‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ Deemed ‘Pornography’ by Execs in 1982, Studio Nearly Scrapped It

Universal Pictures nearly shelved the coming-of-age film, but the cast didn't view it as a "horny high school movie at all."
"Fast Times at Ridgemont High"
Courtesy Everett Collection

High school goes by pretty fast, but even executives at Universal Pictures couldn’t remember their own teen glory days when distributing “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

The 1982 classic film celebrated its 40th anniversary on August 13. And while the movie, helmed by Amy Heckerling and penned by Cameron Crowe, launched the careers of Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Sean Penn, and Nicolas Cage, among its star-studded ensemble cast, actor Judge Reinhold alleged Universal was wary to even release it in the first place.

“We were really heartsick because somebody high up said, ‘This is pornography, and there’s no way that Universal’s going to release this movie,'” Reinhold told The Hollywood Reporter. “We didn’t see it as this horny high school movie at all. We saw it as having the opportunity to do something authentic that was based on the actual experiences of the kids that Cameron chronicled for that whole year.”

The screenplay was based on Crowe’s 1981 book, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story,” about his experience going undercover as a high school student for one year.

Director Heckerling added about Universal’s distribution plan, “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.”

With an overnight success, “Fast Times” grossed over $27 million at the domestic box office, akin to $83 million today. And Heckerling emphasized that the film is timeless in its messages of sexual exploration, consent, and body autonomy, plus all the hormones, heartbreak, and lust in between.

“The whole theme, of even the title, is things are going too fast for young people,” Heckerling explained, citing Universal’s obvious confusion. “They shouldn’t have to worry so much about sex at such an early age.”

One of the few Hollywood films to openly discuss and then show an abortion, “Fast Times” marked a revolutionary turning point in film. Now, Heckerling added, “We’re going backwards in so many ways.”

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