Real Genius (1985)

real genius

“I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, when he said, ‘I drank what?'”

The Scoop: 1985 PG, directed by Martha Coolidge and starring Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, and Michelle Meyrink

Tagline: It’s yet another in a long series of diversions in an attempt to avoid responsibility.

Summary Capsule: Super-smart party nerds stave off overbearing teachers and save the world.


Justin’s rating: Let me get out the popcorn!

Justin’s review: By the mid-1980s, there was a rise in geeky movie heroes that took previously fringe nerds and shoved them right to the center of the story. With the Ghostbusters, Marty and Doc from Back to the Future, the astronauts of Space Camp, and the hackers of Wargames (among others), suddenly it was really cool to be into gadgets, chemistry, computers, robotics, and the rest. So you can see why 1985’s Real Genius attempted to strike while that wave was riding high. And while it didn’t exactly see immediate success, it’s since become a cult fave of the era.

High school science prodigy Mitch (Gabe Jarret) is recruited to enroll in Pacific Tech, a not-too-subtle stand-in for M.I.T. There, he finds a weird assortment of fellow nerds, including overbearing bully Kent, hyperactive Jordan, guy-in-the-literal-closet Lazlo, and all-around slacker Chris (Val Kilmer).

Initially, Mitch goes through a process of learning how to fit into a college setting while finding a balance between his studies and a need to blow off steam and have fun. Chris sees Mitch heading toward burnout and so attempts to mentor him in a wacky way, such as using lasers to throw an awesome pool party in an auditorium.

Speaking of lasers, it turns out that the reason Mitch was pulled into Pacific Tech was a little more sinister than altruistic. Professor Hathaway (’80s veteran jerk William Atherton) is under the gun to produce an assassin-grade laser for the CIA to mount on a satellite. And when the students find out what they’re actually doing, a revolt begins to brew…

This is all the framework for one of the most quotable and genially fun ’80s movies you’ll ever see. Silly situations and memorable lines fly fast and furious, and the typecasting is just perfect with Kilmer sliding into the too-cool-for-school smart aleck and Atherton and Prescott playing slimy jerks that deserve some good, geeky comeuppance.

Real Genius is a lot of things — a college comedy and an ’80s scifi romp most of all — and it’s only gotten better as it’s aged. Definitely a must-see for any fan of the decade.

Kyle’s review: Gabriel Jarret as Mitch isn’t exactly your average lead character. Usually, someone of his physical appearance would be viewed through an iron cage, snatching at the peanut shells being thrown at him and flinging feces at gawkers. But for Real Genius, at least, Mitch fits in perfectly: we as an audience can buy Val Kilmer being a fun, handsome genius. But two handsome geniuses? Rooming together? Not on this planet.

Real Genius is great because Chris (Kilmer) and Mitch do exactly what we, the dumb audience, would do if we were super-geniuses: use our great intellect to get beauty school chicks to come to our parties and wreak divine buttery revenge on those who have wronged us. And have a blast doing it.

You’ll have a blast watching it. Kilmer is perfect as the kind of smart guy who can easily throw an impromptu indoor waterslide party when he’s not building a better laser of hot burning death. Jarret comes along for the ride as he, and we, learn that all the smarts in the world don’t amount to a hill of popcorn if you don’t know how to kick back sometimes, relax, and occasionally ice-skate down your momentarily frozen dormitory hallway.

Not Sarah Jessica Parker
Not Sarah Jessica Parker


  • A scene where Chris floats outside his classroom suspended in a lounge chair attached to several balloons appeared in the preview version but not the release version. This is a reference to a real-life 1982 incident.
  • On a side note, I have an affinity for this movie simply because I, too, wear pink fluffy bunny slippers, like Chris Knight. And gray elephant slippers as well.
  • The drunk hamsters
  • That Chris and Prof Hathaway wear the same type of slippers
  • Jared really doesn’t have a bed (she’s an insomniac)
  • The kid who snaps under pressure
  • Why they used popcorn as a revenge tool

Groovy Quotes:

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

Jordan: I never sleep, I don’t know why. I had a roomate 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?

Dr. Hathaway: Bodie, I noticed you stopped stuttering.
Bodie: I’ve been giving myself shock treatments.
Dr. Hathaway: Up the voltage.

Dr. Dodd: Why is that toy on your head?
Chris Knight: Because if I wear it any place else, it chafes.

Professor Hathaway: You still run?
Chris Knight: Only when chased.

Chris Knight: This? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold. This? This is Kent. This is what happens to people when they get too sexually frustrated.

Chris Knight: Self-realization. I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, when he said, “I drank what?”

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Revenge Of The Nerds
  • PCU
  • Animal House


  1. […] Our main character, Terri (Joyce Hyser) is a high school journalist with the typical 80’s problems: a shallow college boyfriend, a horny younger brother, and some semi-impossible dream she wants to attain to make her life worth living. Convinced that the world is skewed heavily in favor of the penis-wearing gender, Terri cuts her hair, throws on some hot duds, and starts speaking in a “manly” voice. Which is to say, her normal voice. The only reason she gets away with it is that everyone around her doesn’t question a feminine guy with plucked eyebrows. This is, after all, the era of other androgynous heroes, such as in Real Genius. […]

  2. Thank you so much for captioning Gabe Jarrett’s picture that way. I spent my youth convinced that if it wasn’t Sarah Jessica Parker, it was her long lost separated at birth twin. You just made my night. 😂😂

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