The Philadelphia Experiment (film)

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The Philadelphia Experiment
Philadelphia experiment.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStewart Raffill
Screenplay byWallace C. Bennett
Story byWilliam Gray
Don Jakoby
Michael Janover
Based onThe Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility
1979 novel
by Charles Berlitz
William L. Moore
Produced byDouglas Curtis
Joel B. Michaels
CinematographyDick Bush
Edited byNeil Travis
Music byKenneth Wannberg
Cinema Group
Distributed byNew World Pictures
Release date
  • August 3, 1984 (1984-08-03)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$8,103,330

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 program 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 and Jim Parker, are assigned to the destroyer escort USS Eldridge during a project to make it invisible to radar. The ship is in Philadelphia Harbor, filled with equipment from a team led by James Longstreet. 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 Harbor 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's 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, 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 traveled 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, 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 center. 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.



Development and writing[edit]

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."[1]

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.”[2]

Parts of the film were shot in Salt Lake City and Wendover, Utah, Denver, Colorado, Santa Paula, California, and Charleston, South Carolina.[3] The destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724) represented USS Eldridge in the film.


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 50% based on reviews from 10 critics.[4]


  • 1985, Nancy Allen was nominated by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for the Saturn Award for Best Actress.[5]
  • 1985, Stewart Raffill won the Best Film Award at Fantafestival.[6]

Sequel and remake[edit]

  • A sequel called Philadelphia Experiment II, featuring a different cast and crew, was released in 1993.
  • A made-for-television reconception of the original film was released in 2012 on SyFy. Michael Paré also appears in this version, but in a different role.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Interview with John Carpenter". Justin Beahm.
  2. ^ "Interview with Stewart Raffill Part 3". Slashfilm. July 15, 2016.
  3. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  4. ^ "The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  5. ^ "Nancy Allen". IMDb.
  6. ^ "The Philadelphia Experiment" – via

External links[edit]