Geek Impact: An EW Entertainer of the Year, Whedon is one of the key trailblazers for our modern genre-besotted moment, thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But 2012 was the year that Whedon finally achieved a mainstream success — and he did it on his own terms, turning The Avengers into the year’s most fleet-footed and banter-ful blockbuster. It was smarter, funnier, and more thrilling than it had to be; in a word, Whedonesque. All that in the same year that also saw the release of cult favorite Cabin in the Woods (which he co-wrote) and the triumphant Firefly reunion at San Diego Comic-Con 10 years after the show was canceled.
Geek Cred: Whedon had a panel all to himself at this year’s Comic-Con. Nominally focused on his Buffy comic book series, Whedon genially answered questions about all his various projects, offering thoughtful analyses of everything from the fictional history of Black Widow to the decline of American capitalism. —Darren Franich
Geek Impact: The 42-year-old director (and Oscar-nominated writer and producer) closed out his Gotham City trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, a bold, black-clad epic that instantly became a global object of relentless dissection, ferocious debate and delicious parody. To fanboys, Nolan is the Comic-Con equivalent of Stanley Kubrick or Thom Yorke — a frosty, remote Riddler in a world of light-weight Jokers — and the next great debate begins when this cinematic brainiac gets his hands on Metropolis.
Geek Cred: As a youngster, the why-so-serious auteur made his first film with a Captain Action doll handling the leading man role. Nolan still has a playful side — why else would a framed poster of Adam West’s Batman get a spot on his home office’s wall? —Geoff Boucher
Geek Impact: By proving that a female-driven action franchise could be a box office behemoth, The Hunger Games star may have finally paved the way for other wonder women to follow in her footsteps. Plus, hers was the first arrow shot in making archery — once the nerdiest of P.E. pastimes — the hottest sport of the year.
Geek Cred: True, Lawrence may look like a cheerleader, but you only need to watch a couple minutes of her on a late-night talk show to realize that at heart she’s a drama club spaz — in the best way possible. (To wit, to Letterman: ”I get really hyper, so then I go on interviews and I’m like, ‘I’m a Chihuahua! I’m shaking and peeing.’ And then afterwards I’m like, ‘I just talked about peeing on the red carpet.’ It’s just not a situation for a normal person!”). —Adam B. Vary
Glen Mazzara and Robert Kirkman
Geek Impact: Mazzara (inset) became the showrunner of The Walking Dead in the middle of an infamous dry spell, and initiated one of the great recovery efforts in recent TV history. As he explained to EW, that recovery meant ”burning down what came before” — and out of the ashes came Dead‘s wildly successful third season. Meanwhile, Dead overlord Kirkman carried the original comic book series past the century milestone with a 100th issue that introduced a fierce new villain and killed off a fan-favorite character.
Geek Cred: A Twitter newbie when he came onto Dead, the apparently straight-laced Mazzara has revealed himself as a social network oversharer who can spell ”Thorin Oakenshield” correctly without looking. Kirkman, meanwhile, used his ascendant Comic-Con God status to appear on an episode of Robot Chicken this year. —Darren Franich
Kevin Feige, John Lasseter, and Kathleen Kennedy
Geek Impact: The sun never sets on Disney Empire — especially now that its territories stretch from Emeryville to Asgard and from Burbank to Tatooine. For fans of hero tales and spectacle films, this troika of Marvel Studios’ Feige, Lucasfilm’s Kennedy, and Pixar’s Lassiter embodies the powerful Guardians of the Extended Corporate Galaxy. This Big Three had a giant year in 2012 if you add up the mega-success of The Avengers, the announcement of a new Star Wars trilogy, and Pixar’s return to form with Brave and the opening of Carsland as Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif.
Geek Cred: Feige lives and breathes Marvel mythology — ask him about the Korvac saga and he’ll practically re-enact the big death scene. Long before Lassiter pioneered Pixar’s gold-standard success he was braving the dangers in a far less-animated Disney wilderness as a tour guide for Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise. And the newly hired Kennedy is doing a deep-dive into Jedi lore — but even if she can’t pick Bib Fortuna out of a line-up, she’s no tourist to the Comic-Con scene; after all, she was the producer of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds. —Geoff Boucher
Geek Impact: Buoyed by a head-turning revelation about his sexuality and a series of game-changing live performances on talk and awards shows, next-gen R&B singer Ocean followed up his critically adored mixtape nostalgiaULTRA with his major label debut channel ORANGE, EW’s top album of 2012.
Geek Cred: He may never have created a Dungeons & Dragons character, but Ocean gets along with the geeks because he’s a natural outcast: He’s bisexual operating in a hip-hop universe overrun with intolerant alpha-males, and his lyrics read like the sensitive notebook writings of the quiet kid in the library during study hall. —Kyle Anderson
Geek Impact: Fulfilling the dream of many nerdy room-bound writers, MacFarlane stepped out from behind his Family Guy creator’s desk to direct hilariously raunchy hit film Ted and voice its namesake’s foul-mouthed stuffed bear. He also surprised fans this year by hosting September’s season premiere of Saturday Night Live. But MacFarlane launched the ultimate Hollywood coup by beating out bigger names to snag the coveted role of 2013 Oscar host (and be named one of EW’s Entertainers of the Year).
Geek Cred: Despite his wide frat boy grin and unmoving hair, MacFarlane is a total self-deprecatory geek at heart, voicing his nerves recently about talking to a college class, ”They’ll be excited about Family Guy at first, and then they’ll realize this is just a big f—ing nerd.” —Solvej Schou
George R. R. Martin
Geek Impact: The second season of Game of Thrones cemented the show’s place in popular culture, and no episode was more defining than ”Blackwater,” essentially one long battle sequence written by Martin himself.
Geek Cred: Martin maintains an active LiveJournal don’t-call-it-a-blog blog, primarily about his two greatest fascinations — the world of Westeros and the Jets. —Darren Franich
Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis
Geek Impact: Superheroes crowd the cineplexes, and the whole ”vampire” thing is starting to feel a little long in the tooth — and that’s why the creators of the ABC series Once Upon a Time are here representing the surging fairy tale constituency in Hollywood. That bloc includes Grimm on NBC and Beauty and the Beast on The CW and recent films (Alice in Wonderland, Puss in Boots, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror among them) and plenty ahead (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack the Giant Slayer, Maleficent, Oz The Great and Powerful).
Geek Cred: Massive Star Wars fans, the pair made their mark on the Lost writing team, then engineered the story for Tron: Legacy. They still have one foot in The Grid as consulting producers on the animated TV series Tron: Uprising, and will return as producers on the third Tron film that seems to be warming up. —Geoff Boucher
Geek Impact: Though many were skeptical that another Spidey franchise could work so soon after the last one, Garfield managed to put his own tortured stamp on the role of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man and prove that truly skinny guys can be superheroes too.
Geek Cred: Unlike most of his fellow actors who have taken on iconic superhero roles and then played respectful lip-service to their character’s history, Garfield was a bona fide Spider-Man superfan well before he ever thought about playing him. At the 2011 Comic-Con panel for the film, he took to the audience mic in an old-school Spidey costume and read a heartfelt love letter to the character and the fans: ”I needed Spidey in my life when I was a kid. And he gave me hope. In every comic I read, he was living out my and every skinny boy’s fantasy of being stronger, of being free of the body I was born into, and that swinging sensation of flight.” —Adam B. Vary
Geek Impact: The Firefly alum has become the Socratic Ideal of The Leading Man among modern geekdom — which is why he’s the go-to answer to the question, ”Who should play (fill-in-the-superhero-or-videogame-protagonist) in the movie version?” But the impressive thing is how Fillion has managed to achieve mainstream success on Castle without shedding his Comic-Con roots.
Geek Cred: This picture says it all. —Darren Franich
Geek Impact: When it comes to rattling off completely indecipherable science jargon in the same breath as the not-so-subtle, sex-starved need to have her chest rubbed (this past season), no one comes close to Bialik’s Big Bang Theory neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler. She’s more and more the total ying to Jim Parsons’ heady Sheldon yang.
Geek Cred: Who can say they’ve gone from starring as an awkward teen on zippy ’90s sitcom Blossom to completing an actual PhD in neuroscience, with a dissertation on the genetic condition Prader-Willi syndrome? Say what? Bialik is the real-life geek gal package. Besides, she told EW before this year’s Emmys she was hoping to convince ”my stylist not to give me heels too high, because I will trip.” —Solvej Schou
Damon Lindelof and Noomi Rapace
Geek Impact: Prometheus co-writer Lindelof both rallied and pissed off fans of Ridley Scott’s newest Alien installment, but the movie’s blood-splattered, half naked star Rapace gained definite buzz as archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw when she ripped out an alien baby from her gut with robotic help, cementing her sci-fi woman-gone-rogue warrior status…forever.
Geek Cred: Geek alert! Lost co-creator Lindelof is himself an outspoken admirer of all things sci-fi, fantasy and horror, gleefully appearing this year on The Walking Dead‘s zombie loving chatty post-show The Talking Dead. Time and various roles may tread on, but Rapace will always be loved and feared the world over for her role as the original Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. —Solvej Schou
Geek Impact: It took nine long years, contending with the scourge of bankruptcy lawyers and government bureaucracies, but Jackson finally brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved first literary foray into Middle Earth to movie theaters. Even better, with his regular in-depth video diaries from the set of The Hobbit, Jackson further burnished his reputation as one of the most fan-friendly filmmakers working today.
Geek Cred: Only a true Tolkien fanatic would decide to make not one, not two, but three movies out of a single book — and reach into arcane Tolkien addenda to make it work. —Adam B. Vary
Eric Kripke and J.J. Abrams
Geek Impact: Abrams spent much of 2012 getting the USS Enterprise ready for deep space and (as we learned in the splashy new trailer) the deep blue sea, too, but he still carved out time to make sure the Revolution was televised. That’s Revolution, as in the NBC series that could be the next Lost or perhaps just the latest Alacatraz. Supernatural creator Kripke came up with the concept of a future where electricity has disappeared and humanity’s staggering through dark caves of treachery and fear.
Geek Cred: If you watch 2009’s Star Trek carefully, you’ll see that Abrams’ film has a little R2-D2 floating amid Starfleet wreckage — or, if that’s too challenging, just recast his keyboard solo in the music video for ”Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions.” Kripke on his view of Revolution: ”I came to this as, ‘I want to do Lord of the Rings on the American highway.”’ —Geoff Boucher
Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein
Geek Impact: After building a loyal following for the IFC series Portlandia with its first season, writer-producer-stars Armisen and Brownstein saw their ode to geeky liberal hipsterism explode into a full-on cult hit in season 2. Guest stars included Armisen’s fellow SNL castmates Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig, Battlestar Galactica‘s Edward James Olmos, James Callis, and exec producer Ronald D. Moore, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, indie film darling Miranda July, and gold medal Olympic diver Greg Louganis.
Geek Cred: They both got their showbiz start in music, not comedy, Brownstein as a member of the riot grrrl group Sleater-Kinney, and Armisen as a drummer for various bands and, naturally, Blue Man Group. —Adam B. Vary
Geek Impact: As the frontman for fun., Ruess presided over huge singles ”We Are Young” and ”Some Nights” from his band’s breakthrough album Some Nights. Thanks to exposure on Glee and a Super Bowl commercial, ”We Are Young” spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, making fun. the first rock band to hit that spot since Coldplay did it way back in 2008.
Geek Cred: Ruess is an old-school pop music obsessive, the kind of guy who has deep thoughts about everything from Queen to Counting Crows. Plus, anybody who presides over a music video that prominently features war re-enactors has a geek streak a mile wide. —Kyle Anderson
Geek Impact: This filmmaker was a black-clad blur for much of 2012 as the director of two films — Dark Shadows opened in May, Frankenweenie in October — and the producer of a third with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which roams the same neighborhood (the 19th century) as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln but tonally these Abes live at very different Gettysburg Addresses. With Dark Shadows, meanwhile, Burton sought to celebrate and lampoon the namesake soap opera (1966-71) that he loved at the time, presumably with less irony. There was a full-circle feel, too, with the stop-action Frankenweenie, Burton’s remake of his 1984 directorial debut, the sly but sweet tale of a boy genius and his undead dog, Sparky. Burton also directed a music video for the Killers, started planning Disney’s Alice in Wonderland musical for Broadway, and watched as the Museum of Modern Art’s record-breaking exhibit on his artwork reached Asia and expanded to 650 pieces.
Geek Cred: Geeks love to collect the artifacts of pop culture past so they fill their homes with comic books, circus posters, subversive child literature, classic-rock vinyl, toys, and models. But an apex geek like Burton? He finds mythology and muse in vintage Mars Attacks! trading cards and the oeuvre Ed Wood so instead of filling shelves and closets he fills the movie screen with beautiful monsters and monstrous beauties. —Geoff Boucher
Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis
Geek Impact: Ambitious and starring a glut of A-list talent, from Tom Hanks to Halle Berry, Lana and Andy Wachowski’s epic film adaptation of Cloud Atlas, co-directed by Tykwer, spanned six storylines and 500 years. The film didn’t explode at the box office, but it showed just how beautiful sci-fi films can still be. Plus, Lana Wachowski, previously Larry, fearlessly made her first public appearances this year as a woman, sporting hot pink hair rivaling Franka Potente’s scarlet mane in the Tykwer-directed Run Lola Run.
Geek Cred: The Wachowskis have endless built-in cred as the sibling directors of The Matrix trilogy. Plus, just the fact that Lana Wachowski modestly referred to Atlas as an ”experimental” film at September’s Toronto International Film Festival world premiere shows that their mega franchise clout hasn’t dulled their geek-tuned artistry. —Solvej Schou
Neil Patrick Harris
Geek Impact: This year, NPH continued to expand his reputation as the preeminent 21st century jack-of-all-trades, if only for starring in an eighth season of How I Met Your Mother and hosting the Tony Awards for a third time. Oh, but that’s just the tip of the geeky iceberg. After seeing magicians Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimaraes perform at the Magic Castle — where Harris is the president of the board of directors — he championed expanding their act magic show Nothing to Hide and bringing it to the Geffen Playhouse under his direction. He also teamed up with Nerdist and the Jim Henson Company for his hilariously ribald web series Neil’s Puppet Dreams. And for the food geeks out there, he started a food porn Twitter feed that’s amassed over 75,000 followers.
Geek Cred: The guy has a puppet workshop in his garage. ‘Nuff said. —Adam B. Vary
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Geek Impact: The Seattle MC/producer combo’s self-produced, self-distributed album The Heist made its way to the top of the iTunes chart and scored a number two debut on Billboard despite very little mainstream exposure. The secret? The earwormy single ”Thrift Shop,” with its oft-quoted chorus (”This is f—ing awesome!”) and viral-friendly video.
Geek Cred: The Heist is overloaded with the kind of widescreen fetishization that requires a geek mind: On ”Castle,” he brags about his unicorns, shouts out to wizard robes, and compares sex to crossing into Narnia; ”Wing$” is a surprisingly melancholy confession about growing up a sneaker obsessive. —Kyle Anderson
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rian Johnson
Geek Impact: Gordon-Levitt certainly made an impression with his performances in The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln, and his filmmaking collective hitRECord continues to chug along nicely. But it was his collaboration with filmmaker and longtime friend Rian Johnson (Brick, AMC’s Breaking Bad) — on the mind-bendy time-traveling sci-fi thriller Looper — that landed him on this list.
Geek Cred: They both are constantly documenting their lives, Gordon-Levitt with a series of video cameras and Johnson with an old school Leica M6 film still camera — which he used for a series of stunning photos from the Looper set. —Adam B. Vary
Geek Impact: When she was 21, the beautiful Kiev native earned eternal Comic-Con stature with The Fifth Element but has also earned a survivor aura with the curiously popular, videogame-spawned Resident Evil franchise, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year with a fifth installment, Resident Evil: Retribution, and a sixth currently ramping up.
Geek Cred: The Alice character makes Jovovich the Sigourney Weaver of the Xbox era — but her love of videogames, throwing stars, and Twitter make her geek elite. Jovovich has said she made her L.A. home kid-safe after the 2007 arrival of her first baby (with Resident Evil director husband Paul W.S. Anderson) by re-hanging her ninja weapons higher on the walls. —Geoff Boucher
David S. Goyer
Geek Impact: The dynamic duo of Christopher Nolan and Goyer shared the ”story by” credit for their third Bat-film with this year’s The Dark Knight Rises and next up is Man of Steel, which got off the ground thanks to Goyer’s reboot concept for Superman. Goyer’s biggest career success in 2012, however, was as the returning franchise writer for Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the shooter-game sequel that hit shelves in November and, in just 24 hours, reached $500 million in sales. Goyer is also the creator of the just-arrived Starz series Da Vinci’s Demons (think of a Sherlock-level prickly genius dropped into a sexed-up Assassin’s Creed).
Geek Cred: Goyer wrote 1998’s Blade, the first silver-screen success for a Marvel character and he also wrote the controversial DC Comics issue in 2011 in which Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship. —Geoff Boucher
Geek Impact: Chronicle managed to put a new spin on the superhero story and on the found-footage genre — not bad for a first-time director. Trank’s next assignment: Rescue the Fantastic Four from the morass of Rise of the Silver Surfer with a 2015 reboot.
Geek Cred: An avowed gamer, Trank has noted the influence of videogame aesthetics on Chronicle — most notably, how the floating camera resembles a third-person adventure game — and has been attached to a possible adaptation of Shadow of the Colossus, news which puts him very close to our hearts indeed. —Darren Franich