Hollywood has had a longtime fixation with depicting the life and times of geniuses in film. And often, these characters aren’t as we’d expect groundbreakers and innovators to be. Whether fictional, like autistic-savant Raymond Babbitt of Rain Man, or drawn from real life, such as schizophrenic math whiz John Nash of A Beautiful Mind, these characters illustrate the proverbial fine line between genius and madness.
To celebrate these brainy heroes, we’ve scoured film history to rank the Top 5 Unlikely Geniuses of Hollywood Film. Drum roll, please…
#5 Raymond “The Rain Man” Babbitt in Rain Man (1987):
At times Raymond’s debilitating autism makes him an infant terrible –- he throws a tantrum, for example, when his daily diet of “People’s Court” is interrupted. But as Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond shows, we all have gifts to share. Raymond’s happens to be an uncanny talent for numbers and memory. In fact, he’s so good at card-counting he beats the stingy odds of the Vegas casinos, doing alone what it took an entire team of card-counting MIT brainiacs to do (read “Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions”). For this Raymond cracks the top 5.
#4 Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther (1964):
The bumbling Inspector Clouseau seems a touch dim-witted and clumsy throughout the Pink Panther series. But the French inspector always stumbles on to the trail of the bad guys. The lesson here could be that persistence pays. So there’s hope even for those who, like Clouseau, haven’t got a clue. Of course, the Pink Panther movies would not have been as successful without Peter Sellers, whose comic timing and delivery are simply masterful. For always getting his man, and getting us to bust a gut, Inspector Clouseau nabs spot #4.
#3 Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future (1985):
With his scientific breakthrough, the “flux capacitator,” and his wild Einstein-like hairdo, Dr. Emmett Brown perfects time travel, allowing his buddy Marty McFly to travel back to the 1950s and right some family wrongs. Not to mention Dr. Brown, A.K.A., Doc, also immortalizes the DeLorean, the defunct gull wing-door sports car of the 80s. For his stick-to-it’ism, unique style and the aforementioned achievements, Doc, played to spastic perfection by Christopher Lloyd, wins 3rd place.
#2 John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001):
Can one live a more or less normal life with full-blown schizophrenia? The real-life story of math genius and Nobel Prize-winner John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, seems to suggest so. Despite having cloak-and-dagger delusions, such as believing he’s a code breaker for the government, Nash manages to winnow the real world from the fictional one created by his psychosis. Now, that’s what we call walking the tightrope between genius and madness! This earns Nash our runner-up spot.
#1 Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump (1994):
Forrest Gump’s genius is definitely hands-on rather than bookish in nature. Despite his low I.Q., the man’s had quite a hand in shaping the latter half of 20th-century American culture, from teaching Elvis how to swivel his legendary hips to uncovering Watergate and rubbing elbows with the likes of Nixon and JFK. Sure, the microphone cutting out during his Vietnam War rally speech proves this movie’s more special effects than substance. But for us, Gump himself remains the ultimate overachiever.
Amadeus in Amadeus (1984):
Bawdy and boorish, actor Tom Hulce’s rendition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart seemed more frat-boy prankster than musical prodigy, and this lies at the very heart of what we’re getting at here — genius comes in all forms, sizes and sensibilities.
Jenny Anderman in The Manhattan Project (1986):
Before achieving “Sex in the City” fame, redhead Cynthia Nixon played Jenny Anderson, a precocious teen who, along with her boyfriend, steals plutonium and assembles an atomic bomb.
David Helfgott in Shine (1996):
Despite a despotic father and mental problems, David Helfgott manages to Shine by conquering Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the Mount Everest of classical pianists.
Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956):
The real Van Gogh bequeathed us a body of cherished artwork, but Kirk Douglas’s portrayal of the man demonstrated the immense price he paid. And that makes this movie Van Gogh worthy of a mention.