The Top Ten Movie Nerds
Nerds. They’re everywhere. There are all different kinds of nerds in the world. In fact, if you’re reading this, you are probably in some way, shape, or form a nerd. There are computer nerds, science nerds, math nerds, comic book nerds, movie nerds, music nerds, gaming nerds, yes, even sports nerds.
But while the term “nerd” (as coined by the late Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel) might apply to a lot of different types of people in the real world, there is a certain archetype that boldly bears the description. It’s the reason that certain mental images are bound to exist for you at the mere mention of the term “nerd”. We all know of Steve Urkel from “Family Matters”. We all know Waldo from Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video. These, of course, are extreme examples of the prototypical nerd, but they are rooted in reality.
The movies, of course, have brought us their own share of nerds as well. And while some are fairly exaggerated perceptions of realistic nerds in the world, other pretty much hit the mark. You probably know someone that acts just like someone on this list.
So, without further ado, I present to you a highly subjective countdown of MCFTR’s top movie nerds.
The portly, slovenly neighbor of Lane Meyer in the classic Savage Steve Holland comedy certainly deserves a spot on any list of nerds, despite the small size of the role. But even though his scenes are limited, Ricky’s presence is a memorable one. Ricky doesn’t talk, but he doesn’t need to: he speaks the international language with the French foreign exchange student who stays with his family. At least, that’s what his mother tells everyone before she blows up. The role of Ricky was performed by Dan Schneider, who went on to star on TV’s Head of the Class.
The only nerd without a Y chromosome on our list, Dawn Weiner was played to perfection by Heather Matarazzo in Todd Solondz’s disturbing indie Welcome to the Dollhouse. Dawn, better known as “Weiner Dog”, struggles to find acceptance in a world where she just doesn’t fit in. Her parents pay her no mind, the boy she likes doesn’t even acknowledge her, and to make matters worse, the only person she ever manages to have a relationship is the local bully who threatens to rape her. Not exactly your prototypical movie nerd, but Weiner Dog still ranks up there for taking being an outcast to the extreme.
The quintessential 1980’s coming-of-age flick, The Breakfast Club provides a cross-section of different social groups in American high schools. One of the film’s five memorable stars Anthony Michael Hall’s ubernerd, Brian. While Hall played his fair share of social outcasts in films like Sixteen Candles and Weird Science, the poor smart kid who tried to kill himself with a flare gun and has a girlfriend in the Niagra Falls area easily grabs the title of his best nerd performance. After being typecast by John Hughes like this for the better part of a decade, it’s no wonder that Mr. Hall decided to get all buff for his comeback in the early 90’s.
One of the most quotable movies ever made, and a film that will certainly ring familiar with anyone who’s ever worked in an office or a restaurant, Office Space is remembered for its colorful cast of characters. One of the most memorable characters is the gangsta-rap loving computer dork who just so happens to share his name with one of the most milquetoast singers to ever sell out an arena. Michael, played by comedian Dave Herman, is not just any old nerd, mind you; he’s a nerd with one hell of a temper. That temper flares up when the office printer goes on the fritz, and you can’t even imagine the kind of language that pours out of his mouth when he meets the news of his firing. However, nothing compares to the angry remorse he feels when he’s forced to say he’s a fan of his namesake’s music.
Most of the nerds on this list, especially the ones who appear in the highest spots, wind up triumphing over some sort of adversity in life. However, none of them can say that they are a bona fide super hero. Well, none of them but Peter Parker, that is. Played to perfection by Tobey Maguire, the character that came to life on the pages of comics 40 years ago is translated perfectly to celluloid. Parker is brainy, meek, and shy until that one fateful day where a bite from a superpowered spider changes his life. Parker can scale walls and beat up baddies, but with great power comes great responsibility, so he is forced to play down his alter ego in favor of his nerdy old self; even if it means not being able to win the heart of the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane.
Wes Anderson has an uncanny ability to capture memorable characters on film, and there are few as memorable as the star of his 1998 masterpiece Rushmore, Max Fischer. Max loves his titular academy; so much, in fact, that he winds up getting himself expelled from it. Along the way, he meets and befriends an older, lonely man named Herman Blume and winds up in the middle of a war with him for the affections of schoolteacher Ms. Cross. Max, played by Jason Schwartzman, has big dreams. He puts on stage productions that would make broadway directors envious, and even draws up plans to install an aquarium on top of his school’s baseball field. Still, despite his ambitions, Max is still an outcast amongst his peers, earning him the title of an honest-to-God nerd.
The alter ego of actor Paul Reubens, Pee Wee Herman is a character that has made his way through a number of films, television programs, and stage acts. Pee Wee isn’t your run-of-the-mill nerd, as he is more of an ageless man-child than the spectacled, pocket-protectored archetype that has been stamped in Hollywood’s foundation. Still, with his bow tie, tight suit, crew cut, childish mannerisms, and penchant for kitsch, Pee Wee definitely ranks among the upper echelon of movie nerds. His greatest triumph occurred in Tim Burton’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, in which he travels the country in search of his stolen bicycle. Along the way, he manages to charm his way out of all sorts of situations, but there’s no denying that the initial reaction of anyone who encounters him has got to be “hey, look at that nerd!”
Renewing America’s love affair with nerds, Jon Heder brought to life one of 2004’s most memorable movie characters: the bizarrely named and even more bizarre acting Napoleon Dynamite. Cut from the cloth of the 1980’s movie nerd, but with a distinct and original characterization, Napoleon becomes an unlikely hero when he helps his friend Pedro win the title of student body president. With his slouchy posture, thick glasses, mussed hair, and mismatched clothing, Napoleon certainly has the image down pat, and his actions and mannerisms only amplify his nerdiness. Add to all of that his screwy family life and rural backdrop, and Napoleon certainly rivals the best nerds ever caught on film.
The ultimate moment for nerds came in 1984, when Hollywood paid tribute to these unlikely heroes in a big hit film. The appropriately titled Revenge of the Nerds featured a whole slew of the titular characters, with names that became synonymous for nerddom: Gilbert, Poindexter, Wormser, Booger, and so on. But the ringleader of the nerds, portrayed by the one and only Robert Carradine, was Lewis, the one who proved that nerds really can succeed in a world where they don’t fit in. Lewis organized the nerd fraternity the Tri-Lams, and wound up getting the girl in the end. Nerds around the world rejoiced to see their heroes make good in this capacity. Unfortunately, Lewis lost his luster by appearing in several inferior sequels.
Without question, the ultimate movie nerd is the one and only George McFly, father of Back to the Future‘s hero Marty. Portrayed by the one and only Crispin Hellion Glover, McFly managed to show what nerdiness looks like over the course of 30 years. We are first introduced to 40-something George, who laughs loudly at inopportune moments and cowers at the thought of angering his boss, Biff. When Marty is transported back to 1955, we meet high-school era George McFly, who spies on his future wife, fantasizes about flying saucers, and still cowers at the thought of encountering Biff. Yet, despite all plausible notions suggesting otherwise, George manages to build the confidence to save Lorraine Baines from Biff, yell “get your damn hands off her”, keep her mind off of her son for five minutes, and go on to live a much happier life than Marty ever remembered. There’s no question as to why George McFly belongs on the top of this list. It was, after all, his density.
A few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list:
Data, The Goonies
With his wacky inventions, Data helped save the Goondocks from those evil corporate developer thugs and warded off those nasty Fratellis.
Eugene Felnic, Grease
It was tough to leave any of meganerd Eddie Deezen’s roles off of this list, but he certainly deserves some mention.
Arnold Poindexter, Revenge of the Nerds
Any of the supporting nerds from this film could have made the list, but I was really trying to limit it to one per movie.
Toby Radloff, American Splendor
Toby, being a real person, was disqualified from the list, although he did portray a few lesser movie nerd roles in his career.
Chuck Sherman, American Pie
Any character who talks in the third person while calling himself “The Shermanator” is a winner in my book.