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

85%

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

93%

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.”

Hackers

31%

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

81%

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.”

Pi

88%

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

75%

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

71%

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

93%

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

57%

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

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt TCA Winter 2020 know your critic latino Western CW Seed VH1 dramedy FX on Hulu The Arrangement Disney+ Disney Plus animated Podcast zero dark thirty 90s Photos unscripted Character Guide CBS All Access comiccon concert TV Tarantino Box Office Trailer Brie Larson TBS royal family Sundance Now SundanceTV Lifetime Christmas movies Best Actress streaming USA suspense Song of Ice and Fire HBO 73rd Emmy Awards nfl international sequels Classic Film theme song lord of the rings Columbia Pictures Horror Turner Awards Tour Crackle critics worst mutant 24 frames Tomatazos First Reviews BBC vampires TLC CMT new star wars movies Pirates Native See It Skip It worst movies blockbusters adenture Walt Disney Pictures The Walt Disney Company PlayStation FOX Best Actor cancelled TV series YouTube space serial killer Holidays Valentine's Day Indigenous AMC trailers deadpool 72 Emmy Awards festivals Spike sopranos Hulu Ellie Kemper dc Martial Arts comic books singing competition talk show Comic Book superman Interview Universal dragons chucky rotten japan news zombies italian superhero Alien scene in color film series Food Network posters HBO Go indie versus Country Avengers GIFs Television Academy Paramount Network NYCC Paramount Plus boxoffice jamie lee curtis Nominations kaiju AMC Plus History Television Critics Association Certified Fresh adaptation stand-up comedy New York Comic Con trophy Hallmark kong Baby Yoda HFPA The Witch DC Universe summer preview Election Cannes thriller Writers Guild of America Endgame independent Summer australia Winners boxing Mary Poppins Returns HBO Max Pixar children's TV breaking bad Bravo TCA FX Epix Chernobyl ratings Paramount Spring TV Musical Captain marvel robots TV renewals universal monsters X-Men mission: impossible Freeform Instagram Live Disney Sony Pictures die hard PBS TNT Amazon NBA 2018 crime art house Vudu hist Pop cartoon VICE spy thriller spain south america Extras satire elevated horror 94th Oscars El Rey Black History Month Comedy green book Disney Plus child's play free movies Lionsgate cops anthology Mindy Kaling Infographic gangster women cars hollywood Star Trek broadcast spanish South by Southwest Film Festival RT History Comics on TV romance Paramount Pictures historical drama ITV justice league Adult Swim Superheroe Apple TV+ The Walking Dead best Year in Review wonder woman Cartoon Network Shondaland screen actors guild Sony documentaries Crunchyroll cinemax YA 93rd Oscars Trivia medical drama Focus Features Masterpiece TCA 2017 Biopics spider-verse Mystery TIFF toy story Apple TV Plus binge hispanic stop motion based on movie telelvision Women's History Month doctor who 2020 mcc archives cooking Amazon Prime Video The CW marvel comics japanese Thanksgiving Action parents reboot Image Comics A&E 71st Emmy Awards debate criterion classics Turner Classic Movies 1990s saw witnail comic book movie dceu Fargo comic President Acorn TV WGN Stephen King facebook DC streaming service E3 DirecTV hidden camera aliens Universal Pictures WarnerMedia Ovation Best Picture Opinion 79th Golden Globes Awards Rom-Com video Nickelodeon new zealand Marvel Disney streaming service DGA twilight MGM sports slasher diversity OneApp Holiday television TCA Awards Star Wars Pride Month Premiere Dates prank natural history comic book movies golden globes SDCC 45 Disney Channel teaser Film Festival black comedy summer TV preview The Academy indiana jones strong female leads E! Trophy Talk Set visit 4/20 romantic comedy rt labs Legendary summer TV Kids & Family CBS biopic streamig 20th Century Fox Rock mob scene in color series Funimation cancelled heist movie SXSW Calendar werewolf composers rt archives popular social media Cosplay miniseries what to watch dexter festival ESPN pirates of the caribbean transformers Marvel Television Awards Britbox Pacific Islander blaxploitation Christmas cults BET Awards 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Reality Competition fresh FXX IFC reviews dogs french Dark Horse Comics Pet Sematary Showtime new york Marvel Studios Nat Geo 2017 rt labs critics edition ABC Family Watching Series remakes high school Fox Searchlight police drama live event Sundance black Drama Peacock king kong critic resources 99% Teen San Diego Comic-Con Esquire Sci-Fi PaleyFest YouTube Premium science fiction TV One GLAAD Arrowverse franchise Tokyo Olympics directors cancelled TV shows Creative Arts Emmys target Rocketman Neflix Animation leaderboard Emmy Nominations casting slashers Star Wars Celebration scene in color nature streaming movies Discovery Channel sequel spider-man politics razzies golden globe awards series toronto Lifetime laika Reality Exclusive Video TCM Comedy Central Oscars IMDb TV Amazon Studios all-time Schedule technology Black Mirror jurassic park stoner Tags: Comedy ghosts Rocky dreamworks asian-american Binge Guide joker A24 ViacomCBS Emmys foreign Hear Us Out First Look RT21 period drama psychological thriller Toys BBC One blockbuster marvel cinematic universe batman hispanic heritage month young adult godzilla travel spanish language Apple zombie olympics TV movies james bond Family documentary BBC America war Film sitcom fast and furious LGBT films Starz Mudbound psycho nbcuniversal Quiz Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ABC book Spectrum Originals a nightmare on elm street APB USA Network anime Best and Worst OWN Netflix Christmas movies ID MTV finale BAFTA richard e. Grant Travel Channel The Purge Music spinoff halloween Fall TV ABC Signature movie biography emmy awards MCU GoT Hallmark Christmas movies venice VOD christmas movies action-comedy National Geographic Broadway MSNBC disaster Mary poppins Geeked Week dark Anna Paquin NBC canceled TV shows 21st Century Fox halloween tv obi wan 2015 Prime Video Sundance TV BET docudrama Tumblr 2021 game of thrones award winner Video Games IFC Films renewed TV shows rotten movies we love interviews DC Comics Wes Anderson Sneak Peek Countdown Oscar scary movies Superheroes basketball vs. genre YouTube Red CNN Best Director target scene in color aapi adventure Winter TV American Society of Cinematographers Fox News Heroines Tubi Super Bowl game show TruTV Fantasy Mary Tyler Moore Grammys Netflix revenge scorecard SXSW 2022 Academy Awards Comic-Con@Home 2021 legend Warner Bros. crime thriller king arthur football 2019 comics screenings Syfy cats movies LGBTQ Amazon Prime docuseries tv talk 2016 live action video on demand name the review comedies Lucasfilm harry potter rom-coms Marathons scary 007 Elton John sag awards cancelled television monster movies Red Carpet mockumentary true crime Ghostbusters Shudder Musicals political drama kids canceled discovery TV Land Logo Polls and Games feel good crime drama quibi Hollywood Foreign Press Association crossover Pop TV obituary supernatural book adaptation