Bill Gurstelle is a Contributing Editor for MAKE magazine. His most recent book is entitled Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. You can follow Bill on his danger-quest at He is a guest Make: Online author for the month of August.

frankenstein.jpgI love the way movies and television glorify the maker spirit. From billionaire weapon inventor Tony Stark in Iron Man to the coconut-happy Professor on Gilligan’s Island, there’s often a heroic geekiness that shows how cool inventing and building really are.

But, watching something like Iron Man gives me a bad case of maker envy. I have a pretty nice workshop and decent tools. But try as I might, I’ve had no luck building a decent powered exoskeleton or even a radio that uses coconut fibers for an antenna.

With a few exceptions, the era of the great lone inventor, making commercially-viable inventions in their garages, ended 75 years ago. Except in Hollywood. On the silver screen, the amateur inventor is still able to turn out everything from Doc Brown’s time machine to Wallace and Gromit’s BunVac 6000. To me, they’re more inspiring than NASA.

Here’s a list of top movie inventors. There are no doubt, many, many others. Add your favorites in the comments.

  • Dr. Fred Brainard (Fred MacMurray) in The Absent Minded Professor
  • Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit) in The Wrong Trousers
  • Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Ben Chapleski (Dian Bachar) in Orgazmo
  • Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) in The Jerk
  • Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in Back to the Future
  • C.A. Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) in Metropolis