Real Genius turns 35—celebrating this cult classic is a moral imperative: Author – Jennifer Ouellette

Ars Technica

Mitch (Gabriel Jarret) and Chris (Val Kilmer) play young science whizzes trying to build a 5-kilowatt laser in the 1985 film <em>Real Genius</em>.

Enlarge / Mitch (Gabriel Jarret) and Chris (Val Kilmer) play young science whizzes trying to build a 5-kilowatt laser in the 1985 film Real Genius. (credit: TriStar Pictures)

Back to the Future justly dominated the summer box office in 1985, but it’s too bad its massive success overshadowed another nerd-friendly gem, Real Genius, which debuted one month later, on August 9. Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, the film remains one of the most charming, winsome depictions of super-smart science whizzes idealistically hoping to change the world for the better with their work. It also boasts a lot of reasonably accurate science—a rare occurrence at the time.

Real Genius came out the same year as the similarly themed films Weird Science—which spawned a 1990s TV sitcom—and My Science Project, because 1980s Hollywood tended to do things in threes. But I’d argue that Real Genius has better stood the test of time, despite being so quintessentially an ’80s film—right down to the many montages set to electronic/synth-pop chart-toppers. The film only grossed $12.9 million domestically against its $8 million budget, compared to $23.8 million domestically for its fellow cult classic, Weird Science. (My Science Project bombed with a paltry $4.1 million.) Reviews were mostly positive, however, and over time it became a sleeper hit via VHS, and later, DVD and streaming platforms.

(Spoilers for the 35-year-old film below.)

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