Nerds On Film

 I put this site together to celebrate the portrayal of the nerd in cinema. I grew up as a somewhat nerdy kid during what may be the golden age of nerds on film: the 1980s. During that decade, and perhaps coinciding with the advent of "teen movies," there seemed to be a great many nerd-oriented images on the movie screens. Some were not so flattering, but many others were actually quite sympathetic and even empowering.

As noted in the online Slate magazine article,"Nerd v. Nebbish":
"But the popular understanding of nerdiness--that a nerd is an uncool person--doesn't stand the test of time. In particular, it doesn't survive the 1980s, an era the New York Times deemed was characterized by "nerd chic." By the middle of the go-go decade, fashion magazines touted the popularity of nerd couture--plaid plants, horn rims, and oxford shirts buttoned all the way to the top. Further, witness the proliferation of '80s teen movies valorizing nerds: Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science, and Real Genius, to name a few. Underlying this transformation of the nerd's image was a transformation of the nerd's economic status. With their entry into new high-tech industries, many nerds suddenly became millionerds."

Many of the films featured on this site are, admittedly, oriented around certain stereotypes about nerds. These could be both positive and negative stereotypes. In any case, this has been of some concern to me and I dont want to appear to be supporting a simplistic and narrow vision of what these people who may be called "nerds" are. I am, after all, within that category myself.

It is important, however, to recognize that in order to somehow focus on the triumphs and travails of any particular group, some categorizaion is needed. In other words, unless we are going to say that a certain group simply does not exist, then to produce any kind of artistic portayal of that group requires some generalization. Yes, sometimes this means relying on some tried and maybe even true stereotypes. I feel that I have tried to present a wide range of "nerd-oriented" films. Its always important, however, to keep in mind that any group (such as nerds) are made up of individuals and that it is wrong to make rigid assumptions about indivdual members of a larger group. Take any portrayal with a grain of salt ad an open, but discerning, mind.

I must admit that I put together this site wth a particular focus on the type of films I so fondly remember growing up with. This accounts for the emphasis on '80s films. I have tried to cast as wide a net as possible considering my own limited knowlege of what is out there. Please cosider this site a startng point, and not the end, of a search for nerd-related movies.

The Nerd As Outcast; The Pain of Being A Nerd

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1994)

Welcome To The Dollhouse presents a dark picture of what its like to be a nerd outcast. The film's plot and imagery are both surreal in their presentation, yet also paradoxically painfully realistic in the way they show the sense of tragedy that follows an outsider around.

The film is about the world of a nerdy, bespectacled little girl who seeks to find love and a sense of fitting in from her family and acquaintances. But all just seems to go sadly wrong in her quest, and her dreams seem tragically destined to fail. You can feel the sense of claustrophobia as the world seems to close in on the young nerd girl who is the protagonist of this film. The film does a good job of presenting the sad and desperate efforts that an outsider will go to to try to fit in, including hurting other outsiders in an awful show of self hatred. It also conveys the cutting sense of despair and powerlessness that so many outcast nerds have to suffer in silence.

Lucas (1986)

Lucas is a realistic film whose content is both painfully true, yet perhaps offering a small measure of hope. This film is about a nerdy, sensitive, intelligent high school boy who must live in a high school dominated by jocks who mistreat him.

The story begins with Lucas meeting a new female student who he develops a fondness for. When the school year begins, however, the two grow apart as this new student becomes part of a more popular clique. Lucas is left to deal with his sense of isolation. He then tries to remedy the situation by making a questionable gamble. This film is a very accurate in its presentation of the sense of being an outsider that outcast nerds often feel. I was always a bit unsatisfied with the ending, but that doesnt detract from the overall worth of this film.

Bad Ronald (1974)

Bad Ronald is a stange film from the '7Os. I must admit that I havent seen it in years, and Ive found it difficult to get. The plot of the movie deals with a nerdy adolescent boy who is clearly shown as an outcast to other teenagers. When he is taunted by another teen, a scuffle results which results in the death of the other teen.

So now, his mother has to hide him. So they build a secret room in the walls of their house, and hide him there. Then, the mother dies, leaving the adolescent alone in an empty house and in a world where he must hide. Then, another family moves into the house, not realizing that the fugitive teen is still living in a secret room in the walls of the house. This leads to a wierd set of circumstances where the teen has to sneak food into his hiding place, and spy on the family who doesn't even know he's there. Quite strange and disturbing.

The Nerd Triumphant: Nerd Power In Action

Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Revenge of the Nerds is an entertaining, albeit goofy, story of nerds triumphing over their enemies in a college setting.

The movie begins with two nerds, recently graduated from high school, heading off to college together. They expect college to be a different place from where they had come, a place that presented better opportunities for a brainy person. When they got there, they found out that it wasnt going to be so easy. Having just moved into their dormroom, they end up getting kicked out (along with all the rest of the dorm) to make room for the college's big jocks and preps, who had previously succeeded in buring down their own frathouse. After unsuccesfully trying to fit in to the college's greek system, the two nerds find themselves among a group of several other nerds who have also met the same fate. Having been through the same exerience of rejection, this small group bonds together to find a place where they can all fit in. With their combined effort, they find an old run down house, which they renovate and call their own. Things seem to be looking up, when they soon find themselves harrassed by the same people who had previously rejected them, the popular jocks and preps of the college's greek system. In response, they decide to start their own nerd fraternity, and joining together with a sorority of nerds, they take on the establishment. Needless to say, after many twists and turns, they win in the end. Brains outwit braun. This film is very much an '80s teen flick, with all the positives and negatives of that genre.

Real Genius (1985)

Real Genius is definitely one of my favorite nerd-oriented movies. Its got both humor, and a triumphant ending, as well as some occasional moments of reflecion on the nerd experience.

The movie deals with group of nerds at a college who are involved in scientific research. In particular, the movie focuses on the relatioship between Mitch, the recent arrival to the group, and Chris Knight, who has been here a while. I, persoally, have always enjoyed the interaction between Mitch, who is still tense and troubled by his past as a High School misfit, with Chris, who helps him to relax and feel comfortable with his precocious mind and creativity. Along the story's plot, we meet such characters as Jordan, the hyperkinetic female nerd, and Kent, who shows us all that there are nerds who are absolute jerks. Throughout most of this movie, the action focuses on the interaction between the different nerds, who are working away at a project for their mentor Dr. Hathaway. But, later, when they find out the true nature of the project's evil purpose, they must work to correct the wrong that has been done. Thats when he fun really starts. Rent the movie and see. I like this film for all the quirky little scenes it has which show that nerds can have fun with the very things which set them apart from others. It acknowleges that being a nerd can have its downsides, but then manages to talk you into seeing the brighter side as well.

Weird Science (1986)

Wierd Science has its positives and negatives. On the one hand, it can be seen as a fun movie that glorifies what a bunch of brainy misfis can do. On the other hand, it has some of the downsides of certain '80s teen flicks, in particular the treating of females as objects. I guess both sides should be recognized.

The plot is pretty simple: two teenage nerds conduct an experiment where they bring to life, frankenstein-style (well, sort-of), the female creation of their dreams. The funnest part, as far as Im concerned, is when they achieve revenge against one of the nerd's macho older brother when he gets turned into . . . well, see the flick to find out. 

Two from the '00s

Spiderman (2002)

A Nerdy teen gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gets turned in the a very nerdy, but very cool, superhero.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

A movie where it seems like every major character is a nerd. Vote for Pedro!