The Philadelphia Experiment is a 1984 science fiction film. It was directed by Stewart Raffill and starred Michael Paré, Bobby Di Cicco, Nancy Allen, and Eric Christmas.
The plot is based on the urban legend of the Philadelphia Experiment. In 1943, two sailors, David Herdeg (Paré) and Jim Parker (Di Cicco), are stationed on a ship in an experiment to make it invisible to radar. However, the experiment goes horribly wrong and Herdeg and Parker are the only two survivors. They both undergo time travel (because of the experiment) and find themselves in the Nevada desert in the year 1984.
A sequel called Philadelphia Experiment II, featuring a different cast and crew, and a parallel storyline, was released in 1993 to little acclaim.
United States Navy sailors David Herdeg and Jim Parker are assigned to the core part of the equipment installed to render the destroyer escort USS Eldridge invisible to radar in Philadelphia harbor, using equipment from a team led by Dr. James Longstreet. During the experiment, it appears the equipment is functioning abnormally, and crewmen are suffering. Jim tries to shut off the equipment but gets an electric shock when he touches the main power cut-off. Unable to do anything, they jump ship and pass through a time vortex.
Outside, the observers notice that the ship has disappeared, obviously not an intended effect of the experiment.
David and Jim land amid some buildings (which subsequently disappear) and shortly are spotlit by a helicopter’s search light. They run, get over a fence and make their way through a desert terrain, and eventually find a highway. David finds a curious object with German names on it (a beer bottle), and Jim finds a Coca Cola can, marveling at its lightness. David identifies the rusted hulk of an automobile he’s familiar with, and they follow the highway to a diner.
Learning from the diner owners that they’re in Nevada, David leaves to make a phone call, while Jim is intrigued by the TV set. He’s also suffering from his electric shock, which has produced a lasting effect on his arm. There’s also a mysterious electric storm that is affecting the area, and it seems to affect Jim. David is waiting to use the phone, while a young woman, Allison Hayes, is on it, put off by the fact that the job she was driving to interview for has been filled already.
Jim’s suffering causes a confrontation in the diner, where he “zaps” an arcade game machine and riles the owner of the diner. David seizes the owner’s gun and beats a retreat, taking Allison’s car. Because he’s not familiar with an “automatic transmission”, he requires Allison to come along as the driver. They escape the diner and ask Allison the date – 1984. They ask who won “the war” and learn that answer as well. The three eventually reach a city, where Jim and David are worried and shocked by the changes in society.
The police track them down and catch them, but Jim has to be hospitalized. The diner owner decides he won’t press charges because he can’t take the time to testify so David is released from the cell he was sharing with a transvestite.
David and Allison go to the hospital and speak with the doctor who’s trying to treat Jim. David tells about the time travel experience and assumes it might be a common thing in the 1980s, but he realizes the doctor is calling the story into question. They are about to leave when the doctor is summoned to Jim’s room. Before all their eyes, Jim dissolves into a brief sizzle of fiery plasma-like energy. David and Allison decide to leave, but have to evade Navy Security who’ve arrived to take David into “protective” custody.
They make their way to a motel, and check in for the night. Allison offers to try and call relatives, and they end up calling the family of Jim Parker on a ranch in California. David hears a familiar voice but hangs up without saying anything. David gets despondent and angry about the situation, and Allison is about to walk out when he manages to stop her by convincing her he is at its wits end and can’t cope. Later, David sees President Reagan in a news conference, and wonders if its another old movie. The next day, they hire a different vehicle and continue into California. By this time, feelings are developing between the two.
They reach the Parker ranch and knock at the front door. Jim’s 1943 girlfriend Pamela recognizes David. She says Jim came back (and was hospitalized after telling the truth about what he saw in the future); a lot of the men on the Eldridge were burned, and many died. David sees Jim, riding a horse, but Jim won’t look at his old friend. Deciding to leave the Parker farm, David and Allison see military police approaching yet again. There is a chase around the ranch, and David successfully eludes the others, whose vehicle is wrecked. David extracts some papers from the vehicle and uses them to backtrack the military to find out what is going on.
Meanwhile, Dr. James Longstreet has been investigating a mystery at the Nevada military base. A “town” has disappeared, but they find a piece of a navy ship in the desert, and Longstreet identifies it as part of the Eldridge. He also notes two men on the ship and one of them is somewhere in the United States at this very time. They are also conducting some kind of experiment, and there is some sort of vortex in the sky. They fire a camera probe into it, and before the signal disappears, the camera shows the “town” and then the Eldridge.
David and Allison reach a military subdivision and go to a particular house, where someone is expected… but not David. David compels the man to take him to the man’s headquarters, at the base the two men landed in the day before. Dr. Longstreet tells the guards to let David come in, and shows David the situation.
David realizes that Longstreet has tried the same experiment again, this time to protect a town from ICBM attack. The same problem happened… and although they shut down their generators, the town did not reappear. Longstreet says there’s still a generator running somewhere in hyperspace… on the Eldridge. According to history, the Eldridge reappeared when David shut down the generator. Longstreet says that unless the vortex is closed, it will destroy the Earth – it is already starting to pull up surface matter as it grows. The vortex is a disruption in the space-time continuum. David must go through the vortex and return to the Eldridge.
Allison urges David not to do it, but he agrees and is outfitted in an astronaut-type suit designed to protect him from the electromagnetic energy. He is driven out under the vortex, to be fired upward on a rocket-type launcher. David lands on the deck of the Eldridge where he finds the crew in agony, some literally baked into the ship’s hull. He hurries to the generator room, grabs an axe and begins to smash equipment. The generator finally shuts down, and he returns to the main deck and finds Jim. Assured that Jim is fine, David again jumps over the side of the ship and flares out of view. Moments later, the Eldridge reappears in Philadelphia harbor.
41 years later, but at the same moment, the “town” – a collection of military buildings – reappears. Allison hurries out of the control room and appropriates a jeep to drive to it. There, she calls out around the buildings and David reappears, back from the past proclaiming that the Navy owes him a lot of back pay.