Masters of the Cinematic Nerdverse: Gold Medalists

There’s all sorts of science behind the Nerdverse, as I have come to call it, a periodically evolving ranked list of actors and filmmakers who cross the boundaries between realms of sci-fi / fantasy cinema. Catch up on the context behind this peculiar project.

It’s finally gold medalist time! These five people are the masters of the cinematic Nerdverse, according to two years of research and a consistently applied set of super scientific criteria.  Wanna meet ‘em?


Ian McKellan

138 points, 3 realms, male actors #5

As Nerdverse medalists go, McKellan keeps it tight: he took on only two major roles, but he played each for 15 years. Gandalf is certainly one of the most epic heroes in the Nerdverse, so it feels right that the most perfect Gandalf of all time earns a spot in the top 5 for bringing the wizard to life in six Tolkien films over 13 years: the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit trilogy.  The shadow character he was playing during this same period was, of course, Erik Lehnsherr, better known as the X-Men supervillain, Magneto, whose skin he occupied in five films over 14 years. Although you can’t give all the credit to McKellan of course, the X-Men franchise certainly wouldn’t have become the cultural juggernaut it grew into without his Shakespearean gravitas, and of course, his chemistry with the series’ hero, who we’ll get to in a minute. Interestingly, the two franchises overlapped with one another almost perfectly: Fellowship of the Ring and the first X-Men film came out just one year apart, and The Battle of Five Armies and Days of Future Past came out in exactly the same year.  Guess McKellan’s face wrinkles were just right.  Oh, and McKellen earns a 3rd realm multiplier for a small role in the weird 1994 Alec Baldwin vehicle, The Shadow (Street & Smith), but that’s a whole other conversation we’ll have to have some other time.

Special Recognition: Highest-ranked Middle Earth actor


Samuel L. Jackson

160 points, 4 realms, male actors #4

I learned two interesting new facts about Samuel L. Jackson doing this project: 1) he’s 70! Holy cats, he looks great. 2) Before he was an actor, he was an activist in the civil rights struggle of the late 1960s, and was an usher at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral. So Jackson is an American hero in real life as well as in the movies. He had his first Nerdverse role in 1999, a full 17 years into his Hollywood career, as revered Jedi master and General of the Republic’s armed forces, Mace Windu, in the three Star Wars prequels. That major starring role has since been eclipsed, of course, by his 11+ year run (still going!) as Nick Fury – master spy and Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – in eleven Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Outside of Marvel and Star Wars, Jackson has exclusively played supervillains: The Octopus in The Spirit (DC), Chaney in the Old Boy remake, and Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service.  All that, and he’s the highest grossing actor of all time; his films have grossed over $7 BILLION in the U.S.

Special Recognition:
– Highest-grossing actor of all time ($7.1 billion domestic)


Mark Hamill

164 points, 4 realms, male actors #3

Known most dearly to many of us as Luke Skywalker, underdog Jedi hero of the original Star Wars trilogy and central figure in the two most recent entries in the saga – it may surprise you to learn that Hamill has a whopping 340 IMDB credits, many for voice acting. Though he has voiced many villains in the Marvel realm: Hobgoblin, Gargoyle, Nightmare, and Arnim Zola, it is his portrayal of the Joker in Batman stories (4 animated features and two separate series) over the last 26 years that have solidified his legendary status in the voice acting world. In addition to Star Wars, Marvel, and DC, he also had a small role as Professor James Arnold in Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on the Icon Comics series.

Special Recognition:
– Highest-ranked Star Wars actor
– Highest-ranked voice actor


Chris Evans

189 points, 3 realms, male actors #2

Perhaps more than any other Nerdverse medalist, Chris Evans seems to have really adopted the persona of the hero he plays in movies in his real life. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is an uncompromising stalwart of justice who understands the human cost of facism, has an inherent distrust for institutions and governments, and believes in freedom so deeply that he’s willing to make himself a fugitive in order to fight for what’s right; whereas Evans fights Nazis by quarreling with them on Twitter. So, pretty much the same.
In addition to leading the Avengers in 10 MCU films, Evans was also a member of Marvel Comics’ first family, as Johnny Storm / The Human Torch in two Fantastic Four films. Beyond his extensive Marvel resume, Evans has been in a bunch of movies based on independent comics/graphic novels as well: Snowpiercer (Casterman), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press), and TMNT (IDW Publishing) – as well as The Losers, which was published by Vertigo, a DC imprint.

Special Recognition:
– Highest-ranked Marvel Cinematic Universe actor
– Highest-ranked DC actor


Patrick Stewart

192 points, 3 realms, male actors #1

I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my Dad, so it feels so appropriate to me that the man who played two legendary heroes over the last 30 years–both of which are close to my heart–is the Master of the Nerdverse.

The first, of course, is Jean Luc Picard, Captain of the Starship Enterprise. Stewart led the crew of the Enterprise in their explorations of strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, for 16 years: in 176 episodes of the series and 4 feature films. Next year, Stewart will reprise his role as Jean Luc, in the new CBS series, Picard. So exciting.

Just a couple years before he folded up his red shirt, Stewart had his first appearance as Professor Charles Xavier / Professor X in X-Men. He’d go on to play Professor X in six more movies over the next 17 years. He also did voicework as the antagonist of that big-budget animated TMNT feature back in 2007, which is where he earns that third realm multiplier.

Stewart is also a real-life knight, a celebrated stage actor, and an activist, dedicating himself to speaking out against domestic violence and supporting organizations that help military veterans suffering from PTSD.  He’s got that combo of kindness and gravitas, and bless James McAvoy and Tom Hardy’s hearts for trying, but I don’t think anyone will ever play either role better than Sir Patrick.

Special Recognition:
– Highest-ranked Marvel actor
– Highest-ranked Star Trek actor

And there you have it! Of course, since I began writing this series of posts, a few new Nerdverse-qualifying movies and series have come out and the rankings will shift accordingly. In the heyday of superpower-driven entertainment, it’s clear that a Nerdverse-keeper’s work is never done. So watch for updates periodically – we’ll check back in on who is up and who is down every now and then. Thanks for following along!

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