The Andromeda Strain (film)

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 underground facility with the code name of Wildfire, located 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, the Wildfire 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 oxygen mask is dissolving. Meanwhile, Dr. Stone, the creator of the Wildfire laboratory, is accused by Dutton and Leavitt of designing the laboratory 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, Jackson, didn't die since his blood was acidic from drinking Sterno and the baby survived since his blood was alkaline from crying continuously, 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 laboratory's seals start decaying from Andromeda's escape, a five-minute countdown to nuclear destruction is initiated.

Hall rescues Leavitt from an epileptic seizure, 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 that could destroy all life on Earth. Hall races against the laboratory'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 climbs through the laboratory's central core until he finds a working station, disables the bomb, and losing consciousness, 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, including 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 female 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, feeling that Kate Reid's Dr. Leavitt was "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 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 conventional film-making processes, of a mapped 3-D view of the rotating structure of the five-story cylindrical underground laboratory in the Nevada desert named Project Wildfire.[2] The filming in the fictional town of Piedmont took place in Shafter, Texas.


Box office

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 United States theatrical rentals.[9] It was the 16th highest-grossing film of 1971.[10]

Critical response

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 Webs ite Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 67% approval rating based on 30 reviews, with an average score of 6.3/10.[11] Roger Greenspun of The New York Times panned the film in the 22 March 1971 issue, calling the novel "dreadful".[12] John Simon called The Andromeda Strain "a tidy film, yet it completely fades from memory after its 130 minutes are over".[13]

Scientific response

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 honors

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards:

See also


  1. "THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. March 12, 1971. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  2. 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. Box Office Information for The Andromeda Strain. The Numbers. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  5. Michael Crichton (rhymes with frighten): Michael Crichton By ISRAEL SHENKER. The 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. Movie Reviews for The Andromeda Strain. Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed June 25, 2018.
  12. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  13. Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 35.
  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.
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