Movies to watch in order to understand geeks.

No, I don’t know why I’m writing this one, either: most of my readership consists of geeks.  But, hey, content is content.

A quick note: I am operating under the assumption that you don’t need to be told that you should watch the Star Wars, Star Trek, and/or Indiana Jones series; lots of people who aren’t geeks have watched those films, anyway.  I also don’t mean to suggest that No True Geek would have not seen (or not liked) the movies below: merely that in my experience these movies have informed the geek collective worldview in significant ways.  Keep in mind as well that this list is not comprehensive; there’s plenty of other films that could be on this list.  Lastly, none of these are necessarily the best movies in the world, or even the best geek movies.  Merely influential, oft-quoted ones.

Anyway, in no particular order:

  • The Princess Bride (fantasy):  This is not so much a ‘quotable’ movie as it is a ‘many geeks can make a stab at reciting it verbatim’ movie.  Good writing, excellent banter, cast of crystallized awesome, and Cary Elwes / Mandy Patinkin did their own swordplay.
  • Ghostbusters (comedy): This one is particularly loved by roleplaying game geeks, largely because it represents the Platonic Ideal of a good roleplaying game campaign (see also National Treasure and The Mummy).  And, remember, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES.
  • Independence Day (BOOM): Steal from one movie, you’re a plagiarist.  Steal from half a dozen movies, you’re doing a homage.  Steal from one hundred and forty seven movies (at my last count) and you’ve created a collage or mosaic, and both of those are recognized art forms.  You could teach a 300-level class in classic science fiction cinema solely from the call-outs in ID4. It’s a great game to play, particularly when beer’s involved*.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Monty Python): Actually, I don’t know if the current generation venerates this movie.  Or Python generally.  It’s certainly popular with my generation, though – so watch it if you want to understand the old farts.
  • Army of Darkness (Horror): “Good.  Bad.  I’m the guy with the gun.” This movie is why Bruce Campbell will continue to find work for some time to come.
  • Galaxy Quest (Science fiction): OK, when I said ‘no Star Trek’ I kind of lied.  This movie has been inserted into the canon by many geeks, not least because it preserves the rule that ‘Odd-numbered Star Trek movies suck’ (long story) – but also because, well, Galaxy Quest.  This is a movie about the fans, really.  And a heroic one, damn your eyes.

And, honorable mention:

  • The Iron Giant (animated).  Got a he-geek in your life who claims that nothing gets to him, and nothing can make him cry?  Yeah, well, this is the movie for you.

Moe Lane

*But, for the record: the damn nuke should have had a humorous saying on it.


  • Jay says:

    As a sub-30 year old geek, I didn’t “get” Holy Grail until after I saw a bunch of old Flying Circus episodes. While most of the sketches stand up on their own, the entire ending made zero sense the first time I saw the movie. Now I get that they were using one of their common gags from Flying Circus, amped up a couple of notches.

  • BCochran1981 says:

    I don’t know any self-respecting nerd/geek that hasn’t watched LOTR….multiple times.

  • BCochran1981 says:

    Very true Moe, but it’s still a must see for any self-respecting nerd/geek. (And not everybody else is into it. My wife unrelentingly mocks me every time I try to watch the “talking trees.” My onetime reply of “They’re called Ents dear” did NOT help my case.) 🙂

  • Jeff says:

    This could certainly be an almost endless list, but then geeks love lists of things for some reason. Personally I would add Blade Runner, Dark Star & Westworld just off the top of my head, but I think those also skew to older geeks, what are the kids watching these days besides Firefly? Oh, also must be familar with Logan’s Run..crap, another old one..

  • Doug Stewart says:

    Don’t make the mistake of watching the director’s cut of “Army of Darkness”, with the weird “I slept too long!” ending and the execrable “Not THAT good!” quote in lieu of the immortal “Good, bad…”

    Also, no witch-slaying in the S-Mart at the end. All around a disappointment.

  • lourae says:

    How about us girl geeks? “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (Ding! Fries are up!) or “Best in Show” (Talk to Daddy!)

  • Spegen says:

    I would like to add 5th Element

  • Doug Stewart says:

    What about “TRON”, “Real Genius” or “Top Secret”?

  • Spegen says:

    Of course! Top Secret- had the sound track. Always wanted to go Skeet Surfing

  • Jeff says:

    You go with Top Secret before Airplane?

  • Kevin says:

    What, no “Blade Runner”?

  • Spegen says:

    Liked the songs in Top Secret, plus the enjoyed the “plot” better. Of course Shatners role in Airplane 2 was a classic

  • Jeff says:

    My geek worldview was highly influenced by Repo Man, but I’m not sure if that one counts…

  • Finrod says:

    Heh. The first time I saw GalaxyQuest, I saw it as a twofer with Trekkies. Boy was that surreal.

  • qixlqatl says:

    Also, “Krull” and “The Dark Crystal”…and “Willow” (Val Kilmer rocked as Madmartigan 😉 ) Oh, goodness, I could keep going and going….

  • Rob Crawford says:

    Ahem. “Manos, Hands of Fate”.
    You may wish to wait for the revised edition some poor soul is putting together.

  • Spegen says:

    No sports movies yet, need to include Dodgeball. If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball

  • Catseye says:

    There was an ancient age of Geekdom long, long ago some of the movies we liked back then were “55 Days in Peking”, “The Warlord”, “Wizards” by Ralph Bakshi, the little known “Light Years” with the forward narrated by Isaac Asimov(both the last 2 were animated) “The Invasion of the Body Snatcher” the old one especially but the newer version was respectable. Both movie versions of “I Am Legend”, the new one is just ok, sorry Will. The Ray Harryhausen movies, yes all of them, although there are purists.

  • Catseye says:

    Oh and I forgot the movie “Zulu”, plus the TV series “Secret Agent Man” and the “The Prisoner”. Yes, I know I’m old.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      Catseye: Heh. I just finally scored a copy of GURPS The Prisoner. I’ve been trying to find a copy for twenty years… I was in the B Dalton’s and had a copy in my hands when it came out. In my HANDS. And then I put it BACK. Because I wanted to EAT.

      Like I would have starved if I had missed that meal.

  • MikeCG says:

    I am happy to report that Holy Grail is alive and well amongst the current generation.

    Also, yeah, I’ve seen every one of these films, and loved them all.

  • Neil Stevens says:

    I’d like Galaxy Quest a whole lot more if I didn’t hate Tim Allen’s guts.

    Haven’t seen Army of Darkness or Independence Day. I don’t really watch horror usually, and I’d heard bad things about the computers in ID. Suspension of disbelief obliterating stuff.

    I’m willing to give ID a try on your say so, though.

  • Neil Stevens says:

    Also, re: the above comment. The Fifth Element *surprised* me when I caught it on TNT. So much so it’s in my closet on Bluray in my queue to watch properly.

    Along with Waterworld, which impressed me as solid SF when it came out. I was 17 then, though, and I haven’t seen it since, so I’m just hoping it holds up.

  • NotSoBlueStater says:

    Where does Battlestar Gallactica (a TV show, but then the Star Trek TV shows mean more to geeks than the movies) fit in this pantheon? Just wondering. My ultra-liberal Trekkie friend says it’s the best thing ever, but I understand there are political overtones and I’ve wondered how that piece fits.

  • Jeff says:

    Catseye. There are actually no less than four film versions of I Am Legend. The Last Man on Earth, 1964, The Omega Man, 1971, I Am Legend, 2007 and I am Omega, also 2007. You’ll need to picture me adjusting my nerd glasses as I say that. Also, Bakshi? Geez, that takes me back to the film festivals of my youth and Fritz the Cat. I know we said no LOTR but I think The Hobbit animated film would be on the list. Anime is a whole ‘nother world of geekdom, so I won’t list those. Cannibal, The Musical?

  • Spegen says:

    If we add TV this could go on for weeks, I would add Buffy and Mythbusters to whats been listed already

  • Moe_Lane says:

    Heh. My wife looked at me when I told her about this list and said “Rocky Horror Picture Show?”

    …A definite point. For that matter, it’s a good thing that TV shows were left off of the list or I’d be explaining why I didn’t put on the MST3Ks.

  • P.B. says:

    Back to the Future. That and Terminator are the required reading for the inevitable geek time travel arguments.

  • Catseye says:

    Darn it now this really has me going “THX 1138”, “Jeremiah Johnson” and “The Electronic Cowboy”, We could be at this forever. Oh and must not forget “Them” and the original “The Thing” although the remake was pretty good too.

  • owlish says:

    I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Buckaroo Banzai yet.

    The first Matrix and Terminator are probably too mainstream, though.

  • lourae says:

    Westworld. And watching Corzine today, thought of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “Where did the money go? . . . I don’t know.” “I LIKE that Mr. Corzine. I Don’t Know. Gee, Rep. Lucas, will I go to Federal Prison for this? Well, Mr. Corzine, I DON’T KNOW.”

  • qixlqatl says:

    Hah, “Clash of the Titans” (genuine imitation processed American cheese food, that 😉 ), “Excaliber”, “Battle Beyond the Stars”, and if we’re doing tv, “Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits”…and “The Night Stalker” was giving me nightmares when I was six or seven

  • BCochran1981 says:

    I don’t know if it qualifies as nerd/geek, but I grew up a Hitchcock fan. Even though I’m only 30, I used to watch his stuff during the mornings during summer. The Birds still weirds me out.

  • Josh Reiter says:

    What? No ‘Flash Gordon’?!?

    *Breaks out into Queen* — FLASH! AHHH AHHHHHHH; Savior of the UNIVERSE!

  • Murgatroyd says:

    You had “I aim to misbehave” in your header and you didn’t include Serenity?!

    Also: Real Genius, of course, and the two Bill and Ted movies, and Revenge of the Nerds, and — for those who like either Ray Harryhausen or boobies — Flesh Gordon.

  • lourae says:

    Buckeroo Banzai (“That’s Big-Bootay.”). And anything by Mel Brooks (“What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a place like this?”)

  • lourae says:

    “Well, to tell the family secret–my grandmother was Dutch.”

  • Finrod says:

    For fun cheesy horror, you can’t top Death Race 2000, a Roger Corman movie from 1975. It has David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone pre-Rocky: “Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, loved by thousands, hated by millions!”, Tommy Chong makes an appearance, and the rebel leader is named Thomasina Paine.

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