Best movies about scientists

Last week, I settled into a cinema seat to watch “Oppenheimer,” the last masterpiece by Christopher Nolan. Walking out three hours later, the movie stuck with me, just like a catchy tune you can’t shake off. It wasn’t just the story of the man behind the atomic bomb that gripped me. It was the stark reminder of how science, mixed with ambition, can be at the same time awe-inspiring and frightening.

Oppenheimer made me think: Some of the world’s greatest scientists, with all their genius, can let their swollen egos overshadow the bigger picture. Yet, films like this nudge me toward wanting to be a better scientist. So, I started thinking about other movies about scientists that inspired me. And here they are, my top 6 picks.

6. Oppenheimer (2023)

Oppenheimer as an example of scientists in movies

Synopsis: During the Second World War, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer takes the lead in the top-secret Manhattan Project. With a team of eminent scientists by his side, he dedicates years to the creation of the world’s first atomic bomb. Their efforts culminate on July 16, 1945, with the bomb’s first successful detonation. Shortly after, the U.S. drops two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. Following these devastating events, Oppenheimer grapples with profound personal and political challenges. His prior Communist ties and his reservations about nuclear weapons put him under intense scrutiny (see the trailer here).

Why It’s Inspiring: The film shows how science, ambition, politics, and powerful discoveries are deeply intertwined. As scientists, we hope to make big discoveries, but there’s no sure way to tell if they’ll turn out good or bad. And once we find something new, it’s not just ours anymore; it’s up to the world, mostly the politicians, to decide what happens next. After watching the movie, I felt uneasy. The huge power of the atomic bomb reminded me of today’s rapid advancements in AI.

5. The Imitation Game (2014)

 Example of scientists in movies

Synopsis: During World War II, Alan Turing, a gifted mathematician, is recruited to join a secret mission to crack the Nazi’s seemingly unbreakable Enigma code. He teams up with a group of scholars, linguists, chess champions, and intelligence officers at Bletchley Park to create a machine to decipher the encrypted Nazi communications. Despite the hurdles and the pressure, they persist, and their hard work starts to pay off, unlocking the secrets of the enemy’s plans (see the trailer here).

Why It’s Inspiring: Alan Turing’s work during the Second World War proved crucial to the Allied victory. By deciphering the German Enigma code, Turing and his team at Bletchley Park provided the Allies with invaluable intelligence, enabling them to anticipate German movements and strategies. Yet their prowess remained in the shadows, and instead of recognition, Turing suffered terrible persecution for his homosexuality. The movie sheds light on Turing’s genius and perseverance amidst societal pressures.

4. Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

 Example of scientists in movies

Synopsis: In the 1960’s, Dian Fossey, a passionate primatologist, embarks on a journey into the remote rainforests of Rwanda to study the endangered mountain gorillas. Establishing the Karisoke research center in the Virunga Mountains, Fossey creates a unique bond with the gorillas, particularly with one called Digit. She becomes their fierce protector, fighting poaching and habitat destruction. But she faces enormous challenges, from the resistance of local communities to the isolation of her field camp (see trailer here).

Why It’s Inspiring: In the face of current concerns for our planet and its ecosystems, Gorillas in the Mist and Dian Fossey’s story are incredibly modern and ahead of their time. The gorillas in their beautiful habitat are incredibly touching and the atrocities they have suffered revolting. Dian Fossey’s scientific work, filled with deep care and love for nature, is truly inspiring.

3. The Theory of Everything (2014)

Synopsis: The Theory of Everything follows the extraordinary life of physicist Stephen Hawking. While completing his doctorate at Cambridge University, Stephen falls deeply in love with one of his classmates, Jane Wilde. But soon he receives the devastating diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and doctors give him a mere two years to live. His physical abilities rapidly diminish, but his determination and pioneering spirit remain intact. Defying all the odds, Stephen and Jane forge an enduring marriage, weathering the trials of his physical decline and her unwavering role as partner and caregiver (see the trailer here).

Why It’s Inspiring: What an unbelievable story celebrating human potential and spirit! This film testifies to the unstoppable will of an individual who, despite the worst physical limitations, has continued to expand our understanding of the universe.

2. Hidden Figures (2016)

Synopsis: In the midst of the space race in the 1960s, Hidden Figures reveals the untold story of three brilliant African-American women working at NASA: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Employed as “computer-women” in a segregated division, they have to face the racial and sexual discrimination of their white male colleagues. But despite these obstacles, their work proves indispensable to achieving aeronautical breakthroughs (see trailer here).

Why It’s Inspiring: It’s a beautiful film with fantastic actresses (Octavia Spencer, Taraji Henson, Kirsten Dunst) and actors (Kevin Costner). It’s a fun and easy watch but also uplifting and thought-provoking. The most enjoyable way to re-motivate yourself if you feel you need a little boost.

1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

From the name of my blog, you might have seen this one coming :

Synopsis: A Beautiful Mind tells the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician whose groundbreaking work on game theory has catapulted him to academic stardom. However, his promising career takes a tumultuous turn when he is plagued by paranoid schizophrenia, weaving a complex web between his groundbreaking mathematical discoveries and the haunting illusions his mind conjures up. Nash’s difficulties blend closely with his personal life, affecting his relationships and academic endeavors (see the trailer here).

Why It’s Inspiring: I recall vividly when John Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. It showed the world that even an intellect of the highest caliber could suffer through the challenges of mental disorder. Nash’s disclosure of his condition humanized his genius and contributed to the normalization and acceptance of mental health problems. The film is a poignant portrait of his life, and so is the book from which it is adapted. If you’re looking for an inspiring read, go and get it.

Same, same but different

After rewatching these films, my life seems pretty straightforward. I don’t face serious physical or mental health problems, segregation or poacher attacks. But, like everyone else, I have my own struggles.

Seeing how the scientists in these films overcame their problems gives me the strength to face my own. Their stories show we can all push through hard times. I hope that you too will feel stronger after watching about them.

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