The 30 Smartest Celebrities in Hollywood

Business Insider

Models, actors, and musicians are sometimes perceived as unintelligent because of the characters they play or the stigma of their careers — but there are a number of celebs out there who surprise us with their smarts.

Many stars possess a certain flair for academia, and are accomplished authors, politicians, scientists, and businesspeople. From valedictorians to Ivy Leaguers to MENSA members, these celebrities are certified geniuses in their own rights.

Natalie Portman has been published twice in scientific journals.

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The "Black Swan" lead has a bachelor's degree from Harvard — making her the first alum to win an Academy Award for best actress — and took graduate courses at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She enrolled at Harvard as Natalie Herschlag, her birth name, for a bit of anonymity, but her professors noted that she was an exceptional student.

She speaks six languages and has twice been published in scientific journals. As she once told the New York Post, "I'd rather be smart than a movie star."


Ashton Kutcher anticipated acceptances to both MIT and Purdue to study engineering.


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But the former "Punk'd" host lost his scholarships when he broke into his high school as a prank. He ended up at the University of Iowa, but dropped out at age 19 to pursue modeling. Kutcher now divides his time between acting and smart investing — in companies like Airbnb, Spotify, and Foursquare.

"The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart," Kutcher said at this year's Teen Choice Awards.


Conan O'Brien graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.


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Conan O'Brien was a history and literature major at Harvard University, where the school newspaper dubbed him the "pre-eminent jokester" of the class of '85. It makes sense, as he was also the president of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret social organization that published a humor magazine.

His 72-page senior thesis, entitled "The 'Old Child' in Faulkner and O’Connor," argued that "the New South’s emerging identity is manifested in the literature of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor via the motif of children that age too quickly."

Cindy Crawford studied chemical engineering on scholarship at Northwestern University.

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Cindy Crawford, who graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class, signed her first modeling contract in 1984. Initially she used the money to supplement her scholarship to attend Northwestern University, but she ditched school to launch her career.

By '85, she appeared in the pages of Vogue, and would go on to become one of the original Big Six supermodels.



Ben Stein is an oft-cited authority on economics.


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Ben Stein, who played the droning economics teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," is an accomplished economics professor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The Yale Law School grad has authored more than 30 books.

According to his official bio, he worked as a poverty lawyer, trade regulation lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission, speechwriter for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and professor of law and economics at University of California–Santa Cruz and Pepperdine University.

Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal both studied at Columbia University.

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When Maggie Gyllenhaal returned to her alma mater to accept a personal achievement award, she said her Columbia education taught her to "acknowledge that I really know nothing." A thirst for knowledge led her, as a first-year English student, to sneak into the dean's senior seminar.

Little brother Jake Gyllenhaal enrolled when Maggie was a senior, and hoped to major in Eastern religions. Following the success of "October Sky," he dropped out after his sophomore year to concentrate on acting.


Mindy Kaling is an award-winning playwright.


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The Dartmouth College theater major earned an Eleanor Frost Playwriting Award in 1999. As a college student, Kaling illustrated a daily comic for the school paper called "Badly Drawn Girl," which "riffed on day-to-day campus life and took a witty stab at everything from fraternity life to alumni."

Known for her roles in "The Office" and "The Mindy Project," Kaling was recently named to TIME's 100 Most Influential List.


James Franco picks up college degrees like it's an extracurricular activity.


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In high school he played a class-cutting "Freak," but young Franco was a math whiz who interned at Lockheed Martin.

The actor has since made a hobby of picking up college degrees. After graduating from UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled at NYU for filmmaking, Columbia University and Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and Warren Wilson College in North Carolina for a low-residency poetry program. He's currently a comparative literature Ph.D candidate at Yale.

He's also taught screenplay-writing and directing at UCLA, USC, NYU, and Columbia.

Quentin Tarantino has an IQ of 160.

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Despite his intelligence, Tarantino never liked school, except for history class "because it was kind of like the movies," he told Entertainment Weekly.

The famous film director, whose IQ of 160 is the same as physicist Stephen Hawking, dropped out of high school and went on to produce some of the most awarded and brilliant films of all time, including "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction."


Mayim Bialik plays a neurobiologist on TV and has a Ph.D. in neuroscience in real life.


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REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The lead in NBC's "Blossom" as a kid, Bialik went on to get her bachelor's degree in neuroscience and Hebrew/Jewish studies from UCLA in 2000.

She took a break from her studies in 2005 to go back to acting and made a huge splash as the uber-smart Amy Farrah Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory," but finished her Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2007, specializing in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.


Matt Damon hatched the idea for "Good Will Hunting" as a Harvard student.


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Damon may very well be as smart as his character Will Hunting. As a Harvard student, a playwriting course assignment led to the development of a rough version of "Good Will Hunting." He later completed the project with his childhood buddy Ben Affleck.

Damon ultimately dropped out to pursue an acting career instead, but the Crimson school still awarded him the prestigious Harvard Arts Medal earlier this year.


Jordana Brewster was a nerd at Yale.


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After the success of "The Fast & the Furious," Brewster left Hollywood to study English at Yale. She was grateful that her budding celebrity status eclipsed her identity as the granddaughter of former Yale President Kingman Brewster.

The Class of '04 grad said she was a nerd in college. "I was so stressed about getting good grades," she told People. "I wish I had joined a sorority and had more fun."


Kevin Spacey is a Juilliard-trained actor.


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The high school valedictorian attended Juilliard to study drama. But the "American Beauty" lead dropped out after two years to act on Broadway and then in films, earning Tony awards and Oscars for his dramatic genius.

Spacey is plugged into the business of the entertainment industry, and advocates for the revolutionary "Netflix model" of original programming. The "House of Cards" star gave an impassioned speech at this year's Edinburgh Television Festival.


Sharon Stone received a college scholarship at age 15.


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Stone is widely reputed to have an IQ of 154. When she was 15 she accepted a scholarship to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where she studied creative writing and fine arts.

She described herself as "a nerdy, ugly duckling," according to her online biography at Penn State University Library.





Colin Firth is credited as a co-author of an academic paper on human brain research.


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In 2011, "The King's Speech" actor commissioned scientists to scan the brains of politicians and analyze if there were any differences depending on political leanings. His name appears as a co-author on the study, which was published in the Current Biology journal.

Firth attended Barton Peveril College in the U.K., and recalls this time as "among the two happiest years of my life. I must have been paying some attention as I can still quote randomly from Thomas Hardy and Lord Byron."


David Duchovny attended not one, but two Ivy League schools.


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The "X-Files" actor graduated with a B.A. in English literature from Princeton University. He also earned his Master's in English lit from Yale University, but abandoned his Ph.D. studies there when he booked a beer commercial in '87.

During his "Inside the Actors Studio" interview, Duchovny revealed that the title of his unfinished doctoral thesis was "Magic and Technology in Contemporary Poetry and Prose."


Jodie Foster is a French scholar who attended Yale.


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Foster taught herself to read before she was three years old, and juggled a childhood acting career with a heavy course load at Lycée Français de Los Angeles. She later attended Yale to study upper-level French, and went back to acting after graduation.

The critically-acclaimed actress has been involved in a variety of roles in film, from acting to directing to producing, and was honored with the Cecil B. Demille honorary Golden Globe in January for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment."

Dr. Oz has transplanted thousands of hearts and lungs in his career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

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The New York Times called him "one of the most accomplished cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation." Made famous by his 55-plus appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Dr. Mehmet Oz has performed more than 5,000 heart transplants in his career.

Oz studied at Harvard and UPenn, where he earned both his MD and MBA. He served as director of the Cardiovascular Institute of New York—Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center for eight years.


Flavor Flav was a musical prodigy as a child.


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Once part of the most innovative hip-hop groups of all time, he's most remembered for shouting "Yeahhh boyyyy!" and "Flavor Flav!" during performances and on a string of VH1 reality shows.

The wall clock-wearing hype man grew up a musical prodigy, cutting classes to hang out in the band room. He could play about 15 instruments, and learned to play songs by ear.

Flavor Flav co-wrote the first Public Enemy album, heralded for its militant, revolutionary lyrics.


Lisa Kudrow conducted clinical research on headaches.


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Kudrow graduated from Vassar College with a degree in biology, and after graduation, began working with her father — a world renowned headache specialist — on a study concerning hemispheric dominance and headache types.

Six months after graduating, before publishing her research and advancing on to graduate school, Kudrow ditched further education to pursue acting. She became a huge success playing Phoebe on "Friends."

The Vassar alum maintains ties as a trustee and one-time commencement speaker.

Edward Norton worked as an analyst for an entrepreneurial nonprofit.

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The two-time Oscar nominated actor studied history at Yale where a back injury while rowing forced his retirement from crew. It was then that he tried his hand at theater.

After graduation, Norton moved to Osaka to consult on behalf of his grandfather's non-profit, Enterprise Foundation, a leading provider of capital and expertise for affordable housing. There he studied Aikido, a martial art, and became fluent in Japanese.

Norton has since donated more than $1 million to Enterprise and remains on the Board of Trustees.


James Woods had near-perfect SAT scores, and an IQ of 184.


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Woods was a brilliant student who achieved a perfect 800 on the verbal and 779 on the math portions of the pre-1995 SAT. He enrolled in a linear algebra course at UCLA while still in high school.

He studied political science at MIT on a scholarship and revealed on "Inside the Actors Studio" that he has an IQ of 184.




Kate Beckinsale is fluent in four languages.


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A young Kate Beckinsale was singled out for her intelligence in grade school; her school reports cited a reading level of an 11-year-old when she was just six.

Before performing her notable role as Selene in "Underworld," Beckinsale studied French and Russian literature at Oxford University's New College, and still fluently speaks both French and Russian, as well as German.


Jerry Springer was a campaign advisor to Robert F. Kennedy and dabbled in politics.


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"The Jerry Springer Show" host earned a law degree from Northwestern University and became a campaign advisor to Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.

He made a splash in Cincinnati politics, being elected to the city council at the age of 27. He resigned in 1974 after admitting he wrote personal checks to prostitutes, but Springer bounced back quickly, winning Cincinnati's mayoral race in '77.

After a failed run for Ohio governor, he became a broadcast journalist, which Springer called "the most ethically challenging profession of all time."


John Krasinski pursued an array of academic interests at Brown.


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Krasinski spent some time teaching English in Costa Rica before enrolling at Brown, where his favorite classes were "Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations" and an introductory biology course.

He later held an internship at "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" before getting cast himself on the big screen.



Rashida Jones got her B.A. in comparative religion from Harvard.


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The daughter of Quincy Jones displayed musical and theatrical talents as a student at Harvard, writing music scores and performing in campus plays.

The "Parks and Rec" actress got her bachelor's degree in comparative religion.






John Legend worked at a prestigious consulting firm.


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The soulful singer was offered scholarships to Georgetown, Morehouse College, and Harvard, but he turned them down to go to UPenn, where he studied English and African American literature, and served as the president and vocal director for the co-ed a cappella group Counterparts.

Before he made it big as a musician, Legend worked at Boston Consulting Group, one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the world.


Vampire Weekend's band members are all Columbia grads.


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The four members of the band Vampire Weekend all studied at Columbia University together. Before the band made it big, they worked various jobs as an eighth-grade English teacher, an archivist for SONY BMG, and a film score composer’s assistant.

They show off their intellect in a song dedicated to the Oxford comma.




Ken Jeong is a licensed obstetrician.


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Best known for his role as Mr. Chow in "The Hangover," Jeong studied pre-med at Duke University, got his MD at UNC Chapel Hill, then completed his residency in New Orleans.

According to a profile of Jeong in The Washington Post, "he treated patients at an HMO clinic [during the day]; at night, he scooped up as many stand-up gigs as he could." His big break came when Judd Apatow cast him as the OB in "Knocked Up."



Steve Martin is a MENSA member.


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In 1997 Martin, who has an IQ of 142, wrote a piece for The New Yorker about his efforts to get into MENSA, which took a year. The California State University grad majored in philosophy and almost became a professor.

While he made a career as an actor, Martin is also the accomplished author of a number of screenplays, novels, and children's books.







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