It’s October 21, 2015 – the very day on which Marty McFly arrived in the future in Back to the Future II.
To mark this momentous day, let’s honour the man who made it possible – Doctor Emmett Brown.
Though ostensibly a good guy, Doc Brown is proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yes, he somehow found a way to travel both backwards and forwards in time. And when it comes to time travel, not even Doctor Who can match Doc Brown’s sense of style: He harnessed the power of lightning, he pioneered steampunk technology, and he immortalised the DeLorean.
But through meddling with the delicate fabric of time, Doc Brown nearly erased Marty McFly, his only friend, from existence. And through forcing him to confront his future failure and to date his own mother, Doc almost certainly scarred poor Marty for life.
Also, in order to secure the necessary materials for his first time machine, Doc Brown wilfully dealt with Libyan terrorists – single-handedly inciting a terrorist attack on American soil.
As loveable as he is, Doc Brown’s reckless and unscrupulous behaviour certainly qualifies him as a mad scientist.
But is he the greatest movie mad scientist of all time?
Well, he certainly has some competition…
1. Dr. Orlando Watt – Carry On Screaming!
Anybody who watches Carry on Screaming! expecting the usual onslaught of camp bawdiness will not be disappointed. However, if you’ve never seen the Carry On gang’s horror pastiche before, you may be surprised by just how disturbing the whole thing is.
Dr. Orlando Watt – played by a particularly terrifying Kenneth Williams – specialises in transforming people into wax mannequins. Once heard, his gleeful cry of “frying tonight!” may haunt you for ever more.
2. Frank N. Furter – The Rocky Horror Picture Show
An alien genius from the planet Transylvania, Frank N. Furter claims to have discovered “the secret to life itself”. But his creation, Rocky, sparks an epidemic of infidelity and cannibalism. In a jealous rage, Frank uses his “Medusa Transducer” to transform a group of people into dancing statues, quite against their will.
No scientist has ever outclassed Frank N. Furter when it comes to singing, dancing and fashion. But the whole “playing god” thing alone is enough to mark Frank as a mad scientist of note.
3. Victor Frankenstein – Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s story of Dr. Frankenstein has been adapted for the screen dozens of times. From Gene Wilder to Peter Cushing, everyone will have their own favourite onscreen interpretation of “the modern Prometheus”. But as far as we’re concerned, Frankenstein is only ever as memorable as his monster. In which case, our pick would have to be Colin Clive, who played the titular scientist in Universal’s classic 1931 version of the story.
What makes this version so memorable? It’s simple: This was the first film in which Boris Karloff portrayed the monster. In terms of his voice, appearance and behaviour, Karloff’s monster is likely still the image that comes to mind when most people think of Frankenstein.
But the most horrible thing about Frankenstein? The number of people who still refer to the monster as “Frankenstein”, rather than as “Frankenstein’s monster”. Will they ever learn?
4. Dr. No – Dr. No
Finally, no list of movie mad scientists would be complete without a Bond villain, and few Bond villains are quite as inscrutable as the reclusive Dr. No, who Bond faced in his very first onscreen appearance.
Dr. No has robot hands, an elaborate island base, and a dedicated team of henchmen who are willing to die for his cause. And what’s his cause? To interrupt the US space programme … for some reason.
As a member of the criminal organisation SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), Dr. No is the sort of villain who simply wishes to watch the world burn. He doesn’t seem to have a clear motive. He merely wishes to cause as much chaos and destruction as possible – a task to which he is seemingly willing and able to dedicate a significant amount of time, energy, effort, and money.
But the thing that truly sets him apart as a mad scientist is the fact that his island base is guarded by a tractor with an attached flamethrower, which he lovingly refers to as “the dragon of Crab Key”.
Who’s your favourite movie mad scientist?