Let’s face it: Some people are simply smarter than others. Either that or they have flashy degrees to make themselves feel like big shots! Either way, here’s a list of some of the best, brightest, sometimes freakiest Professors in TV and film. To avoid excess bias, these are arranged by year, not by quality ranking.
1. The Professor from ‘Gilligan’s Island’ (1964–1992)
One of the most beloved sitcoms ever, “Gilligan’s Island” presented a microcosm of society shipwrecked on a deserted isle. It sometimes seems like the Professor (Russell Johnson) is a lesser character, outshone story-wise by the goofy Gilligan (Bob Denver), the stern Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.), the sexy Ginger (Tina Louise) and the greedy Howells (Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer). However, Professor Roy Hinkley, Ph.D. is at least as crucial as Mary Ann (Dawn Wells), and he quite often puts his scientific mind to the test.
A rationalist, the Professor applies his vast knowledge to island-based conundrums, and often seems to be the most level-headed character. Sure, it may be a scientific stereotype, but deep down we all know Professors wish to be regarded as geniuses. Getting an advanced degree is hardly a sign of modesty, right? Most of his inventions involve coconuts and bamboo, which means he is very resourceful. Unfortunately, when it comes to building boats to escape the island, he doesn’t have the skills to pay the bills! While not the most beloved character, The Professor nonetheless tones down Gilligan’s Island’s wacky dynamics, semi-grounding it in reality.
2. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein from ‘Young Frankenstein’ (1974)
Portrayed by Gene Wilder, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronkonsteen”) is initially hesitant to re-animate the dead. However, he ultimately decides to do it anyway (because that’s the movie), and a certain degree of hilarity ensues. While the Professor is interesting in his own way, what’s especially rewarding is how he interacts with the other characters. The chemistry between himself and The Monster (Peter Boyle) almost seems palpable, and his crazed-man-meets-straight-man personality mesh bizarrely with characters like Igor (Marty Feldman) and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman). Although Mel Brooks barely appears in “Young Frankenstein,” it is still undeniably a Mel Brooks picture, and Dr. Frankenstein almost becomes a Brooks character rather than a stale re-vamping of Mary Shelley’s.
3. Indiana Jones from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)
The character Indiana Jones is a Professor. It can be easy to forget that, what with all the whip-cracking, snake dodging, face melting and Nazi sorcery in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Still, Steven Spielberg wasn’t content with keeping Indy in the classroom, and barely has him doing any such work. After all, who would care about mild-mannered Henry Jones’ syllabus? Instead, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” looks at a Professor who is deeply invested in his archaeology work, and becomes entrenched in his quest to locate mythological/supernatural artifacts.
If analyzed seriously, one could easily remark on the differences between Indiana’s two personas, and how he’s basically like a scientific super-hero. In the classroom he is revealed to be skeptical (if not cynical) regarding history’s fantastical beliefs. However, every time he’s in a movie, something happens to drastically challenge his rationalism. Oh well! Jones also has a hot/cold relationship with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).
4. Most of The Ghostbusters from the Ghostbusters’ franchise
Much like Indiana Jones, 3 of the Ghostbusters aren’t your average professors. In fact, early on they get drummed out the academy for their “quack” research into the paranormal. However, when they go from researchers to busters, business is booming. A far-fetched plot with spectacular effects, “Ghostbusters” is also memorable for the quirky character dynamics. Bill Murray works wonders as Peter Venkman, who plays the character so coolly that busting ghosts seems almost normal. However, Venkman seems to be the least scientific of the three. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) is a brilliant paranormal theorist who brings his research into life. In fact, he is only out-nerded by Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), who seems to spend every single moment of his life engaged in an experiment — to the point where he almost seems a prisoner of his own mind!
Of course, not all of the Ghostbusters are professors. Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) joins the crew from a want-ad, and is therefore just doing a job, like someone flipping burgers or doing office work. Speaking of which, three other ‘Ghostbusters” characters become honorary Ghostbusters throughout the franchise. In the cartoon “The Real Ghostbusters,” secretary Janine Melnitz (voiced by Laura Summer) sometimes picks up a proton pack, or even dons a uniform for battle. Also, the lovable Slimer (Frank Welker) joined the team, despite being a ghost himself. Additionally, in “Ghostbusters II,” Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) sort of becomesa Ghostbuster — though not really. While these additional characters aren’t professors, the other three wouldn’t be the same without them.
5. Professor John Keating from Dead Poets Society (1989)
Professor John Keating may be Robin Williams’s greatest role, making perfect use of his comedic talents and compelling viewers to gain interest in poetry and the arts. In fact, those skeptical of the value of Humanities scholarship should watch this movie, then ask themselves why they didn’t love and write poetry before. While Keating is not the only character in Peter Weir’s “Dead Poets Society,” his ideas and emotional depth runs throughout the entire picture, and his unique philosophy of individualism pits the very best and brightest against the repressive forces around them.
In that respect, this film brilliantly examines how idealism isn’t necessarily bad, but so often gets crushed by the unrelenting stupidity of “realism.” For those who’ve had experiences in college, Keating probably reminds them of some professor they had — someone who rose above ideology and embraced simple beauty. Also, the “O Captain, my Captain!” scene is one of the greatest in cinematic history, showing us why so-called irrational antics and the arbitrary are always necessary against pointless, sheep-like obedience. Life always degrades us, and half the time it’s us dragging ourselves down. However, art helps us at least see our potential as human beings, even if never fully realized.
6. Professor Abraham Van Helsing from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Want a reluctant vampire hunter? Well, you won’t find one in Professor Abraham Van Helsing — at least as depicted by Anthony Hopkins in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Hopkins version is ecstatically crackling with manic energy as he takes out vampires with fiendish delight! In fact, sometimes he seems as deranged as Renfield (Tom Waits) or as sinister as Dracula (Gary Oldman) himself!
So, what is Van Helsing a Doctor of exactly? By the time you’re done watching this film, you simply won’t care. Maybe he majored in Vampire Killing, with a concentration in Looking Like a Damned Lunatic. Still, this is a fun character who is technically a Professor of something or other. This movie isn’t universally acclaimed, but “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is worth checking out just for Hopkin’s bizarre and energetic characterization.
7. Professor Charles Xavier from X-Men: The Animated Series (1992–1997)
Also known as Professor X, Professor Charles Xavier (Cedric Smith) was perhaps best depicted in this 1990s animated series than in any film. Sure, Patrick Stewart particularly did him justice in the films, but the cartoon simply balanced his character better, rather than seemingly using him as a mere prop. Yes, “X-Men: The Animated Series” got a lot of things right, including writing scenes with the characters in mind, as opposed to merely relying on special effects and other aspects of summer blockbuster super hero films. Quite simply, this series followed the comic books more, allowing each individual character to have some spotlight (whereas the films were initially more like “Wolverine and Pals”).
8. Professor Utonium of The Powerpuff Girls (1998–2005)
Without Professor Utonium ( Tom Kane) and his bizarre accident with “Chemical X,” the world would not have The Powerpuff Girls to protect it! He’s also a caring sort, generally speaking, and no doubt encourages the heroism of Blossom (Cathy Cavadini), Bubbles (Tara Strong) and Buttercup (E. G. Daily). In many ways, the Professor resembles the stereotypical 1950s TV sitcom dad, only way smarter.
9. Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth of Futurama (1999–2013)
Is Professor Farnsworth (Billy West) a doddering old fool, a brilliant scientist, a madman or a sociopath wildcard? Yes, yes, yes and yes! Aside from Bender (John DiMaggio). Farnsworth is probably “Futurama’s” most worthwhile characters, as a hodgepodge of different character traits, alternately lovable or horrifying (at least if placed under the microscope of serious analysis — which you probably shouldn’t do). What do you expect from somebody who’s at least 160 years young? Still, it almost seems like Farnsworth is somewhat underrated, perhaps due to age-ism. Maybe he just needs to invent the right doomsday device to remind us he’s cool.
10. Professor Valery Legasov from Chernobyl (2019)
HBO’s “Chernobyl” is a critically acclaimed show, and totally deserves it. While it focuses much on the nuclear disaster itself, it undeniably focused considerably energy on Valery Legasov (Jared Harris). When the explosion occurred, Legasov was heavily involved in addressing it, becoming an advocate for increased nuclear safety. What’s fascinating about “Chernobyl” is that, for the most part, it examines the disaster itself through the eyes of people like Legasov. In many ways, the explosion and aftermath is the main character, and people like Legasov did whatever they could to alleviate the crisis. This approach reminds us that, when it comes down to it, character matters. Had Legasov not been who he was, the disaster could have been much worse.
Honorable Mention: All Professors in the Harry Potter Franchise
Not everyone’s familiar with the “Harry Potter” franchise. Nevertheless, it has a lot of Professors, so one merely has to choose their favorite among Hogwart’s staff. There’s Argus Filch (David Bradley), Filius Flitwick (Warwick Davis), Gilderoy Lockhart (Kenneth Branagh), Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), Albus Dumbledore (Richard Harris), and so on.
What do you think of these Professors? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments!