The Manhattan Project

Wargames may be a classic, but it wasn’t the only 80s movie to showcase a kid genius who almost starts a nuclear war. Far less remembered but (in my opinion) just as good is 1986’s The Manhattan Project.

Starring John Lithgow, Jill Eikenberry, a young Cynthia Nixon, and Christopher Collet as the teen genius Paul, The Manhattan Project is not only one of a handful of great 80s nuclear disaster films but also protest films. In it, Paul protests a nuclear facility in the most logical way possible: by building a nuclear bomb of his own and then confronting the authorities with it. He also makes some friends and falls in love along the way. To a 12-year-old me, this was perfectly plausible and reasonable, and it would contribute to my expectations and philosophies forever. It did not contribute so much to my actions, as I have never had the need, the guts, or the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb, but my expectations and my philosophies.

There are a couple great scenes in The Manhattan Project. One is the bomb building montage, which is somewhat realistic as it shows the lengthy steps Paul has to take to learn to and then make the bomb. The other is a scene where Lithgow tests Paul with a little round transparent plastic device. Inside the device are four slots and four metal balls. Lithgow challenges Paul to get a ball into each of the four slots. As he then turns to Paul’s mother and says something about how the most brilliant students can do it in X-number of seconds, Paul merely sets it on the table and spins it, allowing centrifugal force to put the balls in the slot for him. I stored that one up in case I was ever tested in that same way. I’m still waiting.

Unfortunately, I can’t show you any of the scenes as The Manhattan Project is woefully underrepresented on YouTube. In their place, I’ll just leave you with this less cool but still okay scene.


Doug is a child of the 80s who was raised in Ohio and is now living the life of oblivion in the bay area of California.

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