Total Recall

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 | July 12, 2012 | Comments

Nerds and Geeks

Nerds! Geeks! For years, they bore the brunt of hostility from all the cool kids — but now, in a turn of events that would have infuriated Fred “The Ogre” Palowakski, they are the cool kids, and this week they’re celebrating their ascendance with the ultimate annual pilgrimage of nerddom and geekitude. Yes, friends, we’re talking about Comic-Con, and in honor of the total geekout scheduled to take place in San Diego between tomorrow and Sunday, we decided to devote this week’s list to some of our favorite nerd- and geek-dedicated films. Hike up those floodwaters, Poindexter, because it’s time for Total Recall!

The 40 Year Old Virgin


Judd Apatow and Steve Carell co-wrote the script for The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which gave Carell his long worked-for star-making role: action figure-collecting geek Andy Stitzer, whose quest to end his virginity sets up two hours of raunchy gags, Michael McDonald bashing, and inspired lunacy from Jane Lynch. $177 million in worldwide grosses later, Apatow and Carell were household names — and “Kelly Clarkson!” was an acceptable epithet — thanks in part to critical praise from writers like Paul Greenwood of Future Movies, who wrote, “It’s a joy to be in the hands of filmmakers who intuitively know the difference between rude and crude, who know that horny and heartfelt can exist in tandem and that jokes about race and sexuality are not the same as racism and homophobia.”

Ghost World


Perhaps you’ve noticed that when Hollywood wants to make a movie about nerds or geeks, they tend to focus on male characters. Not so Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, a bleakly funny adaptation of the Daniel Clowes comic book about a pair of teenage misfits (Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch) whose casually mean-spirited prank on a lonely middle-aged man (Steve Buscemi) has unforeseen consequences on their friendship. A cult and critical favorite, Ghost World resonated with scribes like Angie Errigo of Empire, who wrote, “This is ‘teen comedy’ of startling sophistication — with horribly funny bits as well. A true original, with sharp humour, subtle detail and painfully realistic characters.”



Boasting the tagline “Boot up or shut up! On line this fall,” posters for 1995’s Hackers promised slick, futuristic action — and, as is so dreadfully often the case, delivered a muddled assortment of computer culture cliches and plot points whose wild implausibility indicated a complete misunderstanding of the way technology works. However unlikely the events of the storyline, some critics enjoyed this tale of teen computer whizzes (led by Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie) and their battle against a swindling security expert (Fisher Stevens) — including Christopher Null of Filmcritic, who chuckled, “The real draw to Hackers is that it is so unexpectedly funny. Really funny. The comic scenes with the kids (and there are lots of them) are totally hilarious. The ‘serious’ scenes are too, because they are often so ridiculous.”

The Nutty Professor


With all due respect to Eddie Murphy’s very funny update, for this week’s list we have to give the nod to the original Nutty Professor, because nobody nerds out quite like Jerry Lewis in his 1960s prime. Acting out a revenge fantasy for spurned nerds everywhere while delivering a brilliant dual performance, Lewis starred as the brilliant-yet-socially-inept scientist Julius F. Kelp and his suave, chemically induced alter ego, Buddy Love — while also directing and co-writing the script. “Credit the effervescent Mr. Lewis for trying something different — a comical character study, with an edge of pathos,” urged A.H. Weiler of the New York Times. “The surprising, rather disturbing result is less of a showcase for a clown than the revelation (and not for the first time) of a superb actor.”



Combining elements of Old Testament mysticism, psychological thriller, and noir, Darren Aronofsky’s Pi marked his directorial debut with distinctive flair, plunging viewers into the intensely paranoid world of an unstable genius (Sean Gullette) whose fascination with numbers makes him the target of two shadowy groups — one that wants to manipulate the stock market, and one that wants to fulfill Biblical prophecy. Unlike any other film on this list (or any other film anywhere, really), Pi entranced critics like TIME’s Richard Corliss, who called Aronofsky “that rare indie filmmaker who doesn’t want to make hip romantic sitcoms. He’s a genuine experimenter with a spooky visual style.”

Real Genius


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


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.”



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


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.”



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


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.


Tag Cloud

Red Carpet transformers fast and furious Ellie Kemper DirecTV Holidays zombies TLC ViacomCBS cats emmy awards crossover Opinion The CW Acorn TV miniseries king kong PlayStation Calendar jamie lee curtis BET IFC Films black comedy Teen Winter TV Vudu TV slasher Fargo Heroines game of thrones Comic-Con@Home 2021 Food Network Fox News facebook parents Schedule indiana jones 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards mockumentary criterion breaking bad USA know your critic Marathons Crackle robots Hallmark Christmas movies reboot Rocketman Masterpiece Music new star wars movies cops best First Reviews Brie Larson NBA archives video on demand justice league documentary TV Land international romance HFPA rt archives Amazon Prime Video rt labs critics edition true crime Rock canceled TV shows San Diego Comic-Con posters Sneak Peek Tokyo Olympics unscripted Apple TV Plus TruTV Mystery sitcom Song of Ice and Fire space Amazon comics Hollywood Foreign Press Association Netflix Christmas movies TCA blockbusters spinoff Sci-Fi vs. adventure scary movies franchise National Geographic Exclusive Video science fiction Disney chucky Mudbound christmas movies teaser dark nature prank genre crime Interview Martial Arts Black History Month History Endgame spy thriller E! Pirates Nickelodeon 45 DC Comics Alien spain Sundance animated discovery 79th Golden Globes Awards Infographic zombie MCU Trophy Talk comedies sequel BAFTA canceled Spike hollywood directors war Freeform mcc comic books Video Games strong female leads Disney Channel Emmys YouTube Red feel good Star Trek Women's History Month The Academy Disney streaming service independent New York Comic Con scorecard Britbox 1990s LGBT fresh indie thriller Disney Plus Turner Classic Movies television Discovery Channel Crunchyroll Tarantino versus talk show boxoffice japan popular TBS stoner Chernobyl Hulu japanese a nightmare on elm street nbcuniversal Nominations Country high school Comics on TV Avengers renewed TV shows Travel Channel Animation live action FX Trivia CMT El Rey 93rd Oscars anthology Marvel Television Character Guide hispanic heritage month football VH1 stand-up comedy GLAAD AMC Plus ABC Family BBC America Image Comics pirates of the caribbean Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Neflix ABC scary australia docuseries TCA 2017 Television Critics Association Pet Sematary Drama Mary Poppins Returns series mutant screenings deadpool SXSW IMDb TV Logo richard e. Grant target Reality Creative Arts Emmys reviews Writers Guild of America kids BBC TIFF rotten The Walking Dead Star Wars Baby Yoda action-comedy award winner Mindy Kaling blaxploitation sag awards 2017 dragons movie FX on Hulu Apple TV+ social media slashers 99% Dark Horse Comics Toys comic docudrama Warner Bros. batman Lionsgate cancelled TV series telelvision Year in Review Box Office Tubi Columbia Pictures 21st Century Fox hidden camera Walt Disney Pictures ESPN live event disaster adaptation period drama razzies CW Seed mission: impossible 20th Century Fox 007 italian Netflix tv talk Mary poppins Pop TV Universal Pictures Cannes free movies Podcast trophy marvel comics saw doctor who Ovation psychological thriller Sundance Now Academy Awards Tumblr serial killer Paramount Plus The Witch Spectrum Originals kaiju Elton John book adaptation royal family Pacific Islander boxing ratings The Walt Disney Company AMC Epix Film Festival crime thriller Hallmark Fall TV obituary festival films revenge police drama Musical what to watch TCA Winter 2020 Paramount basketball WarnerMedia dreamworks OWN spanish sopranos monster movies cancelled Horror hist romantic comedy 2016 Turner See It Skip It worst movies Family MTV jurassic park news composers politics Countdown halloween DC streaming service ghosts Hear Us Out Premiere Dates casting king arthur Sundance TV Quiz Set visit book aliens quibi cancelled TV shows Emmy Nominations anime toronto GIFs art house Comic Book Tags: Comedy Certified Fresh streaming golden globes Film marvel cinematic universe Reality Competition Legendary zero dark thirty PBS MSNBC SundanceTV based on movie festivals PaleyFest children's TV Ghostbusters hispanic psycho TV renewals Starz stop motion james bond Arrowverse 4/20 diversity Marvel rt labs biopic HBO TCA Awards political drama Lifetime Christmas movies Pixar Biopics werewolf Tomatazos name the review Election finale Wes Anderson A24 FOX YouTube Comedy CNN spider-man all-time ID cancelled television Thanksgiving 71st Emmy Awards ABC Signature E3 CBS 73rd Emmy Awards Rom-Com mob legend President dogs ITV 2015 video Polls and Games Showtime twilight spider-verse vampires universal monsters historical drama witnail Super Bowl 2021 theme song rom-coms latino elevated horror crime drama laika toy story blockbuster BET Awards Amazon Studios Pride Month green book 2019 olympics First Look SDCC Instagram Live OneApp HBO Max Nat Geo 24 frames Valentine's Day Classic Film Bravo Action Awards leaderboard medical drama suspense FXX godzilla Shudder TV movies lord of the rings Binge Guide comic book movies Captain marvel Spring TV technology YouTube Premium VOD singing competition cooking Paramount Network Peacock Photos Winners satire venice superman Musicals halloween tv french Marvel Studios Amazon Prime Sony Pictures remakes concert nfl WGN Christmas RT History VICE Adult Swim natural history Funimation biography streaming movies GoT Superheroe The Arrangement Oscars dramedy trailers documentaries Anna Paquin RT21 cinemax asian-american binge Awards Tour harry potter Broadway 2020 Trailer sequels Stephen King Summer rotten movies we love Cosplay Cartoon Network Lifetime classics The Purge Chilling Adventures of Sabrina gangster American Society of Cinematographers Lucasfilm Fantasy cults 90s Best and Worst Disney+ Disney Plus Syfy cartoon X-Men TNT women child's play cars scene in color critic resources IFC supernatural adenture wonder woman dc dexter Holiday Comedy Central Fox Searchlight NYCC Shondaland TV One superhero Kids & Family heist movie Watching Series worst foreign kong Superheroes HBO Go DGA LGBTQ BBC One new york die hard USA Network screen actors guild movies Extras young adult sports golden globe awards joker Television Academy new zealand aapi comiccon Rocky travel TCM critics YA debate DC Universe Apple CBS All Access Grammys game show Black Mirror comic book movie Western Prime Video black 2018 dceu Mary Tyler Moore spanish language south america Pop NBC Universal APB 72 Emmy Awards Esquire A&E