The Typical Eighties Brilliance of Real Genius – By Edgar Rider


Real Genius contains many of the crucial elements of an eighties film that some of us grew up with. Some of these themes include the nerds coming of age, the dilemma between studying and partying, and the rebellion against some member of faculty and the evil accomplice. Another movie, Revenge of the Nerds had a similar motif one year before.

In Real Genius, Val Kilmer plays Chris Night a smart science student who used to be a nerd but became a cool science guy. He is on a mission to teach his fellow science geeks to learn to have fun and in the process continue excelling at scientific experimentation. Professor Hathaway is the teacher who stands in the way along with his student assistant Kent.

Mitch is his main friend trying to learn the ropes of the academic world and the ways of the female persuasion. Lazlow is a strange but brilliant mentor to Chris. He was a former best student of Pacific Tech,but he went off the deep when he found it his experiments were being used to make weapons. The relationship between these three is extremely important in the film. Especially the male bonding between Chris and Mitch. Also there is a side romance brewing between Mitch and Jordan( a quirky young female student).

Real Genius is a time capsule of epic proportions . An eighties gem containing songs such as All She Wants to do is Dance by Don Henley and One Night Love affair by Bryan Adams. These two songs play during a water slide party scene. These songs cement the deal and take some of us back to our youth. It is also contains the eighties training montage where the students show their coming of age. Just like the dancing sequence of Footloose or the boxing footage of Rocky the students start off struggling but by the end of the sequence they have shown significant progress.

The typical ‘Weird Science’ type plot revolves around Dr. Hathaway’s house being bought on money from a laser project. Chris and Mitch set out to expose Hathaway. One scene has Chris and Mitch working on a laser. The laser passes through a wall and destroys a statue it burns a hole right through it. The laser was sabotaged by Kent trying to make Chris and Mitch look incompetent it ends up backfiring.

Many consider this film to be a satirical comedy from 1985. It is in some ways with its sort of governmental side plot line. However this point is not heavy handed and is only used to further the ridiculous shenanigans the rebellious students create and those of us who grew up with eighties spectacle appreciate.

For those of us who lived and survived the eighties there has always been this loss sense of nostalgic longing of innocence. Movies like this always bring it right back.


Recently, I sat in on High school classes that were writing papers and studying this movie for its Relevant context. I was hesitant wondering how the students would take this movie. It was in my view a nostalgic blast from my past. Eventhough I grew up in the eighties, this film was not as widely seen as the Breakfast Club, Goonies or Back to The Future.

The high school classes payed close attention in specific scenes like when Kilmer’s character hands the teacher an apple.As soon as Kilmer leaves the teacher throws it into the garbage can. The students laughed as the apple exploded into the garbage can.

In another scene Kilmer laughs out loud a maniacal laugh and then he asks his timid friend to do the same. Mitch Taylor lets out an odd chuckle. The students were amused by Mitch’s discomfort and his uninspired meager laugh.

I knew there would be some eighties fans after watching a young female student walk around in a Guns N Roses t-shirt. It was an interesting to realize their could be lots of things from my youth that could still be influencing this younger generation. Sometimes they seem interested and sometimes maybe not. I have sat in on History of Rock classes where the students yawned and played with their phones the whole time. I thought to myself why aren’t they interested in this.

But on this particular day It was amazing to watch these students enjoy the film. They understood that despite the dated fashion and simple technological devices (phones attached to the wall with chords) for example many of the same themes applied to their daily lives. Themes of trying to get through school, awkward dating and figuring out their future still were relevant.

It was an education watching students and teachers reactions to this film. Being in front of the classroom, I realized that the age of technology we are living in has not prevented the occasional class from throwing paper airplanes around the room and passing notes. I remember one class where a student asked me if he could leave early. I asked him why. He informed me he just ordered a couple of pizzas and they were waiting for him at his house.

He was shocked when I told him I really didn’t care. I didn’t tell him that it was less students for me to deal with just let him and his friends go. Some students don’t seem to realize that teachers especially guest teachers can’t wait for that bell to ring as well.There are definitely times when teachers and students don’t see eye to eye and conflict can ensue.

As far as the movie goes, just when you think generations have nothing in common there was much to connect us. Sometimes the war between teachers and students doesn’t always exist but on screen it was fun for all of us to explore. The sentimentality of the film was relevant in these current day classroom experiences I found myself thrown into.

Eighties film like Genius generally have a romantic sentiment that never really dies down. It carries over to adulthood but we remember that all of us wanted to have that kind of serious impact in our youth. These students seemed no different.

In one of the final scenes the laser is pointed into Hathaway’s house popcorn shoots out the windows. The finale comes when the students outside jump in the excess popcorn.
Everything is resolved. Even Laslow has been vindicated.

Everybody Wants to Rule The World by Tears for Fears is played at the end of the Real Genius movie.

A perfect song to close the movie because in their own lives and in their own world every teenager certainly does rule.

Edgar Rider has been a substitute for two school districts: Scottsdale and Creighton. His other published work appear in Birmingham Arts Journal, Avatar Review, Static Movement, Dead Mule, Exiles Literary Magazine and Modern Rock Review.