I need suggestions for Math Movies
March 7, 2007 5:39 PM   Subscribe

(Stereotype-flouting) Math Movie Suggestions Needed for a pi-day celebration. I'm looking for movies that don't portray mathematicians as schizophrenic or otherwise deranged.

I am an undergraduate mathematics student, hosting a pi-day celebration. I am searching for math movies! (Preferably math, not engineering or chemistry or whatnot... ) But there is a problem! As this will be a gathering of people who think math is fun, exciting, and something worth studying, I'd like to avoid the typical "you have to be crazy to like math" stereotype.

For instance, the movie Pi is definitely out, because the main character is deranged and likes to get friendly with power drills.

Anything involving schizophrenia is out. (A beautiful mind, Proof, etc.)

I'd like to avoid the whole "all mathematicians are autistic savants who can tell you the square root of 13 to ten decimal places on demand" sorts of things, too, but I think this stereotype is a little more livable than the schizophrenia, mentally-unstable one.

Basically, I'm looking for (entertaining) math films that don't portray mathematicians as a bunch of schizophrenic, absent-minded professors.

Something that I might be able to rent or purchase between now and the 14th of March is definitely a plus.

I've found numerous lists on google, but it's hard to tell if the mathematicians are insane in the films without watching them all first!
posted by ZeroDivides to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Jeff Goldblum's turn in Jurassic Park? Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting?

Math is a hard sell on screen; I'd be curious to see what dramatic films have featured more than incidental mathematics while not being about a troubled mathematician.
posted by cortex at 5:49 PM on March 7, 2007

Good Will Hunting
Straw Dogs
Stand and Deliver
Infinity (physics)
posted by jckll at 5:51 PM on March 7, 2007

I would totally go with Pi. Seriously. Have a sense of humor about your field! Otherwise, how about Good Will Hunting?

Or, the director Paul Verhoeven has a math Ph.D. That opens up a world of... um... well, Basic Instinct, Robocop, and Total Recall.

I was a math minor and I'm reteaching myself vector calculus at the moment...
posted by The Michael The at 5:53 PM on March 7, 2007

revenge of the nerds.
posted by shmegegge at 5:54 PM on March 7, 2007

Maybe this?

Stand and Deliver (1987)

A high school math teacher, played by Edward James Olmos, gets a group of inner city kids to learn calculus, amazing and threatening the educational establishment. Some decent calculus teaching is shown in this true story. PG

Taken from here, which isn't so much a list of math movies as movies that have at least one good math scene. Maybe a piecemeal clips reel would go over better than entire math movies? Off the top of my head you can also include the beginning of Rushmore as a good clip. Maybe even do challenges where you show the problem in the clip and have viewers solve them in a set time limit.
posted by hindmost at 5:57 PM on March 7, 2007

Real Genius is somewhat "mathish".
posted by Octoparrot at 5:59 PM on March 7, 2007

NUMBERS (the TV show) is very positive about math.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:59 PM on March 7, 2007

Also how about this documentary of Richard Feynman?
posted by hindmost at 6:00 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Proof is so good! There are some great characters who are not deranged, I think -- I haven't seen the movie, but the play was awesome.
posted by amtho at 6:04 PM on March 7, 2007

Donald Duck in Math Land
posted by Dreamghost at 6:12 PM on March 7, 2007

Dan Rockmore suggests Sliding Doors. In a similar vein, Dr. Strangelove could lead to a nice discussion about game theory and nuclear strategy.

If it's a fun crowd, I think you'd be better off doing a marathon of all 5 American Pie movies and encouraging everyone to drink enough to keep the films entertaining.
posted by backupjesus at 6:17 PM on March 7, 2007

How about some YouTube clips of Square One episodes to watch in between the movies? Possibly the best tv show about math ever.
posted by MsMolly at 6:21 PM on March 7, 2007

Seconding Stand and Deliver ("what's 'cal-cool-us'?"). Plus, if you have any math geeks in the audience who also happen to be Battlestar Galactica geeks, they'll be happy to see Admiral Adama up there.
posted by rossination at 6:21 PM on March 7, 2007

You could watch some movies about real mathematicians. N is a Number tells (part of) the story of Paul Erdős, an amazingly prolific and eccentric mathematician. Or you could learn about how Andrew Wiles solved Fermat's Last Theorem, in either documentary or musical form. (Yes, the Clay Mathematics Institute sponsored something called Fermat's Last Tango.)
posted by parudox at 6:28 PM on March 7, 2007

Donald in Mathemagicland! Yes! My kids LOOOOVE that movie and so did I back in the day. Also Real Genius portrays geeks as quirky but human, including I'm pretty sure at least one math person.

In the line of Square One is Cyberchase, a PBS kids show about math concepts. If you can get past the often-artificial setups, the math content is excellent (for the age group).
posted by DU at 6:33 PM on March 7, 2007

I keep recommending this, but the novel The Gift of Numbers by Yoko Ogawa features a math professor whose memory only lasts 80 minutes a stretch. I know you said no "absent-minded" professors, but this protagonist is like this because of an accident he suffered. And I'm recommending it here because it's also been adapted into a film called Hakase no Aishita Suushiki (The Professor and His Beloved Equation). You probably won't be able to rent it before March 14, but it's a good film, so just to put it out there.
posted by misozaki at 7:10 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not specifically related to math, but Primer might meet your needs.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:03 PM on March 7, 2007

As a sort of amuse-cerveau before your main screening, why not show the various subsets of Multiplication Rock?
posted by rob511 at 8:10 PM on March 7, 2007

Primer is a great idea imo, Erdos documentary sounds good too.
posted by 31d1 at 8:16 PM on March 7, 2007

Isn't it more fun to watch really crappy math movies with mathematicians? I used to go to Biology students' movie marathons in university (even though I was in Chemistry) and despite being shown just general recent blockbusters (no theme) we'd have so much fun laughing at all the scenes where the science was totally off or unrealistic, especially because we all knew better. I remember Deep Blue Sea being incredibly funny for that reason.
posted by easternblot at 8:21 PM on March 7, 2007

Thank god for this thread. I love movies about math. Even more than that, I love 80s educational television, like Square One. You peeps are my hero!
posted by santojulieta at 8:35 PM on March 7, 2007

The Freaks and Geeks episode Looks and Books deals in part with Lindsay going back to her old spot on the Mathlete team.
posted by concrete at 10:03 PM on March 7, 2007

What about Sneakers? It talks about prime numbers being the basis for American codes.
posted by Monday at 10:17 PM on March 7, 2007

Thanks a Very Large Number for all of these awesome responses!

Many of these look really intriguing. I'll definitely be looking into some of them on my own time just for fun, no matter which one I end up settling on for pi-day itself.

Also, many of the you-tube and flash movies linked have had me nearly falling out of my chair with amusement.

One note: to easternblot! I'm pretty philosophical about bad math in movies, but in this case I'm more concerned with the mathematicians than the math. I guess every job has its stereotype, though. Tortured artist, schizophrenic mathematician...
posted by ZeroDivides at 10:17 PM on March 7, 2007

The Mirror Has Two Faces is about a math professor and literature professor who fall in love.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:30 PM on March 7, 2007

As an short, comedic break between films, how about the Maths episode of Look Around You?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:34 AM on March 8, 2007

Mean Girls: Tina Fey is the coolest math teacher, and it has pre-gross Lindsay Lohan on the math team!
posted by bluefly at 4:48 AM on March 8, 2007

Another vote for Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land, it was the first (only?) time math made sense to me.
posted by mimi at 4:57 AM on March 8, 2007

Nthing Donald in Mathmagic Land
posted by Alt F4 at 5:26 AM on March 8, 2007

Cube, Cube 0, even though they are horror (Cube 2: Hyercube is god-awful) but these use math in a good way - I mean the characters use math to figure stuff out.

Flatland is a great one, if you can find it, it is really old.

Avoid What the *&^$@ do we know it is basically an ad for Ramtha and Joseph Dispenza...

Contact? Back to the Future, The Time Machine, Donnie Darko, Dr. Who, Time after Time?
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:58 AM on March 8, 2007

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