Total Recall: Memorable Movie Nerds and Geeks

In honor of Comic-Con 2012, we run down some of cinema's greatest dorks, outcasts, brains, and obsessives.

by Jeff Giles | Thursday, Jul. 12 2012

Real Genius

74%

Starring a young Val Kilmer with a bleach job as impeccable as his comic timing, 1985's Real Genius combined rapid-fire wisecracks with the rather poignant story of a socially maladjusted young freshman (Gabe Jarret) thrust into a high-pressure college environment, and added a dash of nuclear paranoia for good measure. A messy combination of ingredients? Sure, but for every bumpy tonal shift or Bryan Adams musical montage, Genius offers plenty of laughs -- and it's one of the rare 1980s films where everyone's a nerd, and they're ultimately all the better for it. Cheered James Brundage of Filmcritic, "Everyone plays their part in making this a very funny movie."

Revenge of the Nerds

73%

While far from the first film to celebrate the triumph of the social outcast, Revenge of the Nerds took things to a whole new level, injecting the geeks vs. jocks formula with a major dose of scatological humor and gratuitous nudity while arriving just in time for the personal computer revolution of the early 1980s. While it was greeted with predictable disdain by a good number of critics at the time (Lawrence Van Gelder of the New York Times grumbled that it "doesn't do much for movies or nerds"), it resonated strongly enough to spawn a franchise -- not to mention a real-life version of the fraternity the nerds use to upend college society in the film. And as far as most contemporary critics are concerned, it's aged well; as 7M Pictures' Kevin Carr put it, "It's got everything for this kind of film -- nudity, sex, swearing and dirty jokes."

Rushmore

89%

We couldn't very well write about cinematic nerds without including Rushmore, the film that broke director Wes Anderson through to a larger audience, essentially redefined the quirky high school movie for a new generation, and reaped scores of awards and nominations for its trouble. Though it was never anything close to a box office hit -- its gross stalled at just over $17 million, below its $20 million budget -- Rushmore has grown into a certified cult classic. The movie rests on Jason Schwartzman's shoulders, and a good deal of the critical acclaim rightly centered on his turn as the brilliant-but-troubled Max Fischer -- but for a not-inconsiderable number of critics, Bill Murray's performance as the dissatisfied executive who befriends, then spars with Schwartzman was a revelation. While lauding Schwartzman as "the best underdog since Cusack in Better Off Dead," eFilmCritic's Brian McKay saved his highest praise for Murray, deeming this "the finest, funniest, and most deadpan performance of his career."

The Social Network

96%

There isn't a nerd on the planet who hasn't tasted his share of peer-bestowed scorn -- but there's only one Mark Zuckerberg, the whip-smart programmer who turned a broken heart (and a dark, spitefully misogynistic night of the soul) into one of the most widely used websites on Earth. His story, in turn, was used as the basis for a bestselling nonfiction book -- and then The Social Network, David Fincher's Best Picture-nominated account of just how Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) went from Harvard student to internet kingpin. Applauded Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail, "It has the staccato wit of a drawing-room comedy, the fatal flaw of a tragic romance and the buzzy immediacy of a front-page headline, all powered by a kinetic engine typically found in an action flick."

WarGames

92%

The movie that forever changed the meaning of the phrase "how about a nice game of chess," WarGames tried to capitalize on the early 1980s video game craze by spinning a far-fetched yarn about a teen hacker (Matthew Broderick) who worms his way into a NORAD computer and, thinking he's playing a cool new game before it hits stores, ends up nearly triggering World War III. It's the kind of bleep-and-bloop-assisted high-stakes drama that Hollywood's been messing up since computers were invented, but in this case, it works -- partly because the drama was amplified by our very real Cold War paranoia, and partly because of a terrific cast that also included Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, and a young (but still quite crusty) Barry Corbin. Observed Roger Ebert, "As a premise for a thriller, this is a masterstroke."

Weird Science

56%

Ah, the 1980s -- a time when computers were just starting to seep into everyday life, but still new enough that Hollywood screenwriters could get away with pretending your Apple II had magical powers. Case in point: Weird Science, the 1985 comedy that envisioned a world where a pair of high school misfits (played by Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) use a PC (with the aid of a conveniently timed lightning strike) to create a real-life woman (Kelly LeBrock). Silliness ensues, including a narrowly averted nuclear crisis and Bill Paxton being turned into a troll, but in the end, everyone walks away happy -- including Roger Ebert, who wrote, "Weird Science combines two great traditions in popular entertainment: Inflamed male teenage fantasies and Frankenstein's monster."


Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out all of RT's Comic Con 2012 coverage.

Finally, here's anthemic tribute to the geeks of the world -- courtesy of "Weird Al" Yankovic:

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