The Night That Panicked America is an American made-for-television movie that was originally broadcast on the ABC network on October 31, 1975. The movie dramatizes events surrounding Orson Welles' famous - and infamous - War of the Worlds radio broadcast (based on the novel of the same name by English author H.G. Wells) of October 30, 1938, which had led some Americans to believe that an invasion of Martians was occurring in New Jersey.
The Night That Panicked America tells the story of the 1938 broadcast from the point of view of Welles and his associates as they create the broadcast live, as well as from the points of view of a number of different fictional American families, in a variety of locations and from a variety of social classes, who listened to the broadcast and believed the imaginary Martian invasion was actually occurring, with some people even committing suicide.
The movie starred, among others, Michael Constantine, Meredith Baxter-Birney, Tom Bosley, Eileen Brennan, Vic Morrow, Will Geer, and John Ritter. Paul Shenar played Orson Welles.
Some local stations in various areas of the United States have annually rebroadcast this made-for-TV movie on October 30, the anniversary of the original radio broadcast or on October 31, which is Halloween. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction praised the film's recreation of events in the radio studio, but was unimpressed by its depiction of the resulting panic, calling it "a routine disaster movie with hackneyed characters reacting in predictable ways."
The film has never been issued on home video in any format.
The Welles broadcast and the reaction to it had earlier been dramatized in The Night America Trembled, a live presentation that aired on Studio One (September 9, 1957). The cast of this top-rated TV recreation of Welles' radio broadcast included Alexander Scourby, Ed Asner and Warren Oates. James Coburn made his television debut, and John Astin appeared uncredited as a reporter. In one of his earliest acting roles, Warren Beatty appeared in the bit part of a card-playing college student.