Real Genius (1985)
August 5, 2022 11:03 AM - Subscribe

When science whiz Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) arrives at Pacific Tech as a freshman, he's paired up with genius senior Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) to work on a laser project. Mitch initially doesn't care for Knight's slacker attitude, but is eventually won over, and their friendship allows them to make new progress. They start to question what they've actually been working for when they learn the government's intentions for the project.

Also starring William Atherton, Michelle Meyrink, Jon Gries, and Mark Kamiyama. Directed by Martha Coolidge.

75% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Starz and The Roku Channel. Also available for digital rental via the usual suspects.
posted by DirtyOldTown (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Some stuff here is dated--80s style background bimbos at the party, yuppie suckup Kent, barely there Asian friend Ick, Jordan being the only significant female character, lech professor being treated as Just how Things Are--but there's not much that's out-and-out gross or deal-breaking, at least for me. Still funny. The government/laser bit at the end is less funny than the on-campus hijinks, but it's fun enough. One of the very most likable Val Kilmer performances.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:15 AM on August 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I still love this movie and for my money, it's Val Kilmer's finest performance.

"Was it a dream where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at you?"


"Why am I the only one who has that dream?"


"Yes, you are Chris Knight, aren't you?"

"I hope so; I'm wearing his underwear."


"You still run?"

"Only if chased."
posted by Kitteh at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Agreed to all of the above. Unlike the gross and generally awful Revenge of the Nerds, this is still very watchable, and may be my favorite non-sequelized 80s movie. I think that this may be Atherton's best movie villain--yes, above Ghostbusters and Die Hard--and there's something a bit haunting about Lazlo Hollyfeld ensconced within the bowels of the dorm, gaming the sweepstakes system. (Fun fact: one of the nerds is played by Dean Devlin, better known as writer and producer of absurdly over-the-top blockbusters with Roland Emmerich; another one is Yuji Okumoto, of The Karate Kid Part II and Cobra Kai.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:49 AM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

"I never sleep, I don't know why. I had a roommate and I drove her nuts, I mean really nuts, they had to take her away in an ambulance and everything. But she's okay now, but she had to transfer to an easier school, but I don't know if that had anything to do with being my fault. But listen, if you ever need to talk or you need help studying just let me know, 'cause I'm just a couple doors down from you guys and I never sleep, okay?"

"Considering the type of people you are and the environment you're in, you have to admit the strong possibility this may be the only chance you ever have in your entire lives... to have sex."

"I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said '... I drank what?'"

"Let's just take a step back. No, I was wrong, I'm sorry, take a step forward. Now, take a step back. And then we're cha-cha-ing!"

"This is Jesus, Kent. And you've been a very naughty boy."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:53 AM on August 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

“Would you be prepared if gravity reversed itself?”

One of my all time favorite movies, and holds up pretty well in the context of being an 80s movie.
posted by skycrashesdown at 12:04 PM on August 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

"Because if I wear it anywhere else, it chafes."
posted by Gorgik at 12:11 PM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]



posted by curious nu at 12:38 PM on August 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

Thanks for posting this! I had started putting together a post several months ago but never finished it.

One of my teen faves, Real Genius is one of those movies I rewatch every couple years. Val Kilmer just perfectly personified my high school wannabe nihilistic self—which I never came close to achieving.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:25 PM on August 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

This here is still my favorite bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on August 5, 2022 [6 favorites], no...never...forget to check your references.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:29 PM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your mother puts license plates in your underwear?! How do you sit?!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 7:04 PM on August 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Empress, you can’t link that without the entire “Number One” song, which is inarguably PEAK EIGHTIES.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:53 PM on August 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

"I want to see more of you around the lab"

"Fine. I'll gain weight."
posted by stevis23 at 8:16 PM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Smart people on ice!
posted by maryrussell at 8:30 PM on August 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

"In the immortal words of Socrates....... I drank what?"
posted by miss-lapin at 9:07 PM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Mitch: But if I stay, what should I do?
Chris Knight: You get even with Kent. It's a moral imperative.
OK so it will be a few more years before I wonder why I say something is "a moral imperative" without remembering it's a Real Genius reference. Then I have to watch it again so I don't forget for the next time.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:47 PM on August 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I rewatched this with my wife last year, and she insisted that she had never seen Real Genius before. We graduated from high school in 1985, I maintain it's not possible that she watched this movie for the first time in 2021.
posted by COD at 5:55 AM on August 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

I remember seeing this in high school (where it was liberally quoted by my friend group) and really enjoying Jordan. She was the most realistic girl nerd I had ever seen in a movie. She wasn't disgusting or mean or sexless, she was just weird in a very recognizable way. But then, I haven't seen the movie in years, and the bar was basically set below the floorboards for me back then. I should check it out again.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:49 AM on August 6, 2022 [6 favorites]

The quotable lines are so so so quotable (some faves that haven't been mentioned: "I passed... but I failed!" "Well then I'm happy and sad for you"; "Why am I the only person who has that dream?"; "Can you hammer a six-inch spike through a board with your penis?" "Not right now"; "All my filth is in alphabetical order. This for example was under H, for toy") but the overall message of the movie is actually the reason I keep forcing people to watch it in the year of our lord 2022. I think it was incredibly prescient in calling out the ways that smart, dedicated people risk having their work exploited by the power-hungry if they don't take a broad enough view. Of all the Real Genius quotes that have made their way into my daily consciousness, "cut the crap, Kent, you've built a weapon" is the one with the most pathos behind it.
posted by babelfish at 4:46 PM on August 6, 2022 [6 favorites]

So, a few years ago, over on the blue, we were talking about women in John Hughes movies and Real Genius was mentioned. I never got back to finish the thought I started. I say all the of the following as someone who does love this film and remembers the impact it had on me when I first saw it.

Many nerds of my generation (Class of '84, represent) saw Real Genius and immediately adopted Chris Knight's persona as their own. I firmly believe that this is directly responsible for the absolutely awful way we (and I include myself in this) communicated with each other on BBSes, the USENET, and eventually MySpace, Facebook, and the comments section of every YouTube video. Chris Knight showed us that being snarky and mean to people was OK, and it could make you popular on the right circles - the amazing protagonist that you always wanted to be.

I love this movie. I quote it endlessly. It's a good movie, but it's not a GOOD movie.
posted by hanov3r at 8:08 PM on August 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Ah, the classics.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:17 AM on August 7, 2022

I firmly believe that this is directly responsible for the absolutely awful way we (and I include myself in this) communicated with each other on BBSes, the USENET, and eventually MySpace, Facebook, and the comments section of every YouTube video.

Nope. Sorry, but, as loathe as I am to cite Penny Arcade for any reason--themselves having eventually succumbed to what they used to criticize--the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory makes more sense. BBSes existed before this movie, and they weren't exactly an impeccable forum of civility then. And, most importantly, Chris Knight is snarky to people in person, the last thing that any given internet troll wants to do. Plus, of course, he's just not that vicious; the only one that he's really mean to is Kent, probably specifically because Kent is one of Hathaway's most craven and shameless enablers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:51 AM on August 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

One detail I didn't register until I saw this movie as an adult: the test cars at the end of the movie where they test the laser look similar to the JFK motorcade when he was assassinated, implying that the CIA plans to use the laser to assassinate the American president rather than Fidel Castro (as implied by the promotional video at the start of the movie). This is backed up at the start of the movie when the CIA people state that only the CIA knows about laser project, and state they plan to kill the one CIA guy who said he was going to inform the President of the project.
posted by AlSweigart at 5:46 AM on August 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

My younger brother's name is Kent. Luckily for him I had just started college when this movie came out, so I wasn't able to wire his room for sound and do the voice of god thing. Also, my brother's very much cooler than the movie Kent.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:23 PM on August 9, 2022

barely there Asian friend Ick,

Yes, but to be sure, props for having a non-racist Asian character in the 80s. Real Genius is only a year after 16 Candles.
posted by Ishbadiddle at 11:03 AM on August 11, 2022 [4 favorites]

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