6 Beautiful Math Movies Based on True Stories

Ali
7 min readApr 5, 2022
“Film is not thought, it is perceived.” — Merleau Ponty.

Watching movies allows people to, although for a brief moment, step out of the limits and boundaries of their lives and step into the lives of others. Especially in this day and age where it is increasingly difficult to focus on one thing at a time, I find watching a movie to be one of the rare things I can sit down and do for at least two hours.

That is why I have listed below six math movies that have been adapted from real stories. A disclaimer, however, many creative liberties have been taken in the following movies. Although they were made in hopes of chasing a real-life occurrence, they are not purely non-fiction.

The existential philosopher Merleau Ponty says, “Film is not thought, it is perceived.” That’s why I know many will wish they, even for a moment, could live the lives of those in the below movies.

Many of these beautiful movies made were based on books. You might want to read the books first or after the movie!Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space RaceMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameA Beautiful Mind : A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr.The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded
I have also compiled more math movies on Abakcus and you can see them here.

Hidden Figures

Watch Hidden Figures | IMDB Score: 7.8

“Hidden Figuresexplores the story of three African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. It is the story of their struggle to live humane lives in spite of constant racism and sexism.

Although the trailer may look cliche, many scenes, such as a woman having to walk hours to use the restroom just because she is black, or the head of NASA, Al Harrisson, breaking a restroom sign reading The Colored Woman’s Bathroom, are incredibly original. Furthermore, the basis of the Soviet vs American Space Race has been brilliantly incorporated.

Image Credit: Hopper Stone
In summary, Hidden Figures is a brilliant movie that inspires the girls of our time to fight for and pursue their dreams in the face of adversity. The below graphic about the movie is incredibly inspirational.
Image Source: Reddit

Moneyball

Watch Moneyball | IMDB Score: 7.6

Moneyballis an educational movie that anyone studying or interested in statistics must watch. Although it seems like a movie on the tale of an accomplishment, it is also a movie about the failure leading to said accomplishment as well.

At first, the movie is about a man who wins by straying from the rules of the game. For example, in the beginning, the Oakland A baseball team is depicted as a factory. Every player, spectator, faculty member, etc. is depicted as an income or expense. Then, Peter Brand and statistician Billy Beane state that everything can be solved using statistics and even puts their life and career on the line to prove their point. Observing the maximum effort of the players, they use statistics to develop the most ferocious team by trading and selling underperforming teammates.

Even better, you don’t even need to know baseball to understand the movie because it uses the sport as more of a metaphor rather than a fundamental.

Player Value Scene — Frequency Based Probability & Statistics in Moneyball | Math in Movies — Peter Brand uses equations and statistics to analyze baseball players’ value. People are overlooked for various reasons: age, appearance, and personality, and mathematics cuts right through this bias.

Moneyball teaches us to go against a specified system in order to achieve greatness. Everyone can go up the ladder within the system, but when life throws you out of the system, you have to get creative to stay on top. Nearly all of the successful people around us are like the coaches in Moneyball.

X+Y

Watch X+Y | IMDB Score: 7.1

“X+Y is about a boy who is trying to compete in mathematics olympiads, whose entire life revolves around math, who has autistic tendencies, who is devoid of feelings, discovering love and affection. The movie is based on Daniel Lightwing, who stated that only about 30 percent of it was made up, making it a relatively realistic movie.

One of the things I find most touching in this movie was when the parents find out their child is autistic, the concerned face of the mother and the unchanged, even excited face of the father.

Because the director tries to state that the truth cannot be found through mathematics in the end, I believe it would have been better for them to consult a mathematician first. Regardless, the movie is great for children.

Stand And Deliver

Watch Stand and Deliver | IMDB Score: 7.3 | Source: Pixels

“Stand And Deliver is a movie about an idealist who quits his job at IBM to teach a class full of rascals Calculus using radical methods.

It is a must-watch for all idealistic mathematics teachers because it proves to us that it is not the student who cannot learn but rather the teacher who cannot teach. For this reason, this movie might be the single greatest source of inspiration. Seeing students who only talk about sexuality become students who solve mathematics problems even a teacher cannot solve is greatly entertaining.

Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver (1988)

The statement Jamie Escalante makes while passing out test papers to his students carries deep meaning:

“You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion. Because of these two strikes, some people in this world will assume that you know less than you do. Math is the great equalizer.”

The Imitation Game

Watch The Imitation Game | IMDB Score: 8.0 | Source: Hunter Langston Design

“The Imitation Gameis a movie based on the life of Alan Turing, which encompasses the topic brilliantly, but more importantly, it is the movie that started Benedict Cumberbatch’s journey from an incredible actor to a legendary actor. The music and colors in the movie are near unmatched.

This movie proves to us how important mathematicians are to humanity. Alan Turing is a mathematician whose machine Enigma helped end World War 2 early, saving millions of lives in the process.

This piece of dialogue from the movie really hit me:

“What is the difference between cryptography and speaking? When people are talking to each other, they can never say what they want. They say something else and you are just expected to understand what they mean.”

At the end of the movie one asks himself, “if Alan Turing had not committed suicide and instead lived another twenty years, what else could he have given humanity?”

A Beautiful Mind

Watch A Beautiful Mind | IMDB Score: 8.2 | Source: Displate

“A Beautiful Mind” is an incredibly emotional movie based on the life of mathematician John Nash who teeters back and forth between genius and schizophrenic.

First and foremost, you must know that this movie is mostly based on fiction. The John Nash you see in the movie and the John Nash in real life are almost completely different people. The unbreakable love in the movie is not really all that accurate because John Nash was someone who constantly cheated on his wife Alicia in the University bathroom. That is why Alicia leaves Nash and even skips his Nobel Prize ceremony.

Vector Calculus in A Beautiful Mind — Math in Movies — In the movie, A Beautiful Mind, John Nash (Russell Crowe) is teaching vector calculus in his own way. After discarding the book, he poses a calculus problem on the board.

Back to the movie, however, it is a brilliant play on the life of a math teacher and his relationship with his students and his schizophrenia. While not very realistic, the ending where many professors come and place pens on John Nash’s table as a sign of respect is incredibly mesmerizing.

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Ali

Math Teacher. Content Curator. Soccer player. Maradona fan. Mostly write about the lectures I love to learn better. alikayaspor@gmail.com