15 movies to watch on National STEM Day

May 5, 2020



Celebrating the day with great Hollywood Movies


STEM is an inevitable part of our lives today. Science and technology have made our lives so comfortable that we cannot imagine a world without entertainment or staying in touch with family and friends or traveling in comfort and safety.

We can sing endless eulogies about the innumerable benefits STEM has endowed us. But we also need to remind our children how it has influenced several events in history and made America a great nation. And, what better day than the National STEM Day on November 8 to inspire and encourage our children?

To celebrate the day, let’s show them how Hollywood has embraced STEM and come up with several movies that have changed the lives of many and inspired hundreds of millions.

The list of STEM-related movies is endless, but we have compiled some of our favorites that will help our children get started. These movies will also build interest in them to explore and pursue STEM. However, be prepared to answer several questions that your curious little one will have in between the movie marathon.


Hidden figures (2016)

Hidden Figures is a heartwarming true story based on the life of three African-American women mathematicians working at NASA. The three, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) were instrumental in the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, the first American to orbit the earth.

The motivating movie by Theodore Melfi demonstrates the power of mathematics and how it can turn things around. Watch this movie for the visionary trio, who beat all the odds to triumph and inspire generations.


Spare Parts (2015)

Spare Parts is based on a true story of a group of high school students, who win a robotics competition at MIT regardless of all the stumbling blocks. Director Sean McNamara portrays the dream of the team, their journey and the bond that they build for a lifetime.

The unforgettable tale of wit, hope and humor shines through as Fredi Cameron (played by George Lopez), the students’ substitute teacher, challenges his students and shows them the power of perseverance. Watch it for the brilliant performance of all the cast as they take you through their struggle and eventually success.


The Martian (2015)

The Martian is the story of astronaut Mark Watney’s struggle for survival in space after his team assumes him dead and leaves him behind. Matt Damon brilliantly portrays Watney’s attempt to survive with his meager supplies using his ingenuity.

Watch how Watney finds a way to send a message across to the earth that he is alive, and eventually how NASA and a team of scientists come up with a rescue mission to get “the Martian” home. The over two-hour-long movie, based on Andy Weir’s book The Martian, is a story of incredible bravery and how Watney uses his resourcefulness to survive on the hostile planet.


The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

Matthew Brown takes us on the academic and life journey of genius Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and how he forges a friendship with his mentor and professor, G.H. Hardy (played by Jeremy Irons) in The Man Who Knew Infinity. Dev Patel, who essays the role of Ramanujan, beautifully portrays the mathematician’s stellar intelligence in math, his struggles from a clerk to a globally recognized mathematician.

It is based on Robert Kanigel’s book by the same name. The movie dramatizes how the poverty-stricken Ramanujan attracts the attention of renowned British mathematics professor, G.H. Hardy, who invites him to Cambridge University to test his mettle as a theoretical mathematician during World War I. Watch how the journey defines Ramanujan as one of the greatest modern scholars, who pioneered several mathematical theories.


Interstellar (2014)

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar traces the journey of a group of astrophysicists, who travel through a wormhole in space in an endeavor to look for a new abode for mankind. Nolan portrays the idea of space travel, time, and gravity as the earth and humanity are on the verge of extinction. The protagonist, a former NASA pilot, played by Matthew McConaughey, leads his crew and travels to where no one had ever gone before – a planet that may be able to sustain human life.

The thought-provoking space odyssey will keep you and your child hooked till the end. Not to mention that the music in the movie will make you feel like you are floating in outer space. However, be ready to answer a volley of questions your kid will throw at you during the movie – the wormholes, Einstein’s relativity, space-time curvature, singularity, and so on.


The Imitation Game (2014)

Morten Tyldum takes us on a nail-biting race against time in The Imitation Game. It is based on a true-life story of British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, who along with his fellow mathematicians, decrypts the German’s Enigma code during World War II, and saved millions of lives by predicting where the German’s next target would be. The movie depicts how Turing succeeds in building the Turing machine, named Christopher, despite the odds and eventually cracks the German intelligence codes. You will be surprised to know that the Turing machine was the first computer built to decode the German codes.

Benedict Cumberbatch essays the role of Turing to perfection. Benedict Cumberbatch essays the role of Turing to perfection. The film is about the events that changed history and the genius of the man, Alan Turing, and his colossal achievements.


The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of Everything is a biographical drama adapted from Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. James Marsh’s film looks at the life of the most brilliant and celebrated theoretical physicist of our time, Stephen Hawking: His success, the diagnosis of his fatal illness, and his relationship with his wife.

Imagine a place where nothing exists- no space, no time, and no matter. The place is called Singularity. The movie shows how Hawking embarks on his research to discover singularity around a black hole and fights against his illness to get his Ph.D.


Gravity (2013)

This space odyssey by Alfonso Cuaron is an account of how two astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) during a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope, get hit by the debris of the Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite and they lose communication with the earth.

Gravity will take you on a thrilling ride as the astronauts go spiraling in the darkness after their space station gets hit mid-orbit. Watch the 90-minute-long movie to see their struggle and how they attempt to get back to earth. The exciting and visually appealing movie will get you hooked with its gripping storyline and background music.


Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball might fall under a sports genre since it revolves around Oakland Athletics baseball team’s manager, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt). However, it is not a sports movie per se, as it veers more towards the role of math and how it can turn around the game. Based on a true story, Moneyball depicts how Beane feels handicapped in selecting the best team because of salary constraints until he meets Peter Brand, a young Yale economics graduate with radical views on how to assess players’ value.

The film gets interesting as the duo Beane and Brand, who is hired as the athletics assistant general manager, form a great baseball team using statistics. Watch this film to see how mathematics transformed the entire selection process; how it can be applied in our everyday lives; and how pursuing maths could be a possible professional path in the least expected places.


21 (2008)

Robert Luketic’s 21 draws inspiration from Ben Mezrich’s book, Bringing Down the House, based on a true story of five MIT math geniuses trained to take on Las Vegas and rake in millions at Blackjack, a card counting game, also known as 21. Micky Rosa (played by Kevin Spacey), a math professor, recruits five MIT students and uses their skills to outsmart the wolves at Las Vegas casinos.

This story is also about Ben Campbell (played by Jim Sturgess), a brilliant student at MIT, who desperately wants a scholarship to fund his tuition fee of $300,000 at the Harvard School of Medicine. Find out how Campbell’s fate changes when Rosa hires him into his secretive club of five; and how he goes on secret weekend trips to Vegas along with the rest of the team, and they win hundreds of dollars using their math skills.


A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind is based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. Russell Crowe portrays Nash’s character brilliantly as one of the greatest mathematicians, who develops schizophrenia and suffers a mental breakdown. Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director among others, the movie begins with Nash’s early years at Princeton University as he comes up with the game theory of economics that has an impact on our lives today. Whether in engineering, auction, stock market, corporate mergers and acquisitions, high level of negotiations, defense, or medical science the application of the game theory of economics is profound.

Watch the extraordinary story about the life of the mathematical genius and how numbers can be used to decode and predict human behavior in different situations.


October Sky (1999)

October Sky is based on a true story about a coal miner’s son, who went to make rockets after being inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1975. The director, Joe Johnston, focuses on how Homer H. Hickam, Jr., (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) defies his father’s wishes to join him in the mines and becomes a NASA engineer later in life.

Find out how Homer tries to build rockets along with his friends despite the entire town’s scepticism about their project. After a lot of trial and error and with only their science teacher’s support, they go on to win the National Science Fair, where the prize money is college scholarships. This biographical movie resonates with Hickman’s biography, Rocket Boys: A Memoir, where the message of following your dream is loud and clear.


Good Will Hunting (1997)

Good Will Hunting is a tale of an MIT janitor who suffers from an identity crisis. Matt Damon as Will Hunting beautifully depicts the struggles of the 20-year-old and the journey through his mind. Hunting is an unrecognized genius forced to take up therapy instead of a jail sentence after he assaults a police officer.

Watch how director Gus Van Sant takes the story ahead as Hunting agrees to see a therapist and study advanced mathematics with a renowned professor. However, he is yet to find his place in the world until he meets psychologist Sean Maguire (Robbie Williams). Go figure how Hunting can solve any mathematical problem thrown at him but fails to realize his value in the world till he understands what matters to him the most.


Apollo 13 (1995)

This docudrama based on the suspended 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission is a nail-biting space odyssey, where director Ron Howard goes to a great length to create a technically precise movie. The film depicts how astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), and Fred Haise ( Bill Paxton) onboard Apollo 13 for America’s third moon landing mission, suffer a setback after massive internal damage on their spacecraft; and their struggle to survive.

As NASA devises a strategy to get the three astronauts home safely with their spacecraft deprived of electricity and oxygen, you will be on the edge of your seat.


Back to the Future (1985)

Director Robert Zemeckis succeeds in keeping his audience engaged in this science-fantasy movie. Coupled with adventure and comedy, Back to the Future is about a teen of the 80s. Marty Mcfly (played by Michael J. Fox) is accidentally sent 30 years backward in a plutonium-powered time machine by his friend, an eccentric scientist, doctor Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd).

Find out how the 17-year-old Marty copes with being in the fifties and how he gets his teenage parents to meet and fall in love to make things right. And now he needs to get back to the present, which is 1985. But how? Go figure!


And what is your favorite STEM movie?

Did we miss any of it? Please let us know in the comment section.

About Author
Urmila, who is a Big Data and STEM enthusiast, works as the head of communications with Mand Labs. She is a believer in transformation of life and career through STEM. She can be reached on Twitter @umarak

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