Top 10 Most Influential Nerds in Film

This is a rough list to pick, fellow nerds. Perhaps more than any other art form (except comics or game design, I guess), the film world is infested with nerds of all kinds. With the exception of some of the actors and producers, nearly everyone is a geek in some way, from the tech guys who find new ways of doing things to the CGI guys who build giant computer Balrogs to the directors who put it all together. For the purposes of this list, we opted to go with the most recognizable influential nerds of the film world. We’re also sticking to people who are alive, so please don’t be too upset that Gene Roddenberry and Stanley Kubrick aren’t on here. These are the guys that have made the biggest impact, as far as geekdom is concerned, in the film world, whether that be through the success of their films, the cultural impact they made on their chosen genres, or both. So, here they are, in no particular order.

Steven Spielberg

Director: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds. Co-Founder: DreamWorks Pictures

Steven Spielberg is the undisputed baron of the blockbuster. A fanboy who drooled after Alfred Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa in his early years, he turned his love of film, science fiction and technology into one of the most lucrative and influential careers in the history of cinema. He’s also done his part to revolutionize movie technology, taking each of his sci-fi efforts a step further into the future.  Now we just have to forget about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

George Lucas

Creator: Star Wars. Founder: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Lucas is, in many ways, Spielberg’s brother in arms. Not only did they create the Indiana Jones film series together, but they’ve also supported each other through countless cinematic efforts, and dared to go hand in hand into the beyond of movie technology. But apart from his relationship with Spielberg (and Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese), Lucas is the ultimate geek movie god. All hate for the prequels aside, he made a trilogy of films that went on to become one of the most influential pop culture developments in the history of the Western world. That’s not an exaggeration. We all remember where we were the first time we saw Star Wars, and it sprang from the brain of this man. That alone makes him a legend (now if we could only get him to admit that Han shot first).

James Cameron

Director: Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Abyss, Avatar

He may very well be the biggest arrogant tool in Hollywood, but there’s no denying James Cameron’s impact as a major nerd player in the movie world. In the 1980s he produced three of the best sci-fi films of all time (the first two Terminator flicks and Aliens), then went on to create the highest grossing film ever made in Avatar. When he’s not raking in billions at the box office with his tales of aliens and cyborgs, Cameron is working on new digital filming technology, including some of the most sophisticated underwater cameras ever created. He’s more than a geeky filmmaker; he’s Hollywood’s personal Geek Squad.

Kevin Smith

Writer/Director: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks 2, Red State

Though he works on a much smaller scale than many of the other Hollywood geeks, Kevin Smith has made an unquestionable mark on the world of film, and served as an inspiration to fanboys everywhere. A film school dropout who made his first movie with $27,000 of credit card debt, Smith has gone on to be everyone’s favorite hockey jersey wearing, foul-mouthed, comics reading, Star Wars analyzing cinematic manchild. And even if you don’t like his movies, you have to admit that his willingness to be a proud chubby stoner nerd in public is pretty fun to watch.

Peter Jackson

Director: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson, for better or worse, will forever be known as the guy who took J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic, the grandaddy of all epic fantasies, and made it into a blockbuster film trilogy even as the world was still declaring that it could never be done. Deviations from Tolkien canon aside, Jackson’s effort is a sweeping, gorgeously imagined set of flicks, and his willingness to spend year upon year deeply immersed in the material is proof enough of his nerd cred. But even before LOTR made him a household name, Jackson was a gorehouse god, crafting hilarious and too much fun zombie flicks like Dead Alive with low budgets and actors from his native land of New Zealand.

Quentin Tarantino

Writer/Director: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds

There are movie nerds, and then there’s Quentin Tarantino. Yes, there are some who decry him as obnoxious and derivative, but his passion for the medium is truly unequaled by anyone in modern cinema. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of martial arts movies, blackspoitation flicks, spaghetti westerns and just about every other genre under the sun, and he takes it all, chews it up and spins it back out in some of the most hotly discussed films of the past two decades. Whether you like his work or not, you can always see his nerdiness on the screen.

Stan Lee

Creator: Most of the Known Marvel Universe. Professional Cameo Actor

Stan Lee is not a world renowned writer or director or actor, but he is responsible for the characters and universes that have led to many of the most lucrative nerd films of the past 20 years, and so he bears mentioning. If it weren’t for Stan the Man, we would never have seen the greatness of flicks like Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, X2: X-Men United, The Incredible Hulk and a host of other flicks both good and bad. He’s a nerd god already, but his contribution to the film world on the strength of his imagination alone is enough to make him a Hollywood god too. And those cameos don’t hurt.

John Lasseter

Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer: Pixar Animation Studios; Director: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Cars and Cars 2

John Lasseter and the folks at Pixar changed movies forever when they released Toy Story in 1995, and Lasseter has never looked back. He’s overseen every one of Pixar’s blockbuster masterpieces, among them Up, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, and in the process became one of the biggest players in Hollywood. And he started as a lowly guy sitting behind a computer. Not bad for a nerd who knows how to work a keyboard.

Stephen King

Author: Carrie, The Stand, It, The Dark Tower and dozens of other bestsellers

With the possible exceptions of Stan Lee (see above), Walt Disney and (maybe) Edgar Allan Poe, no one creator has inspired as many films as Stephen King. Nearly every one of his novels (and many of his short stories) has been or will someday be adapted into a film, and even though many of them were terrible (Maximum Overdrive), his contribution to the realm of really good cinema (Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me) can’t be overlooked. Here’s a man who took a love of classic science fiction cinema, horror comics and the films of Roger Corman and made one of the biggest careers in modern entertainment, and somewhere along the way he even got a measure of respect for it.

Joel and Ethan Coen

Writers/Directors: Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? No Country for Old Men, True Grit

Just look at the Coen Brothers, or hear an interview with them, and you know they’re nerds. They’re deeply steeped in all kinds of bizarre subjects and stories, and they’re so immersed in the idea of creating films that it seems they only get outside to make more movies. The Coens were two Jewish kids from Minnesota who got up some private investment money, went down to Texas and made a movie in the ’80s. From that first film (the wonderful Blood Simple) they’ve staked out their reputation as cult favorites and oddball auteurs, making films across a broad range of genres and often blending those genres together until no one is sure what to call the films anymore. They’re unclassifiable, but they’re also brilliant.

So there you have it. Anyone we missed? Discuss it in the comments!

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