We’re not talking about things that geeks like to watch, but the films and shows that celebrate geekiness
What are the geekiest sci-fi films and TV shows ever? And by that we mean, which ones celebrate all things geeky and turn the geek into a loveable hero? Of course, if we weren’t specifying they have to be sci-fi, then The Big Bang Theory would be in with a shout (or a pouty whine, at least) but we are, so it doesn’t make the cut.
Close but no cigar shows and films include Farscape (Crichton made lots of hip cultural references, but he was never an übergeek – his targets were largely too mainstream); Stargate Universe (okay it had Eli, but his role wasn’t quite central enough); The Tick (lots of in-jokes, sure, but simply in-joking wasn’t deemed geeky enough); and Reaper (because in the Geek stakes it always ran a poor second to Chuck).
And definitely not included is No Ordinary Family, because the supposed “geek” in that – comic fan Katie – was played by an actress who managed to make lines like “Just like Professor X using Cerebro” sound like the class dunce being asked to explain String Theory. Did anyone believe she’d ever opened a comic in her life (maybe she has but it never came across)?
Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
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Geek credentials: Seriously, folks, this film was made for us. It’s as if writer Jamie Mathieson – who’s also scribbled episodes of Being Human – looked into our noggins, pulled out the stuff that makes us tingle in that special sci-fi way and brought it to the screen. FAQ About Time Travel takes the template set by Shaun Of The Dead – geeky pals sitting around in a pub waiting for something to happen to them – and goes absolutely wild with it. The results are brilliant.
The story’s pure sci-fi candy: Ray (Chris O’Dowd), Toby (Marc Wootton) and Pete (Dean Lennox Kelly) find themselves caught in a series of complicated and hilarious time loops and paradoxes while a hot babe from the future, Cassie (Anna Faris), attempts to help them. It’s about as British as British can be and refuses to take itself seriously: the centre of the time disturbance, for example, is their local pub’s grotty gents’ toilets. But the real pleasure comes from the fact our heroes understand precisely what’s going on around them because they’re geeks: nobody else could be better equipped to handle the dangerous daftness of time travel, after all…
Geekgasm: Outside a cinema there’s a poster for a film called A Boy’s Life. That was the original title for ET. But that’s not all – another poster is for Watch The Skies, the original name for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Geek-out!
Geeky references: Have you got all day? There are constant allusions to Ray Bradbury’s “Butterfly effect” (including the butterfly necklace worn by Anna Faris’s character). There are nods to Back To The Future (“Don’t sleep with anyone, it always ends up being your mum or your gran”) and the poster for the film parodies the poster for the third Back To The Future movie. The guys mention wanting more Firefly; Chris O’Dowd gets to say “Get away from him you bitch!” a la Ripley; and there’s even a shot of a giant ant on a rampage in the future, providing a hilarious little shout-out to Them! (1954). And there’s more. Lots more. Seriously, go watch it. You’ll bloody love it.
Geek speak: “Ray, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!” (Cassie)
September 2006 – February 2010
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Geek credentials : Despite being a relatively recent show, its influence is such that it has, itself, been referenced in many other geek-friendly shows. For example:
Chuck : Commercials for the premiere of Chuck used the line: “Save the geek, save the world.” And in the Chuck game at www.chuckssecret.com , Chuck’s inbox has an email titled “More than paper … Much more.” (the slogan of Primatech Paper)
House : In the episode “Locked In”, House tells Taub to “save the cheerleader, save your world” in reference to a patient presumably inflicted with lock-in syndrome.
Knight Rider : In the Halloween episode, Zoe was dressed up in an Odessa Wildcats cheerleading outfit. In conversation she said “Save me, save the world”.
The Office (US) : In “The Negotiation”, Dwight says, “You know who’s a real hero? Hiro, from Heroes. That’s a hero.”
ER : In the episode “Crisis of Conscience” , Dubenko says “Save the cheerleader, save the world,” after he attends to a cheerleader.
Family Guy : A commercial for episode “Chick Cancer ” showed shots of a cheerleader and Stewie Griffin, interspersed with title cards that read “Save the baby, save the planet”.
In the first season vampire Eddie Gauthier notes that Monday nights are his favourite, beginning with an episode of Heroes and then a visit from Lafayette Reynolds.
Geekgasm: Hiro’s friend Ando (a huge comics fan) makes Hiro his very own superhero lair, a new spandex costume and the Ando-cycle. Hiro is also a huge comics fan and declares “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Geeky references: When Hiro used his time-stopping ability to mess with Daphne, he taunts her by saying, “Muda muda muda”, the catchphrase of Dio Brando, another time-stopping character from the very obscure manga series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
“She’s the Mary Jane to your Spiderman! The Marle to your Chrono!” (Hiro, again)
The license plate on Kaito Nakamura’s car is NCC-1701 (Kaito is played by George Takei, who is known to have driven another vehicle with that number.
The series shares several actors with the Star Trek franchise: Cristine Rose (Angela Petrelli / TNG – Gi’rai), Zachary Quinto (Sylar / Star Trek 2009 – Spock), George Takei (Kaito Nakamura / Star Trek – Sulu), Malcolm McDowell (Daniel Linderman / Star Trek Generations – Dr Tolian Soran), Nichelle Nichols (Nana Dawson / Star Trek – Uhura), Dominic Keating (Will / Enterprise – Malcolm Reed), Erick Avari (Chandra Suresh / Enterprise – Jamin, DS9 – Vedek Yarka, TNG B’ljik), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (The Swordsmith / TNG – Bailiff), Thomas Dekker (Zach / Voyager – Henry Burleigh), Colby French (Hank / DS9 – Ensign Weldon), Mark Colson (Mr Zern / Voyager – Dream Alien), Franc Ross (Danny Pine / Enterprise – human), John Prosky (Principal / DS9 – Brathaw), Ronald Guttman (Dr Zimmerman / Voyager – Gath), Michael Dorn (U.S. President / TNG – Worf), and Ken Lally (The German / Enterprise – Security Officer).
The box holding the Kensei sword has the number CRM-114. In Dr . Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb , the CRM-114 was the machine used to decode messages.
The rotating earth featured in the series logo shows a bright spot just off the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. That is the site of an asteroid impact widely believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for the rise of mammals, thus the spot could be a subtle reference to the show’s theme of a new evolutionary leap.
Geek speak: There are plenty of phrases of geek speak in the show, but this is the one that fell into everyday use and spawned a thousand parodies:
“Save the cheerleader, save the world.” – Hiro Nakamura
September – October 2011
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Geek credentials: While others on this list boast merchandise-hoarding, convention-adoring and – most importantly – established fanbases, The Fades is very much the new kooky kid on the block. Yet with only six episodes in the can, it’s already easily one of the most accomplished.
While its creative heritage immediately impresses (executively produced and directed by new Doctor Who crew Caroline Skinner and Farren Blackburn, and written by Skins writer – and Freaks And Geeks devotee – Jack Thorne), its driving demonic big bads are an original mash-up of horror’s greatest monsters (vampires, ghosts and zombies), and the plot magically moulds drama, horror, fantasy and comedy to effortless effect, it’s the series’ double-lead, geeky bromance that sucks you in.
As awkward teenager-turned-awkward superhero, protagonist Paul’s bewilderment at the craziness unfolding around him is given wonderfully human perspective when refracted through the pop-culture prism of his walking sound-bite best friend Mac. Whether the most spectacular plot twist or the smallest, dramatic character moment, Mac is guaranteed to react with a recognisable quip or quote to tickle your fanboy fancy.
Geekgasm: While the first episode proudly waves its geekgasmic flag for all to see (Mac’s attempts to understand Paul’s powers eliciting a comparative rant on The Sixth Sense’s lackadaisical logic), and repeated allusions to finding the ‘exhaust port’ in the enemy’s defences are Star Wars fan fawning at their best, the scene in which Mac plays ‘Movie Doctor’ to a recently traumatised Paul is an endearing, relateable and quotably terrific tete-a-tete.
With Paul’s family worried about how quickly he’s recovered after a paranormal pounding, Mac roll calls a series of genre movie classics, prompting Paul to cheerily point out the glaring, illogical plotholes in The Matrix, Mission: Impossible 2 and The Lord of the Rings to prove he’s back to his old self (“Why don’t they just fly in and out of Mordor on the back of a giant eagle?”).
Geeky references: The Sixth Sense, Star Wars, The Matrix, Ghostbusters, The X-Files, E.T., Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Alan Moore, Terry Pratchett, Twilight and Mork & Mindy.
Geek speak: When Mac raves about his newly superheroic best mate, he gushes that he’s “Spider-Man with balls” and “Che Guevara meets Ross Kemp meets Alan Moore”.
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Geek credentials: Right from its Star Wars opening, this movie is all geek. The crawl is followed by the main characters attending a Halloween party in Star Wars costumes. These same guys spend the next ninety minutes quoting (and arguing) nearly every sci-fi movie made, playing video games, trying to perfect the Jedi mind trick, and dreaming of making it big in comics. Their van sports Star Wars artwork, and it looks like a spaceship inside. They call “Chewie” instead of “shotgun” when demanding the copilot seat. In Fanboys less kind moments, they demonstrate the stereotypical sadder side of geekdom by having trouble with girls, not exercising, and living with their parents past the usual age. Their Star Wars love goes so deep they hallucinate Ewoks. They fight with Star Trek fans (who bring us a sci-fi convention, fluency in alien languages, and the Trekkie/Trekker debate), carry lucky action figures, understand the importance of grappling hooks, and completely lose their minds over movie props. They even camp out for a movie premiere.
Geekgasm: When Eric finally realizes that he has strayed to the Dark Side and corrects his error by reclaiming his geek heritage, I can’t help but smile along with Linus, because it’s not just a movie, man.
Geeky references: Star Wars is everywhere, but it’s not alone. The t-shirts cover everything from Gem to G.I. Joe. There are cameos from Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and Ray Park. Other casting includes Will Forte, Craig Robinson, and Seth Rogen. And without trying too hard, I found references to iPhones, The Rocketeer, Mork and Mindy, Star Trek, Thundercats, Men in Black, Field of Dreams, Wolverine, Saturday Night Live, The Incredible Hulk, Dirty Dancing, The Wonder Twins, Blade Runner, Indiana Jones, Veronica Mars, Ain’t It Cool News, Terminator 2, Batman Forever, Top Gun, Jerry Bruckhiemer, Stargate SG-1, Alf, Superman, James Bond, Clash of the Titans, Zelda, Back to the Future, Scooby Doo, Willow, THX 1138, and Highlander.
Geek speak: “Yeah, maybe it is. Maybe it is. You know what? To most people, Star Wars is just a movie, right? Not to us! Screw that doctor! Screw… screw all those people! Did… did they ever… ever get their heads stuck in a bucket trying to be Darth Vader? I mean, I don’t think so. No! Did… did they ever singe their eyebrows trying to make a lightsaber? No way! Did they name their right hand ‘Leia?’ Who knows? Yes. They could’ve. But you know who did? Yes, you did. So did I! So did you! We all did! This is our Death Star, man! And I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not running away from this one!” (Eric, at his turning point.)
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
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Geek credentials : Into videogames? Then Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is in-joke nirvana. There’s such a plethora of references it would be perfectly possible to give a minute by minute breakdown of the many (many) allusions in the film – from the nifty, 8-bit-style pre-credits Universal logo treatment, to a final twist/gag that works on a whole other level of brilliance if you’re familiar with Dark Link from the Legend Of Zelda series.
It’s got more references than Spaced , Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz combined; it’s totally faithful to the comics; but best of all it wears its geek status with pride – weaving videogame aesthetics, visuals and rules into every aspect of the narrative/structure of the film. It’s the best videogame movie ever made, despite not actually being based on a videogame. +7 Awesome.
Geekgasm: Take your pick, but our personal favourite is more subtle than most – even for hardcore gamers. During the dream sequence where Scott follows Ramona as she blades through his brain the music from The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time ’s Great Fairy fountains can be heard briefly. Edgar Wright personally wrote to Nintendo requesting to use the music in the film, proof if it were needed how far the best geek films will go for even the briefest references.
Geeky refences: *Deep breath* Scott’s band is called Sex Bob-omb (Bob-omb are an enemy in the Mario games); enemies explode into coins after being defeated (many things from Super Mario to No More Heroes ); Young Neil wears a range of Nintendo t-shirts (including one sporting the N64 and DS logos); Stacey Pilgrim is rated “T For Teen” (one of the US ratings board, the ESRB’s, categories); Wallace calls Envy Adams “she who shall not be named” (another name for Voldemort in the Potter series); Scott has a pee bar (like a Sim); Scott uses the etymology of Pac-Man’s name to chat up girls; the fights are staged like Street Fighter brawls, with “Vs”, “reversal” and “combo” captions appearing on screen; Scott’s t-shirts reference Space Invaders , the Rock Band series and more; Gideon Graves wears a t shirt with an inverted Triforce; the Seinfeld theme plays when Scott enters his apartment; Ramona uses a giant hammer (much like Mario), while Roxy Richter has a whip-sword straight out of Soul Caliber ; Scott levels up, gains an extra life and earns weapon upgrades throughout the movie; characters flash red when they’re near death… and they’re just scratching the surface…
Geek speak: Knives Chau: “What do you play?”
Young Neil: “Wow, ummm… Zelda, Tetris… that’s kind of a big question.”
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
1997 – 2003
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Geek credentials: Two words: Xander Harris. Nicholas Brendan’s wise-cracking loser may have been modelled on Chandler from Friends, but his heart was 100% pure geek. Even losing an eye to evil preacher Caleb was merely an opportunity to drop a Nick Fury reference. Creator Joss Whedon is the Geek Overlord and Xander was his main mouthpiece. But it’s not just specific characters: a team of super-powered heroes who don’t fit in with the rest of the world is a comic book staple, most notably the X-Men – a clear influence on the show. And what do Buffy and her friends refer to themselves as from nearly the beginning? The Scooby Gang. Our heroes know that they’re living in a pulp horror world. For them, sci-fi and horror comics and movies must look a lot like kitchen sink dramas.
Geekgasm: The bit in season five’s “The Replacement”, where Xander admits to owning a set of Babylon 5 commemorative plates. Now that’s sad.
Geeky references: Scooby Doo, Star Wars (many times) Babylon 5, Star Trek, Superman, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Charlie Brown, The X Files (“I can’t believe you, of all people, are trying to Scully me.” – Buffy to Giles), Harry Potter, James Bond, The Twilight Zone, Marvel comics, Nancy Drew and many, many more. Many of the early episodes have their roots in genre history. “Some Assembly Required” pinches from Frankenstein, while “The Puppet Show” borrows from films like Child’s Play and Devil Doll.
Geek speak: Many! How about some of these beauties…
“I’m sorry, calm may work for Locutus of the Borg here, but I’m freaked out.” Xander in “Prophecy Girl”.
“You were my sire, man. You were my Yoda!” Spike to Angel in “School Hard”.
“But gee, Mr. White, if Clark and Lois get all the good stories, I’ll never be a good reporter.” Xander in “The Zeppo”.
“I’m bored. Episode One bored.” Andrew in “Showtime”.
“Warren’s the boss. He’s Picard, you’re Deanna Troi. Get used to the feeling, Betazoid.” Andrew, “Seeing Red”.
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Geek credentials: From the moment our eponymous hero first glimpsed love interest Sarah across a crowded electrical store as Morgan chanted “Vicki Vale, Vi-Vi-Vicki Vale” like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, it was apparent this was a show where the characters had seen and loved all the same films and TV, read all the same comics and played all the same video games as its viewers. Also boasting a host of great cameos and guest stars including some true sci-fi and fantasy greats, as well as Firefly’s Adam Baldwin in the main cast (he even refers to things as being ‘shiny’) Chuck’s status as one of the geekiest shows of all time must be cemented. Even the slightly awkward product placement which helped extend the show’s life is coloured by Chuck’s geek chic – with the automatic doors of a car given prominence being exclaimed over as they make him feel like he’s using the Force. Maybe we’re easily led but, hell, it’d make us more inclined to buy some new wheels too…
Geekgasm: Arguably the best Christmas episode of TV ever anywhere, Season two’s festive show saw Chuck and the Buy Moreians held hostage in the store on Christmas Eve, heralding the start of an epic Die Hard homage. But when you’ve got police prowling outside putting all the hostages at risk, you need a cop who’ll listen to the information from the maverick inside who is fighting to regain control. Someone like Al Powell, the LAPD officer who did that for Bruce Willis in the first two movies and – it turns out – is store manager Big Mike’s cousin. No really, and the role was even reprised by actor Reginald VelJohnson. So lovely it’s worthy of a box of celebratory Twinkies.
Geeky references: Star Wars (lots), James Bond (obviously), Lord of the Rings, Trainspotting, Lost, Call Of Duty, The Godfather, Heathers, Ghostbusters, Karate Kid, Indiana Jones, The Big Lebowski, Top Gun, True Lies, Dune, The Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner and many many more…
Geek speak: “Flush out your headgear, new guy.” – Casey to a distracted Chuck, using exactly the same line Adam Baldwin did as machine gunner ‘Animal Mother’ in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
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Geek credentials: It may have only run for 12 episodes but Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s brilliant show, based on the comic he co-created with Les McClaine, arguably packed more geek and genre references into that season on a minute-by-minute basis than any other show on this list. If ever a show was made for DVD it’s this – every re-watch has you pick up another visual reference or geeky gag.
For those who haven’t seen it (and it is something of a hidden gem), The Middleman is a milk-drinking, clean living crime fighter who – after seeing her calmly fight off a tentacled monster that kills the rest of her co-workers at a laboratory she’s temping at – recruits struggling artist Wendy Watson to help fight evil. Dub Dub and The Middleman work together to fight a range of brilliantly off-the-wall baddies including a mobster-movie obsessed ape, Lucha Libre wrestlers, an Apple-like technology guru and others all of whom have plans to take over the world that they consider ‘sheer elegance in their simplicity’ (although usually they’re most definitely not).
Geekgasm: Arguably the best episode for geek references is the Back to the Future themed “The Manicoid Teleportation Conundrum” – the Middleman uses the alias Emmett Brown for himself, but there are also nodding references to Lyon Estates, Agent Strickland, Twin Pines Mall, and Bufford Tannen. But for sheer geeky brilliance, genre stalwart Kevin Sorbo’s appearance in “The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown” as a cryogenically frozen Middleman from the sixties finding it difficult to adjust to life in the new century is just about perfect. And while, carrying on the Bond theme, Dub Dub gets to wear the Ursula Andress bikini, she manages to side-step the stereotypical sci-fi arm candy clichés and carries it off in her inimitable kick-arse way and with suitable eye rolling and sarcasm. Great stuff.
Geeky references: Star Trek, Dune, Doctor Who, The Godfather, Scarface, Hitchhiker’s, Die Hard, Batman (Wendy describes herself as Robin the Boy Hostage in homage to Miller’s Dark Knight Returns), the Wilhelm scream (which appears in every episode), Ghostbusters and more – the shows creator actually set up a special Middleblog while the show was airing to explain / confirm many of them and encourage further debate among fans searching them out.
Geek speak: [in preparation for an impending fight] “Oh, I’m a gonna get my Buffy on.” – Wendy.
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Geek credentials: Paul was the first half of this year’s unofficial movie love letter to Stephen Spielberg. Like Super 8, it draws heavily on Spielberg’s ideas and iconography, but unlike Super 8 puts an extra spin on it that raises the film into something genuinely unique; a movie about aliens, from the point of view of the aliens themselves. Genius.
Graham and Clive aren’t just Englishmen abroad, they’re also geeks and that combination makes them reticent, cautious and at times surprisingly unlikeable. There’s no gloss, no movie sheen to either of them, and Pegg and Frost play them absolutely straight. As a result they feel fragile, mortal in exactly the way most movie characters aren’t, making them far easier to identify with.
Paul’s also, ultimately, a movie about geeks made good. Everyone wants their hero or heroine moment and Graham, Paul and Ruth all get plenty of chances to show that geeks, people like you, and me, have the power to do great things too. Or as Clive puts it in one of the lines that hits home for me: “That’s not fat, that’s power.”
Geekgasm: Barely ahead of their pursuers, Paul and co arrive at the rendezvous point he’s arranged with his fellow aliens. They scramble over a hill and… Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters is in the middle distance. Clive chuckles and says ‘Of course’ and we’re right there with him.
Geeky references: Whilst there are countless geeky references, it really is all about the Spielberg. ET is, for obvious reasons, one of the most heavily referenced, with Paul giving Spileberg notes about the script over the phone and his healing ability a clear nod to the last short alien to make a run across country.
Then there’s Close Encounters, not only with the beautiful Devil’s Tower reveal but the Five Tones firework making the greeting harmonic from the movie’s climax and the Big Guy’s helicopter making its entrance like one of the UFOs from that film, low and silent and festooned with lights. Even the beautiful long beauty pass at the end of the film is referenced as Paul’s ship takes off very, very slowly. Oh and Agent Zoil calls Paul Short Round from Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom. See? All about the Spielberg.
Geek speak: “Are you going to probe us?”
Paul: “ Why does everyone always assume that? What am I doing? Am I harvesting farts? How much can I learn from an ass?”
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Geek Credentials: Everything about this film screams “geek.” It both begins and ends at a well-attended science-fiction convention devoted to a cancelled television show. Said show contains cheesy dialogue, alien languages, lame special effects, catch phrases and clichéd characters. Its fans obsess over every detail of the episodes and the ship, seek autographs from its stars, buy everything from Galaxy Quest t-shirts to replica props, and best of all, dress up as their favourite characters, despite the fact that the show has been off the air for seventeen years. I ask you, what is more geeky than conventions and cosplay? When you add fans who clearly “ship” Taggart/Madison, you get geekdom in a nutshell. The fact that Galaxy Quest treats all of these fans and their camaraderie respectfully is icing on the cake.
Geekgasm: When push comes to shove, there’s only one man to call for help: Brandon, Galaxy Quest superfan. He and his friends know the NSEA Protector better than any actor or alien ever could, and when they use their esoteric knowledge to pull the Protector’s butt out of the fire, my geek heart squeals with glee.
Geeky References: Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek. Some say that Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek film ever made, and I won’t argue that. Star Trek in-jokes are ever-present, from the expendable character to not carrying spare parts, to the technobabble, the commander getting half-naked, the child genius and the actors bearing a grudge against the show and each other – it’s all here.
Geek Speak: Brandon’s last line, which is fittingly the last major line of the movie, speaks for itself. “The Protector got super-accelerated coming out of the black hole and it’s, like, nailed the atmosphere at mark fifteen, which, you guys know, is pretty unstable, obviously. So we’re gonna help Laredo guide it on the voxover frequency carrier and use the roman candles for visual confirmation.”