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Epic Nerd-Approved Movies To See Before You Die
That Aren’t Avatar, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, or LOTR.
Not to quote Ned Stark, but, “Winter is coming.” And what better way for any self-respecting nerd to spend the season than hunkered down in the glow of some of the best nerd-approved films of all time.

But you’ve watched your favorite films a billion times, so how do you find the films you haven’t seen yet, but should? Well, today I’m putting my Cinema “Minor” to work and that means digging through film history and pulling out title gems that are too often overshadowed by Avatar or the all-impressive Star Wars. These films will change your life (or they should), so sit down, strap in and load these puppies up in your Netflix queue. Here are the best of the best in their respective categories. Enjoy these films. You will be a better nerd for watching them.

*Note: All films should be watched in the aspect ratio they were shot in and if possible, watch the director’s cut. None of this “4:3” nonsense when a film was shot in widescreen. Also, may of the older films on this list are now on Blu-ray. For a more technical overview of a specific film’s transfer to Blu-ray, please query The Blu Ray Blog. Now, please… enjoy the show.

Straightup Nerd-Tastic Films (AKA Category 1)

Dark City

(1998)

Film Notes: If you liked Metropolis, The Matrix, and Inception, you have to see this film. I wrote an entire master’s thesis on it. If you can, watch the commentary by Rober Ebert.

The Fifth Element

(1997)

Film Notes: This eye-candy adventure is one of the most charming, beautifully shot, creative, colorful sci-fi films of all time.

Forbidden Planet

(1956)

Film Notes: Before Star Trek, there was Forbidden Planet. It’s amazing to see what was possible to the imagination circa 1956.

Stargate

(1994)

Film Notes: If you think Terra Nova awesome or could be better… you must see this film. Groundbreaking special effects.

Minority Report

(2002)

Film Notes: This Steven Speilberg directed film is based on the thrilling Philip K. Dick short-story and stars Tom Cruise. Let’s just say… it’s totally worth seeing.

THX 1138

(1971)

Film Notes: Before he made Star Wars, George Lucas made this sanitary, haunting vision of the future. … and part of it was shot in Studio One at my alma mater, San Francisco State University!

Dune

(1984)

Film Notes: Dune is one of the most impressive, well written sci-fi films of all time, Dune will amaze your inner nerd.

War Games

(1983)

Film Notes: It’s good to see Matthew Broderick in something besides a musical – I mean, if you loved your Atari, you’ll love this film. How what started as a game, almost became nuclear war.

Serenity

(2005)

Film Notes: From the creator of Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this wild-west-meets-pre-cog-human-weapon sci-fi dance through space will blow you away. It’s hard to call yourself a nerd, if you haven’t seen it.

Paprika

(2006)

Film Notes: This is one of my favorite movies, I have it on Blu-ray and it’s worth watching in a proper home theater. If you want to see what animation can do and where your dreams can take you, (and if you thought The Matrix and Inception was cool) Paprika is a film you just have to see.

Blade Runner

(1982)

Film Notes: Find out if androids dream of electric sheep, and if you can, find out by watching the director’s cut of the film Blade Runner. This touching, beautiful, mind-bending film is one of my all-time-favorites. Quote: “It’s too bad she won’t live… but then again, who does?”

Brazil

(1985)

Film Notes: I love Terry Gilliam’s style. Brazil is one of the best no-holds-barred cotton-candy films of all time. Do yourself a favor and be sure to watch the director’s cut as opposed to the theatrical release of this film.

V for Vendetta

(2006)

Film Notes: I’ve watched this film so many times. It’s a beautifully told story and stands on its own from the graphic novel on which it is based. That said, you should also read the graphic novel.

Tank Girl

(1995)

Film Notes: This movie is proof that filmmakers in 1995 weren’t just making “girl movies” like Clueless.
Action, Adventure and a Hint of Zombie (AKA Category 2)
Akira
(1988)

Film Notes: A heart pounding, apocalyptic animated view of what happens when we forsake our friends and dance on the edge of a knife. For the full effect, I suggest watching this film in its full 192khz/24-bit wall-to-wall sound, on Blu-ray, in its original Japanese.

Blade

(1998)

Film Notes: One of the best vampire films ever… and these vampires don’t sparkle, they bite. If you like True Blood, and Fifth Element, you’ll like this.
Six String Samurai
(1998)

Film Notes: This post-apocalyptic 1960’s alternate history-meets-bowling-assassins film is funny, adventurous, and well written. And it features music by one of my favorite bands, The Red Elvises.
Terminator 2
(1991)

Film Notes: While I think everyone has seen this film, it should be said that if you haven’t… you should, and if you have seen it… maybe see it again. Epic. Yes, I have the signed, autographed laser disc version of this movie.

The Animatrix

(2003)

Film Notes: Nine animated stories tell the stories behind the matrix universe. If you liked the original Aeon Flux TV series and Miyazaki’s work… just see this film.

The Abyss

(1989)

Film Notes: A classic James Cameron vision of what happens when humanity pushes the edge of what is possible.
I Am Legend (Director's Cut)
(2007)

Film Notes: This is one of the only zombie movies that actually made me cry. Maybe it’s because I have a dog that looks a lot like the dog in the film, but this haunting, moving, terrifying film is a masterpiece in my book.

Close Encounters of Third Kind

(1977)

Film Notes: Star Wars wasn’t the only film that came out in 1977. If you haven’t yet made a mountain of mashed potatoes on your dinner plate… you will.
Final Fantasy:
The Spirits Within

(2001)

Film Notes: This film didn’t get nearly enough credit when it came out. It’s one of the first CG films that created an entire world and made you forget it wasn’t real.
Let the Right One In
(2008)

Film Notes: This is possibly one of the very best vampire films ever. This is the Winter Light of Vampire films and its surprisingly touching.
Waterworld
(1995)

Film Notes: Another great film from 1995. That was such a good year for movies. If you haven’t seen it, well, it’s worth seeing.

Side Note: This film cost what it did to build the Titanic and sank in the box office.

Leon: The Professional
(1994)

Film Notes: This is one of the films that helped launch Queen Amidala (I mean Natalie Portman’s) career and as with one of my other favorite films Wasabi, it’s always good to see Jean Reno in a film.
Pitch Black
(2000)

Film Notes: If you’re a Vin Diesel fan, who also loves a good Gilligan’s Island space-themed plot with flesh eating aliens, chances are, you’ll like this film.
When Nerds Do Comedy (AKA Category 3)
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
(2008)

Film Notes: : You have to see this web series! It was made during the writer’s strike and became a star-studded musical success that’s both funny and touching. It’s Doogie Howser, M.D. (I mean) Neil Patrick Harris in a musical. It’s brilliant! The trailer below gives you an idea, but really doesn’t do it justice, so just go get it on the website.
Sneakers
(1992)

Film Notes: This is a funny, engaging film that every self-respecting hacker (I mean nerd) should see.
Shaun of the Dead
(2004)

Film Notes: If zombie movies could be scary and funny at the same time… this is what they’d be. You’ll laugh and you’ll look under your bed before you go to sleep.
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist
(2002)

Film Notes: If you love Kung Fu films and comedy, add this movie to your bucket list.
Harvey
(1950)

Film Notes: A white invisible rabbit who is six-feet, three inches tall pals around with a seemingly normal, respectable man played by James Stewart. This makes for an amazingly fun and touching tale that you’ll never forget
Galaxy Quest
(1999)

Film Notes: The lighter side of sci-fi. If you’ve seen every Star Trek episode and movie, you have to see this funny film… it was made for you.
UHF
(1989)

Film Notes: I don’t know many self-respecting nerds who don’t know where phrases like “Wheel of Fish!” or “Spachula City” comes from. If you haven’t seen this film, you’re in for a geeked-out-nerd-tastic-Weird-Al-treat!
Spaceballs
(1987)

Film Notes: Where would humanity be without Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman and Joan Rivers? We’d be in a world without the magic that is…Spaceballs. Go plaid and see this film today. I’m still waiting for Spaceballs II, The Search for More Money.
Ghostbusters
(1984)

Film Notes: Okay, I’m sure you’ve seen this one… but heck, see it again. Slime, spirits and Stay Puff. What’s not to like?
Death to Smoochy
(2002)

Film Notes: In an alternate universe where Robin Williams plays a washed up children’s show star, hilarity ensues when he tries to take down his rival. This movie is painfully funny. *Please Note: You learn to say things like this in film school, but really, this is a funny, funny movie).

The Hudsucker Proxy
(1994)

Film Notes: One of Joe and Ethan Coen’s slightly less well known films, and one that I was pleasantly surprised by years ago. It’ll make you think differently about the hula-hoop.

A Flare for the Dramatic (AKA Category 4)
Twilight - JUST KIDDING!
I meant:

Gattaca
(1997)
Film Notes: This is the “Brave New World” of sci-fi movies.


The Man Who Fell To Earth
(1976)

Film Notes: David Bowie isn’t just a pretty face, he’s the star of this unusual film (which I can almost guarantee that none of your friends have seen or heard of).

Donnie Darko
(2001)

Film Notes: This film will mess you up. Bunny rabbits have never been so scary. I recommend watching this film with a friend.

Being John Malkovich
(1999)

Film Notes: Welcome to the seven and a half floor, where you can find a portal into the mind of John Malkovich. If all you’ve seen ‘till now is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind… you MUST see this film.

Dead Poets Society
(1986)

Film Notes: This film should appeal to nerds not because it has chalk boards and classrooms… but because it’s a deeply moving story about “sucking the marrow out of life.” I also think this is a film that most true nerds will appreciate and relate to.

Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon

(2000)

Film Notes: This is what happens when you let Ang Lee play with “wire fu” and it’s breathtaking. I’ve probably seen this movie twenty times and I still love it!

The Fall
(2006)

Film Notes: As far as beautiful, magical, horrific, and breathtaking films go… you really can’t do much better than this Salvador Dali inspired masterpiece. Warning: Have a box of tissues standing by for this one, as it gets a bit sad.

Cocoon
(1985)

Film Notes: Discover the fountain of youth in this touching, beautiful movie.

Oceans Eleven
(2001)

Film Notes: You can’t have swagger… without a team of nerds. It’s hard to believe this film came out ten years ago. It still “holds up.” Oh, I crack myself up sometimes…

Millennium Actress
(2001)

Film Notes: Yes, I love anime. Yes I’ve lived through an earthquake. Yes, I’ve watched Sunset Boulevard and yes, I love this movie. This film represents the human struggle to not only find love, but to loose it, and chase after it. There is beauty in the chase and in it, the film suggests, we find ourselves.

Princess Mononoke (Mononke-hime)
(1007)

Film Notes: Again… I love anime, especially good anime. This film is haunting and transcends the cartoon medium into high art. If all you know of Hayao Miyazaki’s work is Spirited Away or Ponyo (which are not on this list) you must see Princess Mononoke!

The Conversation
(1974)

Film Notes: If you’ve ever thought you were being followed… if you’ve ever thought that gadgets were really against you… don’t watch this movie. It’s a great thriller that makes excellent use of sound. You’ll never think the same about a hotel room again.

Empire of the Sun
(1987)

Film Notes: Based on a true story, Empire of the Sun is not only proof that Batman (I mean) Christian Bale would have made an awesome Vienna Choir Boy… it’s a testament to the power of the human spirit, and I’m not just saying that because it sounds cool. Don’t watch this film with friends you’re not comfortable crying in front of. It will bring you to tears and triumph. You simply have to see it.

For the Nerd Children & Tweens (AKA Category 5)
Harry Potter
(hah, just kidding. I love the series, but it’s not on this list)

Willow
(1988)
Film Notes: I need to watch this movie again. It’s a great story and an example of ILM in it’s early days.


The Iron Giant
(1999)

Film Notes: Before Brad Bird brought you films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille The Iron Giant tells the story of an unusual relationship between a little boy and a giant robot from space.

The Last Unicorn
(1982)

Film Notes: The Last Unicorn is the film equivalent of "comfort food" from my childhood. I'm pretty sure I have most of the film memorized. I preformed a monolog of the butterfly scene in a college acting class. I have a signed copy of the book as well as a signed copy of the newly released hard cover graphic novel. The book inspired me to write my own fantasy series (yet to be published). I've had the privileged of meeting the author, Peter S. Beagle in person. What can I say, it tells a great story and it's one of the few films for kids with a true female lead.

The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T
(1953)

Film Notes: A film by Dr. Seuss… but it’s not a cartoon. I still can’t believe this film came out in 1953, it’s so ahead of its time and yes, the man who plays the part of Dr. T is also the voice of Captain Hook in the film Peter Pan.

The Secret of NIMH
(1982)

Film Notes: This beautifully animated film is a Don Bluth classic that will change the way you look at mice, scientific testing on animals and cinderblocks.

Flight of Navigator
(1986)

Film Notes: If you were lucky enough to be a kid when this movie came out, this is probably one of the bright spots in your past.

Steamboy
(2004)

Film Notes: This is a beautifully told story that can only be told in animation. If you like steampunk, and anime, you have to see this film.

*batteries not included
(1987)

Film Notes: Some tiny spaceships arrive on Earth and help a group of tenants about to be evicted save their homes.

Mac and Me
(1988)

Film Notes: Mac and Me is my alternative for ET (which everyone has seen). It’s a cute film and one I watched over and over when it came out.

The Witches
(1990)

Film Notes: I’ll admit, I didn’t see this film until recently, but it’s adorable and surprisingly scary for a kid’s movie.

The Labyrinth
(1986)

Film Notes: Again, David Bowie appears in this list, but this time he’s better dressed. If you’re raising a young nerd-in-training, you’ll want to have them watch this film, with puppets courtesy of Jim Henson.

The Brave Little Toaster
(1987)

Film Notes: Since I saw this film as a kid, I’ve never looked at an old-fashioned toaster as a mere appliance. If you’ve ever wondered what your gadgets do in their spare time… you should see this film.

Legend
(1985)

Film Notes: Tim Curry is stunning in this film that was, in my opinion, ahead of its time.

Star Dust
(2007)

Film Notes: Seriously, even if you’re tired of the whole fantasy genera, I’m still betting you’ll be taken with how fun and well-done this film is. I was pleasantly surprised and enchanted by it.

The Goonies
(1985)

Film Notes: While I think everyone from my generation has seen this film a zillion times, I’m posting the film here, just in case someone hasn’t yet shown it to their children. Another Steven Speilberg gem.

The Princess Bride
(1987)

Film Notes: Every nerd I’ve ever met can quote this movie backwards and forwards… but as with The Goonies, I’m posting this film here because there may be younglings who haven’t seen this.

Dark Crystal
(1987)

Film Notes: Really, is there anything Jim Henson can’t do? Here’s one of his best works ever. It’s gorgeous, and the characters feel so alive, you’ll wish their world was real.

Hook
(1991)

Film Notes: Yet another amazing Steven Spielberg film. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, just watch it now.

The Golden Compass
(2007)

Film Notes: While this film was supposed to be part of a larger series, I have a feeling they won’t make a sequel… but they should. I love this film. It’s a lot more terrifying and interesting than I would have thought.

MirrorMask
(2005)

Film Notes: This film didn’t get nearly enough credit when it came out but it’s wonderful, surreal and quite a ride.

Titan A.E.
(2000)

Film Notes: If you’ve actually heard of this movie, I’ll be surprised. It’s one of the few Don Bluth films that didn’t get a ton of attention when it came out (remember An American Tail?) This is a great star-studded sci-fi cartoon (with music from The Black Eyed Peas) that kids and adults will like.

Honorable Mention
(AKA it’s not epic, but every nerd should see it once)
The Star Wars Holiday Special
(1978)

Side Notes: There Darth Vader… are you happy? I mentioned a Star Wars friendly film. Now stop it with your dark powers.

Film Notes: Transport yourself, if you will, to 1978. Star Wars had just come out the year before, so what could be better than introducing TV watchers everywhere to a star-studded cast of the film’s favorite characters… with Princess Leia singing? What could go wrong? Well, if you can stomach the show (part one, embedded below), you can decide for yourself whether or not you agree with this sitcom-wookie-terror-Life-Day mashup. Excuse me. I have to go rinse my mouth out with a more tasteful piece of cinema now.

Go Forth and Get Your Geek On
I give you this list so that you may know and understand all things nerd, for no one is simply born a nerd. We are a people, drawn in by the light of technology, science fiction and the possibilities of humanity and the future. We come in every age, gender, hue and kind and we are not simply born nerds… we become nerds.


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Awesome list!

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