John Hughes’ strangest teen angst comedy, Weird Science, turns 30 years old today. And technology still hasn’t caught up with its bold idea of turning Barbie dolls into living sexbots. Despite our failure to achieve this (so far), the movie stands as an odd blip on the mid-’80s cultural landscape. Here are 15 facts to consider the next time you watch it.
1. ONE OF THE STARS USED TO BE A BALLET DANCER.
Ilan Mitchell-Smith—a.k.a. The Other One, not Anthony Michael Hall—attended the Joffrey Ballet School on scholarship before he got into acting. After his brief acting stint, he became an academic, and is now a professor of medieval English literature at Cal State Long Beach.
2. IN JAPAN, IT WAS CALLED ELECTRIC VENUS …
… which a reporter for The Austin Chronicle once misheard as Electric Penis. Other foreign titles include: Touch Me, I’m Yours (Danish); Dream Woman (Finnish, Swedish, and a few others); Oh, This Science (Russian); Cool Magic with Lisa (German).
3. IT WAS WRITER-DIRECTOR JOHN HUGHES’ SECOND MOVIE THAT YEAR, AND HIS THIRD IN 15 MONTHS.
Hughes had written several earlier comedies (including Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation), but his first time writing and directing was on Sixteen Candles, which was released on May 4, 1984. The Breakfast Club came out on February 15, 1985, followed six months later by Weird Science. The man was busy.
4. THREE MONTHS AFTER THE FILM OPENED, GEEK ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL AND BULLY ROBERT DOWNEY JR. WERE REUNITED AS SNL CAST MEMBERS.
Hall was only 17 at the time, making him the youngest SNL cast member to date. He and Downey were two of six new hires who only lasted that one season before Lorne Michaels retooled the cast. Here they are on “Weekend Update,” reviewing a book with farts.
5. WEIRD SCIENCE IS WHY ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL DIDN’T APPEAR IN NATIONAL LAMPOON’S EUROPEAN VACATION.
He played young Rusty in the original Vacation (written by Hughes), but chose to make Weird Science instead of the sequel. And thus was born the tradition of the Griswolds' kids being played by a different actor in every Vacation movie.
6. THE HIGH SCHOOL USED IN EXTERIOR SHOTS WAS THE SAME ONE USED IN SIXTEEN CANDLES AND RISKY BUSINESS.
That’d be Niles East High School, in Skokie, Illinois. It had closed in 1980, which is why it was available for film shoots. Since then, it has been torn down.
7. WEIRD SCIENCE AND SIXTEEN CANDLES ARE SET IN THE SAME FICTIONAL TOWN OF SHERMER, ILLINOIS.
Hughes made up the name, but he got it from a real source: Shermerville was the original name of Northbrook, Illinois, Hughes’ hometown. (The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off are also set at Shermer High School.)
8. JOHN HUGHES DIDN’T KNOW THE WEIRD SCIENCE TV SERIES EXISTED UNTIL HE SAW A COMMERCIAL FOR IT.
Hughes was emphatically unsupportive of the idea of turning any of his films into TV shows. He tried to talk Paramount out of the Ferris Bueller series, and refused to help Universal in any way with Uncle Buck. (Both sitcoms premiered in 1990 and were dead within a year.) By the time Universal got to Weird Science, in 1994, they didn’t even bother asking. Several years later, Hughes told an interviewer, “Then there was the time I was sitting at home, watching TV, and this commercial comes on for this new show. I’m watching it, thinking ‘Jesus, they ripped me off. This looks just like Weird Science.’ Imagine my surprise.” The Weird Science series ran on USA Network for 88 episodes from 1994 to 1998.
9. THE SCENE WHERE GARY TALKS LIKE AN OLD AFRICAN-AMERICAN BLUESMAN WAS INSPIRED BY RICHARD PRYOR.
Hall recounted in an interview that he and John Hughes would “watch Richard Pryor movies on the weekend. And we would imitate this character called Mudball that Richard Pryor would do. And so it was really just a product of being Richard Pryor fans that John said, ‘Hey, why don’t we create this scene where you go into a bar and do that?’”
10. BILL PAXTON SHOWED UP TO THE HOUSE PARTY IN DISGUISE.
Paxton, of course, played Chet, Wyatt’s jerky older brother. Ilan Mitchell-Smith said there was a fun “feeling of chaos” on the set when the party scenes were being filmed, and that Paxton “dressed in sunglasses and a trench coat and put on some kind of hat” and snuck into the background. Whether he’s visible in any shots that made it into the movie isn’t clear, but if you can spot him, you owe it to the world to share.
11. IT TAKES ITS TITLE FROM A 1950S COMIC BOOK, BUT OTHER SIMILARITIES ARE COINCIDENTAL.
EC Comics published 22 issues of Weird Science between 1950 and 1953, alongside more popular anthology titles like Tales from the Crypt. Hollywood mega-producer Joel Silver got the rights to all the old EC stuff in the ’80s, and Hughes was in his office one day when boxes of the comics were being delivered and unpacked. Seeing the title Weird Science, and thinking of a beautiful woman he and Silver had seen earlier that day, Hughes said, “What if two kids figure out a way to make that girl that was in the commissary?” This is according to Silver’s recollection, anyway. “I already had rights to the EC books, so that’s how I convinced them to let me have the title.” Now, there was a story in an issue of Weird Science that bore a superficial resemblance to Hughes’ idea—“Made of the Future,” in which a man builds a wife from a kit he got on a trip to the year 2150
12. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL MADE TWICE AS MUCH MONEY AS ILAN MITCHELL-SMITH.
That’s according to Mitchell-Smith, who was asked about his salary during a Q&A several years ago. “I don’t think most people talk about this, but what do I care? I made $150,000. Which is a lot of money, especially for a 15-year-old.” Asked what his co-star made, he said, “I think he made $300,000.”
13. BILL PAXTON GOT HIS CHARACTER’S DISTINCTIVE MILITARY-STYLE HAIRCUT WITHOUT HUGHES’ PERMISSION.
His first day on the set, “I told [the film’s makeup artist] I wanted to do a haircut that was really intense,” Paxton told The AV Club in 2012. “He’s the one who suggested the flattop, but long on the sides and slicked back. And he was afraid he was going to lose his job to cut it like that without having it approved by the producer or the director, but I said, ‘Just do it.’” Fortunately, Hughes loved it, along with everything else Paxton brought to the character.
14. LISA WAS NAMED AFTER AN EARLY APPLE COMPUTER.
The Apple Lisa was the first personal computer to have a graphical user interface (i.e., you can point and click at icons instead of having to type line commands). Released in 1983, it was aimed at business users and sold for $9,995 ($23,700 in 2015 dollars). It sold poorly (duh), but had a lasting influence on computers and on John Hughes’ imagination.
15. DURING FILMING, ROBERT DOWNEY JR. POOPED IN ANOTHER ACTOR’S TRAILER.
In 1997, Downey told Playboy that he was “the serial dumper” on the set, and that he “defecated in a fellow castmate’s trailer, much to the chagrin of Bill Paxton and Robert Rusler. It was a real bad scene. Joel Silver freaked. I never admitted it.” Asked whose trailer it was, Downey said it was LeBrock’s. But in a 2014 interview with Howard Stern, Downey recanted, saying it wasn’t LeBrock's but Babette Prop's (who played a member of the biker gang that shows up at the house party). LeBrock took to Facebook to thank Downey for clearing up the old legend.