We’re living in the age of the nerd. Need proof? Well, last week half the world squealed with joy when Apple released a piece of equipment that everyone agrees is kind of stupid. Indeed, not even the realm of the action hero is sacred, and today’s tough guys are as likely to start out as run-of-the-mill nerds as be secret agents. Just look at the stars of some of last year’s biggest flicks: Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) and a wizard with glasses (Harry Potter). And lest you think they’re outliers, check out the company they keep:
Matt (Justin Long), Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Best known as a spokesman in those smug Apple ads, Long had geek cred even before he wielded a mouse as a super-hacker-turned Bruce Willis sidekick in the Die Hard franchise. Long plays your typical tech-nerd until next thing you know he’s helping Bruce Willis blow up everything in sight while experiencing sexual tension with the damsel in distress. Hopefully by Die Hard 5, he won’t need all that Internet porn.
Sam (Shia LaBeouf), Transformers (2007)
Sam’s a straight-up loser. No friends. Nothing remarkable about him except for his creepy obsession with Megan Fox. He doesn’t even have the typical movie nerd strengths of intelligence or an ability to get computers to do unrealistic things. But wouldn’t you know it, there’s more to Sam than meets the eye. Turns out he’s pretty much destined to save the earth from the evil Decepticons. When challenged, this guy can save the world!
Ben (Nicolas Cage), National Treasure (2004)
Of all adventurers, Cage’s historian ranks right up there with the most unlikely. Indiana Jones notwithstanding, the academic set are more rightly associated with tweed than treasure hunting. But Ben, who in addition to being a historian is also an MIT-educated engineer, is totally into defying stereotype! Villains shudder when he shows his impressive resume. Like other tough geeks, Cage can handle his nemesis as he gets both the goods and the girl (Diane Kruger).
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), Spider-Man (2002)
Parker’s such a nerd that he’s fascinated by a museum field trip in a way no high school student of even relative coolness ever could be. As if his square cred were in doubt, he’s bullied by the school meat-head, doubles as a science genius and the girl of his dreams barely knows he exists. Fast-forward one radioactive spider-bite later and Parker is newly muscled and fighting crime. Of course, his inner nerd lives on and he (at least initially) loses Mary Jane to the richer, suaver Harry (James Franco).
Stanley (Hugh Jackman), Swordfish (2001)
It’s hard to believe that Hugh Jackman could be a dork… as long as he keeps the singing and dancing in check. But despite his muscles and Halle Berry’s wandering hands, Jackman’s Stanley is pure computer geek — albeit of the master-criminal variety. Like any good movie hacker, he’s thrust into the middle of global intrigue helping quasi-Government agent John Travolta steal billions. Then Jackman has second thoughts, decides to toughen up and shoots Travolta with a grenade launcher. Now’s that’s evolution!
The Narrator (Edward Norton), Fight Club (1999)
The Narrator seems to define your mild-mannered, can’t-get-a-girl schmuck who works in a dead-end job and hates his life. But wait! Turns out he’s so freaking tough he’ll beat the living hell out of himself — and anyone else — just for the thrill of it. But even that’s not an accurate representation of just how brutal he really is: We later find out he’s not only a fighter, but a criminal mastermind with an alter-ego who’s been thrilling Helena Bonham Carter in the sack for the entire movie.
Neo (Keanu Reeves), The Matrix (1999)
He’s the patron saint of movie-nerds-turned-tough-guys. What geek wouldn’t dream of finding out their droll, suit-and-tie cubicle job is all an illusion, and in fact not only are they tough, they’re practically God? Forget the desk job, because Neo is in fact the messiah, the only One who can save the remnants of humanity from hordes of evil machines. Oh, also, he knows karate, can handle a gun, and can even fly. Pretty rad… even for a nerd.