Favorite movie/tv scientist? Favorite movie/tv scientist line?

Following up on my post on best movies about scientists, who’s your favorite movie/tv scientist? And what’s your favorite movie/tv scientist line?

My favorite movie scientist is probably “anyone played by Jeff Goldblum”, such as his computer programmer from Independence Day.*

Other favorites of mine: Val Kilmer’s physics student from Real Genius (it helps that he has a ton of great lines). Matt Damon’s botanist/astronaut from The Martian. Paul Bettany’s naturalist from Master and Commander. Mark Rylance’s naturalist from Angels and Insects.

I haven’t seen Contagion, but I suspect that when I do I’ll want to add Kate Winslett’s epidemiologist to the list, because Kate Winslett. Gwenyth Paltrow’s mathematician in Proof was pretty good, but I was fortunate to see her in the play and liked the play better.

Let’s also name our favorite lines from tv and movie scientists. Some obvious choices, starting with the clear #1:

“See, here I am now, by myself, talking to myself. That’s chaos theory.”:

“Back off man, I’m a scientist.”:

“Nothing shocks me–I’m a scientist.” (which, like the previous line, is hilarious because the speaker is manifestly not a scientist):

Egon’s “Twinkie” speech from Ghostbusters:

“I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”:

Hard to choose one from Real Genius, but many of the lines aren’t about science, so I’ll go with “This? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold.” Honorable mention for “Now if we can just keep it from exploding!”:

Sorry, no tv show lines from me. I don’t watch The Big Bang Theory.

Your favorites?

*Good thing that space alien computers are Mac-compatible.๐Ÿ™‚

46 thoughts on “Favorite movie/tv scientist? Favorite movie/tv scientist line?

  1. Great list! For me, the movie one has to be Matt Damonโ€™s Martian, along with his line โ€œIโ€™m gonna have to science the shit out of this.” As for the TV show… Sheldon Cooper wins it. My best line from him: “You know me to be a very smart man. Donโ€™t you think that if I were wrong, Iโ€™d know it?”

    • You’d have been sad if I hadn’t left any good lines for the commenters.๐Ÿ™‚ (just kidding, actually I totally forgot that one. Though if I was just going to pick one line from Indiana Jones, I’d probably still go with the one I picked.)

    • Yeah, I used to watch Bones back when it first started, Temperance Brennan was a good character.

      If I was more motivated, we could’ve had a little tournament bracket of tv and movie scientists…

    • And in seriousness, now I’m wondering which tv/movie scientist inspired the most kids to become actual scientists. How many more paleontologists are there than there otherwise would’ve been thanks to Jurassic Park? How many people work on sharks because Hooper made it look exciting in Jaws? To what extent does Nasa’s ongoing ability to recruit astronauts depend on a steady stream of movies like Apollo 13 and The Martian?

      • I know you don’t really count Indiana Jones, but I think it had something to do with me wanting to be a professor. As a kid I would put on the movies and then pause them at certain points to offer my analysis as if I was giving a lecture as Indiana Jones. And yes, I did have a hat, leather jacket, and whip.

      • https://twitter.com/kjhealy/status/709800488439582720๐Ÿ™‚

        p.s. I’m just giving you a hard time, I actually think it’s great that Indiana Jones inspired you to be a prof. And that you followed through on that after discovering that being a prof is actually nothing like being Indiana Jones. Unless your research program runs *very* differently than I’m imagining!๐Ÿ™‚

        Which raises the question of how many kids are inspired to take up a scientific career by movies or tv, only to get discouraged when they find out that real life isn’t like that. For a while as a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Then I realized that that likely would involve sitting in the desert sun for hours scraping at dirt with a toothbrush. And since growing up and getting to know other paleontologists, I’ve also learned additional reasons why I would’ve disliked it, and sucked at it.

      • I’m pretty sure a huge majority of shark researchers would cite Hooper as an inspiration. Maybe quite a few marine biologists in general.

        I wonder how much of an inspiration Steve Zissou from “The Life Aquatic” has been?

      • “I wonder how much of an inspiration Steve Zissou from โ€œThe Life Aquaticโ€ has been?”

        Yeah, I was kind of wondering the same sort of thing. It’s harder to imagine certain sorts of movie scientists inspiring any kids to follow in their footsteps. I doubt Frankenstein, The Nutty Professor, or Honey I Shrunk the Kids inspired many people to become scientists.

      • Jaws totally influenced my interest in marine biology, but it wasn’t Hooper so much as the shark. I have heard similar from shark science folks๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Paul Bettanyโ€™s character in Master & Commander is my very favorite movie scientist, primarily because he captures the real joy of exploration and discovery in a way that isn’t overly cartoonish. Humanity in scientists is a good thing, and not something that is often captured in the movies.

    Doc Brown in Back to the Future is my favorite stereotyped scientist, probably because his hair is awesome and he has an inexplicably bottomless pool of money for his experiments.

    • Yes, I thought of including Doc Brown–I love Back to the Future–but decided against it. In the context of the movie, he’s great,I can’t see how you could make the movie work with Doc Brown as anything other than an over-the-top stereotype (it would at least be a very different movie). But there’s a limit to how attached I can get to a stereotype, or how impressed I can be with a stereotype.

      If you liked Paul Bettany in Master & Commander, you should seek out Angels and Insects. I’m sure you could find a DVD for a few bucks online. *Very* different movie–for starters, it’s rated R for sex, which is integral to the plot. But it’s very good.

      • The whole scene where they cut open the tiger shark was basically my Master’s thesis work, though the sharks I was working up were much smaller.

  3. 11/3/15: Jeremy chastises Casey for suggesting that Ghostbusters is among the best movies about scientists.
    5/11/16: Jeremy includes no less than TWO Ghostbusters in his list of favorite movie scientists.
    I’m calling this a moral victory.๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ghostbusters has a lot of great *lines*, some of which are science-y. Egon’s Twinkie speech is both a fine example of, and hilarious spoof of, explaining science to non-scientists. But I stand by my contention that Ghostbusters is not a movie “about scientists”.

      Next you’ll be wanting to count Raiders of the Lost Ark and Independence Day as movies “about scientists”. And you know where that leads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmzuRXLzqKk๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Spock (Amok Time): ” After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

    Dr. McCoy (The Tholian Web): “…My being there will not affect the biochemistry of any of the tests…”

  5. An Alien quote seems to be in order.

    Ash (the android): “I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

    Little did I know about all the real-world parasites at the time when I first saw the movie.

    /Lars Gamfeldt

  6. The best by leaps and bounds was Kevin Kline in Sophie’s Choice, but then, turns out it was all in his head.

  7. Good pick w/ Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, but it’s the “Iโ€™m simply saying that life, uhโ€ฆ finds a way” line that does it for me.

    Someone will probably nitpick the accuracy of their depiction of actual scientists, but any love for Walter Bishop? Dexter (from Dexter’s Laboratory)? GLaDOS?

  8. Ellie Arroway from Contact is one of my favorites. A great line is when she is being questioned by the National Security Advisor about why she broadcasted the mathematical message sent from outerspace, “You want to classify prime numbers now?”

    • I’m surprised it took this long for Contact to come up. Never seen it, but as I noted in an old comment thread it seems like scientists tend to like it a lot (more so than the general public likes it, maybe).

    • That may be the thread winner there.๐Ÿ™‚

      Also, the juxtaposition of that line and the “Never argue with the data” line from earlier in the thread is amusing.๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Agree with some previous commenters, Hooper from Jaws is a great character and reinforced my interest in biology, and sharks, though I never got to work on them. His best line is a classic of inductive science:

    “Well, this is not a boat accident! And it wasn’t any propeller; and it wasn’t any coral reef; and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper! It was a shark.”

  10. A week late to this, but my ironic favorite is likely Jeff Goldblum as Alistair Hennessey in the Life Aquatic just because he is the absurd end of the spectrum of the crazy PI. And who wouldn’t want a legit sea lab? Great post. Would counter on the Big Bang Theory, but that’s a show that has never set well with me.

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