Geeky intellectual hero(ine) stories
July 6, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Help me find movies/TV shows about geeky, intellectual heroes!

I'm looking for movies/TV/other media that center around inventors, scientists, or intellectuals as heroes (preferably female, but not necessarily):

I really liked The Edge; the protagonist is a brilliant, bookish inventor (Anthony Hopkins) as an action hero who saves the day.

I also really like MacGyver and the characters on Firefly, and other characters that display ingenuity and brains to solve important problems. I would love NUMB3RS, but the sexism drives me nuts.

I'm looking for similar movies/shows/books with a inventor, scientist, or other intellectual (writers and artists are okay) who goes on a hero's journey to accomplish an important goal or achieve greater self-development. Strong narrative and character development preferred -- i.e., instead of going after "bad guys", having a nuanced personal growth experience.

Thanks, Mefi!
posted by 3491again to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Out of Africa. Based on the real life of a female writer.

Erin Brokovich. Based on the real life of a mother of three who talked her boss into taking on a big corporation and fighting the good fight while discovering her work mattered more to her than having a man.
posted by Michele in California at 2:13 PM on July 6, 2012

Quantum Leap?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2012

Oh! I can't believe I didn't list this.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2012

You are describing The Librarian (and sequels) starring Noah Wylie.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:26 PM on July 6, 2012

Doogie Howser?
posted by spilon at 2:26 PM on July 6, 2012

There was a Canadian series called ReGenesis about a bunch of scientists who have to save the world from some superbug or somesuch pretty much every week. It's kind of ridiculous (occasionally way over the top, a lot of psh yeah right science, and the final season was basically just wtf no over and over), but damn if it wasn't entertaining. Definitely full of geek heroes.

Looks like seasons 1-3 are on Hulu.

Bonus: watch Canadian people try to play Americans! It's hilarious!
posted by phunniemee at 2:27 PM on July 6, 2012

It's unfortunately short on female leads, but Sneakers probably deserves an honorable mention.

What about Contact?
posted by brennen at 2:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

BBC's Sherlock. He's a forensics nerd, basically, and he always comes through. There are only a few episodes so it's hard to tell if any deep character development is going to follow, but it's been promising so far.

Can they be antiheroes? Walter White on Breaking Bad is a well-written nerdy character, to me. He reminds me of many of my teachers and professors in his delight in science and rigidity regarding scientific inquiry. There's an episode where he gets to view a really nice lab--one that is well-stocked and well-designed. It's a marked contrast from the sketch-as-hell conditions he had to work in before. His obvious appreciation of it is one of my favorite scenes in the show.

He uses his scientific background and intelligence to solve (and create) complicated problems. The writers of the show take pains to weave scientific accurate details into the plot. He also undergoes a great deal of personal transformation in the show. However, it is a transformation towards evil, rather than good. His descent is fascinating, complex, and nuanced. If you are looking for Firefly or NUMB3RS, this may not be the show for you. His choices make me squirm. I don't really root for him; I just watch in fascinated horror. Even so, Walter White is still one of my favorite TV scientists.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:36 PM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you like sci-fi, you might like Warehouse 13. There are actually three characters on that show that fit your description. Myka, a warehouse agent, who's very smart and tends to solve most of her cases with her sharp memory and attention to detail, Artie, the warehouse director, who's just an all around genius, and Claudia, a junior agent (she's in her very late teens, early twenties) who's a physics genius/computer nerd. They all have their various personal journeys and they all use their intellectual gifts a lot. They do go after bad guys sometimes, but it's more often bad objects they're after. Basically they all run a giant secret warehouse that houses all the world's most harmful and dangerous objects and when they hear of an object causing trouble they have to go and find it and collect it. That sounds kind of lame when I describe it actually, but it's really quite a good show, with lots of humor and great character development. Also very positive strong female characters.
posted by katyggls at 2:45 PM on July 6, 2012

Eureka is a show about a city of nerds. The main character himself is kind of an anti-nerd, but it's pretty much always brains that saves the day. It's also got a few crossover episodes with katyggl's recommendation of Warehouse 13.
posted by specialagentwebb at 2:47 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wasn't McGyver like that? (except that Richard Dean Anderson is too cool to be geeky)

Also "Revenge of the Nerds"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:50 PM on July 6, 2012

(That'll teach me to fully read the question. My apologies.)

Have you heard of the "Mad Scientists' Club"?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:53 PM on July 6, 2012

Definitely Contact. That movie gets a bad rap and I actually have no idea why; the hated ending perfectly illustrates the lead character's intellectual/spiritual development.

Maybe The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Definitely smart; she's a hacker/computer scientist. I haven't seen the Fincher version yet, but I hear it's pretty good.

The first season of Veronica Mars was really good, but she's not an artist or scientist--she's a detective.

Lorenzo's Oil--an older movie based on a true story about a couple's quest (both quite brilliant) to find a cure for their son's horrible genetic disease.

Temple Grandin, also based on a true story about an autistic female scientist who revolutionizes the cattle industry and creates inventions to help her manage her autism.

Probably outside of your question because there's no day saving, but worth a mention, I think:

Copenhagen--no female leads, but it's a pretty cool movie based on a play that covers a meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941.

Wit is another movie based on a play, starring Emma Thompson. It's a study of a dying, brilliant English professor, and her self-examination about the role her intellectual pursuits played in her life and what they mean to her death.

Agora is about a Roman female atheistic philospher persecuted by early Christians. Somewhat fictive and romanticized, but there was a real Hypatia.

These may not all work for you, but there's a definite lack of intellectual heroines in film/tv. :)
posted by xyzzy at 6:14 PM on July 6, 2012

You might like Farscape. It's very adventure-y and there's bad guys, but the lead guy is an astronaut/science guy who tends to work with his brain more than brawn (even if he's buff). His goal is to get home after he goes through a wormhole, but there's plenty of development along the way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:45 PM on July 6, 2012

I would second Farscape - the main character is a scientist and astronaut who makes SF and geek culture references all the time (his version of WWJD is "What would Captain Kirk do?"). Apparently, lots of people at NASA like it.
posted by jb at 9:25 PM on July 6, 2012

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:28 AM on July 7, 2012

". . .the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."

-Craig Ferguson, giving what is possibly the best single-sentence summary of Doctor Who
posted by Ndwright at 2:13 PM on July 7, 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Focus on Willow.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2012

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