Professor X using his brainpower-enhancing Cerebro computer
Superheroes stand out. It’s why we love them. Powers such as super strength, extraordinary agility and the ability to fly visibly separate these amazing fictional individuals from the rest of us. There is, however, one power we can’t necessarily see: a brilliant mind.
For some of the following superheroes, their intelligence is the source of all their other super abilities, while for others it’s just an added bonus. But either way, these ten superheroes put their extra smarts to good use.
The brilliant Professor X
Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men movie series would be extraordinary even without his mutant powers. Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart) graduated from high school at just 16 years of age, and he has not one Ph.D. but three – in biophysics, genetics and psychology – from Oxford University. Moreover, on top these impressive achievements, he has the abilities of telepathy, mind control and mind transferral, to name but a few. He really is one of the Marvel universe’s most exceptional super brains.
Just in case he needs backup, Professor X, as he is called, also invents the Cerebro device to enhance his ability to detect other mutants from afar. And despite Professor X being physically restricted owing to disability, his mind can roam to places that most other humans would never be able to reach.
Image: YouTube/Stephen Wunder
Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit, visor up
Designing and creating military weapons might not be everyone’s idea of heroism, but it still takes a pretty high degree of intelligence to be successful at it. Prior to his Iron Man days, billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) – who graduated top of his class from MIT at the age of 17 – has kept his father’s industrial firm ticking over nicely. His true genius comes to the fore, however, when he finds himself a hostage to terrorists.
Stark escapes using only his wits. With the help of a fellow scientist, he utilizes the materials they can get from their captors under the ruse of building them a missile. Not only does Stark come up with his awesome Iron Man suit, but he also builds a powerful arc reactor to charge it. With each successive Iron Man movie, the playboy superhero goes on to work on new and improved versions of his alter ego’s trademark armor.
Bruce Banner in his more cerebral, normal form
The raging monster we know as the Hulk stands in stark contrast to the highly intelligent nanobot and Gamma radiation researcher that is his alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, who holds a position at Berkeley. Of course, if Dr. Banner (played by Eric Bana) hadn’t been such a gifted researcher, then he might not have had the lab accident that leads to the Hulk manifesting itself in the first place in 2003’s Hulk movie.
Nevertheless, the blame also lies with Bruce’s equally smart (if somewhat troubled) father David Banner. It is Banner senior’s work with mutating DNA – specifically his own – that allows Banner junior’s Hulk to be unleashed, perhaps proving that no matter how intelligent you are, tinkering with nature can be a dangerous thing.
Batman swooping down from above
Batman is one of the world’s most popular self-made superheroes. He has no superhuman physical abilities, and it is his practically genius-level intelligence and work ethic that helps him to keep Gotham safe. Princeton graduate Bruce Wayne builds up a lot of his strength by training with the shady League of Shadows. However, it is his customized Batsuit and assorted high-tech gadgets that are essential to his vigilante crime fighting and which show off his ingenuity – although Wayne Enterprises’ Lucius Fox has something of a helping hand in their construction.
For example, in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, the third movie in director Christopher Nolan’s series, we’re told that Wayne (Christian Bale) has no cartilage left in his knee – a pretty debilitating injury, one would think. Yet with the aid of a leg brace and his suit, Batman is able to move like a superhero once more. The laboratory seems to be more important than the gym to this crime fighter.
Image: YouTube/advocatus diaboli
The highly imposing Dr. Manhattan
The giant blue being that is Dr. Manhattan, as seen in 2009’s Watchmen, is barely human enough to qualify for this list, but he did begin life as an ordinary – if highly intelligent – man named Dr. Jon Osterman. Through an accident (naturally), nuclear physicist and Princeton Ph.D. graduate Osterman (played by Billy Crudup) becomes almost omnipotent and able to teleport himself and other people.
As well as this, Dr. Manhattan is gifted with clairvoyance, telekinesis, and the power to experience the past, present and future at the same time. Yet although his mental abilities are heightened beyond belief, the effect of this quantum view of time gives him a deterministic view on life and leaves him lacking in sentiment and unable to see the moral point of fighting crime. Nevertheless, he uses his powers to help out the West during the Cold War and win the Vietnam War for the U.S.
Reed Richards contemplates his extra-elastic arm.
Dr. Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mister Fantastic, is another case of superior brains leading to super abilities by way of an accident. Physicist Richards is aboard a space station testing his theory that cosmic energy jumpstarted evolution when calamity strikes. A cloud of cosmic energy pummels him and his crew, transforming them into super-humans. Richards himself becomes unbelievably supple and stretchy.
Unfortunately, although Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is described as “one of the greatest minds of the 21st century,” this intelligence apparently doesn’t extend to money management. At one point, the exceptional scientist is close to being bankrupt. However, 2005’s Fantastic Four movie brought in considerable cash, grossing over $56 million in its first weekend at the box office despite receiving almost universally poor reviews.
Darkman minus any disguises
Dr. Peyton Westlake, played in 1990 movie adaptation Darkman by Liam Neeson, is dedicated to developing artificial skin for burn patients. What’s more, Westlake’s occupation comes in handy when gangsters blow up his laboratory, leaving him seriously injured. Yet although he is horribly disfigured and left with serious emotional issues, Westlake, now Darkman, continues his research into synthetic skin.
While carrying out his research, Darkman also plots revenge on the gangsters responsible for the lab explosion. Putting his great smarts to use, he’s able to create skin that he uses to disguise himself and bring about the downfall of his enemies. His extreme mood swings, however, don’t appear to have any cure.
The glasses do make Beast look a bit smarter.
Beast’s origin story is explored in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, when he is still a CIA researcher known only by his real name Henry McCoy. The child prodigy, who graduated from Harvard at just 15, already has mutant, ape-like feet. Unhappy with being different, the young scientist formulates what he believes to be a cure for his mutation. Despite McCoy’s brilliance, however, the formula has the opposite of its desired effect and turns him blue and furry instead.
Beast (Nicholas Hoult) eventually seems to come to terms with his difference, though, and at the start of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, he is the government representative for Mutant Affairs. Furthermore, by the movie’s end he has been made the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Peter Parker works on his web-slinging.
As seen in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, nerdy high school student Peter Parker’s scientific prowess doesn’t stop him from being the target of bullies. However, after being bitten by a genetically altered spider, Parker (played by Andrew Garfield) develops superior physical powers and his famous “spider-sense,” which verges on clairvoyance.
After the fateful incident, Parker continues to use his naturally sharp mind. He gives researcher Curt Connors his father’s “decay rate algorithm,” which is missing from Connors’ formula to regenerate limbs. He also assists Connors in his research – a bad move, as it turns out, since it helps create the Lizard. Parker also designs and creates his web-shooting devices, as in this movie version his spider silk is synthetic rather than natural.
Image: YouTube/Christopher Fergo
The original big-screen Man of Steel, as played by Christopher Reeve
The inclusion of Superman on this list may take some by surprise, since the Man of Steel is possibly more associated with superior strength than an amazing brain. However, in the original 1978 blockbuster, we see Superman (Christopher Reeve) gain considerable smarts. Before he begins fighting crime, Superman receives 12 years’ worth of training thanks to his father’s knowledge being transmitted directly into his brain. And considering the fact that his father was a scientist from an advanced civilization, we can assume that this was some education. No wonder Superman is able to outwit even the criminal genius Lex Luthor.