Rejoice! The word ‘nerd’ is no longer a derogatory term. I’m sure longtime horror fans can remember a time when they were picked on for liking weird stuff, for being different – but in an ironic turn of events, it somehow became cool to be a nerd. We can embrace our interests and teach the newcomers a thing or two about the genre we’ve invested a lifetime in. Really, if you think about it, if someone is not even slightly knowledgeable of some type of oddball culture, then they’re the weirdos now. Take that, nu–nerds.
However, certain characteristics and traits are associated with the ‘nerd’ trope in film. When we think of this specific template, we’re discussing the losers, the outcasts, and the smart kids. We commonly see them as the character putting their knowledge of science, the paranormal, film, comics, aliens, and more to the test. Some are smart enough to defeat the villain or threat of a story, others assist the protagonist (and the audience) through to the end, and some even become victims to the content. Nerds are human, after all.
As film has evolved, so have the archetypes our characters are written into. There is no longer one type of nerd. There’s actually quite a few different categories of nerd just in horror alone. I’ve picked my favorites, as you’ll see below. Regardless of what classification they belong in or what information a nerd brings to the classroom of horror, one thing is for sure: they do it all with class.
Tighten your suspenders, stock your pocket protector, and focus your glasses as we honor the straight-A, tenured, intellectual Top 10 Nerds of Horror! We’re thankful they did their homework.
10. The Bookworm: Laurie Strode in Halloween
Many people associate Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode of John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween, with being an iconic final girl. She is, but real horror nerds will point out that she, too, was first and foremost a nerd herself. Before we see her screaming and running from babysitter slasher Michael Myers, she is portrayed as a shy, mousy girl more concerned with her studies than she is with boys like her other teenage girlfriends. She is the only one of her friends carrying a pile of her textbooks home, dressed conservatively and not preparing for a hot date on Halloween night. Laurie is also the only babysitter content with staying in with the kids, carving a pumpkin.
Laurie’s brain and innocent, virgin arc is what ultimately sees her through Michael’s rampage, creating the final girl trope that was and will continue to be adapted by others, but never truly duplicated. This role invented the rules slasher filmmakers live by (more on that later) and influenced hundreds of women in film following her. When pushed on the potential of dating she regretfully remarks that boys think she’s “too smart”. Spare us the boys then, Laurie. Once she learns to embrace her inner nerd, she’s just as unstoppable as The Shape chasing her. Who needs a boyfriend when they’re typically hacked up before the final act, anyways?
9. The Problem Solver: Casey Connor in The Faculty (1998)
When you’re the school punching bag, or pole enforcer, like Casey Connor in Robert Rodriguez’s (From Dusk ’till Dawn) high school sci-fi The Faculty, its easy to paranoid and suspicious of everyone around. To Casey, played by Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings), his teachers and parents are not only unreliable, but untrustworthy in more ways than one. The poor guy is labeled the “geeky, Stephen King kid” by the popular high school princess, Delilah, who goes even further saying there’s one of him in every school, cementing him in the role of the nerd.
Luckily for her and the rest of the student body, all of the time Casey has spent alone in his room (doing whatever it was that he was doing) has caused him to be well-versed in Spielberg, Finney, and the entirety of the science fiction genre. When the entire school, starting with key members of the faculty are plagued by an alien species, one that flips the negative stereotypes into desirable features, Casey is the one who knows the most about Robert Heinlein’s The Body Snatchers. He quickly goes from the quiet photography nerd to the brain in charge of locating and destroying the queen of the hive in order to save the town, and potentially the world. Like Sigourney Weaver in Alien, he is the least likely hero in the wrong place at the right time, with the attitude and knowledge to make it through to the credits. In the end, Casey goes from zero to hero and passes the pole-enforcement duties to another nerd while he gets the girl.
He might not understand the purpose of endurance running, but he sure is fast when he’s being chased.
8. The Geek: Randy Meeks in Scream (1996)
Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) pretty much broke ground with his meta-horror slasher Scream, but he also gave us another important film actor: Randy Meeks, the fan representative. Craven gave a true, identifiable fan to the fans for the sake of educating those not familiar with genre rules. Randy, made memorable by Jamie Kennedy (Malibu’s Most Wanted), is the most like us. He is aware of the tropes and themes around him and has practically written the rules slasher villains, and victims, live by… or die by. He can anticipate the sequence of events because he’s seen it all before onscreen.
While Sidney is a strong, smart final girl, it is Randy’s immortalized rules detailing the actions and consequences of original films, their sequels, and when it calls for one – their trilogy. His perfected outline keeps Sid one pace ahead of Ghostface no matter who is behind the mask. While poor Randy does fall victim to the game, he humbly accepts his fate and still continues to support Sid, Dewey, and Gale in life and death. Randy’s extensive knowledge of the horror genre helped him draft up well-crafted rules, ones that if followed correctly can always be used always anticipate the killer’s next stab.
7. The Misfits: The Losers Club in IT (2017)
Stephen King loves his school tropes as he famously uses them for character development and good versus evil portrayals. His incredible tale, IT, combines a multitude of nerd stereotypes into one specific group we’ve come to adore, aptly called The Losers Club. Bill, Ben, Stan, Richie, Mike, Eddie, and Bev are the epitome of Derry’s outcasts, never quite fitting in within a group at school individually. However, these nerds band together by accepting their flaws and supporting one another. These kids are each dejected by the small town society, but realize the strength in their numbers when evil incarnate, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, pops in for its habitual feeding.
Andy Muschietti’s (Mama) 2017 adaptation of IT starring Jaeden Lieberher (The Book of Henry), Jeremy Ray Taylor (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), Wyatt Oleff (Guardians of the Galaxy), Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Chosen Jacobs, and Sophia Lillis (Sharp Objects) revived The Losers Club, and unfortunately Pennywise, with IT’s success resulting directly in a fascinating occurrence: The Losers Club is really, really cool. Everyone, including children possibly too young to even be seeing IT, loves these kids as individuals, but more so as a group. Their rag-tag, misfit charisma is something a lot of people, young and old, can identify with. Muschietti painted a sweet portrait of children coming together, embracing what they would consider their flaws, and more importantly, using those flaws as strengths to banish the evil clown away for good… or at least for another 27 years.
Let’s just hope they’re still nerds when they’re grown up. It’s cool to be a loser.
6. The Fool: Marty Mikalski in The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Being a burnout does not make you a nerd, but it is an archetypal factor Drew Goddard (Bad Times at the El Royale) considers for one in his mega meta-horror The Cabin in the Woods. The average college students seeking a fun weekend away from their studies in a cabin by the lake find themselves morphing into the tropes chosen for them by the working men below the surface in order to appease the gods, steering them clear of our world. Our stoner, Marty Mikalski, played by the hilarious Fran Kranz (Bloodsucking Bastards), instantly takes on the role of The Fool gushing jests and sarcasm every which way he can.
Since Marty is essentially the jester he is able to poke fun at the others and the situation they find themselves in with ease. However, in true nerd fashion, Marty resists conforming to the mold created for him. He is a truth-seer and calls out the shots as they are set up in the queue. Being privy to the catch, thanks to his hidden marijuana stash, Marty becomes the ironically enlightened one of the group, using his slightly dulled senses to combat all of the facilities plans. Commonly mistaken for a baked fool, Marty lets a nug or two of intelligence slip out, perhaps the most revelatory being that people are afraid to let society crumble, when maybe we should.
Have we reached a point in time where the human race isn’t worthy of the earth? That may be a question for higher learning.
5. Double Trouble: Tucker and Specs in Insidious (2010)
Sometimes we need the nerds to lighten the mood, you know, to be the comedic relief when something really horrible is happening. Angus Sampson (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Leigh Whannell (Saw) serve that very purpose as the humorous ghost hunting duo, Tucker and Specs, in James Wan’s Insidious series. These two provide the laughs while Wan’s terrifying haunts and imagery keep us on the edge of our seats. We can chuckle at their jokes, grin at their idiosyncrasies, and nod at the fellow nerd content they enjoy.
Tucker and Specs are average guys who aid the queen of mediums, Elise, in identifying the spirits that plague families from the further, and beyond, while recording and researching the oddities at hand. We can easily identify with them as they enjoy fellow nerd culture and bounce their intellect off of one another as easily as they do their peculiarities. Whether Specs is geeking out over vintage action figures or Tucker is offering his awkward two-cents on the otherworldly entities, these guys are the fun, nerdy part of the Waniverse we enjoy most.
4. The Hopeless Romantic: Arnie Cunningham in Christine (1983)
Of all the nerds on this list, Arnie is by far the most typical physically and socially. In John Carpenter ‘s adaptation of Stephen King’s roadster thriller, Christine, Arnie, played by Keith Gordon (The Singing Detective), is a straight A student, in the chess club, takes extra SAT courses, and lives in the shadow of his best friend, Dennis. He is the prime target for the brutal school bullies, easily controlled by his parents, and about as smooth as the thread of a 1950’s automobile. He is the hopeless kind of nerd, aware of what and who he is while pathetically accepting it.
When Arnie sets his eyes on Christine, his world literally changes. His ill-fitting shirt is replaced with a sexy leather jacket, his thick black-rimmed glasses are no longer a necessity, his greasy hair is styled, even his stance changes from cowardly to confident with Christine by his side. The only problem with Christine is that she’s a ’58 Plymouth and ‘Fury’ is her middle name. This honor roll student made the worst decision possible when selecting his mate. For the first time his grades begin to slip, his respect for his parents is gone, and the values he was smart enough to hold onto are meaningless. The further Arnie removes himself from his true nerd self, the more lost he becomes in the red hot obsession that is Christine.
3. The Know-It-All: Morgan in Signs (2002)
Children are not usually the ones guiding parents through an apocalypse, but what we see in M. Night Shyamalan’s (Split) Signs, is that the children are the keys to survival in both obvious and unforeseen ways. Morgan, played by a young Rory Culkin (Scream 4), is the oldest of the Hess children. This youngster is well spoken and comprehensive of subject matter that goes well beyond the playground. Unlike a few members of his grieving family, he acknowledges his emotions and the emotions of others, something that takes a good bit of intelligence for a boy his age.
When elements of extraterrestrials begin slowly creeping up around not only their secluded farmhouse, but around the world, Morgan cracks open his books and studies as many theories and hypothetical outcomes as possible. He believes in what the experts say, preparing his family for the worst. Though Morgan still possesses the innocence of a child, his brain is always thinking ‘what if?’. His level-headed knowledge allows him lay out the factual truth and keep his loved ones informed with every level of the invasion. While at first his doubtful father, Graham, is disconcerted and dismissive of his son’s interest in a potential alien invasion, he steadily looks to him for direction and information on the extraterrestrial beings. Morgan is able to calmly assess the events and the impending intruders, keeping the books and possibilities open the whole way through.
2. The Pros: The Frog Brothers in The Lost Boys (1987)
If your older brother has been sleeping all day and partying all night, you may need to call for professional help. Look no further than your local comic book store for The Frog Brothers, Edgar and Alan. In Joel Schumacher’s hot 80’s vamp film, The Lost Boys, the brothers and their arsenal of toys, I mean weapons, are never too far away… if they can get there by bicycles.
The brothers are familiar with the dark arts of bloodsuckers and, better yet, all of the tactics one should use to put them in the grave for good. Is their information fully sourced by fictional comic book stories? Sure. Edgar and Alan hold their source material to a high degree and apply their graphic knowledge to real life, because, well, in Santa Carla, vampires are very much part of the demographic. From their business-casual dress to their weaponry preparation, The Frog Brothers are the ones you want to call (for vampire-specific extermination).
1. Nerd Patrol: Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore in Ghostbusters (1984)
Who you gonna call? DUH.
Do you ever wonder what happens to the nerds you went to school with when they grow up? Dial 555-2368 to find out. Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters is a lot of things, but it’s mostly a love letter to nerds all over the world.
When the Board of Regents refuses to fund their scientific studies at the university in New York City, Venkman, Stanz, Spengler, and, later, Zeddemore, played by Bill Murray (Caddyshack), Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers), Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day), and Ernie Hudson (The Crow), decide to take it as a sign of fate to go into the business of busting ghosts for themselves. These intelligent men, all doctors in their respective fields, form a dedicated team of Professional Paranormal Investigations and Eliminations, formally called The Ghostbusters. Don’t let the proton packs fool you, they’re no cosmonauts.
The Ghostbusters are educated experts in everything from endoplasmic entities to psychokinetic energy to custom-made storage facilities constructed to house the spiritual beings they capture. Each man is good at something: Stanz provides the advanced gear and maintains the order of operations, Spengler does the scientific research, Zeddemore is game for anything that comes their way in New York, and Venkman… takes the clients to dinner.
Sometimes they have brilliant ideas… sometimes not so much (do not try to drill a hole through your own head no matter how smart you think you are). When push comes to shove and environmental protection interferes with their work, unleashing a variety of paranormal monsters on our reality, the guys put their big brains together to not only prove their authenticity, but save New York and the world from less friendly beings that inhabit our domain. The Ghostbusters don’t care if anyone believes them because they believe you.
Doubt their credentials? Back off, man. They’re scientists.
The objective of this lesson? Stay in school… if you can make it out alive, that is.