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This article is about the 1971 film. For the high fidelity sound company, see THX.
THX 1138
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Edward Folger
Lawrence Sturhahn
Written by George Lucas
Walter Murch
Starring Robert Duvall
Donald Pleasence
Don Pedro Colley
Maggie McOmie
Ian Wolfe
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography David Myers
Albert Kihn
Editing by George Lucas
Studio American Zoetrope
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) March 11, 1971
Running time 95 minutes (1971 studio cut)
121 minutes (2004 director's cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $777,777.77[1][2]
Box office $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. Despite getting mixed reviews from critics and not a box office success upon its initial release, the film has gained a cult following.


In a city of the future, use of mind-altering drugs is mandatory and sexual intercourse is prohibited. Drugs 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. 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 seeks counsel from a godlike being known as "OMM 0910", 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."

Knowing that their physical 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. She suggests an escape out of the "superstructure," where they hope to be able to live in freedom, but he is indecisive.

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. Realizing something is amiss, controllers observing the workers "mind-lock" THX to prevent further movement, but due to a bureaucratic error this occurs at a critical juncture of android construction, which almost leads to a minor nuclear disaster. These events lead the city's authorities discover THX's and LUH's crimes of sexual intercourse and drug evasion.

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 5752, 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.

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 his car, THX eventually locates a route to the surface. The police pursue THX up an escape ladder, but are ordered by central command to cease pursuit, even though close to capturing him, as the expense of his capture exceeds their pre-determined budget by 6%. It is then revealed that the city is entirely underground, as he stands before a large setting sun in a red sky, surveying his new world.



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. 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 had 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 synchronized 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 2013, the film is rated "fresh" on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 90% and an average rating of 7/10. The consensus reads, "George Lucas' feature debut presents a spare, bleak, dystopian future, and features evocatively minimal set design and creepy sound effects."[16]


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 name

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 culture

Lucasfilm references

  • The yellow hot rod driven by Paul Le Mat in Lucas' 1973 film American Graffiti shows the license plate THX 138.[25]
  • In Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the 1976 tie-in novelisation of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, a Stormtrooper is referred to as THX 1138.
  • In 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke Skywalker gives the fictitious location of the cell block from which he is transferring Chewbacca as "one-one-three-eight".
  • In *The Clone Wars (2008 TV series) season 3 episode 1 "Clone Cadets" one training programme is called THX-1138.
  • The THX sound certification system, originated in 1982, is sometimes said to be derived from THX 1138, and also from the system's originator, sound engineer Tomlinson Holman, as 'Tomlinson Holman's eXperiment'.
  • In the video game Maniac Mansion (a Lucasfilm Games released in 1987), the license plate on the Edsel in the garage reads "THX 1138".
  • In the video game Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds (first released in 2001), selecting a Stormtrooper soldier (Galactic Empire faction) occasionally results in his reply "THX 1138 ready, sir!"
  • In Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III, during a skit involving a gathering of bounty hunters, the assassin droid IG-88 introduces his cousin THX-1138, who greets the room with the famous THX Deep Note.

Audio samples


  • 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 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 album cover for Daft Punk's 2013 single, Get Lucky is inspired by THX 1138's iconic ending scene.


  • 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.
  • Two androids in the sci-fi anime "Eve no Jikan" are called LUH and THX, and refers to "Law 1138."
  • The music video "I have the touch" from Peter Gabriel is based on the movie
  • In "Futurama" season 7, episode 22, "Leela and the Genestalk", the name of the redneck bar is "TEX 1138's".


See also



External links

  • (requires Flash Player to run site)
  • Internet Movie Database
  • DVD THX forum
  • at a Lucas fan site
  • Village Voice review April 8, 1971
  • THX 1138 at Rotten Tomatoes

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