Math in the Movies

Oliver Knill, from the Department of Mathematics at Harvard University, has compiled a very interesting web page that includes video clips from 155 movies in which mathematics appears.  I enjoyed browsing this list and watching some of the clips of movies that I have seen in the past.  Many, but not all, of the movies can be watched using the full-screen options. 

Note: I believe that the video clips I have chosen to highlight below are classroom safe.  Some of the other clips on the website do include language inappropriate for the classroom.

Here are my favorite clips from movies that I am familiar with in this list: 

(Click the links below to watch each clip.)

Father of the Bride

In this hilarious clip George Banks (Steve Martin) is infuriated that hot dogs and hot dog buns are not sold in complementary packages at his local supermarket.  Dogs come in packages of 8 and buns in packages of 12.  I know that those of you with math minds out there have already calculated that George would have found contentment if he had just purchased 3 packs of hot dogs and 2 packages of buns.  Come to think of it, I think my textbook has an LCM problem like this in it!

October Sky

October Sky is one of my favorite movies.  It is the true story of Homer Hickam and his friends, whose pursuit of rocketry leads them to win the national science fair, earn college scholarships, and escape their coal mining town to find a better life.  In this clip Homer works persistently until his equation calculations prove that their rocket did not start the fire that they had been blamed for.

Pay It Forward

Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) is a student who shares with the class his plan to change the world.  Called “paying it forward,” Trevor’s plan is to start a chain where each person helps three other people in a significant way.  He helps three, who help 9, who help 27, who help 81 and so on.  This is an excellent clip to use with geometric progressions and exponents.

A Walk to Remember

Landon Carter (Shane West) connects math to real life as he tutors a student on the basketball court.  The scene focuses on the geometric concepts of similar and isosceles triangles.  With the lesson learned, the hoops competition is on!

Night at the Museum II

This is a very funny, stand-alone clip!  Larry (Ben Stiller) and Amelia (Amy Adams)  are trying to uncover the secret at the heart of the pharaoh’s tomb.  In the process, they have a fantastic exchange with a group of bobble-head Einsteins!  This clip would go perfectly with a lesson featuring pi.

Stand and Deliver

Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) teaches his students integer concepts in this entertaining video clip.  Stand and Deliver is one of the best movies ever made (maybe one of the only movies ever made) specifically around the topics of mathematics and education.  If you haven’t watched this movie, I highly recommend it.

 What About You?

Please take a moment and share any thoughts about the above video clips.  Will you use one or more in your classroom?  Which is your favorite?  Have you seen any other movies that contain great math video clips?

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  1. Ruth says:

    Mr. Tully, it would be great if the film clips were rated. (ie. pg,pg13,etc.) thank you

    • Mark Tully says:

      Hi Ruth,

      Thanks for taking a moment to comment. You can find the film ratings on the Math in the Movies website. After you select and click on a movie, look to the right of the selected video. You will see a link that says “external IMDb link.” This will take you to the Internet Movie Database page for that movie. The rating is directly under the movie title.

      I personally would not even show clips from movies that are inappropriate for my students.

      Hope this helps!

  2. نرگس says:

    Dear Friend
    It’s very funny, and useful for my class and my blog
    to introduce math movies to teachers and students.

    • Mark Tully says:

      Thanks, Narges! I’m glad you are enjoying the video clips.

  3. Omneya says:

    Great idea! I’m sure my students will enjoy it : )

    • Mark Tully says:

      Thanks, Omneya. Let me know how you use this in your classroom.

  4. LaKisha Lewis says:

    This is a great collaboration and I intend on using it in my classroom. I’ve also used Taken 2. The scene when he’s instructing his daughter on how to find him using the area and radius of a circle on a map and bombs. I used this activity to introduce circumference and area of a circle using thunder and lighting claps. The kids loved it.

    • Mark Tully says:

      Thanks LaKisha! I’ll have to take a look at Taken 2.

    • Shilpa Bansal says:

      Wow, that scene in Taken 2 explains so well the use of Geometry in real life. Thanks for reminding.

  5. Mindee Dunagan says:

    Remember the Titans:
    Denzel Washington: “Petey, how many feet are in a mile?!”
    Petey: “I don’t know, Coach.”
    Washington: “5280 and you’re gonna run every last one of them! You’re killing me, Petey! You’re killing’ me!”

    • Mark Tully says:

      Thanks, Mindee! This is one of my favorite movies and a good math reference.

  6. Keith Long says:

    I will be showing the opening scene of Frozen with the geometric series 1, 10, 100. Also “Let it Go” mentions fractals.

  7. Debra says:

    Woops! The Eistein bobbleheads say that Pi is 3.14159265 “to be exact”. That’s an approximation of Pi. Could lead to a really good discussion!!!!

  8. Susan says:

    I have used the teacher tube video clip of Abbott and Costello counting doughnuts to review place value. Very funny and a great way to spark interest!

    • Katina says:

      The 7×13=28 is in several different scenes. Good for discussing what the actor does wrong.

  9. Katina says:

    You inspired me to look up more movie clips. There are several w Abbot and Costello doing 7×13=28. This would definitely be good for discussing what is being done wrong (using the ones and tens place as the same value). Thank you for starting this math dialogue.

  10. Ma and PA Kettle doing math! 25% should be 14% for 5 people…check youtube…great discussions on “what went wrong”

    Writing from phone which doesn’t show URL so can’t give exact website address

  11. Diana Bilbao says:

    Hi! Another movie that has a great clip of solving a rate question is “Little Big League” 1994. . Check it out! I, too, love showing kids that math can be amusing. On the last week of school, I show my 8th graders “Stand and Deliver” before sending them off to high school. Love that movie :)

    • Mark Tully says:

      Diana, thanks for the video suggestion! I just watched it and it is very good.

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