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Real Genius

Real Genius poster
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Produced by Brian Grazer
Written by Neal Israel
Pat Proft
Peter Torokvei
Starring Val Kilmer
Gabriel Jarret
William Atherton
Jon Gries
Ed Lauter
Michelle Meyrink
Robert Prescott
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Vilmos Zsigmond
Editing by Richard Chew
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date(s) August 7, 1985
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Gross revenue $13,000,000 (US) (sub-total)

Real Genius is a 1985 satirical comedy film starring Val Kilmer and Gabriel Jarret. The film is set on the campus of "Pacific Tech", a fictitious technical university in the US based on Caltech, although some elements of the plot and campus refer to events at Carnegie Mellon University. Chris Knight (Kilmer) is a genius in his senior year working on a chemical laser. He came to the university as a somber, assiduous student but mellowed over time after deciding that there is more to life than just work. Mitch Taylor (Jarret) is a new student on campus who is paired up with Knight to work on the laser. Mitch is much like Knight used to be, and has trouble settling in. Eventually, Knight teaches Mitch how to enjoy himself and live on campus without "burning out".



The film begins with a video presentation of a space-based laser weapon that incinerates a man on the ground with pinpoint accuracy. The CIA has contracted with Professor Jerry Hathaway (Atherton) to develop this secret weapon with his team of brilliant students at the elite university Pacific Tech. When the Agency demands a more powerful laser, Hathaway recruits 15-year-old high-school science prodigy Mitch Taylor (Jarret) to study at Pacific Tech and help with the project.

When he arrives on campus, Mitch is assigned a dorm room with Chris Knight (Kilmer), a "senior slacker" who is supposed to be working on the laser project but prefers to party and goof off. Mitch also meets Jordan (Meyrink), a hyperkinetic female student with whom he falls in love, and the mysterious Lazlo Hollyfeld (Gries), who appears and disappears via Chris' closet. The laser team's current leader, Hathaway's subservient graduate assistant Kent (Prescott), becomes hostile to Mitch when Hathaway puts Mitch in charge of the project.

In the next few scenes, Chris increasingly distracts Mitch from his work. After Hathaway scolds Mitch for joining Chris's pool party, Kent records Mitch's tearful telephone call to his mother and plays it over the cafeteria PA system at lunchtime. When Chris and Mitch retaliate by disassembling Kent's car and reassembling it in his dorm room, Hathaway threatens to flunk Chris out of Pacific Tech, and Chris finally returns to his work. His efforts appear to be ruined when Kent sabotages the laser, but, in a fit of anger at the laser's destruction, he has an epiphany that solves the project's power problem. The beam of the redesigned laser is "hotter than the sun" and produces the required five megawatts of power. Hathaway forgives Chris completely.

When the laser team celebrate their success, Lazlo points out that the high-energy laser is a weapon. In the research lab, Hathaway has removed both the laser and a tracking system to aim it. This convinces the students that they must destroy the laser. Their first step is to implant a radio transceiver in Kent's braces. Posing as Jesus, Mitch advises Kent not to masturbate and discovers that the laser is going to be tested soon. Meanwhile, Jordan follows Hathaway to a nearby Air Force base. While Chris and Mitch talk their way into the base, Lazlo remotely cracks the laser's computer and changes its target coordinates to Hathaway's house, where the gang have placed a huge tin of popcorn, which Hathaway intensely dislikes. They call the Dean of Pacific Tech and the local congressman to witness the weapon firing, and Mitch orders Kent to visit the house. When the laser hits the house, it shines through a stained-glass window and Kent becomes convinced that he is having a religious experience. The popcorn expands, the house bursts at the seams, and popcorn pours out of the house, pushing Kent along with it and allowing neighborhood children to frolic in the popcorn. Meanwhile, the laser overheats and destroys itself.

The film contains several themes and subplots alongside the laser story, including a budding romance between Mitch and Jordan. The theme of nervous breakdowns, called "cracking", is displayed just before final exams, when a student stands up, begins screaming, and runs out of the room. Laslo was an especially brilliant student in the 1970s, but he cracked when he learned that his research was being used to design weapons. The theme of student gadgetry appears frequently throughout the film. Notable examples are Chris's flying gyroscope, which is pictured on the poster for the film; rapidly evaporating ice; an automatic page turner, an oxygen-retrieving scuba system, and Kent's dental transceiver, all designed by Jordan; and the closet entrance and rail elevator leading to Lazlo's underground hideout.

Cast and characters


To prepare for Real Genius, Martha Coolidge spent months researching laser technology and the policies of the CIA, and interviewed dozens of students at Caltech.[1] The screenplay was extensively rewritten, first by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, later by Coolidge and Peter Torokvei.[2] Producer Brian Grazer remembers that when Val Kilmer came in to audition for the role of Chris Knight, he brought candy bars and performed tricks. Kilmer remembered it differently. "The character wasn't polite, so when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"[3]

To promote the film, the studio held what they billed as "the world's first computer press conference" with Coolidge and Grazer answering journalists' questions via computer terminals and relayed over the CompuServe computer network.[1]

The name "Pacific Tech" ("Pacific Institute of Technology") is a name used several times in films and television when directors/writers/producers wanted to depict a science-oriented university without using a real institution's name—that name was also used in The War of the Worlds and Galactica 1980.


In Mythbusters episode 125, first cablecast on June 17, 2009, Kari Byron asked if Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara were "familiar with a little film called Real Genius?", to which Imahara replied "I've patterned my life after it."

In that episode, they tried to determine whether the final scene in the film, the destruction of Dr. Hathaway's house with laser-popped popcorn, is actually possible. First they used a ten-watt laser to pop a single kernel wrapped in aluminium foil, showing that popping corn is possible with a laser, then they tested a scaled-down model of a house. The popcorn was popped through induction heating because a sufficiently large laser was not available. The result was that the popcorn was unable to expand sufficiently to break glass, much less break open a door or move the house off its foundation. Instead, it ceased to expand and then simply charred.

It was also specifically stated in the program that a five-megawatt laser still did not exist, even in military applications, and that the largest military laser they knew of was 100 kilowatts.


  1. "You Took Advantage of Me" performed by Carmen McRae
  2. "The Tuff Do What?" performed by Tonio K
  3. "Summertime Girls" performed by Y&T
  4. "The Pleasure Seekers" performed by The System
  5. "The Walls Come Down" performed by The Call
  6. "I'm Falling" performed by Comsat Angels
  7. "One Night Love Affair" performed by Bryan Adams
  8. "All She Wants to Do Is Dance", performed by Don Henley
  9. "Number One" performed by Chaz Jankel
  10. "You're the Only Love" performed by Paul Hyde and the Payolas
  11. "Standing in Line" performed by The Textones
  12. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" performed by Tears for Fears


Real Genius was released on August 9, 1985 in 990 theaters grossing $2.5 million in its first weekend. It went on to make $12.9 million in North America.[4]

Critical reception

Real Genius received mixed to positive reviews and has a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "the film is best when it takes them seriously, though it does so only intermittently".[5] David Ansen wrote in his review for Newsweek magazine, "When it's good, the dormitory high jinks feel like the genuine release of teen-age tensions and cruelty. Too bad the story isn't as smart as the kids in it".[6] In her review for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley wrote, "Many of the scenes, already badly written, fail to fulfill their screwball potential ... But despite its enthusiastic young cast and its many good intentions, it doesn't quite succeed. I guess there's a leak in the think tank".[7] Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film three and a half stars out of four, saying that it "contains many pleasures, but one of the best is its conviction that the American campus contains life as we know it".[8] In his review for the Globe and Mail, Salem Alaton wrote, "Producer Brian Grazer craved a feel-good picture, and she turned in the summer's best, and she didn't cheat to do it. There's heart in the kookiness. Real Genius has real people, real comedy and real fun".[9] Time magazine's Richard Schickel praised the film for being a "a smart, no-nonsense movie that may actually teach its prime audience a valuable lesson: the best retort to an intolerable situation is not necessarily a food fight. Better results, and more fun, come from rubbing a few brains briskly together".[10]


  • The coordinates the team redirects the laser to were 34°10′15.21″N 119°7′W, which is on a line that includes Naval Air Station Point Mugu.
  • The solid xenon-halogen laser proposed and built by Chris in the latter half of the film was actually in scientific development at the time. Real Genius was later given a citation in an academic publication which detailed the scientific work (citation number 7 in the paper) [11]
  • A similar concept to the aircraft mounted laser is in development today, the Boeing YAL-1.
  • At the time of the film's release, the B-1 was not part of the U. S. Air Force arsenal, not gaining operational status until 1986, the B-1 program having been canceled during the Carter administration but later resumed by President Ronald Reagan.

Possible sequel

In 2007, Val Kilmer expressed an interest in making a sequel to Real Genius, but no shooting dates have been set.[12]


  1. ^ a b Attanasio, Paul (August 7, 1985). "The Road to Hollywood: Director Martha Coolidge's Long Trek to Real Genius". Washington Post.  
  2. ^ Attanasio, Paul (August 7, 1985). "Fun With the Whiz Kids". Washington Post.  
  3. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca (June 30, 1995). "Cool Hero: Val Kilmer". Entertainment Weekly.,,297866,00.html. Retrieved 2009-09-02.  
  4. ^ "Real Genius". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-03-30.  
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (August 7, 1985). "Real Genius". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-30.  
  6. ^ Ansen, David (August 26, 1985). "Hollywood's Silly Season". Newsweek.  
  7. ^ Kempley, Rita (August 9, 1985). "Real Genius Reels, Falls". Washington Post.  
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 7, 1985). "Real Genius". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-03-30.  
  9. ^ Alaton, Salem (August 12, 1985). "This time the teen antics are funny Real Genius is a real gem". Globe and Mail.  
  10. ^ Schickel, Richard (August 12, 1985). "Guess Who Flunked the IQ Test?". Time.,9171,1050506,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-23.  
  11. ^ M. E. Fajardo, V. A. Apkarian, Simulated Radiative Dissociation and Gain Measurements of Xe2Cl in Solid Xenon, Chemical Physics Letters, 134, 51 (1987).
  12. ^ ""Real Genius" - The Sequel". Retrieved 2007-07-02.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Real Genius is a 1985 comedy about two brilliant students that head a team of young geniuses developing a laser for what they believe is a class project. When they find out that their professor intends to turn their work over to the government for use as a weapon, they decide to ruin his plans.

Directed by Martha Coolidge and written by Neal Israel, Pat Proft, and Peter Torokvei.
When he gets mad, he doesn't get even... he gets creative. Taglines


Chris Knight

  • [to a girl at a party] Don't eat that. Don't you know that eating that can give you very large breasts? [looks down at her chest] Oh my God, I'm too late!
  • [to Mitch, as he is hanging upside down] Would you prepared if gravity reversed itself? The only thing I can't figure out is how to keep the change in my pockets. I've got it. Nudity.


Mrs. Taylor: Dr. Hathaway, I saw your program on radioactive isotopes last night, and I've got a question.
Jerry Hathaway: Yes?
Mrs. Taylor: Is that your real hair?
Jerry Hathaway: Tell me something. Is Mitch by any chance adopted?
Mrs. Taylor: Why, no!
Jerry Hathaway: Amazing.
Mrs. Taylor: Isn't it?

Jerry Hathaway: Mitch, will you miss your friends?
Mitch: Well, no. I think I intimidate other kids.
Jerry Hathaway: Good boy.

Mitch: Did you know there's a guy living in our closet?
Chris Knight: You've seen him too?
Mitch: Who is he?
Chris Knight: Hollyfeld.
Mitch: Why does he keep going into our closet?
Chris Knight: Why do you keep going into our closet?
Mitch: To get my clothes - but that's not why he goes in there.
Chris Knight: Of course not, he's twice your size - your clothes would never fit him.
Mitch: Yeah...
Chris Knight: Think before you ask these questions, Mitch. Twenty points higher than me? Thinks a big guy like that can wear his clothes?

Chris Knight: I'm sorry. It's just that I didn't want you guys to think I was stuffy. You know, no fun. All brain no penis. I'm sorry, it was just an infantile response to authority.
Recruiter: Yes. You are Chris Knight, aren't you?
Chris Knight: I hope so. I'm wearing his underwear.

Chris Knight: I'm sorry, but have you ever seen a body like this before in your life?
David Decker: She happens to be my daughter.
Chris Knight: Oh. Then I guess you have.

Chris Knight: No seriously, listen...if there's ever anything I can do for you, or more to the point, to you, you let me know, okay?
Susan Decker: Can you hammer a six inch spike through a board with your penis?
Chris Knight: Not right now.
Susan Decker: A girl's got to have her standards.

Jerry Hathaway: To graduate, dear boy, you need my class. So it seems I have something to say about what you do and where you go.
Chris Knight: OK, if you think that by threatening me, you can get me to be your slave, well... that's where you're right, but - and I'm only saying this because I care - there are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market today that are just as tasty as the real thing.
Jerry Hathaway: I'm not kidding, Chris.
Chris Knight: Neither am I, Jerry.


  • When he gets mad, he doesn't get even... he gets creative.
  • MEET CHRIS KNIGHT, THE EINSTEIN OF THE '80'S. He can turn the simple into the simply amazing, and now he turns revenge into high comedy.
  • It's yet another in a long series of diversions in an attempt to avoid responsibility.


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