Taglines: The switch is set… The clock has started…
Dr. John Mathewson (John Lithgow) discovers a new process for refining plutonium to purities greater than 99.997 percent. The United States government provides him a laboratory located in Ithaca, New York, masked as a medical company. Mathewson moves to Ithaca and meets real estate agent Elizabeth Stephens (Jill Eikenberry) while searching for an apartment. He attempts to win the affections of the single mother by inviting her teenage son Paul (Christopher Collet) to take a tour of the lab.
Mathewson is confident in the lab’s cover story but Paul, an unusually gifted student with a passion for science, becomes suspicious when he discovers a statistically impossible patch of five-leaf clover on the grounds. Paul and his aspiring journalist girlfriend, Jenny Anderman (Cynthia Nixon), decide to expose the weapons factory in dramatic fashion. Paul breaks into the lab and steals a container of plutonium. To obtain maximum publicity, Paul decides to build an atomic bomb and enter it into the New York Science Fair. After convincing his mother and his school that his project is about hamsters bred in darkness, he begins research and construction of the nuclear device.
The lab discovers that a container of plutonium has been replaced by a bottle of shampoo mixed with glitter. A military investigation team, led by Lt. Colonel Conroy (John Mahoney), arrives on the scene and determines that Paul is responsible for stealing the plutonium. Suspecting him of terrorist intent, the investigators search Paul’s home and discover that he and Jenny have left for the science fair.
After the agents capture the couple in New York City, Mathewson, who feels personally responsible for the crisis, has a private talk with Paul and convinces him to give the bomb to the agents before a group of other participants at the science fair help Paul and Jenny escape from the hotel.
In an effort to expose the lab, Paul hatches a plan to return the bomb on his own terms. Ensuring Jenny is a safe distance away, he calls the agents from a pay phone and walks into the lab with the bomb while being surrounded by snipers and agents. During the standoff, negotiations stall and Paul arms the bomb. Mathewson, convinced that Paul is not an actual terrorist, attempts to intercede on his behalf.
The Manhattan Project is an American film, released in 1986. Named after the World War II-era program that constructed the first atomic bombs, the plot revolves around a gifted high school student who decides to construct an atomic bomb for a national science fair. It was directed by Marshall Brickman, based upon his screenplay co-written with Thomas Baum, and starred Christopher Collet, John Lithgow, John Mahoney, Jill Eikenberry and Cynthia Nixon. This was the first production from short-lived Gladden Entertainment.
The Manhattan Project (1986)
Directed by: Marshall Brickman
Starring: John Lithgow, Christopher Collet, Richard Council, Jill Eikenberry, Paul Austin, Adrian Sparks, Cynthia Nixon, Gregg Edelman
Screenplay by: Marshall Brickman, Thomas Baum
Production Design by: Philip Rosenberg
Cinematography by: Billy Williams
Film Editing by: Nina Feinberg
Costume Design by: Shay Cunliffe
Set Decoration by: Nina Ramsey, Philip Smith
Art Direction by: Robert Guerra
Music by: Philippe Sarde
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: June 13, 1986