A lot of us are currently stuck at home, either due to enforced quarantine, or just chosen self-isolation. So I thought I should push out something I’ve been working on for a bit, to give you something to do.
Somewhat recently Collider.com released an article called “100 Essential Movies Any Serious Film Fan Should See,” as a guide if you want to be considered knowledgeable in the realm of film critique. Collider is a film site first, and a fandom site second. At The Nerdd, I consider us to be a fandom site first, and a film site second. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to list out the top films I believe any Nerdd should see, if they want to be able to keep up in a more advanced nerdy conversation. I split the list into three sections, the first being comic book movies, then science fiction movies, and then this last list has fantasy, horror, and more.
While comics and science fiction lead the charge in nerdy movies, those are not, in fact, the largest aspects of nerd culture. Fantasy movies of swords and sorcery, horror/monster movies, and other films that the nerd culture has clung to over the years are still equally important to understanding nerds, even if Hollywood doesn’t always show it some love.
One of the biggest aspects of nerd culture, sometimes above even comics, is the world of fantasy. Especially with the rise in popularity for Dungeons & Dragons, people love what fantasy offers. This list shows a nice variety in the type of fantasy, whether it be other worlds, far from our own, or secret worlds hidden around us. Even a good comedy or two thrown in for good measure, because no matter how much we love it, we still understand it can be a bit silly sometimes.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The
Witch, and The Wardrobe
The Chronicles of Narnia is one of two properties from the 20th century that defines a lot of modern fantasy (the other is listed below). With an evil ice queen, a benevolent Lion-God, satyrs and centaurs, and a fight for Good, these are recognizable tropes that came from one of the greatest sagas of fantasy the world has seen.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
When you think about modern fantasy, it often centers around the “Young Adult” demographic, and that, in large part, is due to the success of Harry Potter. For many millenials, Harry grew up with us, as the books/movies were released roughly every year, we got to grow up with a kid that was not only learning about himself, but his place in the world, and what he could MAKE of himself. A popular conversation starter for millenials is asking what Hogwarts house you belong to (#HufflePride), so it might be a good idea to have a basic understanding of this series, by watching the first film.
A huge player in darker fantasy, which is explored greatly by Guillermo del Toro (who directed Pan’s Labyrinth, very different), Labyrinth broke a lot of standard rules of fantasy at the time. Fantasy was seen as knights in shining armor, wars of enormous scale, and magic that intervenes into the fates of men. However, this movie had David Bowie as the Goblin King, and monsters made by Jim Henson of Muppets fame. This child-friendly dark fantasy is a great door into some more interesting aspects of fantasy.
The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
If The Chronicles of Narnia was on a coin, you would find The Lord of the Rings on the other side. While the authors were friends, part of a writing club together (and even have Easter Eggs of each other in their respective stories), these two books defined what fantasy would be for generations to come. Not only that, but the Lord of the Rings trilogy won a total of 17 Academy Awards. These films are standard fantasy, with elves and dwarves, wizards and dragons. While it’s hard to say which movie in the series is the best, I think going with the first movie is the best choice.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
One of the two comedies on this list, you could argue this movie isn’t even strictly fantasy. While you can trace a lot of original fantasy to Arthurian Legend, and this movie is a parody of those legends, there isn’t much in here that is fantasy by today’s standards. However, anyone that loves stories with swords and kings, quests and adventure, probably has a deep appreciation for this movie, and might be able to quote more of it than anything else on this list.
In a similar vein of Monty Python, this movie is also a comedy, with a bit of romance added. However, there is a lot more fantasy as well, with Rodents of Unusual Size, Pits of Despair, and more. A wonderful movie, with a fantastic cast of characters, and an adventure to marvel at.
By far the most underrated movie on this list, Stardust is a weird sci-fantasy with a cast of pre-celebrities (not unlike Scott Pilgrim), that doesn’t follow conventional fantasy rules. Every twist in this movie is bizarre and unexpected, but the fantasy runs strong throughout. I even wrote an article about it after I saw it for the first time.
Horror + Monster
Yes horror movies are appreciated by the non-nerd community, just as much as us convention goers. However, when you ask a nerd what their favorite horror movie is, chances are there’s a monster involved. As opposed to demons or ghosts, we love an element of supernatural in our scariness (just ask Supernatural).
This movie is just as much science fiction as it is horror, as astronauts deal with murder aliens on a spaceship. It has several sequels, prequels, and crossover films, but the core story is in the first movie, with Sigourney Weaver, chest-bursters, and more.
A Quiet Place
A fairly new movie (won the Nerddy for 2018 Best Picture), but this movie has made such an impact for being extremely unique, excellent production, and a fantastic cast, that you should probably get to know it. The second film has been delayed due to COVID-19, but it’s coming, and it’s going to be amazing.
Cabin in the Woods
This movie is a little bit of cheating, as it is a parody/summary of hundreds of scary movies. However, it’s a super funny movie by Joss Whedon (Buffy, The Avengers, Firefly, etc), and it stuffs itself full of tropes for you to be familiar with.
I Am Legend
The last three on this list are zombie movies, though technically I Am Legend isn’t zombies, it’s vampires. But either way, the end of the world, apocalypse due to undead humans that want to bite you is very popular in nerd culture, and this is one of the best ones. This movie is very serious, shows a man on his own, in New York City, trying to find the cure to the zombie virus.
The Night of the Living Dead
If zombies are a major part of nerd culture, it’s because of this film, and it’s director, George A. Romero. He redefined zombies, combining the Haitian lore with European undead stories. People have always been obsessed with the end of the world apocalypse, but Romero gave us a wonderful catch-all that was both human, and inhuman, in nature.
Arguably the most popular zombie movies every (though they technically aren’t zombies), the Umbrella Corp. and Milla Jovovich explode through this video game-based movie, and surely there’s more than a logo you’ll recognize.
These movies aren’t necessarily any genre we’ve mentioned before. Sure, you might classify them as science fiction or horror, or even fantasy, but those elements aren’t necessarily the reason they’ve resonated so much with nerd culture. These movies might not even be considered “nerdy” by most people, but when you go to your local comic convention, you’ll see representation of these movies just as much as those above, be it by cosplay, panels, or celebrity guests.
There are multiple Christopher Nolan films that I’ve listed as “essential” this week, because his movies, in whatever genre he makes at the time, are wonderfully done. This movie is technically science fiction, but instead of getting overly technical with the science of infiltrating someone’s brain, it’s in the science of dreams themselves, and what a dream represents. Cognitive psychology over neuroscience. This movie will probably confuse you, as it did me the first three times I watched it, but it’s a wonderful movie that nerds reference constantly since.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
This is the third Harrison Ford movie I’ve listed as “essential,” and I’m noticing patterns in the things nerds like. While Indiana Jones could be classified as fantasy (sci-fi in the fourth film), it’s really just a classic adventure film, made by the same writer as Star Wars, that inspires anyone that aspires to be a hero.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
This movie really hit home for the more emo/Hot Topic nerds of the early 2000s, but Tim Burton has always attracted people on the edges of society, people who feel like they don’t belong where they are, but believe that, were they in a more fitting environment, they could be more than they can imagine. Jack Skellington’s story is one of the more family-friendly of the Burton films, and therefore attracted the younger nerds, who began to feel alone.
The Pirates of the Caribbean
It might be outrageous to say the Pirates of the Caribbean is a more modern Indiana Jones, but as mentioned above, nerds love a well created hero, who goes on amazing adventures, to find treasures and be part of something big. Whatever form that takes, nerds tend to gravitate towards those stories, as we dream of adventures of our own.
The Purge: Anarchy
I was originally going to go with the first Purge movie, but that first one is essentially a home invasion movie with a twist. In the second movie is where they really explore that twist as a premise on it’s own. The premise, more than the actual movies themselves, is what has become essential knowledge. Sure, there’s nothing nerdy about a legal night of murder, but it’s become so culturally known, you should probably be familiar.
Again, there is nothing inherently nerdy about anything Quentin Tarantino, but you can’t walk the floor of a comic convention, and not see at least one cosplay of one of his characters. I think Pulp Fiction, while not necessarily the best Tarantino film, is by far the most popular. This starts to lead into the “Film Bro” area of nerdiness, slightly different from the comics/sci-fi/fantasy area of nerdiness that this site focuses on, but I’d still say essential.
This was tough. You as a nerd, need to know who Sherlock Holmes is, in the same way you need to know who Dracula is. That is to say, of course you know who it is. However, the Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law movies are so well done compared to other Sherlock-inspired movies and shows, that you can’t miss it. Whether it’s Batman, Psych, Doctor Who, or a million other things that are revamps of Sherlock Holmes, having a solid base understanding of the characters is helpful.
Lastly, you don’t need to be an Anime Otaku (a.k.a. weeb), to be a nerd. Anime and manga are it’s own area of nerdiness, that, again, we don’t really focus on here. However, you should probably know of one true anime (not American anime like Pokemon), and of all anime, the best are created by Hayao Miyazaki, and the most popular of those is Spirited Away. So take the time to at least have a baseline understanding of what anime is.
It’s very hard to determine what films are essential to know in modern day nerdiness, and this list might change within a year. Again, if you haven’t yet, go check out my list on comic book movies, as well as science fiction movies. Your realm of nerdiness might be very different from the one I see, which is great. There are so many aspects to nerd culture, and they are all valid.
What do you think is an essential nerd movie? Let us know in the comments below!
A most excellent list…
Thank you! Glad you liked it!