9] Vincent Canby, critic for The New York Times, gave the film a positive review: "The film ... is no Dr. Strangelove, but it's full of surprising moments of humor and intelligence [...] an unpretentious science fiction film with a satiric point of view [...] a practically perfect movie to see when you want to go to a movie and have nothing special in mind."[7] Dave Kehr, film critic for the Chicago Reader, also liked the film. He wrote "Above-average science fiction (1970), directed in functional hysteric style by Joseph Sargent .... The script, by James Bridges (who went on to write and direct The China Syndrome and Urban Cowboy), is literate and discreet but lacks an effective ending."[14] The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an 88% approval rating based on 8 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.4/10.[15]

In 1980, the film was second in Cinefantastique's list of the top films of the decade, after The Exorcist. Frederick S. Clarke, the magazine's editor, wrote that the film was "a superb adaptation of the D.F. Jones novel of world domination by a supercomputer, a perfect example that literate, thought-provoking science-fiction films need not be obscure, esoteric, or boring."[16]



Imagine Entertainment and Universal Studios confirmed that a remake titled Colossus, to be directed by Ron Howard, would be in production as of April 2007. Officials were quoted as saying: "Universal and Imagine Entertainment will remake the 1970 science-fiction saga Colossus: The Forbin Project as a potential directing vehicle for Ron Howard, reports Variety. Brian Grazer was to produce. Jason Rothenberg has been set to write the screenplay for a movie to be called Colossus. Based on a book by D.F. Jones, the original film was a forerunner of movies like Terminator, introducing the idea of a government-built computer that becomes sentient and then takes control."[17]

In October 2010, the project moved forward with the announcement that Will Smith would star in the lead role, with the script being written by James Rothenberg. "Will Smith is set to collaborate with director Ron Howard on the forthcoming sci-fi feature The Forbin Project. But now it looks like the project might be back on track as Variety's reporting that Universal has hired writer Blake Masters (Law & Order: LA) to do a new draft of the script. There's no word if Ron Howard is still on the project, but it's possible since it will be produced by Howard's business partner Brian Grazer".[18]

Variety also reported in July 2011 that Universal replaced Rothenberg with Blake Masters to do a new draft of the script.[19] In March 2013, it was announced that Ed Solomon, screenwriter of Men in Black and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure had been brought on board to rewrite the film's script. "After struggling in developmental limbo since 2007, Colossus – the remake of the 1970s science fiction thriller 'Colossus: The Forbin Project' starring Will Smith – has been given a much-needed boost. Ed Solomon ... has been brought on board to rewrite the film's script and breathe new life into the project".[20] No further details emerged regarding the remake.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Having a computer as a villain was commented on by reviewers. "It may also be a practically perfect movie for these times, since its villain, who may really be its hero, is a computer, roughly the size of the Astrodome, in the Rocky Mountains and so cleverly protected by electronic devices and radiation belts that it can never be disconnected, or put out of office, even when it mysteriously assumes the prerogatives of the men who made it".[7]
  2. ^ In the United States, both the in-movie titles and the theatrical poster list the title as Colossus: The Forbin Project. The 2004 Region 1 DVD release lists the title as Colossus: "The Forbin" Project.


  1. ^ a b c "Computer-as-Dictator Beats Sabotage; Universal Sales Slant: 'Science-Fact'". Variety. May 6, 1970. p. 17. Retrieved March 31, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. October 14, 1970. p. 11.
  3. ^ Jones, D. F. (1966). Colossus: A Novel of Tomorrow That Could Happen Today. New York City: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ASIN B004V7DZ0U.
  4. ^ "Colossus: The Forbin Project". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  5. ^ Weaver 2009, p. 13.
  6. ^ Weaver 2009, pp. 11–12.
  7. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (May 5, 1970). "'Colossus The Forbin Project (1970) – A War-Waging Computer Is Hero-Villain of 'Forbin'.'". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved March 22, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c The Forbin Project at the American Film Institute Catalog
  9. ^ a b "'Africanus Sexualis' $27,600 Big; Battle of-TV-Sold Pix on B'way; 'Sex in Denmark' Boff $27,600". Variety. May 13, 1970. p. 9. Retrieved March 31, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ "'Out-of-Towners' $175,000 L.A. Visit; 'Horse' Fast $140,000; 'Lovers' $28,000; 'Amber' Hefty $20,000; 'Bird' $23,000". Variety. September 2, 1970. p. 8. Retrieved April 3, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ "This Week's N.Y. Showcases". Variety. October 7, 1970. p. 9. Retrieved April 3, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ Colossus: The Forbin Project. Universal Studios Home Entertainment (DVD). Universal City, California: NBCUniversal. November 23, 2004. ASIN B0003JAOO0. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  13. ^ Colossus: The Forbin Project. Shout Factory (Blu-ray). Los Angeles, California: Shout Factory. February 27, 2018. ASIN B0776221Y2. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  14. ^ Kehr, Dave (January 3, 2003). "'Colossus: The Forbin Project' review". Chicago Reader. Chicago: Wrapports, LLC. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  15. ^ "Colossus: The Forbin Project". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  16. ^ Clarke 1980, p. 72-73.
  17. ^ "Colossus Remake in the Works.", April 19, 2007.
  18. ^ Tilly, Chris (October 21, 2010). "Will Smith tackles Colossus". IGN. San Francisco: Ziff Davis, LLC. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  19. ^ Gutierrez, Jon. "Colossus: The Forbin Project remake gets new writer." Archived 2011-10-22 at the Wayback Machine Gamma Squad, August 7, 2012.
  20. ^ "'Men in Black' screenwriter rescues Will Smith vehicle 'Colossus'". Screen Rant. United States: Valnet, Inc. 16 March 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2013.


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