Meet Johnny 5, the robot that briefly stole the heart of the Eighties…
Great ideas rose and fell like the tide in the Eighties. Gremlins got as far as two films, so did Conan, Ghostbusters and most would probably prefer to pretend there were only two Ninja Turtle movies. Thanks to E.T. and Star Wars, mega-movie box-office bait could wash waves of merchandise over a public lapping it up. If you ever cut a gremlin or turtle mask out of a cereal box, you know what it was like.
Short Circuit was one of the brief franchises that rode that wave all the way to the top. Curiously it doesn’t feature readily in ‘top films of 1986’ lists and wasn’t among the top 20 biggest grossers of that year. Yet if you were in a certain age group, Johnny 5 occupies a slice of your Eighties nostalgia. When lightning strikes an experimental military robot, it starts behaving strangely. By the time its creators figured this out, it had already found its way off base. Soon we learn that the robot, number 5, is alive – except nobody believes him!
There have been number of cinematic stabs at this theme over the decades, from Blade Runner’s replicants to David in A.I. But Short Circuit is probably the most playful of the lot. It is thoroughly a product of its time – right down to Steve Guttenberg and G.W. Bailey reprising pretty much the same roles as they did in Police Academy. Johnny 5 was a masterpiece of puppet engineering as only the Eighties could deliver – the sequel even used Jim Henson puppeteers. And he packed the other two prerequisites of the decade: one-liners and lasers.
Made for around $16 million, Short Circuit would return nearly three times that at the box office and then become one of the all-time greats of the VHS age. A sequel appeared two years later, but didn’t make as impressive a profit – even though it garnered more critical approval. Plans for a third film and tv series fell through, putting and end of Johnny 5’s brief but memorable reign in pop culture. But he lives on – some argue that the junk-scrounging robot from Wall-E is a dead-ringer for the guy, though apparently it’s coincidental. A remake is on the cards, but we all know how that can go…
Best Scene: Johnny 5 is a total scene stealer, but he really shines when hijacking the truck taking him back to the research lab.
Best Quote: “Attractive! Nice software.”
Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.
Last Updated: March 3, 2014
March 3, 2014 at 13:52
I need a herooooooo! Man, I miss being able to appreciate movies like this like I did back then.
Alien Emperor Trevor
March 3, 2014 at 14:33
I remember watching this as a kid, I didn’t really enjoy it that much.