Engineers past and present have far reaching influences on the world of today. From simple light bulbs to complex iPhones, contemporary society would be unrecognisable without the behind-the-scenes efforts of hardworking technical experts. Engineers in movies are either presented as living in the shadows of their mother’s basement or running headlong into danger hell-bent on saving the day. Today, the latter deserves exploration. In typical ego petting fashion I (as an engineer) have compiled the following list of my favourite colleagues from the silver screen.
10. Geordi LaForge, Star Trek: The Next Generation series and motion pictures (1987 – 2002)
Credentials: Chief Engineer, USS Enterprise-D, Starfleet
LeVar Burton first portrayed Geordi LaForge in the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series, eventually moving to movies with Star Trek: Generations (1994). A likeable and endearing character, Geordi pulls impressive feats of engineering from nowhere whilst also turning his supposed handicap (blindness) into a strength. Despite his relative lack of screen time compared to other characters, the series would never be the same without him. Hats off to you, Geordi.
9. Gilbert Lowe, Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Credentials: Computer Science, Adams College
Gilbert (Anthony Edwards) and his buddy Lewis (Robert Carradine) assured their place in history as quintessential “Nerds” in 1984′s Revenge of the Nerds. Gilbert is the more appealing of the bunch, acting as a point of identification as we travel into the world of the uber-nerd. Gilbert leads his rag tag group of misfits against an ever popular and terrorising groups of “cool kids”, eventually proving their worth and restoring social balance between the athletes, their girlfriends and everyone else. What better way to salute our brightest minds than Revenge of the Nerds?
8. Samantha Carter, Stargate (1997-2008) TV series and television movies
Credentials: Colonel in the United States Air Force, PhD in Theoretical Physics
Giving a nod to a beloved off-the-wall science fiction franchise, Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) is a personal favourite of mine. A character who straddles the line between scientist and engineer, Sam is formally educated as an astrophysicist but goes on to design many of the engineered devices which are instrumental to the remainder of the Stargate franchise. Perhaps most importantly, Samantha Carter represents a respectable, female point of view within a genre that often objectifies women.
7. Lucius Fox, The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)
Credentials: Research Head, Wayne Enterprises
Despite never being specifically labeled as an engineer, it is heavily implied that Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is an instrumental influence on the design and development of Wayne Enterprises’ many technologies. Bruce Wayne never exhibits any true design ability in the films and relies heavily on prototypes looted from the storehouses of his own company with the aid of Fox. Imagine how the films would play out in the absence of Batman’s gadgets… just a guy in a costume.
6. Thomas “Neo” Anderson, The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003)
Credentials: Software Engineer, Meta Cortex
Software engineers are capable of amazing feats of ingenuity. Neo (Keanu Reeves) essentially reverse engineers the Matrix by understanding its wacky design fundamentals and manipulating the laws governing its basic functions. As such, he becomes “The One”, going on to save the entire human race from enslavement by its own robotic creations. Engineers and their hero complexes… sheesh.
5. Kevin Flynn, Tron (1982) and Tron Legacy (2010)
Credentials: PhD Software Engineer, Caltech
Another glamorous software engineer makes the list. Jeff Bridges’ much loved role as Flynn in the Tron films is a dream come true for some. He builds his own digital world and subsequently liberates it from the oppressive grip of tyrants… twice.
4. Kaylee Frye, Firefly (2002) and Serenity (2005)
Credentials: Mechanic, Extensive on the job training, Serenity
As Kaylee, Jewel Staite brings almost child-like innocence and technical know-how to the crew of the Firefly class ship, Serenity. But a lack of formal training doesn’t discount her – Kaylee is an old-fashioned, “learn as you go” type of engineer. First seen in the Firefly series (2002), Kaylee Frye also has the honour of appearing in the movie sequel. Firefly fans continue to wait for the long dormant franchise and ship’s mechanic to make their reappearance.
3. Peter Gibbons, Office Space (1999)
Credentials: Computer Programmer, Initech
Letting go and not giving two squirts of pond water for what goes on is every office workers dream. Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) embodies this dream in the cult classic Office Space. Chances are that if you’ve worked behind a desk you’ve dreamt of knocking down cubical walls, gutting a fish on your TPS reports and telling the powers that be about your inability to care.
2. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Star Trek series and motion pictures (1966 – 2013)
Credentials: Chief Engineer, USS Enterprise, Starfleet
James Doohan’s portrayal of Scotty from Star Trek: The Original Series made the jump to the big screen with adventurous elegance. Scotty provides urgent miracle solutions to engineering challenges aboard the USS Enterprise with a full serving of comic relief. The always recognisable “Beam me up, Scotty” phrase has penetrated pop culture far beyond the realm of science fiction. Simon Pegg picked up the role for the Star Trek (2009) reboot proving once again that engineers are indispensable to the engine room and comic enjoyment.
1. Tony Stark, Iron Man and Marvel’s Avengers Series
Credentials: Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, Master of Science in Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Let’s face it: every engineer wants to be Tony Stark. As Iron Man he has the best gadgets, and by day he’s a super rich business executive/engineer/ladies man. Most engineers lack the business sense, ambition and social skills to achieve a Tony Stark level of accomplishment. He conquers almost every aspect of engineering from electrical and mechanical all the way to nuclear engineering in the name of saving the world.
About the Author
Ernest Buehman is a full-time mechanical engineer and part-time snarky blogger from Cleveland, OH in the USA. He aspires to promote interest and understanding of science, engineering and geek culture through the continued development of his writings. Ernest is a movie buff with a dedication to science fiction books, films and television shows. His geek-centric blog and outlets of nerd rage can be found at themadmechie.wordpress.com.