5 on-screen scientists we’re mad about


“Come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab”… here are five on-screen scientists we’re absolutely mad about. Monsters, secret laboratories, and experiments gone awry all feature in the terrifyingly inspired ‘Mad Science‘ film program at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA (3 May – 23 June 2024).

For decades, Mary Shelley’s infamous Frankenstein story about a doctor driven mad by his desire to manufacture a human being has served as a rich source of inspiration for filmmakers. But what is it about these ill-fated scientists that makes them mad and why are we still so fascinated by their futile attempts at playing God? Here are five of our favourite on-screen scientists and the missions that drove them to madness.

Get tickets to Mad Science
or see what’s screening
Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA
3 May – 23 June 2024

Dr Frankenstein from ‘Frankenstein‘ (1931)

“It’s alive, it’s alive!” (Dr Frankenstein) — James Whale’s Frankenstein is the most widely recognised cinematic retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic story. Featuring Boris Karloff as the monster and Colin Clive as Dr Frankenstein, this early black and white Hollywood horror was so well received at the time of its release that Universal Studios went on to create seven sequels, including the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein 1939 featuring Bela Lugosi in the first on-screen role as assistant Ygor.

6.00pm, Friday May 3 & 1.00pm, Sunday June 2
Frankenstein will screen from an archival 35mm print

Production still from Frankenstein (1931) / Director: James Whale / Image courtesy: Universal Pictures Australia

Dr Phibes from ‘The Abominable Dr Phibes‘ (1971)

“Nine killed you. Nine shall die. Nine eternities in doom!” (Dr Phibes) — The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a British comedy horror directed by Robert Fuest and is a high-camp tale of love, madness, and revenge. After the James Bond film franchise popularised the idea of the mad scientist as villain in the 1960s, cinematic depictions of secret laboratories gradually morphed into evil lairs filled with mysterious contraptions and elaborate furnishings. In this film, there’s no 007 to save the day, just a maniacal organ playing zombie doctor who, with the help of a glamourous mute assistant and a mechanical band, unleashes a dastardly vendetta against the nine doctors and nurses who failed to save his wife.

6.00pm, Friday May 17 & 3.10pm, Saturday June 8

Production still from The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) / Director: Robert Fuest / Image courtesy: Park Circus

Dr Frank-N-Furter from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

“Come up to the Lab and see what’s on the slab!” (Dr Frank-N-Furter) — In this iconic pop culture musical, Dr Frankenstein is transformed into the all singing, all dancing Dr Frank-N-Furter masterfully played by Tim Curry. The film is wonderfully absurd, so much so, that the doctor isn’t a doctor, but an alien from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. Curry’s unforgettable portrayal of Dr Frank-N-Furter was heavily influenced by the 1970s glam rock scene, in particular, David Bowie’s androgynous alien rock star, Ziggy Stardust.

2.00pm, Sunday May 19 & 1.00pm, Saturday June 8

Production still from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) / Director: Jim Sharman / Image courtesy: The Walt Disney Company (Australia)

Dr Herbert West from ‘Re-animator‘ (1985)

“We can achieve every doctor’s dream!” (Dr Herbert West) — Inspired by the H.P. Lovecraft story ‘Herbert West–Reanimator’, Re-Animator tells the story of Dr. Herbert West, a classic Frankensteinean doctor who develops a mysterious serum that can bring the dead back to life. When the young doctor manages to reanimate the disembodied head of his former professor, he’s forced to comedically navigate a series of real-world situations to conceal his scientific breakthrough. A riotous display of 80s special-effects, Re-Animator is a must-see film for anyone who enjoys their mad science with a hint of zombie. 

8.30pm, Friday May 10 & 6.00pm, Friday June 21

Production still from Re-Animator (1985) / Director: Stuart Gordon / Image courtesy: Umbrella Entertainment

Dr Godwin Baxter (Aka ‘God’) from ‘Poor Things‘ 2023

“It is a happy tale” (Dr Godwin Baxter) — Willem Dafoe plays God (in more ways than one) in Yorgos Lanthimos’s dazzling take on the traditional Frankenstein story Poor Things. The victim of his father’s own surgical experiments, Dr Godwin Baxter’s fascination with the medical sciences is used to questionable effect as he brings a young woman back to life. Although the film features a doctor and a ‘monster’, the story is more touching than terrifying, and explores the complexities of the parent-child relationship rather than the creature/creator dynamic.

7.40pm, Friday May 3 & 6.00pm, Wednesday May 15

Production still from Poor Things (2023) / Director: Yorgos Lanthimos / Image courtesy: The Walt Disney Company (Australia)

The Australian Cinémathèque
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) is the only Australian art gallery with purpose-built facilities dedicated to film and the moving image. The Australian Cinémathèque at GOMA provides an ongoing program of film and video that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, offering a rich and diverse experience of the moving image, showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and international cinema, rare 35mm prints, recent restorations and silent films with live musical accompaniment by local musicians or on the Gallery’s Wurlitzer organ originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929.