Dressed to Kill

Bill Gates may be the most successful nerd in history, but Mark Zuckerberg is working overtime to surpass him. Jesse Eisenberg plays the Facebook founder in David Fincher's 'The Social Network,' which opens tomorrow after garnering widespread critical acclaim. Our own Erik Davis says that Eisenberg "turns out a terrific performance as Zuckerberg -- chock-full of awkward lip-biting and short, robotic-like outbursts of imagination."

Is Eisenberg the most convincing nerd in movie history? Dozens, if not hundreds, of good-looking guys and gals have donned glasses and ill-fitting outfits to play nerds on screen. The very best have delved deep into the soul of the nerd, whether they're computer nerds, comic nerds, artistic nerds or just plain nerds. Here are our picks; what are yours?

1. Keith Gordon, 'Dressed to Kill,' 'Christine,' 'Back to School'
Call him the all-star nerd. He played Angie Dickinson's son in Brian DePalma's 'Dressed to Kill,' the high school kid who teams with a hooker (Nancy Allen) to solve his mom's murder. He was brainy to begin with and became bolder and more decisive as the story developed. Three years later, he was a much more withdrawn nerd in John Carpenter's 'Christine'; only the demonic Plymouth Fury is able to unleash his hidden fury. Finally, Gordon gave nerd comedy a whirl in 'Back to School' as Rodney Dangerfield's son, a shy kid who yearns to become his own man. It's a perfect troika of convincing nerd-dom!

2. Robert Carradine, 'Revenge of the Nerds'
At the age of 30, Carradine graduated from playing teenage heart-breakers ('Pom Pom Girls,' 'JoRobert Carradineyride') to embodying college freshman and ultimate nerd Lewis Skolnick. With his horn-rimmed glasses, visible white undershirt, pocket protector and hitched-up slacks, Lewis set the fashion standard for movie nerds for the next decade.

3. Harold Ramis, 'Ghost Busters'
Big hair! Glasses! Goofy grin! Sexy! If Gordon and Carradine cornered the market on high school and college-aged nerd-hood in the 80s, it was Ramis who suggested what nerds would be like when they grew up. And it was good news: they'd be smart guys like Dr. Egon Spengler, who starts a successful business with his friends and becomes rich and famous. (Thanks to Cinematical's Jette Kernion for the pick.)

4. Jon Heder, 'Napoleon Dynamite'
Napoleon is not really smart, but he does possess the secret weapon that all nerds must possess: a great imagination. Jon Heder's body language conveys Napoleon's awkward anguish and his voice is painfully plaintive. In his feature acting debut, Heder had everybody convinced he was an average-looking geeky teenager.

5. Anthony Michael Hall, 'Sixteen Candles'
The scrawny little freak grew up into a tall, broad-shouldered man. At the age of 16, however, Hall personified the horrors of high school as The Geek, the short kid who talked too much and nursed a none-too-secret crush on Samantha (Molly Ringwald). Despite his capacity to annoy, Hall made The Geek likable, to the extent that you rooted for him when he asked Samantha if he could borrow her underpants for 10 minutes.

Corey Haim6. Corey Haim, 'Lucas'
Even if you're only 14 years old and ignored by most of mankind -- and your entire school -- you still have the full range of emotions to contend with. Lucas is ostracized by everyone simply because he is socially and athletically inept. His small, slender appearance doesn't help. He crushes on newcomer Maggie (Kerri Green) and is befriended by jock Cappie (Charlie Sheen) but at heart he's still a nerd and may have to wait years for someone to fully appreciate his superior intellect. To watch the movie now, after Haim's death earlier this year, is heartbreaking.

7. Sissy Spacek, 'Carrie'
In general, boys don't think of girls as nerds -- if a girl is at all inclined toward computers, comics and genre movies, she's a soul mate, not a nerd -- yet it's well-nigh impossible to think of poor Carrie as anything other than a nerd. Consider: she's incredibly shy, socially inept, dresses out of fashion and nurses an unrequited longing for a good-looking boy at school. Of course, she's also the unfortunate offspring of a religious nutcase who's kept her in the dark about her own body and life in general. And there's that whole telekinetic ability thing ...

Honorable Mention: Nicolas Cage, 'Peggy Sue Got Married'
categories Cinematical