Depictions of geniuses in movies & on TV
December 10, 2016 9:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of two things for something I'm working on: (1) TV/movie characters who are geniuses (not just smart) depicted as nerds and socially awkward. (2) TV/movie characters who are geniuses depicted as sexy/cool/badass. (Fictional characters only.)
posted by trillian to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
A few entries from TVTropes may help: Badass Bookworm, Genius Bruiser, Hot Scientist, Indexed and Nerdy, and Intelligence Tropes.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Real Genius" probably has an example of every possible type.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2016 [11 favorites]


Wobbuffet, thanks -- I was on TVTropes earlier but wasn't finding the right stuff. Those are great.
posted by trillian at 9:21 AM on December 10, 2016


Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park is a math genius and cool af.
David Levinson in Independence Day is a math genius who starts out as a big nerd but ends up cool af.
Both characters are played by Jeff Goldblum.
posted by phunniemee at 9:25 AM on December 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.
posted by elphaba at 9:29 AM on December 10, 2016


Dr Spencer Reid (played by Matthew Grey Gubler) on Criminal Minds.
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:32 AM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Larry Fleinhardt from Numb3rs.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:39 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, Walter Bishop from Fringe.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:42 AM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


BBC Sherlock.
posted by bluebird at 9:44 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dr Gregory House (on House M.D.) is both sexy/badass and socially awkward (but doesn't care).
And goes well as a pairing with the answer above because he's based on Sherlock Holmes...
posted by flourpot at 9:55 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ellie from Contact for the first type. L from Death Note is portrayed as both socially awkward and badass, or perhaps so awkward that he's badass? I feel like that's a genius trope in itself. BBC Sherlock and most incarnations of Holmes are similar -- i.e. "this person is limited in some ways so that they can be outstanding in others," or at its logical conclusion, "this person is so brilliant that they can get away with acting however they like towards other people."
posted by thesmallmachine at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2016


Temperance Brennan on Bones is at once depicted as being a socially awkward genius and nerdy (and possibly on the spectrum) and sexy/badass.

Sherlock Holmes on Elementary is depicted as socially awkward and obviously a genius.

I think you could make an argument for Elliot on Mr. Robot being a genius, and he has pretty moderately severe social problems.
posted by katyggls at 10:10 AM on December 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a badass genius.
posted by mattholomew at 11:26 AM on December 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Iron Man and many, many other comic book heroes and villains are badass geniuses.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:29 AM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) on Numb3rs is a little of both. Mostly nerdy I guess. Math wunderkind who helps FBI-brother solve crimes with the help of his gorgeous girlfriend Amita (who is also a math/computer whiz) and his his friend Larry (Peter MacNicol) who is textbook scatterbrained/loopy/esoterically nerdy and also a genius in his own way.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:36 AM on December 10, 2016


Are guest parts on TV shows fair game? One episode of Big Bang Theory had a character named Dr. David Underhill who was a MacArthur genius grant award winner in physics who is portrayed as a sexy badass: good looking, rides a motorcycle, and gets Penny's attention.

On Elementary, a recurring character is Sherlock's sort of girlfriend, Fiona, who is on the autism spectrum and is a computer genius.
posted by cecic at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2016


Patrick Jane in The Mentalist is a sexy genius.
posted by blackzinfandel at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2016


Fictional characters only.

Does this mean no documentaries/reality TV, or are you excluding characters based on real people? Because I was going to suggest Alan Turing from recent film the The Imitation Game, but obviously that's based on a real person/true story. He definitely fulfills the genius and socially awkward requirement.

In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Turing seems to specialize in this genius type; see also, BBC Sherlock.

There's also Harold Finch, played by Michael Emerson, in the TV show Person of Interest. He's generally portrayed as nerdy/socially awkward, though he also is shown to be quite skillful at flirting with women in several points throughout the series.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:37 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a badass genius.

Not to mention very, very sexy. (Assuming we're talking about Mads Mikkelsen in the TV Show Hannibal.) He's also the complete opposite of socially awkward.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:40 PM on December 10, 2016


Oh, also, Beetee and Wiress from the Hunger Games (they're introduced in the second book/movie, Catching Fire). They are both portrayed as socially awkward geniuses.

Jeffrey Wright (who plays Beetee) also plays Bernard, another socially awkward genius type, in the TV series Westworld.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:48 PM on December 10, 2016


There was a series called Alphas that might be of interest - it's on Netflix. David Strathairn is in it, which is always a bonus.
posted by theora55 at 12:50 PM on December 10, 2016


Cameron Howe from Halt and Catch Fire.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ooh, great suggestions, thanks.

And I know this is my own Ask ... BUT how has no one mentioned the Doctor yet? Sexy genius! Well, specifically the Tenth Doctor, and some (not me, however) would say the Eleventh.
posted by trillian at 1:37 PM on December 10, 2016


Shine about piano genius, David Helfgott. Also Victus about a musical progedy.
posted by chapps at 2:29 PM on December 10, 2016


Also, impromptu about writer George Sand who is nerdy sexy confident in her courting of nerdy unconfident and socially awkward fellow genius, Chopin.
And
posted by chapps at 2:37 PM on December 10, 2016


There's Amadeus, too, in which Mozart is more bizarre than nerdy.
posted by chapps at 2:38 PM on December 10, 2016


It's not really a very good show, but the CBS series Scorpion is about a team of four geniuses working to solve problems for the government, with a Fed handler, and another character who helps them interact with regular people (though she also has a young son who is also a genius).

Technically one of the protagonists is based on a real person, but the show bears little resemblance to reality.
posted by Pryde at 2:43 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


wasn't trillian a sexy genius? not that i'm the expert...
posted by andrewcooke at 3:55 PM on December 10, 2016


Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis/Stargate definitely fits the socially awkward genius mold...
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 4:30 PM on December 10, 2016


Simon (sexy) and River(sexy badass) from Firefly are both type 2.
Simon: I am very smart. I went to the best Medacad in Osiris, top three percent of my class, finished my internship in eight months. "Gifted" is the term. So when I tell you that my little sister makes me look like an idiot child, I want you to understand my full meaning.

Simon from Firefly as type 1:
Simon: This may come as a shock, but I'm actually not very good at-at talking to girls.
Zoƫ: Why, is there someone you *are* good at talkin' to?

katyggls: "Temperance Brennan on Bones is at once depicted as being a socially awkward genius and nerdy (and possibly on the spectrum) and sexy/badass."

Temperance is a social savant compared to her intern Zack Addy.
posted by Mitheral at 6:19 PM on December 10, 2016


In the recent movie The Accountant there are examples of both.
posted by Night_owl at 6:26 PM on December 10, 2016


Holtzmann from the Ghostbusters reboot fits both categories. Nuclear engineer. Extremely quirky. Soooo quirky. Awkward as hell, but the fact that she doesn't give a damn about that makes her fascinating and irresistible. She has quite the following, at least among the portion of the Ghostbusters fandom that didn't meltdown over the existence of the reboot. Her Times Square fight scene is the most badass thing I've ever seen.
posted by QuickedWeen at 7:21 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
"...concerns the efforts of the multi-talented Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, a physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock musician".
posted by quinndexter at 7:41 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Egon from the original Ghostbusters is type 1, certainly.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:47 PM on December 10, 2016


Perhaps Grey's Anatomy's Dr. Cristina Yang.
posted by jgirl at 8:21 PM on December 10, 2016


Will from Good Will Hunting - a genius who was too down to earth and therefore too badass for snooty ivy leaguers.
posted by thebots at 1:57 AM on December 11, 2016


Detective Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
posted by BibiRose at 9:49 AM on December 11, 2016


What about Alan Turig in "Imitation Game" (Benedict Cumberbatch). Although, I read that in real life he wasn't as awkward as they made him out to be.

I second Scorpion.
posted by crystal_stair at 12:29 PM on December 11, 2016


From the world of books:

Ender, aka Andrew Wiggins and his siblings in the Ender's Game books.
Charles Wallace, from A Wrinkle in Time
Oskar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Seymour Glass from J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories
Flavia deLuce from the mystery series by Alan Bradley
Glokta from Abercrombie's First Law Series
Master Li from The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox
posted by Altomentis at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2016


John Travolta's character in Phenomenon becomes a genius but IMO is neither sexy cool nor nerdy/socially awkward.
posted by guy72277 at 3:40 AM on December 12, 2016


It's not really a very good show, but the CBS series Scorpion is about a team of four geniuses working to solve problems for the government ...

I can't help it, but I *love* Scorpion, perhaps because it's plots are so absurd -- to the point of being reminiscent of 70s action shows in some way I can't quite put my finger on.

Also, I find the characters endearing.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:45 AM on December 12, 2016


I can't help it, but I *love* Scorpion, perhaps because it's plots are so absurd

Yeah...I keep watching it (it's up next for me tonight!), not really in a hate-watch kind of way, but it's also not something I can defend in terms of quality. It reminds me of 80's shows in the absurd uncomplicated adventure of the week, with PG levels of violence. The MacGyver reboot is heading into the same territory....
posted by Pryde at 10:15 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


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