Film and TV audiences love mad scientists. But, what do we mean by ‘mad scientists’? Typically, these characters don’t accept the present limitations of technology and scientific theory. They want to pioneer new scientific breakthroughs – and, if that means strapping their dog into a Delorean and sending him ten minutes into the future, then so-be-it.
They might be accidentally inventing a way of shrinking their kids or using gamma rays to develop serious anger management issues, either way, mad scientists have long captured the imaginations of the public.
We admire their refusal to abide by the rules. The stereotypical ‘mad scientists’ are prepared to do things that may seem inexplicable to outsiders – but it’s never without purpose. It’s always a way to test a hypothesis.
On our social media channels – we asked you to tell us your favourite movie scientists. We received a wonderfully wide range of answers. There was much respect for Miles Dyson (of Terminator 2: Judgement Day fame) as a man who learned from his mistakes (creating Skynet and accidentally destroying the world) then gave everything to set things right. At the other end of the seriousness spectrum there was a lot of affection for Prof. Julius Kelp, better known as The Nutty Professor.
In-between, you told us of your admiration for the stately dignity of Peter Cushing in a range of scientific roles – from Baron Frankenstein to Doctor Who. There was even a compelling case made for Dr. Henry Jones – better known as Indiana!
With all of these scientists – mad, bad or just dangerous to know, we admire their refusal to abide by the rules. The stereotypical ‘mad scientist’ is prepared to do things that may seem inexplicable to outsiders – but it’s never without purpose. It’s always a way to test a hypothesis.
Synthesising a vast knowledge of their scientific discipline, with an eccentric personality and a childish enthusiasm has paved the way for many a mad scientist in Hollywood.
Our Favourite Mad Scientists
So, here they are, then, the mad scientists you told us have made the greatest impression on you over the years:
SETH BRUNDLE, DR. IAN MALCOLM & DAVID LEVINSON
You might not recall any of these characters by name, but you’ll recognise them all on sight. Jeff Goldblum radiates charm and calm in any scientific role he takes (it’s worth mentioning that he also played Dr. Sidney Zweibel in the forgotten classic Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension).
Whilst being more eccentric in his mannerisms than most other undeniably mad scientists, Jeff’s roles have gone through something of a character arc. He began as the overreaching of Seth Brundle, who accidentally spliced his DNA with a fly to become a monster of whom Geena Davis was afraid, very afraid.
He then evolved into Ian Malcolm, the mathematician and exponent of chaos theory, who pessimistically predicts everything in Jurassic Park will go horribly wrong then (almost) resists the temptation to say ‘I told you so’ when the T-Rex is chomping on the lawyer.
Jeff then levelled-up to become the actual hero (however unlikely) when the aliens invaded on Independence Day. In an age when it was virtually impossible to get a PC and Mac to talk to each other, he managed to hack into an alien computer and save the world.
When there’s darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together and mass hysteria – who you gonna call? Parapsychologists Venkman, Stantz and Spengler, that’s who!
With Spengler’s technology, Stantz’s research skills and Venkman’s charisma – there was no way their little start-up business based in a disused fire station wasn’t going to bring new life to the afterlife business.
Often imitated, never bettered, these three guys really were here to save the world from demons, the walking dead and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Pro tip: When someone asks if you are a god, you say yes!
What could be freakier than a scientist who stitches the head of one dead person onto the body of another dead person, then whacks 50,000 volts through ‘em to bring ‘em back to life?
Since the story was first told in 1818, many have put a new spin on the tale of Victor Frankenstein, but just who exactly was he?
Created by author Mary Shelley – when she was a mere 18-years-old – Frankenstein is a young scientist whose mission is to cheat death by assembling body parts and re-animating them. The resulting ‘person’ is 8-feet tall, super-strong and is called ‘The Creature’ in the original novel – although he soon became more commonly known as “Frankenstein’s Monster”.
Far from being grateful for his new lease of life, The Creature’s mood soon turns sour and he seeks revenge against his creator, endangering the life of Victor and his family.
A hapless inventor, Wayne Szalinski assumes his latest creation – the shrink ray – is a failure and so throws it in the rubbish. Unbeknown to him, he throws his children out as well, since they’d snuck into his lab and inadvertently fired the machine off, miniaturising themselves.
The film then follows the kids through their garden safari as they head back to the house with everything nature has to throw at them, providing classic Hollywood entertainment along the way.
Of all the mad scientists, Szalinski is probably the one you feel most sorry for, given he also shrunk the neighbours kids and has to answer to their parents, and the police too, who come knocking after the report of missing children.
But the danger of being imprisoned by ‘the man’ is nothing compared to his having to explain to his wife “Honey, I shrunk the kids”.
Leaving behind the stitching of heads onto bodies and the building of gull-wing time machines for just a minute, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew brings the world of mad science down to a more believable level.
If you’ve never heard of Dr. Honeydew, perhaps I should mention his sidekick, Beaker – and we think you will instantly recognise him as the scientist from The Muppets.
Dr. Honeydew is green and scarily has no eyes, which makes his talents all the more significant since he also wears glasses.
His concoctions included the ‘electronic pet converter’ which turned cats into dogs, and the banana sharpener, among many others. We’re still expecting to see that appear on the supermarket shelves any day now.
What happens when you combine a nuclear scientist with extreme levels of gamma radiation? The Hulk happens!
Dr. Banner is probably the scariest of all the mad scientists, given that his experiment resulted in him unleashing hidden strength and aggression in himself. It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on steroids.
Unlike many of the superheroes who can fly or cast spells, Banner has a power which he doesn’t want – the ability to get really big and green and angry.
Of all our mad scientists, Dr. Banner’s inner demonic creation would be the most terrifying in real life.
So, don’t think of being a ‘mad scientist’ as a bad thing. Think of these characters as pioneering. Think of them as fearlessly inventive. And, in some cases, don’t make them angry.
Do you agree with our ranking of your favourite mad scientists? Who do you think is the greatest movie scientist of all time? Come and find us on social media (itself a product of some seriously mad scientists) and let us know …
Doc Brown, Ghostbusters, Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, mad scientists, movies, Venkman, Victor Frankenstein,
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