Fast Times At Ridgemont High Was Almost Scrapped By Execs For Being Pornographic

The teen sex comedy craze kicked into overdrive in the spring of 1982 when Bob Clark's semi-autobiographical raunch-fest "Porky's" stunned the industry by racking up $105 million for distributor 20th Century Fox at the U.S. box office. The nation's critics shredded it, but the film's target audience didn't care. They identified with the characters' unabashedly juvenile antics, and kept going back for more.

You'd think rival studios, which rushed their own hormonally addled high-school comedies into production, would've been fine with this critical/commercial trade-off, but Universal had serious misgivings about their August 1982 release, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." In fact, according to director Amy Heckerling and star Judge Reinhold, they nearly shelved it.

Too hot for theatrical?

In a 40th anniversary article for The Hollywood Reporter, Reinhold, who plays the wincingly overconfident Ridgemont senior Brad Hamilton, alleges that executive resistance to the material was fierce. "We were really heartsick," he says, "Because somebody high up said, 'This is pornography, and there's no way that Universal's going to release this movie.'"

While the film does not lack for horned-up hijinks (indeed, Reinhnold's Hamilton is involved in one of the most embarrassing bathroom walk-ins in film history), it is largely a grounded account of a chaotic year at a Southern California high school (as initially chronicled by screenwriter Cameron Crowe in his book of the same name). Heckerling, who made her feature filmmaking debut on "Fast Times," was equally dismayed by Universal's lack of confidence. As she tells THR:

"They were going to put it on the shelf because they didn't see how it would make any money. They decided they would just open it in a few theaters on the West Coast, and they did that, and people kept coming back and knew all the dialogue. So then they quickly put it out in the rest of the country. There was no advertising beforehand — I was bummed out."

The uncomfortable truth of being a teenager

Though the film never played on more than 713 screens (as opposed to "Porky's," which opened on over 1,000 screens and held onto them for three months), "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was a constant presence in the top five of the U.S. box office until mid-October. Its final gross of $27 million qualified it as a hit relative to cost, and the film's fandom exploded once it hit the home entertainment market.

Most importantly, Heckerling's movie still speaks to the vicissitudes of being a teenager in America, where it feels like your entire future hinges on how well you do in school and who you date. And then there are the unseen calamities, which are depicted with a brutal honesty that is rare for this genre. It wouldn't surprise me if it was the latter quality that turned off Universal executives. "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" allows real life to crash the party on occasion, which is why it is in many ways the anti-"Porky's."