Celebrity geeks are coming out all over.
Time was, celebrities who enjoyed geeky pastimes, such as comic books, video games, computer programming and gadgets, kept their proclivities hidden. These days, stars like Nicolas Cage and Rosario Dawson are letting their geek flag fly.
Observers say the rise of superhero movies sparked the change. Marvel's Iron Man won plaudits earlier this summer. The Dark Knight has rung up close to a half billion dollars at the box office and attracted Oscar buzz. Watchmen, a cult comic book series from the 1980s, is powering up best-seller lists again and will be released as a film in 2009.
"There's far more mainstream acceptance of comic books today than there was a year or two ago," says Alexander Zalben, producer of Comic Book Club, a comics-centric talk show on YouTube. "It's getting to be like bands--this pride in saying, 'I liked it before it was big.' "
The dark side to the trend, says Zalben, is the rise of wannabe celebrity geeks. "All actors and actresses go on talk shows and say they were total geeks in high school," notes Zalben. "They may have felt that way, but they probably weren't."
Geeks point to Jessica Alba and Tobey Maguire as actors who lack true geek cred, although they play ones on screen--Alba in Fantastic Four and Sin City; Maguire in Spiderman. "[Maguire] is a great actor, but I don't think he really cares one way or the other about comic books," says Zalben. As for Alba, "The Fantastic Four movies were not well-received by geeks," says Justin Tyler, who co-produces Comic Book Club with Zalben.
Plenty of celebrities do make the cut. Nicolas Cage and Jerry Seinfeld are known Superman fans. Seinfeld planted Superman imagery around the set of his TV series. He also did a series of American Express (nyse: AXP - news - people ) commercials with a cartoon Superman. Cage named his son Kal-El--Superman's birth name--and starred in 2007's Ghost Rider. "Cage is one of those guys who always said, 'I want to be in a comic book movie,' " says Zalben.
Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in plenty of geeky movies, from Star Wars remakes to Iron Man. He apparently inspires geeks, as well. Marvel writers used Jackson as a model for a re-imagined character named "Nick Fury"--an homage that led to Jackson's cameo in Iron Man, notes Charlie Schneider, an editor at Pulp Secret, a comic book network owned by Next News Network.
With an autobiography titled, Just A Geek, it's no surprise that actor Wil Wheaton is a major geek icon. "He took a role on Star Trek and spun it into a successful blog and business," says Zeblen.
Geeks also reign on the small screen. Masi Oka, who plays the time-traveling Hiro on Heroes, has worked as a computer programmer and in the special effects department of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic. He, Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader and Kristin Bell, the blond pixie from Veronica Mars, also attend comic book conventions. Bell is said to be a fan of Ed Brubaker, an award-winning cartoonist who has written Captain America and Daredevil titles.
She and actress Rosario Dawson, are raising the profile of geeky female celebrities. "There's an ongoing prejudice that girls don't read comics and pretty girls definitely don't, but Rosario is a big geek," says Zalben. Dawson is currently starring in Gemini Division, a Web-only sci-fi thriller show, and has a comic book miniseries.
Gadget enthusiasts often have lower geek profiles. Singer John Mayer isn't outwardly geeky, but he regularly blogs about his latest devices. "He's pretty proud of his tech--he even puts his initials on his BlackBerry," says Heather Dale, editor of gadget blog GeekSugar. Mayer has also performed at Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) events and publicly admitted that he Googles himself.
Even Oprah has geeky habits. She uses a Flip video camcorder to record YouTube videos, says Dale, and blogs about her dietary habits on her Web site. Geeks are hoping she'll select a graphic novel for her Book Club--an event that would be the "coming out party for the genre," says Zeblen. Rosie O'Donnell also blogs and video-blogs using a Flip; Christina Applegate loves "Guitar Hero" and video gaming in general.
Then there are celebrities whose geekiness is purely speculative. Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria was spotted leaving Marvel's office with a stack of comic books, prompting talk that she will appear in the company's upcoming Avengers movie. Some geeks like to claim Angelina Jolie as one of their own, based on her roles in the Tomb Raider films and Wanted, which was adapted from a graphic novel.
But just being cast as a superhero shouldn't be enough to make someone into a geek hero, warn true technophiles. The characters in Watchmen are supposed to be superheroes past their prime, but the cast, which includes Carla Gugino, Patrick Wilson and Billy Crudup, is young and attractive, complains Tyler.
"Can they say, 'I had a thousand comics in my closet?' or 'I reprogrammed my computer all the time?' " asks Zeblen. "Even celebrities need evidence to back up their geek claims."