Short Circuit

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This article is about the 1986 movie. For other uses, see Short Circuit (disambiguation).
Short Circuit
Short circuit.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Badham
Produced by David Foster
Lawrence Turman
Written by S. S. Wilson
Brent Maddock
Starring Ally Sheedy
Steve Guttenberg
Fisher Stevens
Austin Pendleton
G. W. Bailey
Music by David Shire
Cinematography Nick McLean
Edited by Frank Morriss
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • May 9, 1986 (1986-05-09)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million[1]
Box office $40,697,761 (domestic)

Short Circuit is a 1986 American comic science fiction film directed by John Badham, and written by S. S. Wilson and Brent Maddock. The film's plot centers upon an experimental military robot which is struck by lightning and gains a more humanlike intelligence, wherewith it embarks to explore its new state. Short Circuit stars Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, and G. W. Bailey, with Tim Blaney as the voice of Johnny Five.

A sequel, Short Circuit 2, was released in 1988.


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 Jabituya, 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, erasing its programming giving it a sense of free will. 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 hunger for 'input'; whereupon Number 5 develops a whimsical and curious childlike personality. When Stephanie realizes Number 5 is a military invention, she contacts NOVA who send out a team to recover him, bringing one of the other robots along to help. When Number 5 accidentally crushes a grasshopper and gains an understanding of mortality, he concludes that if NOVA disassembles him he too will cease to be alive. Horrified, Number 5 steals Stephanie's van; but the pair are cornered by NOVA, including Newton and Ben. Although Stephanie attempts to reveal his newly discovered sentience, Number 5 is deactivated and captured. But being taken on the way to NOVA, he manages to turn himself back on and escapes despite a tracker that had been placed on him. Returning to Stephanie for protection, Number 5's unusual actions catch the attention of his creators, but NOVA's CEO Dr. Howard Marner turns a deaf ear to their wild hypothesis.

From this follow several adventurous escapes from the soldiers, led by Nova's security chief Captain Skroeder (G. W. Bailey). Having humiliated Stephanie's suitor Frank and three of the remaining prototypes (which have been reprogrammed to imitate The Three Stooges by Number 5), Stephanie and the robot convince Newton of the robot's sentience. Shortly after, the trio are cornered by Skroeder who has secretly taken over Nova's security and the Army, both whom destroy a duplicate robot (built by Number 5 himself and unknown to the others) in mistake for their quarry. Angry over the loss, Marner fires Skroeder for disobeying orders to capture Number 5 intact. Stephanie leaves with Newton to emigrate to his family's estate in Montana, during which Number 5 reveals himself to them. Elated in their reunion, Number 5 renames himself "Johnny Five" after his favorite song "Who's Johnny" that he heard during first meeting Stephanie. He accompanies her and Newton to their new home.



Original Number 5 robot from the first Short Circuit film.

This film was conceived after the producers distributed an educational video about a robot to various colleges. Studying other films with a prominent robot cast (like the Star Wars series) for inspiration, they decided to question human reactions to a 'living' robot, on the premise that none would initially believe its sentience.

According to the commentary in the DVD, Number 5 was the most expensive part of the movie, requiring several different versions to be made for different sequences. Almost everything else in the movie was relatively inexpensive, allowing them to allocate as much money as they needed for the robot character. Number 5 was designed by Syd Mead, the "visual futurist" famous for his work on Blade Runner and Tron.

Mead's design was greatly influenced by the sketches of Eric Allard, the Robotics Supervisor credited for "realizing" the robots. John Badham named Eric "the most valuable player" on the film.

Most of the arm movements of Number 5 were controlled by a "telemetry suit", carried on the puppeteer's upper torso. Each joint in the suit had a separate sensor, allowing the puppeteer's arm and hand movements to be transferred directly to the machine. He was also voiced in real-time by his puppeteer, the director believing that it provided for a more realistic interaction between the robot and the other actors than putting in his voice in post-production, although a few of his lines were re-dubbed later.[citation needed]

Fisher Stevens said that when he was originally hired to play Ben Jabituya, the character was not intended to be Indian. Stevens was fired and replaced by Bronson Pinchot at one point, but then Pinchot was fired and Stevens was rehired.[2] To portray the role he had to grow a beard, dye his hair black, darken his skin with makeup, turn his blue eyes brown with contact lenses, speak with an East Indian accent and "walk hunched over like a cricket player."[3]

During Stephanie's impromptu news interview, director John Badham makes a cameo appearance as the news cameraman.


Although no soundtrack album was released at the time, El DeBarge had a chart hit with the single "Who's Johnny (Theme from Short Circuit)."[4]

In 2008 Varèse Sarabande issued David Shire's score as part of their CD Club series of limited edition releases. The DeBarge song was not included or mentioned in the liner notes. The last three tracks are source music.

The booklet claims the end title song is not used in the movie. It is, however, on the soundtrack. The finale mix and end title are combined into one track, but used separately in the film.

Short Circuit [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
No. Title Length
1. "Main Title"   2:13
2. "The Quickening/Off The Bridge"   2:44
3. "Discovering Number 5/Sunrise"   4:32
4. "Grasshopper/Joy(less) Ride"   4:43
5. "The Attack/Coming To"   3:47
6. "Road Block/Bathtub/Robot Battle"   2:42
7. "Getaway/Hello, Bozos"   2:41
8. "Night Scene/Joke Triumph"   4:17
9. "Danger, Nova/Escape Attempt/Aftermath"   3:48
10. "Finale/End Title: "Come And Follow Me" - Max Carl and Marcy Levy"   5:04
11. "Source Music: Rock"   3:39
12. "Source Music: Bar"   1:51
13. "Source Music: The Three Stooges"   1:08
Total length:

Video game[edit]

A video game developed by Ocean Software for ZX Spectrum,[5] Commodore 64[6] and Amstrad CPC[7][dead link] was also made based on the movie. It featured two parts: one arcade adventure where Johnny 5 had to escape from the lab, and one action part where Johnny 5 escapes across the countryside, avoiding soldiers, other robots, and animals.


The movie received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It currently holds a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus: "Amiable and good-natured but also shallow and predictable, Short Circuit is hardly as deep or emotionally resonant as E.T. -- though Johnny Five makes for a charming robot protagonist."[8]Positive reviews came from USA Today which gave Short Circuit 3 1/2 stars out of four calling it immensely entertaining and funny like Ghostbusters. Joel Siegel of WABC in NY said it was "An electric movie that brings you to your feet cheering". [9] Trade paper Variety praised the film saying Short Circuit is a hip, sexless sci-fi sendup and praises the writers for some terrific dialog that would have been a lot less disarming if not for the winsome robot and Sheedy’s affection for it. Guttenberg plays his best goofy self.[10] And the NY Times Vince Canby praised saying the movie, which has the clean, well-scrubbed look of an old Disney comedy, is nicely acted by Miss Sheedy, who demonstrates a light-comedy touch not unlike Amy Irving's [and] Mr. Guttenberg. [11]The South Florida Sun-Sentinel gave a good review saying Number Five is the real star of this energetic film. Sheedy, Guttenberg and company are just supporting players.[12]

Short Circuit debuted at No. 1 in the US box office.[13] It made a total of 40,697,761 ranking it 21st for 1986 in the United States performing slightly better than other 1986 middling hits like Pretty In Pink, The Fly, Little Shop Of Horrors, About Last Night. [14]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Honored with the Winsor McCay Award [for career achievement]
Award Category Recipient(s) Outcome
Saturn Awards
Best Director John Badham Nominated
Best Science Fiction Film Nominated
Best Special Effects Eric Allard, Syd Mead Nominated
BMI Film Music Award David Shire Won

End credits[edit]

The ending credit sequence features parts of scenes cut from the final product, a gimmick that predated the advent of director's cuts and optional deleted scenes in later DVDs. The scenes shown in the credits include an extended SAINT demonstration sequence, which would have included the robots flying remote-controlled airplanes, an encounter with a white, commercially-made Omnibot 2000, and a close encounter with "death" at a scrapyard. The latter two were from a cut sequence set between Number 5's theft of the Nova van in which he was being carted back by Ben, and his second arrival at Stephanie's house.

In that sequence, the Nova van would have run out of fuel near the scrap yard, forcing Number 5 to abandon it and look for another suitable mode of transportation. The Omnibot in the former of the two scenes would have belonged to the scrap yard owner's children, who were to frighten Number 5 away with their comparisons between him and the Omnibot.

Sequel and remake[edit]

The sequel, Short Circuit 2, premiered in 1988. There was a script for a possible third movie written in 1989 and rewritten in 1990, but it was found unsatisfactory by the producers, and the project was subsequently scrapped.

In April 2008, Variety reported that Dimension Films had acquired the rights to remake the original film. Dan Milano had been hired to write the script, and David Foster to produce it. Foster said that the robot's appearance would not change.[15]

On October 27, 2009, it was announced that Steve Carr would direct the remake and that the film's plot would involve a boy from a broken family befriending the Number 5 robot.[16][17]

For reasons unknown, Carr left the project and on August 4, 2011, it was reported that Tim Hill would direct the reboot instead.[18]


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Short Circuit. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Rabin, Nathan (2009-08-19). "Fisher Stevens". A.V. Club. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  3. ^ Weinstein, Steve (1988-08-02). "Shooting Stars : 'Short Circuit's' Stevens No Foreigner to Ethnic Roles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 150. 
  5. ^ Short Circuit - World of Spectrum
  6. ^ "Lemon - Commodore 64, C64 Games, Reviews & Music!". Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  7. ^ "Short Circuit by Ocean Software for the Amstrad CPC". Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Short Circuit A Box-office Live Wire". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-11-08. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ 'Short Circuit's' Johnny 5 still alive. Dimension acquires rights to remake 1986 film, Variety, 3 April 2008
  16. ^ Steve Carr directing Short Circuit reboot |
  17. ^ By (2009-06-03). "'Short Circuit' gets 'Robot' touch - Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  18. ^ Fleming, Mike (August 4, 2011). "Director Tim Hill Hops To Dimension’s ‘Short Circuit’ Reboot". Deadline. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 

External links[edit]