Enjoying movies together is a favorite family activity, and if those movies incorporate math in an interesting and engaging way, all the better! To inspire a math student in your family, we recommend the following movies based on true stories and that feature math and/or mathematicians.
Note: The first three movies are rated PG and the last two are rated PG-13. We encourage you to use your own judgement about what movies are appropriate for your family. Common Sense Media offers free information about specific, age-appropriate topics in any movie.
You may also enjoy the associated books as a good family read aloud.
- Hidden Figures (PG) Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, this movie tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. They were African-American women working at NASA as “computers” in the South during the 1940’s. They worked hard to break glass ceilings to achieve positions in white, male-dominated math fields. We recommend this film to everyone, especially girls and minorities.
- Stand and Deliver (PG) Based on the career of Jaime Escalante, this movie tells the story of a math teacher in a rough part of East Los Angeles in the 1980s. Mr. Escalante changed the course of students’ perceptions about math and themselves. The students, many of whom were previously failing math, worked to beat all the odds. They studied hard, took the Advanced Placement calculus exam, and did so well that some people accused them of cheating. This movie exemplifies how much can be achieved with grit, a growth mindset and excellent instruction. We recommend this movie for middle school students and high school students who say they aren’t good at math or who dislike math. A book based on the movie was written by Nicholas Edwards, Ramon Menendez, and Tom Musca.
- October Sky (PG) Based on the story of Homer Hickman, a boy is inspired by the first satellite, Sputnik, to use math and science as his ticket to a better life. Thanks to a wonderful teacher and dogged determination, he and his friends qualified for the 1960 National Science Fair. We recommend this movie for children who don’t see math and science as cool or fun. A memoir written by Homer Hickman, titled Rocket Boys, inspired the movie.
- Moneyball (PG-13) Based on the book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball shows the creative ways math solves real problems. It details how major league baseball general manager Billy Beane used statistical analysis and economics to bring his underdog (and underfunded) team to the playoffs, revolutionizing the baseball business. We recommend this movie for middle school students and high school students who don’t see math as useful.
- The Theory of Everything (PG-13) Stephen Hawking, the famous cosmologist, persisted with his life and with math-based, scientific research despite the debilitating disease, ALS. This movie tells the story of his personal and professional triumphs during his physical decline. He lived five decades beyond the typical life expectancy of someone with ALS. We recommend this movie for middle school students and high school students who love math and science. The film is based on a 2007 memoir by Hawking’s first wife titled, Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen.
For kids who already love math, these movies will become instant favorites. For kids who are still on the fence, math movies can be just the inspiration they need to see how cool and useful math can be!