The 15 Best Movies Where Nerds Become Badasses

Nerds are often looked down upon. Here are our favorite movies where geeks and dorks rise up to become cool, popular, and badass!
The 15 Best Movies Where Nerds Become Badasses

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Being a nerd is a lot different than it used to be.

In the old days, we nerds were often looked down upon, but those days are in the past. Now, nerds can be hackers, fighters, superheroes, or even the popular kid at school.

However, as much as nerds are part of mainstream culture, it's still nice to feel empowered by our entertainment. There are plenty of great movies out there where nerds become super badasses.

These movies remind us that just because we're into nerdy things, there's nothing stopping us from being awesome!

15. Big Hero 6 (2014)

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

Starring Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung

Animation, Action, Adventure (1h 42m)

7.8 on IMDb90% on RT

Big Hero 6 is based on the Marvel comic book series and it reiterates the Marvel approach to origin stories: that the strongest of heroes often come from the nerdiest of people.

Hiro Hamada is a child prodigy who initially uses his smarts in underground robot matches, but later turns his life around when he starts aiding and upgrading his brother's invention Baymax.

He also has teammates with their own quirks, like Wasabi's precision turning into weapons and Go Go's strength as her core power. When it's time to save the day, they let loose and become the heroes they never thought they could ever be.

14. Ready Player One (2018)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 20m)

7.4 on IMDb72% on RT

Ernest Cline's classic novel Ready Player One is chock-full of pop culture references and pure 80s nostalgia—and those nerdy obsessions were ideal for Steven Spielberg to translate onto the big screen.

In this case, the nerdiness serves an important purpose in Wade's story. His life is defined by his pop culture knowledge and his worship of OASIS creator James "Anorak" Halliday, which equips him with the knowledge needed to win Halliday's infamous contest.

In a contest founded on nerdiness, Wade is uniquely capable to break the system in fist-pumping sci-fi fashion.

13. BlackBerry (2023)

Directed by Matt Johnson

Starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson

Biography, Comedy, Drama (2h)

7.4 on IMDb98% on RT

The founding of the mobile phone company BlackBerry was messy, to say the least. But it's important to consider that the nerds behind BlackBerry stuck by their awkward selves and simply longed to chill! When they're crossed, they're capable of striking back harder.

We see this in the 2023 biopic with the character of Mike Lazaridis (played by Jay Baruchel), the most flexible person who can stand up to the aggressive Jim Balsillie (played by Glenn Howerton).

When Lazaridis picks up on Balsillie's tenacity and shady dealings, he comes out of his shell and strikes back, even at the cost of his friends.

12. The Martian (2015)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig

Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi (2h 24m)

8.0 on IMDb91% on RT

Beyond just its A-list cast and its hard sci-fi elements, The Martian is a story about a group of scientists who are trained as NASA astronauts who must rescue a colleague stranded on Mars.

Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is a botanist and engineer by profession. When he's accidentally left behind on Mars, he applies his knowledge to survive the barren Martian landscape, producing his own food source and creating makeshift gear out of leftover NASA equipment.

The Martian is one of the purest and most realistic examples of the power of knowledge when combined with determination. It's one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time and will be a classic.

11. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

Action, Adventure, Fantasy (2h 58m)

8.8 on IMDb91% on RT

The Lord of the Rings films are filled with badass characters who possess extraordinary skills and magical powers. And then you have the Hobbits. They're small and relatively weak when compared to many of the other members of the LOTR world.

In that sense, Frodo is one of the nerds of Middle-earth, and he's the one who must shoulder the responsibility of carrying the One Ring and throwing it into the fires of Mount Doom.

Along the way, Frodo endures many trials and tribulations with the support of his best friend Samwise Gamgee, but it's that iconic moment when Frodo steps up at the Council of Elrond that cements him as one of the bravest badasses in Middle-earth.

10. Zombieland (2009)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson

Action, Comedy, Horror (1h 28m)

7.6 on IMDb89% on RT

Zombieland is a fantastic horror-comedy about a group of four survivors who never actually share their names, instead giving each other nicknames based on the cities where they were born.

The main character, who goes by the name Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg), is a full-blown geek who lives by a set of rules that are meant to maximize his chances of surviving the zombie apocalypse.

These rules end up turning him into a badass zombie killer who manages to survive in a post-apocalyptic world that few have made it through. He even gets the girl in the end!

9. Real Genius (1985)

Directed by Martha Coolidge

Starring Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink

Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi (1h 48m)

6.9 on IMDb77% on RT

Stereotypically, nerds are seen as meek, weak, and harmless. However, that's what makes nerds so dangerous when they become wolves in sheep's clothing! You never expect it.

That's the case with the carefree Chris Knight (played by Val Kilmer) and the by-the-books Mitch Taylor (played by Gabe Jarret), who are innocent at first glance but dangerous if you ever cross them or impede them.

Both geniuses are assigned to design a chemical laser, which they soon find out has a nefarious purpose—so they do whatever they can to outwit their foes and save the day.

8. WarGames (1983)

Directed by John Badham

Starring Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood

Action, Drama, Sci-Fi (1h 54m)

7.1 on IMDb93% on RT

Speaking of nerdy students beating the government, who could forget the classic film WarGames? This 1983 techno-thriller is a cautionary tale of cybersecurity threats and Cold War politics.

All of those threats arise from one youngster who taps into a high-level goverment program that he thinks is just a video game.

But David Lightman (played by Matthew Broderick) is more than just a nerd who can hack into complex programs from his bedroom. He's quick to understand the situation he's in, that the fate of the world is in hands.

7. Spider-Man (2002)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 1m)

7.4 on IMDb90% on RT

Despite the success of the MCU line of Spider-Man films, many fans—including yours truly—still consider the 2002 trilogy by Sam Raimi as the definitive Spider-Man films.

In this version, Peter Parker (played by Tobey Maguire) is about as far from cool as you can get. At the same time, his superhero alter-ego is one of the toughest, coolest heroes in the Marvel universe.

Who says a geeky photographer can't become one of the most badass superheroes in the world? And even in the MCU version, compared against other fan-favorites like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, Spider-Man still stands out as one of the most popular!

6. The Goonies (1985)

Directed by Richard Donner

Starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen

Adventure, Comedy, Family (1h 54m)

7.7 on IMDb77% on RT

The entire crew of kids in The Goonies are nerds in their own ways, but I'm specifically thinking of Data, whose gadgets and inventions end up being critical to the group achieving their goals.

At first glance, he seems like the least badass of the kids, but in end, his role in their success is undeniable. Plus, it's not like any of the Goonies are particularly cool, so they're all empowering for geeks like us!

5. Fight Club (1999)

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter

Drama (2h 19m)

8.8 on IMDb79% on RT

The Narrator in Fight Club is a sad, mundane everyman who's tired of his life and whose biggest form of entertainment is pretending he has various illnesses in order to go to group meetings.

That all changes when he meets Tyler Durden on a flight. He goes from geeky nobody to badass fighter and member of Project Mayhem. Also, there's the end of the movie to consider.

I don't want to spoil it in case you still haven't seen this classic film, but if you have, you know what I'm talking about!

4. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Directed by Jared Hess

Starring Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries

Comedy (1h 36m)

7.0 on IMDb72% on RT

Napoleon Dynamite is the defining portrait of quirky in the indie world. Napoleon himself (played by Jon Heder) is never ashamed or self-conscious about his nerdy and judgmental self.

Napoleon Dynamite lives his life in Preston, Idaho as simply as he can, with his equally stiff brother Kip (played by Aaron Ruell) and his tryhard uncle Rico (played by Jon Gries).

But in all of that, Napoleon's badassery shines in his friendship with Pedro (played by Efren Ramirez). When the latter runs for school president, Napoleon lets loose and dances onstage in front of the school to draw attention to Pedro's candidacy. And it works!

3. The Matrix (1999)

Directed by Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

Action, Sci-Fi (2h 16m)

8.7 on IMDb88% on RT

Mr. Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves) isn't necessarily what you'd consider cool. In the early parts of The Matrix, he's clearly shown to be an antisocial hacker who doesn't have very much personality.

But once he's discovered by Morpheus and he becomes Neo, he turns into one of the coolest characters in the history of movies. If this isn't an iconic example of a nerd glowing up into a badass, then what is?

2. Kick-Ass (2010)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloë Grace Moretz

Action, Comedy, Crime (1h 57m)

7.6 on IMDb77% on RT

Kick-Ass is actually the movie that inspired this article, as the entire plot of the movie is centered around a nerdy kid named Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who decides he wants to be a superhero.

In his day-to-day life, Dave is anything but cool. But once he puts on his gear and assumes his identity as Kick-Ass, he becomes a badass superhero who can do almost anything.

1. Good Will Hunting (1997)

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Drama, Romance (2h 6m)

8.3 on IMDb97% on RT

One of the most complex cinematic nerds of all time? Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) in Good Will Hunting, a young custodian with a hidden gift for mathematics but a tough upbringing in Boston.

To help him get his life back on track, Will Hunting is supervised by Dr. Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams), a therapist who takes his job seriously and challenges Will to overcome his trauma.

Despite the bleak drama, Will Hunting has lots of awesome moments that can be liberating for nerds watching. The most iconic is when he dunks on a preppy know-it-all in his "How do you like them apples?" moment, proving that nice guys don't always finish last.