All too often, movies exaggerate the life of a nerd. Not all nerds are geniuses, not all nerds are outcast losers, not all nerds wear taped glasses or get pushed into lockers every day.
We've seen these nerd stereotypes play out in dozens of movies and TV shows, and it has given nerds a bad reputation.
While public perception of nerds has changed over the years, it's still often loaded with negative connotations—of cowardice, of poor social skills, of sexual frustration, of contempt from the people around them.
Sometimes these traits are true for nerds, but rarely to the exaggerated degree we see in Hollywood and on television.
Here are our picks for the best movies about nerds that depict the true-to-life experience—awkwardness, eccentricity, quirkiness—in ways that depart from the usual nerd stereotypes.
12. Mean Girls (2004)
Cady Heron comes from a family of scientists and she's quite good at math. But when her family moves from Africa to Illinois, she struggles to find her place at her new school.
Everything works differently here: being smart at math is seen as lame, and friendships are cold-blooded and calculated. Cady will have to abandon her real personality to become someone else.
Mean Girls isn't without its problems, but it's still relevant with its engagement of nerd representation. It was also one of the first films to feature a female nerd protagonist. Plus, it's hilarious!
11. Office Space (1999)
Most movies about nerds take place in high school or college, as those are the years when "nerdy behavior" is most prominent.
But if you're sick of school nerds, then you should definitely watch Office Space, which offers a refreshing take on adult nerds.
Peter Gibbons is an overworked programmer who has to cope with a cocky boss, one who's constantly looking over his shoulder.
When his company announces plans to downsize, Peter and his geeky friends risk losing their jobs. To get back at Initech, they hatch a scheme to develop a virus that steals money from the company.
10. Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future is a classic movie that involves Marty's father, George McFly, who's considered a nerd and a loser by his peers.
And, in all fairness, we understand why he's seen that way. It's not so much for his interests but rather his behaviors—he comes across as extremely socially awkward.
The reason for his social awkwardness? Insecurity. Back to the Future was one of the first films to acknowledge that people who struggle in social situations do so out of insecurity, not mental deficiency or lack of intreest.
Within every socially awkward individual is someone who's wrestling with self-esteem and self-doubt. That's why Back to the Future was such an early game-changer for nerd representation in cinema.
9. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Everyone knows The Breakfast Club as the iconic 1980s movie that brought together all of the stereotypical cliques in high school.
A nerd, a jock, a snob, a punk, and a kook are all stuck in detention together, at the same time, forcing them to interact—on a more personal level, away from the ever-watching eyes of high school society.
In doing so, they all realize that they share more in common than they would've otherwise thought, and that each of them—including the nerd—is more than their stereotype would suggest.
The Breakfast Club doesn't depict Brian the geek as a kid with overalls, glasses, and a nasal voice. The film tones down the nerdy stereotypes and actually gives Brian a true-to-life personality.
8. The Way, Way Back (2013)
The Way, Way Back is one of those movies that evokes nostalgic feelings of what it was really like to grow up as a nerd.
It follows the awkward teenager Duncan as he's dragged along for a family vacation to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Along the way, not only does Duncan have to deal with his mom's arrogant boyfriend Trent, but he also has to put up with Trent's snobby daughter who joins them on the trip.
Duncan ends up getting a job at a local water park and finds a role model in his laid-back boss, Owen. As the summer days pass him by, Duncan slowly grows more confident in himself.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
With Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, we witness a shift in cinematic paradigm.
Scott Pilgrim isn't necessarily nerdy—at least not by most stereotypical nerdy standards. He plays bass guitar and he dates girls. He has friends and he lives with a roommate. He's far from cool, but he's okay!
Even so, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World presents Scott as a nerd within its film universe. In doing so, it ends up being one of the first films to actively change the definition of what it means to be a nerd.
In fact, you could argue that everyone in this world is a bit of a nerd.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World posits that none of us are perfectly normal after all. Free from the minefield that is high school, we get to see nerds in a less critical environment. Suddenly, they're just... people.
6. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Milo Thatch is a linguist, a cartography expert, a scholar, a nerd—but more than all that, he's the hero of the story.
When he gains possession of a secret book, he embarks on an adventure that leads him to an important discovery: the long-lost location of the mythical continent called Atlantis.
Throughout Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo knows who he is and he doesn't change. He remains true to his interests and to his personality, and he becomes the hero without compromising his identity.
Milo might have extreme academic interests, but he's a complex character who isn't defined so easily. Atlantis: The Lost Empire deconstructs the stereotypical nerd character, making it a must-include on our list.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film about the tumultuous life of high school freshman, Charlie. His only friends are his English teacher, a senior student Sam, and her stepbrother Patrick.
As an introverted nerd, Charlie doesn't know his way around parties or social situations. Despite this, Sam and Patrick force Charlie out into the world—they drag him to parties, introduce him to new friends, and expose him to the fun sides of high school.
Charlie goes along with it, all while dealing with his past tragedies, his internal anxiety, and the looming shadow of depression.
4. Superbad (2007)
Superbad is one of the greatest classic nerd movies of all time. High school is almost over for Seth and Evan—who have been best friends since kindergarten—and they can't wait for it to be done!
Before they head off to college, however, Seth and Evan decide that they want to party and lose their virginities. Now is the best time for them to break out of their shells and leave their comfort zones.
Superbad was a trailblazer for its depiction of its protagonists, who are both considered nerds within the film universe. During a time when nerds were often just side characters, Superbad brought them to the fore.
Additionally, Superbad engaged with several underrepresented themes—including male feelings, insecurities, and platonic attachment styles—in new ways that felt fresh for Hollywood at the time.
Superbad is an irreverent film with plenty of outrageous scenes, but it certainly gets the personality of a nerd down pat.
3. Eighth Grade (2018)
Kayla is thirteen years old. We all remember being that age, right? It's not great! She's just about to finish eighth grade and move on to high school.
But Kayla also suffers from anxiety and strives for social acceptance. There's nothing about her that makes her different from the others at school. Instead, this film is about how she feels different.
Eighth Grade is a subtle investigation of what peer pressure means at that age. It engages with themes of mental health in American society, and it uses the nerd stereotype to discuss the effects of this label—or even just the fear of it—on our psyche.
2. Big Hero 6 (2014)
Hiro loves building robots. At the same time, he has an adventurous personality and a tendency to find trouble. To rein him in, his big brother Tadashi shows him how to channel his talents in a healthier way.
Big Hero 6 is about using your talents for the greater good. This film teaches us that our talents—and how we use them—are part of who we are, and that we need to take responsibility for them.
Big Hero 6 was revolutionary for its fresh depiction of nerds at an institutional level. The film highlighted the importance of passionate and intellectual individuals, both in academia and in society.
1. Booksmart (2019)
All nerds will see themselves represented in Booksmart, especially when it comes to the friendship between the two lead geeks, Amy and Molly.
After spending all of high school studying, acing tests, and religiously doing homework, they decide to have fun the day before graduation.
Molly convinces Amy to attend a graduation party, where they can condense all of their missed experiences into one night. A lot happens, resulting in a wild, nerdy ride that geeks will definitely relate to.
Booksmart is one of the most important films for nerd representation. It subverts all the outdated smart girl stereotypes about how smart girls should look, act, and feel.
A mere decade ago, characters like Amy and Molly would've been nothing more than secondary comedic relief in cinema. Today, they're engaging, complex, funny, and multi-dimensional protagonists!
Furthermore, Booksmart engages with themes of friendship, queer representation, feminist film theory, personal identity, and more.