The film begins with a video log by Ellie. She asks the camera how she can tell their story. She suggests to herself "from the beginning."
Country high school student Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) sets off on a camping trip to "hell's Gate", with close childhood friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood), together with Corrie's boyfriend Kevin, Ellie's next-door neighbour Homer, high school crush Lee and friends Robyn and Fiona. After driving Ellie's parents' Land Rover into the mountains, they hike down into a remote valley known as "Hell".
During their second night camping, Ellie wakes to a sky full of military aircraft. Upon arriving back in town, the group finds their homes abandoned, without power, internet and telephone lines down. From the hill overlooking Robyn's house, the group sees that the only lights on in town are at the hospital and showground. Upon reaching the showground, they find that the citizens of the town are being detained by a foreign military group. Ellie witnesses a man being executed with a shot to the head, and in her horror retreats too quickly, being spotted by a searchlight. They flee but are pursued by soldiers into the backyard of a house. Ellie, using Kevin's singlet, lighter and the fuel tank of a ride-on lawn mower, creates an explosion that eliminates the squad.
On return to Corrie's house, they find that Lee and Robyn are missing. Ellie and Corrie witness an RAAF jet fighter being shot down by enemy aircraft. Whilst the group gathers inside to plan for their return to Hell, an enemy helicopter performs a close examination of the house. Homer shoots out the helicopter's searchlight, which retreats after dropping flares. The group barely escape with their lives, after a jet destroys the home.
That night, Ellie and Homer sneak back into town and find Robyn in her house. Lee has been wounded, and is being treated by Dr Clements (Colin Friels), the local dentist, who informs them that the invading forces are bringing in their vehicles and equipment from ships moored in Cobbler's Bay over the Wirrawee Bridge. After a brief skirmish with a pair of armed buggies, Robyn, Homer, Lee and Ellie meet back up at Corrie's home. They decide to return to Hell.
On the way, they stop at a house and are greeted by school mate Chris, who is incredibly stoned and has no idea that a war is going on. Chris joins the group. They return to Hell, with plans to use it as a secluded hideout where the enemy forces will not find them. While there, they hear a radio transmission revealing that Australia has been invaded by "The Coalition Nations" from nearby Asia, who believe that they have a right to the country's vast natural resources and wealth in order to sustain their growing populations. The transmission also reveals one of the three main ports being used to deposit soldiers into the country is nearby Cobbler's Bay, the only exit from which is the Heron Bridge, which the group then makes plans to destroy.
The group sneaks back to Wirrawee, and devise a plan to blow up Heron Bridge. Ellie and Fi steal a petrol tanker from the council depot. They park it near the bridge and, while waiting for the rest of the team to take their positions. After being discovered by guards, they rush to drive the tanker forward under the bridge. The plan necessarily brought forward, Homer and Lee scare a herd of cattle onto the bridge, forcing the sentry guards to flee their posts, allowing Ellie to park the tanker under the bridge unhindered. Working together, they manage to explode the tanker, which utterly destroys the bridge. Corrie however is shot as the group escapes.
Despite certain capture, Kevin decides to drive Corrie, who is seriously wounded, to the hospital and remain by her side. The group return to Hell. Ellie then finishes her video log, revealing their ongoing guerilla war, the necessity to fight, and that they have yet to be found.Caitlin Stasey as Ellie Linton, the film's protagonist and Lee's romantic interest.Rachel Hurd-Wood as Corrie McKenzie, Ellie's best friend and Kevin's girlfriend.Lincoln Lewis as Kevin Holmes, Corrie's boyfriend.Deniz Akdeniz as Homer Yannos, Ellie's next-door neighbour and Fiona's romantic interest.Phoebe Tonkin as Fiona "Fifi" Maxwell, Homer's romantic interest.Chris Pang as Lee Takkam,1 Ellie's romantic interest.Ashleigh Cummings as Robyn MathersAndy Ryan as Chris LangColin Friels as Dr. Clement, the Wirrawee dentistDon Halbert as Mr. LintonOlivia Pigeot as Mrs. LintonStephen Bourke as Police OfficerKelly Butler as Mrs. MaxwellJulia Yon as Mrs. TakkamDane Carson as Mr. MathersMatthew Dale as Mr. ColesGary Quay as Senior SoldierMichael Camilleri as Tanker Driver
In June 2009, Screen Australia announced that it would fund the development of the feature film to be produced based on the novel, to be written and directed by screenwriter Stuart Beattie. The film was released on 2 September 2010. Critical response to the film was mixed and it failed to find an overseas audience.
Filming and locations
Filming began in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia on 28 September 2009 with early shooting in Dungog. Raymond Terrace was chosen as a major location for producing the film as it is "a great country town". Historic King Street, the former main street of the town, was transformed from a normally quiet location into Main Street, Wirrawee. The street began its transformation in September 2009, with set areas including the "Wirrawee Cinema" and the Lee family's Thai restaurant. Filming began in King Street on 21 October 2009 and continued until 27 October 2009. Filming in other locations in the town ended on 6 November 2009. Other filming locations included Maitland, the Blue Mountains and the Luskintyre bridge. The Fox Studios site in Sydney was also used. The explosions of the house and bridge were filmed, scaled-down, at Terrey Hills in northern Sydney.
Tomorrow, When the War Began received mixed reviews. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 64% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 54 reviews, with an average score of 5.6/10. The site's consensus is that "While the script isn't amazing and the story's race issues linger, this adaptation of John Marsden's book is an exciting, action-heavy adventure that should please fans of the series." Marc Fennell of Triple J wrote that Tomorrow, When the War Began has "patchy acting, fantastic action and some great slivers of humour in a movie that only gives off the faintest whiff of a xenophobic nation terrified of being invaded." Margaret Pomeranz of At the Movies wrote that "Stuart Beattie handles the action well; I think he's less adept at handling the development of character, but I'm sure the numerous fans of the book will be satisfied with the movie." A review by the Australian Special Broadcasting Service was less generous, pointing out parallels to the 1984 film Red Dawn, starring Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze. It called the plot weak and the ending a letdown. Despite not coming close to its A$27 million budget, the film was popular at the Australian and New Zealand box office, though internationally it was far less successful. In Australia, the film debuted at No. 1 and made $3.86 million during its first weekend and grossed NZ$358,653 in its No. 1 debut in New Zealand. Within two weeks, the film grossed over $7.7 million in Australia to become the highest-grossing domestic film of 2010. Paramount acquired distribution rights for the UK, Russia, South Africa, Portugal and Scandinavia and said upon its acquisition that they "look forward to bringing this story to international audiences." Despite earning over $13.5 million at the Australian box office, the film "failed to find an international audience" and earned a total of under $3 million in the rest of the world combined. This included $341,995 in the U.K. and $1,026,705 in New Zealand.Steer - Written & Performed by Missy HigginsThe Honeymoon Is Over - Performed by The Cruel SeaCosmic Egg - Performed by WolfmotherRestaurant Piano - Written, Produced & Performed by Guy GrossFader - Performed by The Temper TrapDon't You Think It's Time? - Performed by Bob EvansBlack Hearts (On Fire) - Performed by JetPoison In Your Mind - Written & Performed by PowderfingerTomorrow - Performed by Nic Cester, Davey Lane & KramFlame Trees - Performed by Sarah BlaskoAll Music - Composed by Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil
The DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film were released on 30 December 2010. Both editions were released in widescreen and have additional special features. Some Australian stores released the DVD of the film earlier than expected on 21 December 2010, nine days before the official release date. This was later confirmed by the film's official Facebook page. Special features include John Marsden's view and an alternate ending. Tomorrow, When the War Began now holds the record for the biggest first week sales for an Australian independently-produced and financed film after selling almost 105,000 DVD copies since its release on 30 December. The previous record was held by George Miller's animated film Happy Feet, which sold about 95,000 copies in its first week in 2007.
In September 2010, executive producer Christopher Mapp stated that there may be two sequels, based on the novels The Dead of the Night and The Third Day, The Frost. He also stated that there may be a television series, adapting the remainder of the book series. In December 2010, The Age reported that The Dead of the Night had been green-lit for production, which would commence once the script by Stuart Beattie was completed, with release scheduled for 2012. Filming was due to commence in September 2011. On 20 November 2011, Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported that the sequel had apparently been cancelled. Lincoln Lewis stated "At this stage it doesn't look like it's going to go ahead." In December 2011, the official Tomorrow, When the War Began Facebook page posted that Kieran Darcy-Smith is working on a script for a sequel. In August 2012, it was announced by producers that they hoped for filming to start in early 2013.
After several years of no word on the sequel, in 2015 it was announced that a television adaptation of the Tomorrow series was currently in the works. The cast from the film adaption did not reprise their roles. The series consists of six episodes and airs on ABC3. Filming took place from 14 September to 13 November 2015 in Melbourne, and premiered on 23 April 2016.