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5 Brilliant Things You Should Know About Real Genius

By Christopher Campbell

Growing up with Real Genius, I’ve mistaken it for a guilty pleasure. The college comedy, which opened in theaters 28 years ago today, was easily lumped in with a number of other nerdy teen movies of the era, including WarGames and Weird Science, the latter of which opened just five days before this and went on to make more money and reign as the better known of the sci-fi oriented pair…

Never mind what the critics thought, though. While it’s always hard to objectively re-examine a beloved movie from your youth (don’t dare tell me Maximum Overdrive isn’t a good film!), there’s at least some proof that Real Genius was intelligently produced and meant to be different from the pack it seems to run with. It also has a more interesting legacy than it’s given credit for. Below I’ve highlighted five bits of trivia about the making of and impact of the movie.

Filmmaker Martha Coolidge Did Her Homework
Initially, the Valley Girl director twice declined the job of making Real Genius, reportedly seeing it as the generic college/teen movie and Revenge of the Nerds knockoff it could have been and might still seem superficially to be (“it had a lot of penis and scatological jokes,” she says). But producer Brian Grazer really wanted her behind the camera so he had Neal Israel and Pat Proft’s script reworked, first by Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz and later by PJ Torokvei, to remove some of the lowbrow humor and develop the smarter elements (Torokvei also added the love interest, Jordan, and wrote many of Val Kilmer’s witty lines). Coolidge came on and did some major homework of her own, researching laser technology, learning about CIA policy and interviewing students at Caltech (the school on which the film’s Pacific Tech is based)…

The Frito-Lay Contest Scheme Was Real
One of the subplots of the movie features Jon Gries playing a mysterious genius who winds up winning 31.8% of the prizes in a Frito-Lay sweepstakes by submitting 1,650,000 entries. “No purchase necessary, enter as often as you want,” he explains. This storyline was inspired by two real-life schemes by students at Caltech…

The Movie Was the First to Be Promoted Via the Internet
About a week before the movie opened, it was promoted in a way that had never been done before: over a computer. Promoters set up a press conference physically held at a computer store in Westwood, California, in which Coolidge and others involved in the film answered questions asked by entertainment writers all over the country, by way of CompuServe. Reportedly there were some connectivity issues and a number of other errors, but otherwise the debut of the online roundtable junket was a success and is considered the first of its kind.

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