If you were to poll the entire population of the United States about what the worst school subject is, I think we all know what the answer would be. Math is undoubtedly the most boring subject. It doesn’t involve any creativity or artistic expression, it’s a science of cold, hard facts and theorems. And I know that someone reading this right now is thinking, Well, math is actually really interesting. It’s a way of describing and understanding the physical world all around us. Save it. We don’t want to hear it.
In all seriousness, though, math is obviously extremely vital to many aspects of modern human existence, and we should all have undying gratitude toward those who dedicate their lives to the discipline of mathematics. If it weren’t for the dude that invented calculus, we’d still be living in the dark ages.
But that doesn’t change the fact that most of us want nothing to do with it. So, whenever a new movie hits the theaters that are about math, personally, I have no desire whatsoever to sit through 90 minutes of math-related content. I’m perfectly fine leaving all of that in high school.
But, after being forced by friends and family to watch several movies about math, I must admit that there are some math-centric movies that are actually pretty entertaining. In fact, I was surprised to find that I actually really liked some of these films. So, in this article, we’re going to go through 6 movies about math that actually aren’t boring!
1. Good Will Hunting (1997)
Of course, we had to include the 1997 classic film Good Will Hunting on this list. Matt Damon plays the lead role of Will Hunting, who’s pretty much as cool as a brilliant mathematician could possibly be.
He’s a ruffian from the streets of Boston, he gets drunk, he woos beautiful British women with his crude charm, and he’s even got badass catchphrases like, “How do you like them apples?” But what separates Will Hunting from the rest of his degenerate Bostonian friends is the fact that he’s one of the greatest minds in the field of mathematics.
Math is definitely a major part of this film, but it’s more so about a troubled young man who thinks he’s smarter (in Bostonian, pronounced SMAH-duh) than everyone else. However, when he’s required to visit a psychologist (played by the late and great Robin Williams) by the court after his arrest, Will Hunting learns that his emotional intelligence could definitely use some improvement.
2. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
If you’re interested in learning about the incredible true story of a genius mathematician, then you should check out the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind (which is based on a fantastic book if you prefer the literary medium).
The film stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, a brilliant but asocial mathematician that does groundbreaking work in the field of cryptography. However, Nash begins to grow obsessed with the patterns and believes that he’s being followed by Soviet agents.
Eventually, after being evaluated by psychologists, it’s determined that Nash is suffering from schizophrenia, and is sedated and sent to a psychiatric facility. However, Nash’s life then takes a massive turnaround as he returns to Princeton University to teach.
He then resumes his work as a mathematician and wins the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. This is one of the most incredible redemption stories in the history of the United States, and Russell Crowe does an excellent job of portraying John Nash.
3. Moneyball (2011)
The 2011 film Moneyball is also based on a true story that details the fascinating intersection of baseball and mathematics. This film stars Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who was tasked with assembling a winning team on an exceptionally low budget during their 2002 season. In order to tackle this problem, Billy Beane and assistant general manager Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) employed a sophisticated mathematical approach to scouting and analyzing players.
Using this technique, referred to as “sabermetrics,” the duo is able to assemble a team that far exceeds anyone’s expectations for the season. This approach to recruitment has completely changed baseball and the world of sports in general.
This is technically a movie about math, but it’s also a fantastic underdog sports story with some dynamite acting from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Some people even consider it a revenge movie of sorts, where Billy Beane is helping the Oakland A’s finally show the rest of the MLB what they can do.
4. Hidden Figures (2016)
The 2016 biographical drama Hidden Figures is yet another movie about math that’s based on a true story. However, this film also documents a major moment in the history of civil rights as it centers on a group of three Black women who work as NASA engineers in the Space Task Group in 1961. The group is segregated by race and sex, and, of course, these women are dismissed and disrespected by the other members of the group.
However, Katherine Johnson (portrayed by Tajari P. Henson) and her assistants Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson prove how indispensable they are to the group by performing the mathematical research that eventually leads to the successful landing of the Friendship 7 spacecraft. This film is not only amazingly dramatic and entertaining, but it also documents an important moment in the history of American civil rights that everyone should be familiar with.
5. The Imitation Game (2014)
Even though The Imitation Game is a movie all about math, how could it possibly be boring when it stars the indelible Benedict Cumberbatch? The 2014 thriller follows the real-life story of Alan Turing, the English mathematician, and cryptanalyst who deciphered German intelligence messages during World War II.
The film details Turing’s groundbreaking work related to British war efforts, which many claim to be the discoveries that led to the creation of the first computers. However, this film is just as much about Turing’s personal struggles.
Cumberbatch does an excellent job portraying Turing’s notoriously complex personality. He was an undeniable genius but also a terrible coworker. He was also homosexual, a part of him that he was forced to keep under wraps to protect his reputation in 1950s Great Britain.
The Imitation Game is a fascinating story about a multifaceted historical figure who made a massive impact on the history of the world. Plus, this incredible true story is aided by apt performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and the rest of the cast.
6. 21 (2008)
What’s the coolest possible application of math? Winning millions of dollars by counting cards in blackjack, obviously. Well, that’s the premise of the 2008 drama 21. This movie stars Jim Sturgess as an M.I.T. mathematics major named Ben Campbell who gets involved in the world of casinos. After meeting a professor named Micky Rosa, he joins a team of blackjack players who fly to and from Las Vegas, bringing back heaps of cash winnings every time.
However, Ben’s dedication to the blackjack team causes him to neglect his schoolwork. Eventually, he gets spread so thin that he begins to slip up in the world of blackjack as well, allowing the casino’s bouncers to catch on to the fact that he’s counting cards.
This causes a major rift between Ben and his mentor Micky. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t seen this movie, but things don’t end up so great for these card counters. Obviously, this film is a suave drama about geniuses in casinos, but there’s a lot of math involved as well.