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The Wave is a made-for-TV movie directed by Alex Grasshoff, based on The Third Wave experiment put on by teacher Ron Jones in order to explain to his students how the German populace could accept the actions of the Nazi regime during the Second World War.[1] Though later featured as an episode of the ABC Afterschool Special series, this show debuted October 4, 1981, almost two years before being featured in the series.

The Wave
Based onAccount by Ron Jones
Screenplay byJohnny Dawkins
Directed byAlexander Grasshoff
StarringBruce Davison (Ben Ross)
Country of originUSA
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Virginia L. Carter
Producer(s)Fern Field
Bruce Hendricks (associate producer)
CinematographyHanania Baer
Editor(s)Mario Di Mambro
Running time44 mins.
Production company(s)T.A.T. Communications Company
DistributorSony Pictures Television (current)
Original networkABC
Original release
  • October 4, 1981 (1981-10-04) (location)

It starred Bruce Davison as the teacher Ben Ross, a character based on Jones.

A novelization of the film The Wave, was released in the same year. Ron Jones' writings and Johnny Dawkins' screenplay were also basis of the 2008 German film Die Welle.


High school social studies teacher Ben Ross shows his class a film about the Holocaust. When the students question how the German people could have allowed such a thing to occur, Ross finds himself unable to answer their questions. Instead he begins a classroom experiment to demonstrate the dangers of fascism. The experiment begins simply, with Ross demonstrating how proper posture and simple rules create greater classroom efficiency. The students follow the new rules so enthusiastically that Ross carries on the experiment the following day by introducing "the Third Wave," which he claims is a youth movement. Students are issued armbands, taught a secret Wave salute, and are given special duties. Robert, an unpopular student, is assigned the role of a monitor over the other students, which fills him with pride.

David, a student in the class, believes that the in-class rules will help the school's football team and begins to teach the Third Wave tenets to his fellow football players. With the popular football players involved, the rest of the school becomes intrigued. By the end of the week, the Third Wave has spread beyond the classroom. Robert, who has developed new confidence and authority due to the movement, becomes one of its more zealous enforcers and reports unorthodox behavior to Ross and the other members. David's girlfriend Laurie is unnerved by the Third Wave, while Ross's wife worries that Ross has introduced a concept he cannot control.

The following day, a school pep rally turns into a rally for the Third Wave, causing some 200 more students to join. Laurie decides to write an exposé about the Third Wave for the school paper, causing David to break up with her and her friends to reject her. Other students outside the movement are bullied by the Third Wave and begin voicing their concerns to parents and administrators, who in turn complain to Ross. Ross begs for enough time to complete the experiment.

When the exposé is published, the Third Wave denounces the school paper and singles out Laurie for hostility. Fearing for her safety, David warns her to stop speaking out, eventually growing violent enough to push her to the ground. This causes David to realize how far things have gone. David and Laurie visit Ross and beg him to speak out against the movement. Ross, realizing the experiment is out of control, promises them that he will put an end to it.

The following day in class, Ross tells students that the Third Wave is a real youth movement taking place in schools all over the country and that the movement's leader will give a televised speech at a rally the following day. The Third Wave students eagerly gather to watch the speech, only to be shown a film of Adolf Hitler. Ross announces that this is their leader and that the experiment proves how quickly a group can give up their individual beliefs. The stunned students throw away their armbands and leave the rally, but Robert, who has been given his first sense of belonging by the movement, is left in tears. Ross takes Robert away to console him.


The Wave won a 1982 Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program, and a 1981 Peabody Award. It also won a 1981 Young Artist Award for Best Television Special - Family Enjoyment.

Writer Johnny Dawkins was nominated for a 1982 Humanitas Prize in the 60 minute category, and a 1983 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Children's Show.


  1. ^ "Cubberley Catamount, April 21, 1967". Ellwood P. Cubberley High School. 1967-04-21. Retrieved 2015-05-14.

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