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Mad Scientists

Jun 21, 2016

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The Mad Scientist is one of the oldest archetypes in Science Fiction Literature.  According to Brian Aldiss, the prolific Science Fiction writer and critic, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly is the first novel which uses Science Fiction elements as a major plot device.  Doctor Frankenstein is the prototypical Mad Scientist.  He is the Inhuman Rationalist who suppresses human affections and emotions in the pursuit of knowledge and ignores the wider moral dimensions and the consequences of his work.  Although Frankenstein is the first novel to use science fiction elements to drive the plot, the quest for knowledge regardless of the consequences is as old as storytelling.  Proteus and the theft of fire from the gods, Daedalus and his wings made of wax and feathers, the Alchemist, and Faust making a deal with the devil for knowledge could all possibly be prototypes of the Mad Scientist.

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The Mad Scientist and his reckless quest for knowledge is a staple of both Horror and Science Fiction.  Mad Scientists dominate the Science Fiction/Horror of Early Cinema.  Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1931), H. G. Wells the Island of Doctor Moreau (Island of Lost Souls 1932), Well’s the Invisible Man (1933) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) all provided screenplay’s for early Science Fiction movies.


Movie Mad Scientists have evolved into a variety of Stock Characters.  There is the Absent Minded Professor who is so obsessed with the pursuit of knowledge that he/she forgets social or domestic responsibilities.  Cary Grant in Monkey Business (1952), Fred McMurray in the Absent Minded Professor (1961), and Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor (1963) are all prime examples of the Absent Minded Professor in Cinema.


Mad Scientists often perform the same role in Science Fiction movies that Van Helsing provides in Horror films.  It is the Absent Minded professor that explains the science behind the movie’s Antagonist and in earlier films it is often the Absent minded professor’s daughter/assistant that provides the love interest as in the movie Them! (1954).

jurassic-park Banner-Ultron

Even today the Mad Scientist is still the major Protagonist/Antagonist in Science Fiction/Action films.  In the Avengers: Age of Ultron  (2015) Tony Stark says to Bruce Banner “We’re mad scientists.  We’re monsters, buddy.  We’ve got to own it.”   In the movie Ant-Man (2015) the main plot is  battle between two mad scientists Dr. Hank Pym the good Mad Scientist and Darren Cross the evil Mad Scientist.  In the movie Jurassic Park the entire central theme is the ethics of genetic research and the morality of putting humans and dinosaurs together.  The most recent film of the Jurassic Park series Jurassic World  (2015) Dr. Henry Wu actually says “We’re not Mad Scientists.” when in actually that is exactly what he is.