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The Andromeda Strain is a 1971 American science fiction thriller film produced and directed by Robert Wise. Based on Michael Crichton's 1969 novel of the same name and adapted by Nelson Gidding, the film stars Arthur Hill, James Olson, Kate Reid, and David Wayne as a team of scientists who investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin. With a few exceptions, the film follows the book closely. The special effects were designed by Douglas Trumbull. The film is notable for its use of split screen in certain scenes.

The Andromeda Strain
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Wise
Produced byRobert Wise
Screenplay byNelson Gidding
Based onThe Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton
Music byGil Mellé
CinematographyRichard H. Kline
Edited by
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 12, 1971 (1971-03-12) (United States)
Running time
130 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.5 million[2][3]
Box office$12.4 million[4]


The story is told in flashback by Dr. Jeremy Stone, testifying to an unseen committee. After a satellite, a U.S. government project code-named Scoop, crashes near the small rural town of Piedmont, New Mexico, almost all of the town's inhabitants die quickly. A military satellite recovery team tries to recover the satellite but is stopped in mid-sentence. Suspecting that the satellite brought back an alien organism, the military activates an elite scientific team it had previously assembled for this type of emergency.

Wearing sealed protective suits, Dr. Stone, the team leader, and Dr. Mark Hall, the team surgeon, are dropped in Piedmont by helicopter, where they search for the satellite. They find that the town's doctor had opened it in his office and that all of his blood had crystallized into powder. They soon discover almost all of the victims’ blood had crystallized like the doctor’s. Not all victims had died quickly; two townspeople had gone insane before committing suicide. Stone and Hall retrieve Scoop and locate two survivors — a 69-year-old alcoholic and a 6-month-old infant.

The team of four core research scientists, who also include Dr. Charles Dutton and Dr. Ruth Leavitt, are summoned from their academic and research appointments to a top-secret lab with the code name of Wildfire, a massive, high-tech underground facility in Nevada. Upon arrival they undergo a full day of decontamination procedures, descending through four disinfection levels to a fifth level, where laboratories are located. If the organism threatens to escape, this facility includes an automatic nuclear self-destruct mechanism to incinerate all infectious agents. Dr. Hall is entrusted with the only key that can deactivate the device.

By examining Scoop with powerful cameras, the team discovers the microscopic alien organism responsible for the deaths. The greenish, throbbing life form is assigned the code name Andromeda. Andromeda kills animal life almost instantly and appears to be highly virulent. Members of the team study the organism using animal subjects, an electron microscope, and culturing in various growth media in an attempt to learn how it works. Hall tries to determine why the elderly man and the baby survived.

A military jet crashes near Piedmont after the pilot radios that his plastic face mask is dissolving. Meanwhile, Dr. Stone, the creator of the Wildfire laboratory, is accused by Dutton and Leavitt of designing the lab for research into biological warfare. Unbeknownst to other members of the team, Leavitt's research on the germ is impaired by her epilepsy.

Hall realizes that the old drunk and the baby didn't die because their blood was either acidic from drinking Sterno [Jackson] or alkaline from crying continuously [infant], suggesting that Andromeda can survive only within a narrow range of blood pH. Just as he has this insight, the organism mutates into a non-lethal form that degrades synthetic rubber and plastics. It escapes the containment room into the room where Dutton is working. Once all the lab's seals start decaying from Andromeda's escape, a five-minute countdown to nuclear destruction is initiated.

Hall rescues Leavitt from an epilepsy attack triggered by the flashing red lights of Wildfire's alarm system. Meanwhile, the team realizes that the alien microbe would thrive on the energy of a nuclear explosion and would consequently be transformed into a supercolony which could destroy all life on Earth. Hall races against the lab's automated defenses to reach a station where he can insert his key and disable the nuclear bomb. He endures an attack by automated lasers as he crawls through the lab's central core until he finds a working station, disables the bomb, and collapses.

Hall awakens in a hospital bed. His colleagues reveal that clouds are being seeded over the Pacific Ocean, which will cause rain to sweep Andromeda out of the atmosphere and into alkaline seawater, rendering it harmless. The movie ends with Stone testifying to a senator that, while they were able to defeat an alien pathogen this time, they may not be able to do so in the future. The cliffhanger ending shows "Andromeda" dissolving in seawater and then forming the number "601"- the Wildfire computer signal of too much information coming in too fast for the computer to analyze….



Film rights were bought by Universal for $250,000.[5]

The cast of characters in the novel was modified for the film, most notably by replacing the male Dr. Peter Leavitt in the novel with the female Dr. Ruth Leavitt. Screenwriter Nelson Gidding suggested the change to Wise, who at first was not enthusiastic, as he initially pictured the sex-changed Dr. Leavitt as a largely decorative character reminiscent of Raquel Welch's character in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. When Gidding explained his take on Leavitt, Wise resolved the question by asking the opinion of a number of scientists, who were unanimously enthusiastic about the idea. Eventually Wise came to be very happy with the decision to make Leavitt female, as Kate Reid's Dr. Leavitt turned out to be, in his words, "the most interesting character" in the film.[6] Another minor change was the character of Burton in the novel, who became Charles Dutton in the film; no reason was given for this name change.

The Andromeda Strain was one of the first films to use advanced computerized (or optical) photographic visual effects, with work by Douglas Trumbull, who had pioneered effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with James Shourt and Albert Whitlock who worked on The Birds.[2] Reportedly $250,000 of the film's budget of $6.5 million was used to create the special effects, including Trumbull's simulation of an electron microscope.[7]

The film contained a faux computer rendering, created with convention filmmaking processes, of a mapped 3-D view of the rotating structure of the 5-story cylindrical underground laboratory in the Nevada desert named Project Wildfire. Biologist Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) turned on the animated computer simulation of the "electronic diagram which rotates to afford an overall view, or it can be stopped at any section. Detailed plans of the various levels and labs are also stored in the system..."[2]

The filming in the fictional town of Piedmont took place in Shafter, Texas.


Box officeEdit

The Andromeda Strain was a moderate box office success. Produced on a relatively high budget of $6.5 million,[2][8] the film grossed $12,376,563 in North America,[4] earning $8.2 million in US theatrical rentals.[9] It was the 16th highest-grossing film of 1971.[10]

John Simon called The Andromeda Strain 'a tidy film, yet it completely fades from memory after its 130 minutes are over'.[11]

Critical responseEdit

The opinion of critics is generally mixed, with some critics enjoying the film for its dedication to the original novel and with others disliking it for its drawn-out plot. At review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 67% approval rating based on 30 reviews, with an average score of 6.3/10.[12] Roger Greenspun of The New York Times panned the film in the 22 March 1971 issue, calling the novel "dreadful."[13]

Scientific responseEdit

A 2003 publication by the Infectious Diseases Society of America noted that The Andromeda Strain is the "most significant, scientifically accurate, and prototypic of all films of this [killer virus] genre... it accurately details the appearance of a deadly agent, its impact, and the efforts at containing it, and, finally, the work-up on its identification and clarification on why certain persons are immune to it."[14]

Awards and honorsEdit

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. March 12, 1971. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Greatest Visual and Special Effects - Milestones in Film. AMC's FilmSite. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  3. ^ Hollywood Today: Mike Crichton, a Skyscraper in Any Form; Norma Lee Browning. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 30 Aug 1970: s2 says $6 million
  4. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. The Numbers. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  5. ^ Michael Crichton (rhymes with frighten): Michael Crichton By ISRAEL SHENKER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 June 1969: BR5
  6. ^ The Making of The Andromeda Strain, DVD documentary.
  7. ^ DOUGLAS TRUMBULL, VES: Advancing New Technologies for the Future of Film Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  8. ^ The Andromeda Strain, Overview. Archived September 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  9. ^ Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. IMDb. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  10. ^ Top Grossing Films of 1971.
  11. ^ Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 35.
  12. ^ Movie Reviews for The Andromeda Strain. Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed June 25, 2018.
  13. ^ Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  14. ^ Pappas, G.; Seitaridis, S.; Akritidis, N.; Tsianos, E. (2003). "Infectious Diseases in Cinema: Virus Hunters and Killer Microbes". Clinical Infectious Diseases. 37 (7): 939–942. doi:10.1086/377740.

External linksEdit