Photo: Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

15 Action Movie Heroes Who Are Really Just Nerds, Deep Down

Over 80 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 15 Action Movie Heroes Who Are Really Just Nerds, Deep Down
Voting Rules
Vote up the nerdiest action heroes in movies.

What does it mean to be a hero? Some heroes are formed in a lab, while others are thrust into the world with a shield and sword ready to go to battle. That's not the case for the heroes collected here. They'd all rather be at home working on their hobbies, playing on their computers, or just doing nothing than putting their lives on the line for the sake of humanity. But they do it anyway because they don't have a choice.

Deep down, many of our most beloved heroes are straight-up nerds. Guys like Bruce Banner and Peter Parker may have super-strength, but their main superpower has always been their intellect. Nerdy heroes don't have to be theoretical scientists to rate high on the dork spectrum. Heroes like Bucky Barnes and Neo from The Matrix just happen to have some truly nerdy obsessions that would get them stuffed in a locker if they weren't also buzzing with superpowers.

Which of these action-movie heroes is the most nerdy and which one is just going to Comic-Con for free swag? That's up to you to decide.

Photo: Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

  • Neo Is An Introverted Hacker
    Photo: The Matrix / Warner Bros.

    Neo may be "The One." He may look amazing in leather. He may be able to stop bullets with his mind, throw 10 bajillion punches in a matter of seconds, and zap in and out of the Matrix to his post-modern primitive utopia where he can rave all night long. All of that is true, but in his heart of hearts, Neo is nothing but a nerd.

    Before Neo was red-pilled by Morpheus and his gothed-out crew, he was a hacker who used to stay up all night surfing the information superhighway. From what we see of Neo before he was drafted to be "The One," he spent most of his time alone in his dingy apartment on one of his many computers. The only time the audience actually sees him go anywhere other than work is when he's implored to leave his home for a few hours to go to a Rob Zombie-themed rave. This is not someone who's cool.

    Even after Neo is removed from the Matrix, he can't shake his nerdy past. He says things like "I know kung fu," and he gracelessly falls in the middle of a training exercise in front of a group of people who expect him to be the literal savior of humanity. It doesn't get much more nerdy than that.

    65 votes
  • Bruce Banner Is A Shy Physics Nerd
    Photo: Avengers: Age of Ultron / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    If Bruce Banner had never blasted himself with Gamma radiation, he wouldn't be an Avenger. At best, he would be a side character in one of the Iron Man movies where he would spout off some techno babble and smile as Tony Stark verbally noogied him into submission. But that's not how things played out for this shy theoretical physicist.

    Even in his current iteration as a combination of Banner and Hulk, he's more dweeb than defender. He would clearly rather work out the theoretical kinks of time travel than go toe-to-toe with an alien army -  in spite of the fact that he's built to smash, and that he's as close to immortal as an Earth-born Avenger can get.

    Banner's constant push to be a kinder, gentler hero is why he's so great. Charging headfirst into a maelstrom of pain may not be his first choice, but he knows he has a responsibility to the people who aren't as well-equipped.

    63 votes
  • Indiana Jones Is A Bookish History Nerd
    Photo: Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

    Indiana Jones is a super cool, fedora-wearing, whip-slinging, Nazi-slaying tough guy. Dr. Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones Jr.? Not so much. Doctor Jones is a tweed suit-wearing archaeology professor who can brawl with the best of them, but would rather be dusting off an ancient artifact so he can bring it back to the States.

    Jones has learned to fight, shoot, and kick general tail over the course of his career - not because he wants to be a tough guy, but because he has to. If the early-20th-century archaeology world were fully under his control, it would be nothing but exploring ancient ruins and settling in with a cup of tea and a nice book. Jones grudgingly takes up the mantle of a Nazi-whooping adventurer not because he longs for action, but because if he doesn't do it, who will?

    62 votes
  • Peter Parker Is An Awkward High School Student Who Happens To Have Superpowers
    Photo: Spider-Man: Homecoming / Columbia Pictures

    Peter Parker spends his nights patrolling the five burroughs of New York City as Spider-Man, a wisecracking, webslinging superhero, but under his mask he's a big ol' nerd. Long before Parker was your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, he was a science geek who was ostracized by most of his peers at Midtown High School. Even after he was bitten by a radioactive spider and got super jacked, he remained uncool.

    After donning his iconic suit and leaning into his life of fighting crime, Parker remains unable to de-nerd himself. While helping Tony Stark take down a group of rogue Avengers at Leipzig-Halle Airport, Parker geeks out about the Winter Soldier's metal arm and Falcon's flying tech before using the Rebel Alliance's AT-AT takedown strategy from The Empire Strikes Back. That's about as nerdy as you can get.

    In spite of being a huge nerd, Peter Parker remains cool because he's never tried to hide the fact that he's a grade-A dork, and that's why Spider-Man remains compelling.

    61 votes
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    45 VOTES

    Benjamin Franklin Gates Is A History Buff And Conspiracy Theorist

    Benjamin Franklin Gates Is A History Buff And Conspiracy Theorist
    Photo: National Treasure / Buena Vista Pictures

    Treasure hunter, cryptologist, history obsessive - these traits certainly spell adventure, but they don't necessarily make someone a hero. With degrees from MIT and Georgetown, Benjamin Franklin Gates is certainly one of the most qualified protagonists in film history, but it's why he goes about his business and how he handles himself after he succeeds that make him into a real action hero, even if most of his work is done through deciphering 200-year-old codes.

    It's through Gates's knowledge of America's historical artifacts that he's able to ascend from crackpot conspiracy theorist to adventurer on the heels of the Knights Templar treasure. His years of research and bookworming put him in a unique position to find one of the most storied vaults of historical artifacts ever. Once he discovers the mysterious cave of American riches, he doesn't keep it all for himself - he hands it over to the US government so it can be studied and enjoyed for the rest of time. And he only takes a 1% finder's fee.

    45 votes
  • Sherlock Holmes Is A Violin-Loving Bohemian Scientist
    Photo: Sherlock Holmes / Warner Bros.

    How did a weirdo, violion savant/scientist become a bare-knuckle boxer with the abs of a 20-year-old MMA fighter? Sherlock Holmes is nothing if not studious. Through his preternatural knowledge of physics and the psychology of your average henchman, Holmes is able to discern just how to take someone down with maximum efficiency.

    Aside from using his big brain to beat the stuffing out of whatever cockney bruiser gets in his way, Holmes is just straight-up weird. Why else would he agree to take on so many strange cases? Holmes doesn't radiate a need to help people, but he is the kind of person who would throw himself into a mystery just to see if he was smart enough to get to the bottom of it. That's intensely nerdy.

    43 votes