There were an interesting batch of geeky movies in the 1980’s that spanned from Sci-Fi and Fantasy to college humor and high school life. Putting together a top of list is always going to be a subjective endeavor, there will be those who agree with my picks and those who don’t, but that’s part of the fun of it! With so many great movies to choose from in the 80’s it wasn’t an easy task to pick the top 5 movie geeks from that period, so let’s get on with it!
#5 – Newton Crosby/Ben Jahrvi – Short Circuit
Short Circuit, released in 1986, starred Steve Guttenberg as Newton Crosby inventor of Number 5 an advanced robot which he envisions as a helper to man. Crosby’s partner, Ben Jahrvi (played by Fisher Stevens), is mostly the brains behind the operation with Crosby playing the cool geek (think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak). Number 5 is hit by lightning and his programming is altered and he slowly becomes what seems to be sentient. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Protagonist Number 5 is part of a series of prototype U.S. military robots built for the Cold War by Nova Laboratories. The series’ inventors, Newton Graham Crosby and Ben Jahrvi, are more interested in peaceful applications including music and social aid. After a demonstration of the robots’ capabilities, Number 5 is hit by a lightning-induced power surge, changing its programing. Several incidents allow the robot to escape the facility accidentally, barely able to communicate and uncertain of its directive. In Astoria, Oregon, animal-lover Stephanie Speck (who mistakes Number 5 for an extraterrestrial visitor) grants Number 5 access to books, television, and other stimuli, to satisfy his demand for ‘input’; whereupon Number 5 develops a whimsical and curious personality.
When Stephanie realizes Number 5 is a military invention, she contacts Nova who send out a team to recover him. When Number 5 accidentally crushes a grasshopper and gains an understanding of mortality, he concludes that if Nova disassembles him he will cease to exist. Frightened, Number 5 steals Stephanie’s van; but the pair are cornered by Nova, including Newton and Ben. Although Stephanie attempts to reveal his sentience, Number 5 is disabled and captured, but he turns back on and escapes.
#4 – Lewis Skolnick/Gilbert Lowe – Revenge of the Nerds
Revenge of the Nerds wasn’t the first frat/college movie ever made (Animal House is still a classic) but it was one of the first that focused on the Geek/Nerd angle. Lewis Skolnick and Gilbert Lowe (Robert Carradine/Anthony Edwards) play best friends who enroll into Adams College to study computer science. They are quickly targeted by the jocks at the college and harassed for being nerds. They work to find a fraternity that will take them in so they can have voting rights but no one will take them, until they find the black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Best friends and nerds Lewis Skolnick (Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Edwards) enroll in Adams College to study computer science.
The Alpha Betas, a fraternity to which many members of the school’s football team belong, carelessly burn down their fraternity house. At the urging of hotheaded Coach Harris (Goodman), the Alpha Betas seize the freshmen dorm for themselves and violently eject the residents. Dean Ulich (Wohl) assigns the freshmen to live in one-half of an active University gymnasium.
Although the freshmen are permitted to rush fraternities in light of the housing shortage, the nerds fail to get selected and need to get a place of their own. Lewis finds a rental house which he, Gilbert, and the other nerds renovate to serve as shared residence.
Stan Gable (McGinley) and Betty Childs (Montgomery) stop to view the nerds’ house while cruising on Stan’s motorcycle. Betty is impressed with the renovation, which angers Stan. Later, a rock painted with the phrase “NERDS GET OUT” is thrown through the nerds’ window, and the sound of a motorcycle speeding away can be heard. The nerds bring the issue to Adam’s campus police, but they are unable to help and direct the nerds to the Greek Council. The nerds appeal to the Greek Council, but as its president and the leader of the Alpha Betas, Stan rejects their complaints with the explanation that the nerds are not a part of any fraternity. The nerds attempt to join a national fraternity, but due to the inclusion of a group photograph in all but one of their applications, all but one fraternity reject them. They meet U.N. Jefferson, the head of the black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs). Although Jefferson shows little interest in commissioning a predominantly white chapter, he grants them probationary membership when Poindexter states that the fraternity’s rules mandate automatic probation.
#3 – David Lightman – War Games
War Games is still one of my favorite movies of all time, I will still sit and watch this one – unlike #4 and #5 on the list. David Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick, is a hacker high school student who is full of potential but not worried about using it for more than just being a pain in the rear. He uses his home computer to change his grades and those of his friend, Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy), and then decides to dial every number in Sunnyvale, California and runs across a computer that doesn’t identify itself. Here’s more from Wikipedia:
During a surprise drill of a nuclear attack, many United States Air Force Strategic Missile Wing missileers prove unwilling to turn a required key to launch a missile strike. Such refusals convince John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) and other systems engineers at NORAD that command of missile silos must be maintained through automation, without human intervention. Control is given to a NORAD supercomputer named WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), programmed to continuously run military simulations and learn over time.
David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is a bright but unmotivated Seattle high school student and hacker. After receiving a failing grade in school, he uses his IMSAI 8080 microcomputer to hack into the district’s computer system. He then changes his grade and does the same for his friend and classmate Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy). Later, while dialing every number in Sunnyvale, California to find a set of forthcoming computer games, a computer that does not identify itself intrigues David. On the computer he finds a list of games, starting with general strategy games like chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker and then progressing to titles like “Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare” and “Global Thermonuclear War”, but cannot proceed further. Two of his hacker friends explain the concept of a backdoor password and suggest tracking down the Falken referenced in “Falken’s Maze”, the first game listed. David discovers that Stephen Falken is an early artificial intelligence researcher, and guesses correctly that his dead son’s name “Joshua” is the backdoor password.
David does not know that the Sunnyvale phone number connects to WOPR, or “Joshua”, at Cheyenne Mountain. He starts a game of Global Thermonuclear War, playing as the Soviet Union. The computer starts a simulation that briefly convinces the military personnel at NORAD that actual Soviet nuclear missiles are inbound. While they defuse the situation, Joshua nonetheless continues the simulation to trigger the scenario and win the game. It continuously feeds false data such as Soviet bomber incursions and submarine deployments to the humans at NORAD, pushing them into lowering the DEFCON level and toward a retaliation that will start World War III. David learns the true nature of his actions from a news broadcast, and the FBI arrests him and takes him to NORAD. He realizes that Joshua is behind the NORAD alerts but fails to convince McKittrick and faces imprisonment. David escapes NORAD by joining a tourist group and, with Jennifer’s help, travels to the Oregon island where the widowed Falken (John Wood) now lives. David and Jennifer find that Falken has become despondent and believes that nuclear war is inevitable. The teenagers convince Falken that he should return to NORAD to stop Joshua.
#2 – Gary Wallace & Wyatt Donnelly – Weird Science
This movie takes place in Shermer, Illinois, a made up Chicago suburb which was based on the real Northbrook, Illinois where director John Hughes grew up. Anthony Michael Hall was excellent in his geek/nerd roles (he nearly made this list twice but I left The Breakfast Club off). Wallace and Donnelly play two geeky high school students bullied and pushed around. One night they have the house to themselves they decided to make their perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock) by using inspiration from Frankenstein and their home computer. A shout out to Bill Paxton as Chet in this movie, not a geek but a great role and well played by Paxton. Here’s a bit more from Wikipedia:
The film takes place in the fictitious Chicago suburb of Shermer, Illinois. Two high school nerds, Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), are pantsed by school bullies Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Rusler).
Later on, at Wyatt’s house, the boys have the house to themselves for the weekend. Inspired by the 1931 version of Frankenstein, which the boys watch on TV, they decide to create a “perfect” woman on their home computer (a Memotech MTX512). When their computer reaches its computing capacity, the boys decide to hack into a government mainframe for more processing power and data storage capacity. As a finishing touch they connect a Barbie doll to Wyatt’s computer through a series of wires and electrodes.
At the exact moment they hit “enter” to execute the computer program, a lightning bolt strikes the house leading to a series of fringe science occurrences. When the smoke clears a beautiful woman (Kelly LeBrock) emerges from Wyatt’s bathroom. Her first words are “So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?”
In addition to being totally devoted to them, the woman has superhuman abilities, such as memory manipulation, molecular manipulation, and reality warping. The boys are too intimidated to take advantage of the obvious opportunities presented, as is shown when they keep their jeans on while showering with her. Realizing the boys need to lower their inhibitions, she transforms their outfits and then takes them out in a pink 1959 Cadillac convertible that she conjured up. The boys name her Lisa. Lisa takes them to a blues club. The trio end up ingratiating themselves to the staff and some of the regulars, in part with the help of alcohol.
#1 – Chris Knight – Real Genius
And we finally get to the #1 geek on my list of top 5 movie geeks of the 80’s. Chris Knight, played by Val Kilmer. Why, you may ask. Well, I love the character, here we have a brilliant mind who isn’t afraid to have fun and use his skills for idiocy (two thumbs up for occasional idiocy) and who better to play that idiot/geek than Val Kilmer. I’ve enjoyed Kilmer in many movies including Willow, Tombstone and The Saint but his role as Chris Knight is still by far one of my favorites. I know there are similar characters on this list with similar traits, but it’s Kilmer’s performance that clutches the #1 spot here for me. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
A group of CIA officers watch a video presentation of a top-secret project called “Crossbow”: a space shuttle mounted with a computer-guided laser weapon that is shown to incinerate a man on the ground with pinpoint accuracy. It is noted that researchers on the project have yet to generate the necessary power needs. When it becomes clear that this weapon has no wartime applications and is intended solely for illegal assassinations, one agent expresses doubt at the moral implications. It is insinuated that the agent himself is assassinated.
Professor Jerry Hathaway (Atherton) meets a new student, Mitch Taylor (Jarret), informing him that he has been admitted to Pacific Technical University and will be rooming with physics “legend” Chris Knight. It is revealed that Hathaway is the researcher contracted by the CIA to develop the laser weapon, but instead of doing the work himself, he has subcontracted the job to his students and used his funding to remodel his house. Arriving on campus, Mitch meets Chris and is disappointed to learn that Chris, while brilliant, is an irreverent slacker who spends his time pulling elaborate pranks, such as covering the dorm room floor in ice to go skating. Mitch also meets Jordan (Meyrink), a hyperkinetic female student, and the mysterious Lazlo Hollyfeld (Gries), who seems to be living in his closet. Hathaway’s sycophantic graduate assistant Kent (Prescott) becomes hostile when Hathaway puts Mitch in charge of the laser project.
Under pressure to get results, Hathaway gives Chris an unrealistic timetable, which Chris dismisses. When Mitch is caught blowing off lab time to attend a pool party concocted by Chris, Hathaway berates him. The next day Mitch is mortified when a recording of his tearful phone call to his parents is played over the speakers during lunch (a prank conceived by Kent and his cronies). Humiliated, Mitch is ready to quit. Chris convinces him to stay by explaining to him how Lazlo was the top genius at Pacific Tech in the 1970s, but suffered a breakdown when he learned that his theories were being used to build weapons. Chris tells Mitch that if he does not want to “crack” like Hollyfeld, he must learn to have fun, and the first order of business is to get even with Kent, which they accomplish by disassembling his car and rebuilding it inside his dorm room. Under increasing pressure from the CIA, Hathaway berates Chris and tells him that for failing him, no matter what he does he will not graduate. Chris devotes himself to not only to solve the laser’s power problem but to ace Hathaway’s exam. His efforts appear to be ruined when Kent sabotages the laser, but in a fit of anger at the laser’s destruction, he has an epiphany that solves the power problem. The beam of the redesigned laser has an unlimited range and produces an estimated six megawatts of power, exceeding the original requirement.
So that’s it, my top 5 movie geeks of the 1980’s. What do you think? Agree, disagree? Who would you have put on this list? Let us know in the comments below or on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
Last Updated on November 27, 2018.