Movies, movie trailers and TV shows helped to validate that many of us were on the right track (or wrong track) in school. For those that were kinda’ smart (or like me, liked being with the smart ones even if they weren’t smart) there was a whole stream of movies, starting with the advent of computers and moving forward until the cliché was beaten right into the poor dead horse with a party hat. So if you’re raising a kid and you want to start them off right or just validate them that they have started off right, here are some movies to help you along that path. From grade school to high school. Must glorify without making too much fun. Must not be animated (that would be a whole other list). The nerd (or kid who all nerds openly want to be) must be the protagonist.
War Games is about Ferris Bueller (or a younger, nerdy whiz kid of a Ferris Bueller) who connects into a top secret military mainframe and ends up with complete control over the United State’s nuclear arsenal. He then has to find the physical mainframe and disable it. What’s so awesome is that it’s InfoSec 101: use a password, put multiple layers of security in place and don’t hook ICBMs up to unsecured systems. Really makes the Wozniak quote “never trust a computer you can’t throw out of a window” make sense. I’ve been waiting for years to hear “shall we play a game?” Just like arguing with some people, “the only winning move is not to play.”
Weird Science is a typical 80s flick about two unpopular teenage boys who “create” a woman via their computer. Their living and breathing creation is a gorgeous woman, Lisa (the name of the predecessor to the Macintosh, whose purpose is to boost their confidence level by putting them into situations which require Gary and Wyatt to act like men. On their road to becoming accepted, they encounter many hilarious obstacles, which gives the movie an overall sense of silliness.
E.T.: Henry Thomas is a total repeat offender on this list. And E.T. is probably the biggest movie of them all. Don’t get me wrong, some easily eclipsed the box office revenue but if adjusted for inflation I doubt they would have. He’s a little young in this one to be a nerd, but we know it happens and when you have the star wearing a hoodie, Dungeons and Dragons, aliens and Henry Thomas in the same movie, I’m not-so-sure you can really skip it on a list like this. Plus, it’s not like Drew Barrymore has done that much sci-fi, so we’ll take it where we can get it!
The Neverending Story: The kid is a bookworm, reading about magic, lasers, talking heads rock biters and of course Atreyu, a warrior. Our main character Bastian starts feeling what Atreyu does, including the love of Artax the horse. I find a common theme in nerdy movies is looking up to a warrior type and eventually finding your way to be your own person. For me, this was the beginning of a journey that eventually led to the older Doctor Who series, Brazil and a few others of the era. But it started when I was about the age of the kids in the movie (which was no spring chicken the first time I saw it).
Flight of the Navigator: So much of the effects resemble a cross between Fraggle Rock and the original Battlestar Galactica. The most important thing this movie did was to be in the right place at the right time and teach me early on that I needed to get good with a joystick so in case aliens ever needed me, I had their back!
The Last Airbender: This movie got shredded by fans of the show. I watched all of the original series and have watched much of the diesel-punk inspired new series with my daughter. And we both loved the movie. Unlike many, I did not find the direction nor editing lazy. I thought the effects were good. I thought Noah Ringer was fine. I thought the creative license with much of the changes were merely trying to condense an entire season of storyline into a couple of hours. But most of all, I thought it was just a fun little movie. I’m still bummed they didn’t continue on with the other elements/movies. Maybe someday…
Kick-Ass: They’re a little older, but not too old to move into another category. A really good movie (despite Cage) about nerdy kids striking back. If you haven’t seen it, this is one of my favorites in this sub-genre!
Goonies: This movie did so much. I mean, it had pirates, a kid named Data (his Father in the movie was on The Closer), boys get the girls, a monster and a great legacy. I suspect they may wreck the legacy when they make part two. Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Corey Feldman, Martha Plimpton, etc.
Ender’s Game: Harrison Ford returns to science fiction to train Ender to kill aliens. What isn’t better to a tween than killing aliens. Not so sure he killed $110,000,000 worth of aliens but a fun romp nonetheless!
D.A.R.Y.L.: After watching D.A.R.Y.L. I think I spent years thinking I was some sort of robot. Probably explains plenty. When I finally got around to reading Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series I guess I didn’t think I might be an android any longer. “It’s only human to make mistakes, but Daryl never does.” In this movie, a kid realizes he’s actually an artificial intelligence. He then gets chased down by the government, looking to reclaim their intellectual property. Classic ET-style the government are the bad guys kinda’ moments ensue.
Hugo: A crossover between nerdy kids and fantasy, this movie is boy meets girl, who happens to have the key to his steampunk inspired robot.
Real Genius: I know I said up to high school and these guys are in college, but here’s the thing. They started college early, so it wouldn’t go into a college nerd flick, would it?!?! But ya’, lasers, floating Death Star-esque ships, the Ice Man before he got buff for the role,
Super 8: Trying to recapture the Henry Thomas look in the leading actor, this movie features young, middle-school aged budding film makers trying to track down monster aliens, escaped from a train moving it away from Area 51. Trite, yes. But the 70s nerd clothes are awesome!
Back to the Future: “Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?” Freud would have been proud with how in touch a young Marty McFly was with his feelings. The Doc, borrowed from the TV show Taxi, sets a whole time travel scenario in motion that caused generations of chic geek to want nothing more out of life than a DeLorean. There’s a bully, a nerdy father, skateboards, mad scientists, lighting, plutonium powered cars. I mean, really… And in a sign of the times, there’s a lot of sax!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: They’re teenagers, right? Nerdy kids liked them when I was a kid. Not sure if they do now. The franchise has never really gotten a proper crack at a movie (like Punisher). Or maybe it has and it’s not possible for a bunch of turtles yelling cowabunga to actually work out in a live action movie. either way, the next installment will be Michael Bay trying to start anew. Would love it if it finally works out!
Attack the Block: Kids killing aliens…
Cloak & Dagger: Yet another Henry Thomas flick! Trying to crack the code to a game that contains… Wait for it… Well, I won’t ruin the twist but another “It started as a game” with a boy saving a girl. Classic 80s pre-hacker crackdown flick!
Harry Potter: This was such a massive blockbuster I almost left it off the list. But the series occupies 1 slot of the list instead of 8. Harry goes from nerdy little kid to nerdy adult. Being a wizard will do that to ya’! Even if you don’t think they’re nerdy (after all, things are different on the other side of the pond, maybe all Brits are like that) you must admit that all geeky kids have wanted to be a wizard at some point or another. Lucky you, I found one clip that has all 8 trailers. Enjoy and hope the memories work well for you like they did for me!
Teenwolf: I almost didn’t put this on the list ’cause Michael J. Fox just wasn’t nerdy enough. But he was small and picked on and tried to play sports poorly before coming a werewolf, so why not… I drew the line at American Pie. They definitely weren’t nerdy enough…
Superbad: Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg when they were nerdy thirteen year old boys, oddly this movie is about a tubby Jonah Hill playing Seth and Michael Cerra playing Evan. Superbad has a young Jonah Hill, lamenting virgin teens and of course, McLovin and the cops. The boys basically get the girls in the end!
Can’t Buy MeLove: The nerd pays the girl to go out with him and when he breaks up with her (pre-planned) he becomes the talk of the town, only to realize it was a huge mistake and then he’s a loser again when it comes out he paid her. Yup, pretty much says it all. Nerdy guy gets the girl. Huge theme in the 80s, obviously.
The Secret Lives of Dorks: The name says most of it. It’s nothing new in and could have been called “Love Potion #9” or Rick Moranis gets Annie Pots. Or American Pie. Or Revenge of the Nerds (they’re in college). Or 10 Things I Hate About You. Heck it could’ve even been the first Transformers movie. But it isn’t one of those and those will be on other lists upcoming so I feel the need to go ahead and just put this one on this list.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes: had Kurt Russell. It was from the 60s. But the time spent on explaining all the computing was awesome! The best part about this movie is that glimpse you get of what computers were like before the advent of the personal computer. Thank you to the Altair, Apple and other machines that helped to get us into a new world order!
Time Bandits: Terry Gilliam probably shouldn’t make kids movies. Don’t get me wrong, everything is awesome as far as this movie goes. But I’m not so sure any kids would get it!
I Love You, Beth Cooper: His dad is Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There’s a big bully for an ex-boyfriend. Hayden Panettiere doesn’t sing country. Totally cliché but that’s kinda’ ok ’cause so are the rest…
Antboy: If you’re thinking this would have been way better on the list than I Love You, Beth Cooper then you’re right.
Standing Up: Too feel-good. Obviously made for the parents more than the kidos (which is totally fine).
Star Wars Episode I: Anakin built robots, was immaculately conceived and raced a mean pod racer. But he was booted off the list because he put on a black suit, choked people and was intimate with Natalie Portman. All the other nerds on the list learned from their time at the bottom of the social ladder and didn’t become the bullies.
The Karate Kid: Excluded because of the swan kick.
The Lost Boys: It was the comedic sidekick who was nerdy. The main characters weren’t nerdy enough. And while the head vampire was pretty nerdy, he was too old.
Can’t Hardly Wait: IMHO there were too many characters that were “cool” kids.
American Pie: Just not nerdy enough…
The Brat Pack movies: The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, etc. Yes, there were characters like Ducky, the kid that holds up the underwear and Long Duck Dong. But it just doesn’t fit into the list…
Transformers: 2 words: Shia Labeouf.
Movies about creepy kids: I hate creepy kid movies.
All Superheroes Must Die: I’m pretty sure they were too old, but they don’t really tell us…
Bad News Bears: The movie is about sports.
Napoleon Dynamite: Exposes the fine line between geek chik and just a plain weird person.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story: He’s crazy, not nerdy. But Zach Galifianakis FTW! His mom is in parenthood too.