It’s the undisputed Age of the Geek. Whereas lowly geeks were once subjected to schoolyard bullying, it’s now cool to display your geekiness with pride. And like in all eras, icons have emerged. Where once the silver screen was dominated by the Rat Pack in their cool tuxedos, there are now a bunch of scruffy-lookin’-nerf-herders in their place.
These guys not only make our collective nerdy-ness go into overdrive, but they have helped make being a geek cool. If the Academy Awards ever recognize superhero and sci-fi movies in the same way that they love period dramas and Leonardo DiCaprio putting himself through hell, these guys will be front of the queue for their long overdue statues.
Here are 15 Actors That All Geeks Love.
15. Nathan Fillion
While mainstream fans may love his 8 years and counting on Castle as the ruggedly handsome mystery writer, Richard Castle, his long-time fans will mainly love him for his role as Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly and the spinoff movie Serenity.
The morally ambiguous Malcolm Reynolds was a career-defining, albeit brief, role and one that Nathan Fillion perfected from the first scenes in Firefly. A haunted war veteran who fought on the losing side, but not the wrong side, of an interstellar war. Mal assembles a crew of misfits and struggles to make a (dis)honest living while keeping one step ahead of the Alliance forces that won the war.
It’s not just as Malcolm Reynolds that Fillion shines either. His brief, but memorable role in Saving Private Ryan gained him some attention, as did his comedic timing in Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place alongside a young Ryan Reynolds. Even as the embodiment of evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s final season, Fillion brings a wit and charm to the big screen and the small screen alike.
14. Samuel L. Jackson
The king of cool is certified box office gold. Only Harrison Ford has taken in more money at the global box office than Samuel L. Jackson. With high-earners such as Jurassic Park, The Star Wars prequels, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe under his belt, he’s a household name. But it’s not just these great franchises that make Samuel L. Jackson beloved by fans. It’s his incredible versatility on-screen combined with his wit and charm off it. He always comes across as an approachable and quick-witted guy.
His long-standing creative partnership with iconic director Quentin Tarantino has given him some of his most memorable parts, his role in Pulp Fiction is especially quoted by film fans the world over.
Content to be the leading man, and a supporting actor, his ego takes second place to his creative choices. Whereas many actors would have demanded more screen time when cast as Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels, his only demand be that he be given a unique purple-colored lightsaber.
13. Donald Glover
Donald Glover is an actor that fully embraces his status as a nerd icon. Finding fame as super-geek Troy Barnes on the now finished, and sorely missed, Community, Donald Glover also has a secondary career as a rapper his rap persona Childish Gambino often raps about “my black nerds, this is church.” His rap career has even earned him several awards and nominations, including two Grammys in 2015.
It’s primarily as a writer (On 30 Rock) and as an actor, in Community that has earned Donald Glover geek-icon status. His role as Troy Barnes, alongside Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), earned him a massive following in the geek-community. The two hosting their imaginary talk show, constant pop-culture referencing, and their habit of imaginative playtime, made them both lovable and accessible to geeks everywhere. When Glover left Community, his presence was sorely missed and Abed seemed much less fully formed without Troy by his side.
12. Ron Perlman
It would be impossible to create a list like this without adding Ron Perlman. While his distinctive appearance and voice are often buried under makeup and prosthetics, in recent years his face has become much more well-known due to role critically praised in Sons of Anarchy. But few can forget his role in the ‘80s fantasy-drama Beauty and the Beast where his touching portrayal as ‘The Beast’ Vincent earned him a loyal fan base.
It’s his creative partnership with director Guillermo del Toro that has in recent years elevated him to Geek-Icon status. His role as Hellboy in the faithful adaptation of Mike Mignola’s comic book of the same name, as well as appearances in Blade 2, Cronos, and Pacific Rim have produced some of his best work so far.
While he has had a few career lows, such as Police Academy: Mission to Moscow, roles in Enemy at the Gates, Outlander and Drive more than make up for it. Still at the height of his demand, Ron Perlman is only continuing to add to his resume as both Geek-Legend and respected actor.
11. Lance Henriksen
While noticeably quieter these days, it’s Lance Henriksen’s roles in the ‘80s that make him a legend. The first choice of director James Cameron to play the title role in The Terminator, Lance Henriksen would eventually play the part of an LAPD detective with little tack when it came to dealing with the traumatized Sarah Connor.
The above role led to a larger part in Cameron’s next project, the sequel to 1979’s Alien, simply titled Aliens. His role as Bishop, the “Artificial Person”, was one of the most human in the entire movie. His willingness to sacrifice himself by crawling through miles of tunnels in order to call the second dropship saved the lives of the remaining humans. Despite his own survival of this risky plan, he is later impaled and torn in half by the Alien Queen. Even in two parts, Bishop manages to save the life of the colony’s lone survivor, Newt. This role led to reprisals, of sorts, in both Alien3 and Alien vs. Predator.
A regular of the B-movie, Henriksen manages to entertain even when given weak material. Few of his movies can’t be enjoyed, despite them being less than blockbusters. Add this to small roles in movies such as Scream 3, Hard Target, and the much-maligned (but surprisingly loved by some) Super Mario Brothers, and you’ve got all the necessary credentials of a true cult icon.
10. Carl Weathers
Carl Weathers could carry the status of icon simply for his role as Apollo Creed in the first four Rocky movies. As the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed is looking for an opponent to launch a big-money fight. Finding that there are no worthy challengers, he invites an unknown fighter, Rocky, into the ring as a publicity stunt. This leads to the two fighters going the distance and fighting again in the sequel. By the third movie, Rocky has lost the title and Apollo trains him, the two becoming friends in the process. By the fourth film the two have become close friends and Apollo’s death in the ring proves to be the turning point in Rocky’s life. His vengeance fight against the mountain Ivan Drago leaving Rocky with life-changing injuries of his own.
If that role wasn’t enough to make Carl Weathers an icon, he literally goes bicep-to-bicep against Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator. As Dutch’s (Schwarzenegger) old friend Dillion, Weathers plays a former soldier turned CIA agent who accompanies Dutch’s rescue team into the jungle. Hiding his own agenda, he quickly has to abandon his mission in order to fight against the extra-terrestrial Predator that stalks them through the jungle. His status as an outsider, and his eventual sacrifice whilst trying to buy the others time gives him one of the more endearing character arcs in the movie.
Roles in movies such as Happy Gilmore and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as a horde of TV movies have ensured Carl Weathers remains a familiar face to a wider audience as well as a true icon of geek culture.
9. Peter Weller
Certainly most famous for his role as human bullet-magnet Alex Murphy in Robocop, Peter Weller garnered the sympathies of sci-fi fans everywhere. His “Death” is one of the most protracted and sadistic in cinema history as he is torn apart in a hail of bullets. Unlike that other famous movie cyborg, The Terminator, Peter Weller only reprised the role once, in the unimaginatively titled Robocop 2.
He’s had a massive resurgence in recent years, both as a respected director (starring and directing an episode of Hawaii 5-O) and as an actor in genre TV classics such as Enterprise, 24, and Fringe. His role as Admiral Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness has ensured that he has retained his geek-con status for another generation.
8. Hugo Weaving
Nobody can utter the words “Mr. Anderson” with more intensity than Hugo Weaving. It’s as Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy that most cinema fans will recognize him. Not only has he been in that franchise, but he’s also starred in the Lord of the Rings series as Elrond and Captain America: The First Avenger as the villainous Red Skull. Sadly, he hasn’t reprised the role of The Red Skull, apparently hating the make-up process involved.
He has also voiced Megatron in Transformers and played the masked avenger in V for Vendetta. While possibly not a household name, he’s been in an impressive FOUR franchises in the last two decades and has easily earned his place as an icon of the genre.
7. Bill Paxton
Thus far, Bill Paxton has the dubious honor of having been “killed” by an Alien (In Aliens), a Terminator (In The Terminator), and a Predator (In Predator 2). He even died at the hands of an agent of SHIELD in the season 1 finale, when Agent Coulson finally blows him up with an alien artifact moments after finally becoming a deathlock.
Building on his early roles in the ‘80s in the aforementioned Terminator and Aliens, his skills were put to good use in True Lies, Tombstone, Apollo 13, and Twister. While never quite cementing his place as a leading man, despite being very comfortable as the lead in Twister, he has maintained a solid presence on our screens for thirty years.
Still probably most loved for being the wise-cracking, yet competent soldier, Hudson in Aliens, Bill Paxton probably never gets tired of people yelling “Game over man, game over!” we think. Don’t quote us on that.
6. Jeff Goldblum
Often cast as a genius scientist, Jeff Goldblum oozes intellect and charisma in whatever role he tackles. In his breakout role in The Fly, Goldblum starts out as genius scientist Seth Brundle who is on the verge of perfecting teleportation technology. When he attempts to teleport himself, he is unaware that a common house fly has entered the telepod with him. The two merge on a genetic level and his gradual transformation into a human-fly hybrid remains a highlight of the sci-fi/horror genres three decades later.
Starring as Ian Malcolm in both Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World, Jeff Goldblum made an entire generation quote Chaos Theory for the last two decades. His role remains both iconic, and sorely underrated.
As David Levinson in Independence Day, he plays the man who cracks the alien signal that they use to coordinate their assault on earth. In a movie that sells an updated telling of The War of the Worlds with huge portion of suspension of disbelief, Jeff Goldblum manages to convince the audience that he’s hacked an alien mothership with a 1996 Apple laptop. Impressive stuff. As he’s about to reprise the role 20 years later in this year’s Independence Day: Resurgence, it’s fair to say he’s about to enjoy a resurgence of his own.
5. Alan Tudyk
Another Firefly alum, Alan Tudyk has gone on to cement his status as a true icon of geek-culture. His role in the short-lived, but much-loved, Firefly as Hoban “Wash” Washburne earned him the attention to be cast in shows such as the science fiction TV series Dollhouse, as well as Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and a role on the now-cancelled ABC sitcom Suburgatory.
It’s probably his role as Sonny in the Will Smith movie I, Robot that shows his acting skill at its best. Voicing the near sentient robot Sonny, he brings a reserved, yet powerful performance to the screen, effortlessly outclassing Smith himself.
4. Christopher Lee
Words like legend are thrown around a little too casually sometimes, but when it comes to the late, great Christopher Lee, it’s almost an understatement. In his career he played Dracula (several times), fallen Jedi and then Sith Count Dooku, Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with The Golden Gun, Sherlock Holmes (again, several times), and Saruman in Lord of the Rings. He also released a heavy metal album and was a real-life bad-ass serving in Great Britain’s Special Operations Executive, a precursor to MI5, in WW2. He was quite simply, amazing.
His career spanned 7 decades, and in it he managed to elevate science fiction, horror, and fantasy to new heights. Working until his death, he managed to star in 200 movies. His status as a genre icon cannot be overstated. It’s unlikely that anybody will ever quite match his output in either quality or quantity.
3. Patrick Stewart
Making his name as a Shakespearian actor, Patrick Stewart was in his late 40s when the role of Captain Picard came his way. He famously lived out of his suitcase for the first year of production, believing that the show would be a failure. Initially having difficulty working with his younger and less disciplined cast mates, and hating the “technobabble” in his lines, he grew to quickly love the role. During the 1990s, he was regularly considered something of a sex-symbol, making him an icon for a new kind of intellectual masculinity.
When talk began of an X-Men movie based on the Marvel Comic book, the only person the fans wanted for the role was Patrick Stewart. Fortunately, director Bryan Singer agreed and Stewart signed on for a second iconic role. His chemistry with Ian McKellen (Magneto) has been seen as one of the highlights of the franchise and the two are close friends in real-life.
2. Idris Elba
One of the most exciting actors working today, Idris Elba is fast becoming a Hollywood A-lister. Breaking out as drug baron Russell “Stringer” Bell in The Wire and cementing his status as Detective John Luther in the BBC series Luther, Idris Elba has made a simultaneous career on both the big and small screen look easy.
His film roles have secured his place as a true geek icon. His casting as Heimdall in Thor and its sequels, as well as roles in Prometheus, The Losers, and Pacific Rim (his role as Marshall Stacker Pentecost was a highlight of the movie) have garnered him much attention. While his role as Nelson Mandela in 2013’s Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom may not be considered “Geeky” it certainly added to his credibility. His role in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond is one of the most hotly anticipated things about the upcoming movie.
1. Benedict Cumberbatch
Often considered one of the finest actors of his generation, Benedict Cumberbatch is a prolific and versatile actor with a huge amount of geek-cred!
While he has roles such as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and William Prince Ford in 12 Years a Slave under his belt, it’s roles such as Sherlock Holmes in the hugely popular BBC series Sherlock that have earned him cult status.
Adding to his geek credentials, roles such as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Smaug and the Necromancer in The Hobbit movies, and an upcoming role in the long-awaited adaptation of Marvel’s Doctor Strange have made him the undisputed face of current geek culture.
Special mentions go out to Malcolm McDowell, Sir Ian McKellen, Warwick Davis, Michael Bien, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Combs, and every other great actor that have made geek culture such a phenomenon.