What’s better than graphing calculators, Linux 2.6 and World of Warcraft combined? Watching a persecuted geek turn the tables by kicking ass and taking names. Yes, we at PopSci love underdogs—especially those with megawatt brainpower and unconventional fashion sense. It takes a real hero to buck the system with nothing more than major smarts, which is why the archetypal nerd has become a staple of Hollywood screenwriting.
From Steve Urkel to Lisa Simpson, nerds have proved that neither high-water pants nor an acute interest in quadratic equations will ever stop a determined soul from finding true love, foiling the bully, solving a mystery, or striking it rich. That’s why we’re paying homage to our beleaguered brethren with this gallery of all-time favorite on-screen nerds. We applaud these characters’ ingenuity, moxy and—in the case of the many ’80s movies represented here—seriously nostalgia-inducing technology. So click open the slideshow, and get ready to cheer all over again as your favorite outcasts save the world. —Josh Condon