Being a nerd used to be a real struggle for many people. The stereotypes about nerds were always the same: they're socially awkward, weird, and don't have many friends. Pretty much, if you played Dungeons & Dragons or were a Star Trek or Star Wars fan, you were a social outcast all throughout high school. In the last 10 years, however, the 'nerd' trope has taken on a whole new significance, and one that juxtaposes entirely with the original sense of the word. Put simply, nerds are cool now.
As “nerd” or “geeky” people have come to rule the world (look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Larry Page), celebrities have gleefully embraced their nerdy sides and so too have everyday people. Former closet nerds can now hold their head high and embrace their love for comics without the same ridicule that might have plagued them in the past.
It seems that everyone plays video games now, and there's no stigma in appreciating the complex structures of HTML coding. Almost all of the most successful movies in recent history have stemmed from comic book superheroes. The times are a-changin', and a liberating revolution has sprouted in the world of nerds. The following are ten celebrities who have either banked their careers on their nerdiness, or aren’t afraid of flaunting it.
10 Chris Hardwick - $10 million
Chris Hardwick is no stranger to nerd culture. The American comedian, podcaster, and television host has recently surged from being a relatively unknown actor, to becoming one of the premiere advocates of nerds everywhere. After acting in a number of roles, Hardwick found his calling in television hosting, first with the BBC America Britcom block, Ministry of Laughs, and then as the host of Talking Dead, a show following the popular AMC show, The Walking Dead.
Hardwick also hosted Talking Bad, a live talk-show following AMC’s popular show Breaking Bad, and began hosting the popular game show @midnight, following Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. He is the CEO of Nerdist Industries, which is the digital division of Legendary Entertainment (the company responsible for many of our favorite modern superhero movies). Hardwick also runs Nerdist Theater, an entertainment space that he calls his “nerd media empire.”
9 Simon Pegg - $10 million
Brilliant English screenwriter, actor, and film producer Simon Pegg is best known for co-writing and starring in the 'Three Flavours Cornetto' trilogy of films. These British romps were Shaun of the Dead, a satire on zombie films, Hot Fuzz, satirizing cult action flicks, and The World’s End, a satire of apocalyptic movies.
Pegg would go on to star in the Mission: Impossible series, and in the Star Trek reboots, helping him secure his transition from British funnyman to Hollywood hotshot. His book, “Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid”, was a New York Times Bestseller, and he is a self-described geek, saying that, “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection... Being a geek is extremely liberating.”
8 Rosario Dawson - $16 million
American actress Rosario Dawson is best known for starring in some “nerdy” comedy favourites such as Kids, Clerks II, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and others. Her big break came when she starred in the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel Sin City.
From there, Dawson (who is a huge comic book fan) started her own comic book miniseries, Occult Crimes Taskforce. As the producer of Comic Book Club, Alexander Zalben says “There’s an ongoing prejudice that girls don’t read comics and pretty girls definitely don’t, but Rosario is a big geek.” Good on ya, Miss Dawson.
7 James Franco - $20 million
It shouldn’t be all that surprising that James Franco has a quirky, nerdy side to him - after all, he's part of the original Freaks and Geeks crew along with buddies Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. The Academy Award-nominated actor majored in English at UCLA, has produced theatrical shows, has taught film classes as a Ph.D student, is a prolific writer, and has published several well-written opinion articles and short stories in various publications.
Franco had a “nerd-off” with Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert, where Franco tested Colbert’s knowledge of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. And when asked to compare his real life to the show that got him started, Freaks and Geeks, Franco responded, “Very geek. I’m a nerd who reads all day.” He even wrote an opinion piece for VICE magazine titled, “Are You a Nerd?”
6 Kevin Smith - $25 million
Screenwriter, director, actor, and comedian Kevin Smith is one of the top-tier nerds of our generation. He came to prominence with the low-budget comedy Clerks, which includes multiple pseudo-philosophical dialogues about Star Wars, and has since become the premiere director of geeky-flicks worldwide.
He is a popular comic book writer and owns his own comic shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. He co-hosts several weekly podcasts, and is the host of AMC’s Comic Book Men, a reality TV show set inside his comic book shop. In movies, he is best known for his role as Silent Bob. You'd be hard-pressed to find a nerdier and more comfortable-in-his-skin celebrity.
5 Nicolas Cage - $25 million
Superstar actor Nic Cage may be more famous for his variety of films (from the truly great to the painfully awful), but he is also quite the nerd. Cage is a well known superfan of Superman, going so far as to name his son Kal-El - Superman’s birth name.
He starred in 2007's Ghost Rider and 2010's Kickass. As Alexander Zalben of Comic Book Club reminds us, “Cage is one of those guys who always said, 'I want to be in a comic book movie.’”
Cage's copy of Action Comics #1 (first Superman comic) holds the record as the most expensive comic book ever sold, and he’s sold over $4 million worth of comics. His real name is Nicolas Coppola, but his stage name (Cage) comes from Marvel’s Luke Cage AKA Power Man.
4 Mila Kunis - $30 million
Once named the world’s sexiest woman, Mila Kunis first came to prominence playing Jackie Burkhart on That 70s Show, and became best known for starring alongside Natalie Portman (another self-acclaimed geek) in Black Swan. She is also a well-known, self-confessed World of Warcraft fanatic.
She played under the handle Captainpicard, an homage to Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard, and spent hundreds of hours on the game, creating a guild and participating in raids. She’s also an avid player of the hit board game Settlers of Catan.
3 Stephen Colbert - $45 million
TV host and political satirist Stephen Colbert is obviously best known for being the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. His work as a correspondent on The Daily Show - under the tutelage of Jon Stewart - first introduced him to a wide audience. Besides being a well-documented comedy nerd, Colbert apparently knows JRR Tolkien’s world, Middle-Earth, inside and out.
When The Hobbit trilogy was announced, Colbert turned his entire show into a week-long Middle-Earth themed program. He also speaks some of the Orcish and Elvish languages that Tolkien created.
2 Vin Diesel - $75 million
Action-star heavyweight Vin Diesel first gained prominence for appearing in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Since then, he’s starred in The Fast and the Furious film series, and in The Chronicles of Riddick trilogy, besides others.
What may be surprising, however, is that the manliest of men Vin Diesel has been an avid Dungeons & Dragons gamer for over 20 years. He even wrote the foreword for the commemorative book “30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons.” He has convinced co-stars to play the game, including Judi Dench, and he even had a fake tattoo of his character’s name, Melkor, on his stomach while filming xXx.
1 Robin Williams - Most Honorable Mention
The eternally funny, gifted, and extravagant actor Robin Williams will always have a place in many people’s hearts. Whether he was playing a dramatic role as Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, a masterful ad-lib voiceover as the Genie in Aladdin, or a hilarious crossdresser Mrs. Doubtfire, it is hard not to love the late, great Robin Williams.
At the height of his career, Williams was obsessed with video games. He claimed to have been involved in games since the early Nintendo days, and even named his daughter Zelda, after The Legend of Zelda series.
He was a big fan of D&D, collected comic books, played Call of Duty, was a huge anime fan, and he collected Warhammer figurines. Practically anything Williams touched, nerdy or not, became cool. For that reason, and for his masterful comedic and dramatic presence, we are forever grateful.