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The Most Overqualified Actors Who Became Nerd Franchise Icons

December 14, 2020 2.2k votes 280 voters 11.4k views12 items

List RulesVote up the classically trained actors who turned into the best, nerdiest icons.

To create a memorable sci-fi summer blockbuster, you're going to need a strong hero, a lovable sidekick, slick special effects... and a collection of Shakespearean trained actors. That last one is especially crucial, as it seems the most elite actors in the world, the real high-class upper-crust types, have all delivered career-defining roles in popcorn flicks based on comic books.

It's not a rare occurrence to have movies featuring famous actors who started in theater. The phenomenon is so pervasive in these nerd franchises that it must be in the curriculum over at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Step 1: Spend years honing your craft on stages in the West End learning to master the ability to deliver emotionally gripping performances in service of the arts. Step 2: Disney will pay you $10 million to use those skills to play a villain with a British accent.

To be clear, these actors do a great job in these roles. It's just that, with all their prestigious training to perform on stage, one has to wonder if they ever imagined they'd be posing with a cosplayer at a convention hall.

Vote up the most overqualified actors who have brought pop-culture characters gloriously to life.

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  • Photo: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone / Warner Bros. Pictures

    The Guardian described Alan Rickman as being part of a generation that "honed its craft in regional and fringe theater before finding fame in film and television." He was a great student at London's Latymer School, as well as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in its golden period of the 1980s. He was a master of the stage by all accounts, and he took these talents to find widespread fame starring in genre films in America. 

    Alan Rickman masterfully played villains, as American audiences first saw in Die Hard. He then became even more famous for the next generation as Snape in the Harry Potter franchise. Watching those movies, it's easy to see that Rickman is an Actor with a capital A, as he gives his all to both performances. He may have been a bit overqualified for these roles, but no other actor could have performed them half as well.

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  • Photo: X-Men / 20th Century Fox

    Before breaking into Hollywood, Ian McKellen had a long and illustrious career acting in the Royal Shakespeare Company in London's West End. McKellen's career began at the Bolton School, where his love for theater was kindled. He then studied at the University of Cambridge and, upon graduation, began his career on the West End. He was such a prolific actor that he was knighted in 1991 for his achievements on stage. 

    McKellen would then go on to receive the American version of a knighting, which is to star in one of Hollywood's tentpole franchises. McKellen used his years of training from the theater to bring to life both Magneto and Gandalf. 

    Even in big-budget comic book flicks, McKellen is a true artist working for the right reasons. McKellen was drawn to X-Men instead of other superhero franchises because it's "actually about something." The civil rights parallels between the mutants and McKellen's own struggles in the LGBTQ+ community were enough of a driving factor for him to decide to bring his incredible skill set to the screen.

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  • Photo: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones / 20th Century Fox

    Christopher Lee was one of the most memorable genre movie villains of all time. His roles as Dracula, Saruman, and Count Dooku have forever cemented his place in cinema history. 

    Before his Hollywood stardom, Lee joined the Royal Air Force during WWII, where he served as an intelligence officer. He would later join the Rank Organization, where he trained as an actor. He was a little on the tall side for an actor, which led him to his villainous roles. That's despite the fact that his skill set lent itself to, of all things, opera: "It was a great dream of mine, but I never became a singer. And I greatly regret it, because I was given this gift."

    While he gained some notoriety playing figures of horror (including Dracula) in films starting in the 1950s, Lee achieved lasting fame much later in life, starring in two of the all-time-great nerd franchises - Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings

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  • Photo: Star Wars / 20th Century Fox

    Old Ben in Star Wars: A New Hope was a wise, elderly war veteran who had lived a long life of adventure. Alec Guinness was the perfect choice to bring that character to life, because he was an old war veteran who had lived a life of adventure. 

    Guinness began acting at 20 years old. He starred in various Shakespeare productions around London until WWII began, when he enlisted. He wasn't just in the military, either; he was given a command over other soldiers.

    When he left the service, he went back to acting. He eventually made his way to the screen, and won an Oscar for his performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai, and got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. As anyone can clearly see, he had lived a full life long before Star Wars, and when the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi eventually came to his doorstep, he wasn't sure if it was right for him. He wrote to a friend saying he was offered a role that was "science fiction, which gave [him] pause" and he went on to call the film "fairy-tale rubbish."

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