It is a corrosive myth—promulgated by journalists and even scientists themselves—that popular media overwhelmingly portray scientists as evil, mad, geeky, or unattractive.

For example, science writer Andrew Pollack wrote in a 1998 article in The New York Times

From Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove, from the grave robbers of yesteryear to the cloners of today, scientists in movies are almost invariably mad, evil, antisocial, clumsy or eccentric. And science and technology themselves are usually seen as forces of destruction rather than of good.

However, this is simply not true, as shown by the lists linked below. This compilation of movies and TV shows demonstrates that scientist-heroes vastly outnumber scientist-villains. And in many cases, the so-called "villains" are not really evil, but only misguided:

In fact, most of the top actors in Hollywood have portrayed scientist-heroes, including Ben Affleck, Jessica Alba, Nicolas Cage, Russell Crowe, Laura Dern, Robert Downey Jr., Harrison Ford, Cary Grant, Anthony Hopkins, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Paxton, Will Smith, Sigourney Weaver... I could go on and on and on.

The movie lists include the filmography in Hollywood Science, by Sidney Perkowitz, but have been considerably expanded and updated. There was no attempt to load the lists in favor of heroes. It was created by collecting as many science-themed and science fiction movies and TV shows as possible and judging whether the scientists and engineers portrayed in them were as heroes or villains. When movies or TV shows feature both scientist heroes and villains, they are included in both lists.

Of course, the lists are by no means complete, and we welcome suggestions, which you can contribute via the contact form.

A closer look at Pollack's article shows how movies have been mis-analyzed to support the mistaken thesis that scientists and engineers are invariably portrayed as villains.

He cites such movies as JurassicPark, Terminator, and E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial as depicting villainous scientists. However, in reality, the scientists in those movies are heroic:

Pollack also cites Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Back to the Future as depicting scientists as absent-minded, clumsy nerds. While these characters are, indeed, played comically, they are nevertheless sympathetic, heroic characters who are by no means absent-minded or clumsy, but brilliant scientists.

In Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, when scientist Wayne Szalinsky (Rick Moranis) finds that his kids and their friends have accidentally shrunk themselves, he launches a search and saves them.

And in the Back to the Future trilogy, scientist Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) drives the plot by inventing a time machine. And in the third installment, he gets the girl, Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen).

So, the next time somebody asserts that scientists and engineers are portrayed negatively in movies and TV shows, you now have the evidence to prove them wrong.

See also: