Scientists, at least according to the movies, are usually mad, bad and dangerous to know. Less often, they are portrayed as altruistic, self-sacrificing, heroic obsessives. The way that scientists are portrayed on screen reveals much about contemporary anxieties felt by society about science. Scientists may well have cause for complaint about how they have been represented on film. However, they are not alone. The use of stereotypes as a form of creative shorthand is often central to the construction of narrative and character, be it scientists, artists, composers or gun-slingers (to name but a few). Moreover, can the blame be laid entirely at the doors of the film-makers? Indeed, Dr Frankenstein, the most famous ‘mad’ scientist stereotype, is the creation of a nineteenth-century novelist. There can be no doubt, however, that the most powerful and enduring representations of Frankenstein and the creature he creates are drawn not from the pages of books but from the screen. This topic looks at the changing ways that scientists have been represented on screen and how this reflects society’s perception of contemporary science.
Typically the scientist on screen has been an outsider, often an outcast. Whether played by Peter Sellers as Dr Strangelove or by Bela Lugosi, the role has often explored the line between genius and madness. Both share an affinity with obsession. > more
From the post-war era to the present, science fiction films have reflected the concerns of their age. Films of the early 1950s, featuring aliens and mutants, expressed the paranoia of the time and the Cold War. > more
The question of whether the scientist plays God has been a major theme for movies. The punishment for such arrogance has been portrayed as tragedy. The story of Frankenstein’s monster is replayed in Jurassic Park. > more