Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), a veteran of the Manhattan Project, is fishing near the town of Linda Rosa when a large meteorite lands nearby. At the impact site, he meets Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her uncle, Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). As the meteorite is radioactive and too hot to examine closely, he decides to wait in town for it to cool.

The meteorite unscrews and disgorges a Martian war machine. When the three men who remained behind approach in friendly greeting, it kills them without warning with its Heat-Ray. Forrester and the sheriff are also attacked when they return, but survive. Amid reports of other meteors landing throughout the world, the Marines surround the Martian ship. Three war machines deploy. Pastor Collins approaches them in peace, but they kill him without attempting to communicate. The Marines attack, but the Martians are protected by an impenetrable force field. The invaders use their Heat-Ray and disintegrator rays to vaporize most of the military.

Forrester and Van Buren hide in an abandoned farmhouse but are trapped inside when another meteorite crashes into the house. An "electronic eye" inspects the ruins but fails to spot them. Forrester and Van Buren wound a Martian when the creature leaves its machine; they get a sample of its blood, and the electronic eye. They rejoin Forrester's co-workers at Pacific Tech in Los Angeles, who seek a way to defeat the aliens. With the blood sample and the technology from the farmhouse, the scientists learn about Martian physiology; in particular, that the aliens are physically weak. Their war machines and heat-rays are, nonetheless, defeating all opposition worldwide.

A United States Air Force YB-49 drops an atomic bomb on the Martians' camp as they advance on Los Angeles, without success. The government evacuates cities in danger, but with military force useless the scientists are the last hope for defeating the Martians, which, they calculate, will conquer Earth within six days. Widespread panic among the general populace scatters the Pacific Tech group, wrecks its equipment, and separate Forrester and Van Buren.

All seems lost, with humanity helpless before the aliens. Forrester searches for Van Buren in the burning ruins of a Los Angeles under attack. He finds her with others awaiting the end in a church. An approaching Martian war machine suddenly crashes. Forrester realizes that the seemingly all-powerful invaders are dying, as they have no biological defense against viruses and bacteria in our world.

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H.G. Wells' novel, War of the Worlds had been on Paramount Pictures' docket since the silent era, when it was optioned as a potential Cecil B. DeMille production. When Paramount finally got around to a filming the Wells novel, the property was firmly in the hands of special-effects maestro George Pal.

Forty years' worth of progressively improving special effects have not dimmed the brilliance of George Pal's “War of the Worlds”. Even on television, Pal's Oscar-winning camera trickery is awesome to behold. So indelible an impression has this film made on modern-day sci-fi mavens that, when a 1988 TV version of “War of the Worlds” was put together, it was conceived as a direct sequel to the 1953 film, rather than a derivation of the Wells novel or the Welles radio production.

This film ranks as a sci-fi classic for its brilliant pacing and stunning special effects. The story line is simple: Martians have arrived and they mean to annihilate the world's population with fire-breathing spaceships protected by invisible shields, which no missile can penetrate. Earth is helpless. Doomsday is nearing. Although the dialogue is pedestrian at times, it is lean and short-winded. Consequently, the plot moves like a frightened gazelle: leaping, dodging, and sprinting.

Gene Barry and Ann Robinson wisely cede the starring role to the suspenseful action. They do not just recite their lines, they let the plot takes its course. In one memorable scene, they huddle in the dusty ruins of a building while a Martian optical probe pokes through windows to find signs of life. They escape, of course -- just barely -- then try to discover the Martians' Achilles' heel, to no avail. The tension they create by sheer looks alone are impressive.

The visual effects -- featuring stampeding crowds and spaceships zapping landmarks and whole city blocks -- provide plenty of thrills all along the way. Because the film debuted at a time when Americans feared communist infiltration of the U.S. government and its society, some moviegoers of the 1950s viewed the Martians as communists -- and went home wondering what Stalin was up to.

The infamous radio program was originally an episode of the American radio drama anthology series “Mercury Theatre on the Air”. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938 and aired over the CBS radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode starts with an introduction from the novel, describing the intentions of the aliens and noting that the adaptation was set in 1939, a year ahead of the actual broadcast date. The program continues as a weather report, then as an ordinary dance band remote featuring "Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra" that is interrupted by news flashes about strange explosions on Mars; which is followed by an hour long detail of death and destruction around the world as we are invaded by creatures from Mars.

Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast, and in the atmosphere of tension and anxiety just prior to World War II, took it to be a real news broadcast. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance.

In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program's news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode firmly secured Orson Welles' fame.