THX 1138
Theatrical release poster
Film information
Directed by: George Lucas
Produced by: Francis Ford Coppola
Edward Folger
Lawrence Sturhahn
Written by: George Lucas
Walter Murch
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography: David Myers
Albert Kihn
Studio: American Zoetrope
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Language: English
Budget: $777,777.77[1][2]
Gross Revenue: $2,437,000

THX 1138 is a 1971 science fiction film directed by George Lucas in his feature directorial debut. The film was written by Lucas and Walter Murch. It stars Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence and depicts a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police officers and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotion, including sexual desire.

THX 1138 was developed from Lucas' student film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which he made in 1967 while attending the University of Southern California's film school. The feature film was produced in a joint venture between Warner Brothers and Francis Ford Coppola's production company, American Zoetrope. A novelization by Ben Bova was published in 1971.


In a city of the future, sexual intercourse is outlawed and use of mind-altering drugs is mandatory. Narcotics are critical both in maintaining compliance among the city's residents and also for ensuring their ability to conduct dangerous and demanding tasks for long periods of time. The inhabitants worship a godlike being known as "OMM", with whom they commune in telephone booth-like areas known as Unichapels. OMM ends every confession with a parting salutation: "You are a true believer, blessings of the State, blessings of the masses. Work hard, increase production, prevent accidents and be happy." At their jobs, SEN 5241 and LUH 3417 keep surveillance on the city and field questions (mostly about proper drug intake).

LUH has a male roommate, THX 1138. He works in a factory producing androids that function as police officers. The work is hazardous as it requires handling explosive and radioactive material. LUH becomes disillusioned and makes a conscious decision to break the law and stop taking her drugs. She subsequently secretly substitutes inactive pills for THX's medications. As the drug's effects wear off, THX finds himself experiencing authentic emotions and sexual desire for the first time.

At first conflicted and nauseated, he eventually connects with LUH. Knowing that their relationship is illegal, THX must decide whether to return to using the prescribed drugs, or escape with LUH. He knows that he will not be able to function without his drugs while at his demanding job, but he does not want to lose what he has created with LUH. They consider an escape to the "superstructure," where they hope to be able to live in freedom.

THX is confronted by SEN, who uses his position as LUH's superior to change her shift, admitting he wants THX as his new roommate. THX files a complaint against SEN for the illegal shift change. Without drugs in his system, THX falters during critical and hazardous phases of his job. The city's authorities discover THX's and LUH's crimes of sexual intercourse and drug evasion (because of a bureaucratic error, THX is briefly "mind-locked" while at a critical juncture of android construction, which almost leads to disaster). THX and LUH are arrested.

THX is imprisoned in an area of the city that resembles a white limbo world. He enjoys a brief reunion with LUH—one disrupted by the enforcer robots. THX is consigned to another region of limbo, this one populated by a collection of other prisoners, including SEN. Knowing that THX filed the complaint against him, SEN nevertheless rallies him to join his undescribed cause.

Most of the prisoners seem uninterested in escape, but eventually THX and SEN decide to find an exit. They encounter SRT, who starred in the holograms broadcast across the city. SRT has become disenchanted with his role in the society and is making an attempt to escape.

Exiting their prison, THX and SRT are separated from SEN. Controllers in the city learn of the escape and allot a strict budget (14,000 credits) for their recapture. Chased by the robots, THX and SRT find a computer center, from which THX learns that LUH has been "consumed", possibly for organ reclamation (since bodies discovered earlier had, as SRT put it, their "insides...gone") and her name reassigned to fetus 66691 in a growth chamber. This suggests that she has been declared "incurable" and killed. We also learn that OMM does not, in fact, exist; his supposed responses in the Unichapels consist of a few simple pre-recorded phrases.

Alone and hunted, SEN makes a tentative exploration of the limits of the city's underground network. Cowed by what he sees, he finds his way to an area reserved for the monks of OMM. Alone, SEN prays directly to OMM before being confronted by a lone monk who notices that SEN has no identification badge. SEN attacks before the monk can report him. Returning to the city, SEN strikes up a conversation with children before police androids apprehend him.

THX and SRT steal two cars, but SRT crashes into a concrete pillar, disabling his car. Pursued by two police androids on motorcycles, THX in his car flees to the limits of the city's underground road network.

Abandoning the car, eventually THX locates a route to the surface. The police pursue THX up an escape ladder, but are ordered by central command to cease pursuit, mere steps away from capturing him, as the expense of his capture exceeds their pre-determined budget. It is then revealed that the entirety of the city whence THX came is all underground, as he stands before a large setting sun in a red sky, while birds intermittently fly overhead.


Christ Giving His Blessing

Hans Memling's Christ Giving His Blessing (1478) is used as the visual representation of the state-sanctioned deity OMM 0910.[3]


THX 1138 was the first film made in a planned seven-picture slate commissioned by Warner Brothers from the 1969 incarnation of American Zoetrope.[4][5] Lucas wrote the initial script draft himself based on his earlier short film, but Coppola and Lucas agreed it was unsatisfactory. Murch assisted Lucas to write an improved final draft.[1][6] For some of SEN's dialogue in the film, the script included excerpts from speeches by Richard Nixon.[7]

The script required almost the entire cast to shave their heads, either completely bald or with a buzz cut. As a publicity stunt, several actors were filmed having their first haircuts/shaves at unusual venues, with the results used in a promotional featurette entitled Bald: The Making of THX 1138. Many of the shaven-headed extras seen in the film were recruited from the nearby addiction recovery program Synanon.[8]

Filming began on September 22, 1969.[9] The schedule was between 35[1] and 40[10] days, completing in November 1969. Lucas filmed THX 1138 in Techniscope.[11]

Most locations for filming were in the San Francisco area,[12] including the then-unfinished tunnels of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system,[1][12] the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,[1] the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley, the San Francisco International Airport and at a remote manipulator for a hot cell. Studio sequences were shot at stages in Los Angeles, including a white stage 100 feet long by 150 feet wide for the "white limbo" sequences.[1]

The chase scene featured Lola T70 Mk.IIIs with dummy turbine engines racing against Yamaha TA125/250cc 2-stroke race replica motorcycles through two San Francisco Bay Area automotive tunnels: the Caldecott Tunnel between Oakland and Orinda,[1] and the underwater Posey Tube between Oakland and Alameda.[1] According to Caleb Deschanel, cars drove at speeds of 140 mph while filming the chase.[1]

The chase featured a spectacular motorcycle stunt: Stuntman Ronald "Duffy" Hambleton (credited as Duffy Hamilton), rode his police motorcycle full speed into a fallen paint stand, with a ramp built to Hambleton's specification,[1] flew over the handlebars, was hit by the airborne motorcycle, landed in the street on his back, and slammed into the crashed car in which Duvall's character had escaped — evidently the subject of a comment by Lucas detailing a "motorcycle disaster" during the filming.[citation needed] According to the film's commentary, everyone at the location was stunned and immediately ran in to ensure Hambleton was alright. According to Lucas, it turned out Hambleton was perfectly fine, apart from being angry with the people who had run into the shot to check on him; He was worried that they might have ruined the amazing stunt he'd just performed by walking into frame.

THX's final climb out to the daylight was filmed (with the camera rotated 90 degrees) in the incomplete (and decidedly horizontal) Bay Area Rapid Transit Transbay Tube before installation of the track supports, with the actors using exposed reinforcing bars on the floor of the tunnel as a "ladder".[1] The end scene, of THX standing before the sunset, was shot at Port Hueneme, California, by a second unit of (additional uncredited photographer) Caleb Deschanel and Matthew Robbins, who played THX in this long shot.[1]

After completion of photography, Coppola scheduled a year for Lucas to complete post-production.[13] Lucas edited the film on a German-made K-E-M flatbed editor in his Mill Valley house by day, with Walter Murch editing sound at night; the two would compare notes when they changed over.[1][13] Murch compiled and syncronized the sound montage, which includes all the "overhead" voices heard throughout the film — radio chatter, announcements, etc. The bulk of the editing was finished by mid-1970.

On completion of editing of the film, producer Coppola took it to financiers Warner Brothers. Studio executives there disliked the film, and insisted that Coppola turn over the negative to an in-house Warners editor, who cut approximately 4 minutes of the film prior to release.[14]


THX 1138 was released to theaters on March 11, 1971 and was initially commercially unsuccessful, earning back $945,000 in rentals for Warner Bros, but still leaving the studio in the red.[14] Critically, reaction was mixed: a contemporary survey of reviews found 7 favourable, 3 mixed, and 5 negative.[15]

As of Template:Date, the film has an 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[16]


THX 1138 DC

The Director's Cut version of the movie includes completely new footage, as seen in this shot of the factory where THX works.

In 1977, after the success of Star Wars, THX 1138 was re-released with the footage that had been deleted by Warner Bros. edited back in, but still did not gain popularity.[17] This version was subsequently released on laserdisc and VHS, but has not been released on DVD or Blu-ray.

In 2004, The George Lucas Director's Cut of the film was released. Lucas shot new footage for the film, computer-generated imagery was used to modify scenes by expanding crowds, settings and backgrounds and adding digital characters, and audio/video restoration techniques were applied to the film.[18][19][20] These changes increased the run time of the film by two minutes. This director's cut was released to a limited number of digital-projection theaters on September 10, 2004, and then on DVD on September 14, 2004. A Blu-ray edition was released on September 7, 2010.[21]

The 1971 studio cut version has never been released on any home media format.

Origin of the nameEdit

The significance of the name THX 1138 has been the subject of much speculation. In an interview for the DVD compilation Reel Talent, which included Lucas's original 4EB short, Lucas stated that he chose the letters and numbers for their aesthetic qualities, especially their symmetry.[22] According to the book Cinema by the Bay, published by George Lucas Books, Lucas named the film after his telephone number while in college: 849-1138 - the letters THX correspond to the numbers 8,4 and 9 on the keypad.[23] Walter Murch states in the DVD's audio commentary that he always believed Lucas intended THX to be "sex", LUH to be "love", and SEN to be "sin".[7] John Lithgow, in "The Film School Generation" segment of the DVD series American Cinema, described the title THX 1138 as "reading like a license plate number."[24]

In popular cultureEdit

Lucasfilm referencesEdit

Audio samplesEdit


  • The lyric content of Toto's 1979 single release "99" was inspired by THX-1138's society, in which people are given numbers instead of names. The music video features the band in an all-white room dressed in white, a set piece inspired by the film's "limbo".[30]
  • The music video for Queen's 1982 release "Calling All Girls" features Freddie Mercury dressed all in white in a stark white setting with robot police performing tests on him until the band rescues him.
  • The music video for Gangstarr's 1997 single "You Know my Steez", directed by Terry Heller, is a faithful homage to THX 1138, from the costuming and iconic cinematography to an upside-down miniature BART tunnel and the duplication of the famous extreme telephoto sunset ending.[31]
  • In the 2009 film Fanboys, the security guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms similar to the police in THX 1138.
  • In the 1997 film Gattaca, the staircase in the Gattaca space center resembles the staircase in the underground city of THX 1138. Both films were shot in the Marin County Civic Center, with many similar shots visually.


  • The Misfits song "We Are 138", a B-side of their 1978 single Bullet, is thought to beTemplate:Weasel inline based on the movie.[citation needed]
  • The intro sequence for each episode of Pinky and the Brain shows The Brain writing equations on a blackboard, one of which is "THX=1138".
  • In the 2012 movie Iron Sky, Renate writes the number 1138 on the Moon Nazi helmet at the end.
  • In the Marvel Comics Star Wars adaptation of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, two Stormtroopers guarding the Millenium Falcon on the Death Star are seized by the heroes hiding aboard the ship. A Death Star officer in the docking bay command center sees that the troopers are missing, and radios to them "Trooper THX-1138, why aren't you at your post?"




  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Template:Cite video
  2. Pollock 1983, p.89. Seven was Coppola's lucky number.
  3. Compare with this image from Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB.
  4. Pollock 1983, p.88.
  5. Louise Sweeney, "The Movie Business is alive and well and living in San Fransisco", Show, April 1970.
  6. Pollock 1983, p.89.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lucas 2004.
  8. Pollock 1983, p.92.
  9. Lawrence Sturhahn, "Genesis of THX-1138: Notes on a Production", Kansas Quarterly, Spring 1972.
  10. Pollock 1983, p.90, 280.
  11. Pollock 1983, p.90.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Pollock 1983, p.91.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Pollock 1983, p.96.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Pollock 1983, p.97.
  15. "THX 1138", FilmFacts, Vol XIV, No.7, 1971.
  16. THX 1138. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on April 8, 2013.
  17. Pollock 1983, p.98.
  18. Alternate Versions of the film at the Internet Movie Database
  19. "THX 1138 (1971) - Changes", Maverick Media. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
  20. "THX 1138 (Comparison: Original Version - Director's Cut)",, May 28, 2010. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
  21. Calonge, Juan (May 10, 2010). Warner Announces Sci-Fi Blu-ray Wave. Retrieved on July 26, 2010.
  22. Reel Talent: First Films by Legendary Directors, DVD, 20th Century Fox, 2007
  23. Avni, Sheerly (2006). Cinema By The Bay, Hardcover, New York, NY: George Lucas Books, 36. ISBN 978-1-932183-88-7. 
  24. Template:Cite AV media
  25. Lucas, George (1978). American Graffiti: A Screenplay- The Complete Scenarios of the film with 70 illustrations. Grove Press. ISBN 0-394-17072-5. 
  26. Clock DVA Samples. (2004-01-05). Retrieved on August 26, 2011.
  27. Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral at Discogs. Retrieved on September 9, 2010.
  28. Corrupt Souls Feat. Hyx – 1138 / Skullfucked, Black Sun Empire.. Retrieved on August 15, 2012.
  30. Toto official website: Band History. (1992-08-05). Retrieved on December 13, 2009.
  31. Template:Youtube
  32. Star Raiders, by Doug Neubauer. Trivia about Atari Star Raiders. Retrieved on March 30, 2010.


External linksEdit

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