It’s been 30-odd years since the movie Revenge of the Nerds became a sensation. Even still, it seems Hollywood is only now finally ready to recognize that geek is chic.
Over the past decade technology has become a central theme in movies and TV. While I do become agitated when obvious tech gaffes are displayed for all to see, it’s nice to see the depiction of intelligent people in popular culture.
It’s only right then, on this Oscar-weekend, that we take a look at the movies celebrating four eyes as fashionable.
From a zany scientist to Pixar super-villains to a genius playboy, here are 24 movies embracing intelligence… in absolutely no order:
The Matrix has had a huge impact on pop culture, as the debut movie in the trilogy about an alternate reality we’re painfully unaware of.
Genius hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) teams up with human rebels led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity to counter the future technology that our machine overlords are using to farm our bio-electricity.
Neo looks to be the savior of all homo sapiens crops, as he fights back by peeling back the layers of illusion – kicking the ass of assassin programs sent his way. This cyberpunk film introduced ideas like “bullet time,” wall running, and artificial reality — influencing an entire generation of video games, novels, and other movies.
Inception masterfully blends illusion and reality until you can’t tell the difference anymore.
Director Christopher Nolan casts Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief (Dom Cobb) with the rare ability to enter people’s dreams and steal their secrets from their subconscious. Once inside, he implants an idea into the person’s mind via “inception,” an idea that the person then adopts as their own.
The film takes the idea of “lucid dreaming” and runs with it, leading to some of the coolest special effects in any movie.
When you combine the technology of illusions with the plot of corporate espionage, you get a truly mind-bending movie. I can see a day when you’ll have to live inside a virtual world and try to figure out how to tell what’s real and what’s not.
Big Hero 6
After graduating high school at the ripe old age of 14, Hiro Hamada is at a loss of what to do with his life, until he gets some help from his older brother Tadashi. The child prodigy applies to a “nerd” college.
But when a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he teams up with a robot named Baymax and a reluctant group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
October Sky is the true story of Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a coal miner’s son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch.
With that event – and against his father’s wishes – Homer becomes inspired to learn how to build rockets. With his friends and the local nerd, Homer sets to do just that by trial and a lot of error.
Ex Machina tells the story of a computer coder, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) who wins a contest to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), his firm’s brilliant CEO.
When he arrives, Caleb learns that he has been chosen to participate in a strange and fascinating experiment in which he must interact with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl.
This Turing test will determine the capabilities and consciousness of Ava (Alicia Vikander). However, it soon becomes evident that Ava is far more self-aware and deceptive than either man imagined.
This is the story of how young Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) transformed a small fortune into a massive one.
The son of the Texan inventor of an amazing drill bit who died when he was 18, Hughes moved to Los Angeles to become owner of RKO studios – helping launch the career of Jean Harlow and other starlets, and producing such classics as Hell’s Angels and Scarface.
This biopic of the billionaire and aviation tycoon focuses on his role in designing and promoting new aircraft, including the infamous Spruce Goose. As an aviation pioneer who helped build TWA into a major airline, Hughes was also a germophobic suffering from severe bouts of mental illness.
There are a lot of films about Steve Jobs and the making (and subsequent remaking) of Apple.
It wasn’t long after the brilliant product creator’s death that the first biopic hit the big screen with Ashton Kutcher – a stunning physical likeness.
There were a lot of disputes about the accuracy of the film – which was universally panned by the press – mostly concerning the interpretation of Jobs.
Was he, or was he, not an asshole?
It seems more likely that Jobs was both a good and bad character and this movie takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution to paint an intimate portrait of the brilliant man.
Recruited by famed Caltech physics professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), two brilliant teens – Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret) and Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) – head a team of young geniuses on a class project.
Unbeknownst to them, they’re just a slave labor force to do research in developing a state-of-the-art laser device for the Defense Department.
This adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel is the tale of astronaut Matt Watney (Matt Damon) as he’s stranded on Mars after a series of accidents forces a spaceship crew to leave without him.
Watney, a botanist and trained survivor, has to use his wits to concoct solutions that will enable him to survive long enough for a rescue mission to arrive – jury-rigging available tech to save his life.
Full of great geek moments, the ending of the film shows just what can be accomplished when a bunch of brilliant minds come together to save a single human life.
High-school hacker David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) loves video games.
After accidentally plugging into what should be the world’s most protected computer –the one controlling the US nuclear arsenal – the tech geek triggers a crisis that could lead to nuclear war.
Filmed in the midst of the Cold War, it picks up on the themes of possible accidental nuclear war. Though the film is laughable by today’s standards, it’s fun watching a teen genius teach the military’s battle computer the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction via a simple game of tic-tac-toe.
The Social Network
This semi-historical film – based on Ben Mizrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires – is about the Silicon Valley dream of creating a billion-dollar company.
The Social Network is about the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his doomed cofounder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
The social networking site didn’t participate in the film, which is critical of Zuckerberg’s backstabbing ways while depicting him as a wunderkind.
Genius engineer and industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is a billionaire playboy who inherits the Stark Industries defense firm from his father.
Desperate to escape his kidnappers, he constructs Iron Man, an armored power suit.
Wise-cracking Stark snarks his way through this movie as the film unfolds as a visual love poem to geek tinkering.
As a scientist working for the real-life Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program, Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) listens to radio transmissions searching for signs of communication from alien life.
When Arroway discovers a radio signal repeating a sequence of prime numbers, sent from the star system Vega 26 light-years from Earth, The National Security Agency sweeps in to take control of the project.
Arroway receives funding from a billionaire to create a space travel machine, whose designs were spelled out in the signal from the alien planet and Arroway gets her chance to travel through the wormhole to Vega.
This docudrama stars Tom Hanks as astronaut Jim Lovell in the ill-fated Apollo 13 lunar mission of 1970.
This true story about astronauts (Tom Hanks, Jim Paxon, Kevin Bacon) who suffer a life-threatening malfunction, triggering the memorable message, “Houston, we have a problem.” and a NASA mission control crew somehow conjure the courage and ingenuity to get the explorers back home safely
The whole space program was one giant composite genius, proving how smart we can be technologically when we put our heads together.
Insecure super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) and his merry band of minions, are planning their biggest heist yet… to steal the moon.
Armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays, and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, the tech master delights in all things wicked. Until he encounters his greatest challenge: three little girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes.
The true story of World War II hero Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) covers the intriguing eccentric genius who must initially imitate others to get along.
The father of modern computing, with the help of some fellow cryptanalysts, cracked the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma-code, alongside an inner conflict that plays the most decisive role in his life.
Based on a true story, this film tells the story of three African American women who work at NASA’s West Area Computing division when the US raced against Russia to put a man in space. Segregated from the rest of Langley Research Center, the women work as “human computers” – doing math by hand.
The feature film depicts how the women were specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return.
Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) crossed gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance.
Two geeky teens, Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), fail at every attempt to become popular. Their desperation to be liked leads them to create the perfect woman (Kelly LeBrock).
With a little help from their home computer, a doll festooned with electrodes, a hacked government computer system, and a bolt of lightning, Lisa is their AI dream woman whose sole purpose is to boost the nerdy duo’s confidence.
After super-villain Megamind (Will Ferrell) kills his good-guy nemesis, Metro Man (Brad Pitt), life becomes dull when there is no one left to fight.
To combat the increasing boredom, he creates a new foe, Tighten (Jonah Hill). But instead of using his powers for good, sets out to destroy the world, positioning Megamind to save the day for the first time in his life.
Pirates of Silicon Valley
This (made for TV) movie is a biographical look at the the brains behind Apple and Microsoft and an look at the early days of both companies.
Loosely based on Paul Feiberger and Michael Swaine’s book “Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer”, the biopic attempts to compare the two company’s operations and differences in the founder’s operations.
It also explores the story of Steve Jobs’ business relationship with Bill Gates (Anthony Michael Hall), and the great schism between Jobs (Noah Wyle) and Steve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick).
A beautiful mind
A mathematical genius and Nobel Prize winner, John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crow) made an astonishing discovery early in his career and stood on the edge of international acclaim.
When the government asks his help with breaking Soviet codes, Nash finds himself involved in a terrifying conspiracy plot bringing him to the brink of mental destruction.
Good Will Hunting
This Oscar-winning film follows an MIT janitor, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), and the inner battle against his genius abilities.
With a gift for math and chemistry light-years beyond his working-class roots, he refuses to leave behind his childhood neighborhood or his best friend (Ben Affleck).
When Will is almost sent to jail, an envious MIT professor (Stellan Skarsgård) bails him out under the condition – among other things – he regularly see a therapist (Robin Williams).
The theory of everything
The Theory of Everything gives us a glimpse into the life of the most brilliant and celebrated physicist of our time – Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne).
After being diagnosed with a fatal illness at 21, the film explores his struggle with ALS and how the debilitating motor neuron disease affected his relationship with Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones).
As the successor to Einstein, the movie portrays how as Stephen’s body collapsed, his academic renown soared.
Back to the future
It would be a disservice to a list of geniuses if I didn’t include this TNW-favorite.
The 1980s sci-fi classic is the first of three movies about the wild adventures of typical American teenager, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) brought about by his eccentric, mad-scientist-esque friend, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd).
Marty is accidentally sent back to 1955 in arguably the coolest onscreen tech toys of all time – a plutonium-powered DeLorean “time machine”.
Your turn. What are your favorite genius-centric films?