Are you looking for school appropriate movies to show your middle school math students?
Whether you want to give your kids a break from testing, supplement your instruction, or share some well-earned Friday fun time, showing a math-themed movie in class can be an educational and enjoyable experience.
While it can be challenging to find movies that are directly related to mathematics, there are plenty of creative ways to appropriately show full movies and movie clips in your classroom.
Many movies have strong mathematical elements that an be used to spark discussions and help your kids make connections with what they are learning in class. For example, in Pixar’s WALL-E, the main character spends his days compressing garbage into cubes and stacking them into massive piles. The applications to lessons on volume and surface area are practically endless!
So, if you are struggling to find a math movie that is right for your kids, check out the following list, get the popcorn ready, and enjoy!
*Disclaimer: You should always get permission from your administration and use discretion before showing any movie or movie scene to your kids.
1.) A Beautiful Mind (PG-13)
IMDb Synopsis: After John Nash, a brilliant but asocial mathematician, accepts secret work in cryptography, his life takes a turn for the nightmarish.
Why? A Beautiful Mind is more than just an interesting tale about a paranoid mathematician, it shares several examples of how beautiful mathematics truly is and how it applies to our everyday world.
2.) Life of Pi (PG)
IMDb Synopsis: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger.
Why? While there's not much math in this movie (beyond Pi being giving his nickname for winning a competition to recite the most decimal points in the value of pi), the movie shares an incredible tale of overcoming tremendous odds and traveling thousands of miles across the sea.
3.) WALL-E (G)
IMDb Synopsis: In the distant future, a small waste-collecting robot inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.
Why? WALL-E is a fun movie with very little dialogue that touches on ideas including robotics, AI, environmental protection, and space travel. With a little creativity, you can connect a variety of math topics and ideas to the events of the film.
4.) Moneyball (PG-13)
IMDb Synopsis: Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.
Why? You won't find a movie that demonstrates the tremendous role that mathematics plays in professional sports better than Moneyball. Showing the full movie will give your kids a better idea of how mathematics applies to the real world as well as possible career paths, such as becoming a Major League Baseball scout, that require a deep understanding of applied mathematics.
5.) Tron: Legacy (PG)
IMDb Synopsis: The son of a virtual world designer goes looking for his father and ends up inside the digital world that his father designed. He meets his father's corrupted creation and a unique ally who was born inside the digital world.
Why? Tron: Legacy is a visually exciting Disney movie that takes place in a geometrical, digital arena. I always show the famous lightbike scene to my students before starting a unit on angle relationships or parallel lines cut by a transversal.
Are your kids ready for these daily math challenges?
6.) The Martian (PG-13)
IMDb Synopsis: An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars after his team assume him dead, and must rely on his ingenuity to find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.
Why? The Martian is probably the best STEM movie ever. There are countless scenes where Matt Damon has to use mathematics and mathematical reasoning to overcome challenges and advance his quest for survival. If you are looking to show your kids that math can take you places, then The Martian is your best choice!
7.) October Sky (PG)
IMDb Synopsis: The true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner's son who was inspired by the first Sputnik launch to take up rocketry against his father's wishes.
Why? October Sky is another awesome STEM-themed movie with plenty of examples of how mathematics can be applied to the real-world. This teacher-favorite is popular with students because the main characters are rebellious (in a good way) grade-school students.
8.) Back to the Future (PG)
IMDb Synopsis: Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown.
Why? You can never go wrong with this 1985 classic, which comically explores math in the context of time travel. If you have not seen Back to the Future in a while, you'll be surprised by how many references are made to math topics including rates and unit rates, probability and statistics, and estimation. Check out this Education Week journal on the mathematics of Back to the Future for more ideas.
Looking for fun ways to get your kids WRITING about math?
9.) 21 (PG-13)
IMDb Synopsis: 21" is the fact-based story about six MIT students who were trained to become experts in card counting and subsequently took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings.
Why? Based on a true story, 21 demonstrates how being able to think mathematically can give you a tremendous strategic advantage in a game like Blackjack, which can lead to the ability to earn millions of dollars!
10.) Donald in Mathmagic Land
IMDb Synopsis: Donald Duck goes on an adventure in which it is explained how mathematics can be useful in real life. Through this journey it is shown how numbers are more than graphs and charts, they are geometry, music, and magical living things.
Why? Did you really think that this 1959 classic would not be on this list? This timeless gem was made to show kids that mathematics is more than just a set of procedures and rules. Despite its age and short duration (it's only 27 minutes long), it still stands up and is a beloved by students and teachers alike. And did I mention that you can watch the full movie for free on YouTube?
Did I miss your favorite math movie or tv show? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
By Anthony Persico
Anthony is the content crafter and head educator for YouTube's MashUp Math and an advisor to Amazon Education's 'With Math I Can' Campaign. You can often find me happily developing animated math lessons to share on my YouTube channel . Or spending way too much time at the gym or playing on my phone.