If you ask most people to imagine up a typical action hero, they usually think of a stone-faced muscle-bound man of action. But sometimes a problem arises that needs a different kind of hero. One who wears glasses and will fight the bad guy...just as soon as he takes his ear medicine.
9. David Lightman - War Games
To give you an idea of how big a nerd Matthew Broderick's character David Lightman was in the 1983 classic WarGames, he had a modem in 1983. Yes, back when everyone else was creaming their pants over their 26-bit Ataris, Davey was surfing the Internet before there even was one. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, despite being a trailblazing technological pioneer, he was also kind of an idiot. Instead of desperately looking for porn like any other suburban kid with a computer, David hacks into the computer that controls all of America's nukes and sets the world on an inevitable path to total annihilation. He eventually saves the day and learns one of the most valuable lessons of his life. If you're a teenage computer whiz with access to any computer in the country, don't enter into a life and death game with the possibly sentient computer that controls America's nuclear arsenal. Do something cool. Like rickrolling.
8. David Levinson - Independence Day
Source: 20th Century Fox
It's hard to imagine now, but for a brief, bizarre window of time in the mid '90s, Jeff Goldblum was one of the most bankable action stars in Hollywood. With his cerebral face, absent-minded professor's voice and serious brow, Goldblum looks more suited to solving particularly difficult crossword puzzles than saving the world from intractable alien menaces.
But in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, save it he does. Albeit in an incredibly geeky way. Instead of big guns, a huge bomb, or deadly kung fu, David Levinson uses one of the nerdiest weapons in history: a computer virus. Yes, the mighty hero brings down the alien fleet with something that is usually used to steal old ladies' credit card numbers. What's even worse, he writes and deploys the virus on a Macbook. Not only is he a geek, he's an Apple geek. We can only assume that once the mothership was destroyed, and the threat to human existence averted, Levinson flew back to Earth, kissed the girl, and spent the next several hours boring everyone at the victory party to tears with a passionate, smug diatribe against the evils of PCs.
7. Columbus - Zombieland
Source: Relativity Media
It's often been said that every era gets the hero it deserves. If that's true, then the world must have done something really messed up in order to be saddled with Columbus in Zombieland. A true nerd for all seasons, Columbus misses out on the beginning of the zombie outbreak because he's too wrapped up in a marathon World of Warcraft session. Once he does smarten up, Columbus is far more interested in his own survival than doing anything heroic. Instead of enjoying the lawless post-apocalyptic thrill ride, he spends his times coming up with his own rules like only a real poindexter would. Luckily for Columbus (and people watching the movie) he hooks up with Woody Harrelson, a guy who was made to break rules. With Harrelson around to loosen him up, Columbus transforms. He kills a ton of zombies - and Bill Murray - and in the process learns how to "nut up" and be a real man. All it took to break him out of his rut was the violent death of millions and the complete collapse of human civilization. Real nerds die hard.
6. Fry - Futurama
Source: 20th Century Fox Television
Has there ever been a more pathetic hero than Phillip J. Fry? The good part is he accidentally gets frozen for 1,000 years and wakes up in a crazy, kick-ass future world of smart-mouth robots and heads in jars. The bad part is the millennium on ice has done nothing to wash the loser stink off him. He falls into the same job, has the same rotten luck with women, and gets zero respect from his newfound future friends. Yet despite all his bad luck and borderline IQ, Fry travels all over the galaxy, saves the universe several times, and even ends up as Tentacle Pope for awhile. How does such a chump end up with so much? He just doesn't care, man. What raises Fry above your average lovable loser is his almost zen-like laziness. He may be a class A supergeek with the intelligence of a particulary dumb dog, but he's totally fine with that. Despite being a central figure in some of the most important events in the cosmos, Fry's satisfied just to sit back and enjoy the ride. Wait a minute, maybe he should be on the list of the greatest heroes of all time instead.
5. Mr. Fantastic - The Fantastic Four
Source: 20th Century Fox
A lot of superheroes moonlight as scientists. Iron Man, the Flash, and a bunch of others all split their time between slaving away in the lab and kicking the snot out of psychopaths in spandex. The difference with Mr. Fantastic (the stretchy guy from The Fantastic Four) is he considers himself a scientist first and a crimefighter a distant second. Pure nerd. Think about it. After a freak outerspace accident, Mr. Fantastic gains the ability to shape and contort his body in any way imaginable. Instead of doing the normal thing (pursuing a high-paying career in porn), or at least fighting bad guys full time, Fantastic devotes the majority of his time to science. Fortunately for us, the kind of science he gets into usually involves hideous monsters from alternate dimensions. But still, come on, Mr. Fantastic! You are made out of living rubber, your wife can turn invisible, and your best friends are a superstrong chunk of living rock and a guy who's constantly on fire. Get out there and stir some s*** up once and a while. Otherwise they're going to start calling you Mr. Sort-of-okay-but-kind-of-boring.
4. Hiro - Heroes
Although he ends up becoming a time-traveling, katana-wielding badass, Hiro Nakamura of the TV show Heroes starts out as a pretty big geek. An unhappy, faceless pencil pusher for a Japanese company, Hiro slaves away in obscurity while daydreaming of a better, less officey life. His dreams come true when he discovers his ability to fool around with the space time continuum. Unlike the rest of the Heroes crew, who respond to their amazing powers by moping around and generally looking soulful and tortured, Hiro actually seems to get a kick out of his powers. And who wouldn't? Isn't it every geek's dream to be able to freeze time and spend hours playing video games, or go back and buy a mint copy of Action Comics #1, or travel to the future to pick up a Playstation 9? Unfortunately Hori doesn't do any of those things, but at least he teleports into a women's toilet to demonstrate his powers. Now that's the kind of superhero we need. One who's not afraid to use his powers to score cheap looks at naked ladies.
3. Frodo - The Lord of the Rings
Source: New Line Cinema
Poor, little Frodo. All the little dude wanted out of life was to hang out, smoke a couple bowls of Halfling weed, and maybe shave his huge feet every once in a while. Unfortunately for the magical pipsqueak, everyone else in Middle Earth had other plans for his tiny little ass. Pressed into world-saving service by that old crank Gandalf, Frodo is forced to carry the most dangerous object in Middle Earth to the most dangerous place on Middle Earth. And to add insult to injury, for most of the trip his only companions are a chubby kid with boundary issues and a lifelong addict going through massive withdrawal. But like all great nerd heroes, Frodo does what he has to do to save the day and he makes it through the only way a nerd can. By constantly whining, fainting about every 20 feet, and making somebody else do all the fighting stuff.
2. The Doctor - Doctor Who
They grow their heroes a little differently across the Atlantic. Take England's number one sci-fi warrior, the Doctor. The star of the long running TV series Doctor Who, the Doctor has spent years fighting killer robots, alien invasions, and all manner of science gone mad with nothing more than a beat-up old time machine, a few witty quips, and a wardrobe that your gay uncle Lawrence would die for. Although he's been played by 11 different actors over the years, the Doctor always believed that if you're going to spend the day fighting unspeakable evil, you might as well get dressed up for it! Whatever he's wearing, the Doctor is a firm believer in non-violence. He prefers to take down opposing armies with nothing more a little well-placed technobabble and a fancy monologue or two. If your weird 10th grade drama teacher ever invented a time machine and devoted his life to saving the universe, he would be Doctor Who.
1. Wikus Van Der Merwe - District 9
Source: WingNut Films
Clad in a crappy tie, cheesy short sleeve dress shirt, $6 haircut, and bucket after bucket of flop sweat, heroes don't come much nerdier than mid-level manager turned alien savior Wikus Van Der Merwe. At the start of District 9, Wikus is a schlub who's married his way into a tiny position of power at a company charged with taking care of a South Africa slum for recently arrived aliens. Not only is he supremely geeky, he's also a borderline racist prick who takes just a little too much joy in forcible removing aliens from their houses.
That is until he gets a splash of black alien goo in his face. As he slowly transforms into one of the aliens he hated so much, Wikus becomes less and less nebbish, and more and more disgusting. But along with all the black puke and hideous deformations, something else is a born. A hero. A totally gross one, sure. But at least he isn't a nerd anymore.