Stories on the big screen can be incredibly powerful. Especially when exploring real events or the lives of game-changing historical figures, movies have a unique ability to captivate audiences around the world.
And the people, inventions, and events that created modern, 21st century life are often told through STEM stories!
From the pioneering NASA mathematicians of Hidden Figures to footage of marine life deep under the sea, films and documentaries are a great way to spark an interest in STEM. Plus, visual learners will love seeing science, engineering, math, and technology come to life before their eyes!
Goodbye rote memorization, hello activation of kids’ intellectual curiosity!
When correctly used, STEM movies, like say an educational YouTube channel, can both educate kids and inspire them to keep learning. These 15 films make for excellent classroom and family discussions, activities for a rainy day, and starting points for more in-depth investigations of fascinating STEM topics.
A guide to the best educational STEM movies
A note before pursuing this list: not all of these titles are appropriate for all audiences. Some of these movies contain mature content that teachers and parents may want to avoid.
Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for vetting age-appropriate content, and of course watching the movie yourself first isn’t a bad idea either! When I used film in my classroom, I also found it helpful to prepare students with a little historical context and other background information to make sure kids were ready to watch.
With that said, let’s take a closeup of STEM movies that can make a reel impact on young elementary, middle, and high school minds!
Rating: Not rated
In this fascinating true story, a group of scientists recreate Earth’s biosphere. They spend a year living in the dome they engineered, and this film tells the story of what they discovered along the way.
This powerful film is based on the lives of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, the trailblazing mathematicians who brought astronauts to the moon. Once you’ve watched, these extension activities offer insightful further reading and learning opportunities, plus more about Black STEM innovators.
Born in China
Born in China, a legendary nature film from Disney, shows viewers the lives of three animal families and their habitats. It would make an excellent introduction to biology, nature conservancy, and other topics in the natural world.
Science fact and science fiction collide in The Martian. This film follows an astronaut stranded on Mars and his struggle for survival. The Martian is also an excellent novel and would make for a wonderful interdisciplinary project for high school students!
Our Secret Universe
This documentary brings the cell, the building block of life on Earth, to - well - life! Our Secret Universe is great for classrooms and edutainment at home alike, and is a refreshing take on what can sometimes be a dry subject, told in the format of a compelling story.
A true classic! October Sky is based on the true story of aspiring rocket engineers in a small West Virginia town. It would be the perfect prelude to an exploration of rocketry, physics, or aerospace engineering.
Fed Up explores the science of nutrition and America’s food industry as a whole. This documentary offers insight into what we eat, plus plenty to chew on in terms of the policies and industries that shape Americans’ overall health.
The Mars Generation
Space exploration can seem like a (literally) far-off dream for kids, right? But in The Mars Generation, young viewers can be inspired by actual young people who get to explore NASA. This film features beloved voices like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, and it’s sure to get kids excited about the mysteries of our galaxy!
Radioactive is a biopic film about Marie Curie and her Nobel-Prize winning research and discoveries in physics and chemistry. The film follows events in Curie’s life as well as the groundbreaking work she is renowned for to this day.
My Octopus Teacher
This documentary swept multiple awards categories after it was released, and it’s easy to see why. My Octopus Teacher offers an unprecedented glimpse into the reclusive lives of this amazing animal. If your child expressed an interest in marine biology, this is a must-watch!
A Brief History of Time
Ever wonder about the man behind the legendary genius? A Brief History of Time takes a deep dive into the life and mind of Stephen Hawking, a man who forever changed our conceptions of physics and the vast universe around us.
The Social Dilemma
A thought-provoking film about the role of social media and other technology in modern life, The Social Dilemma is as relevant as it is poignant. This documentary tackles tough topics and is a fascinating insight into some of today’s most widely used tech.
Known as “the original space movie,” Apollo 13 retells the amazing true story of a NASA mission gone wrong. The film has been lauded by audiences and experts alike for its accuracy and high-quality storytelling and cinematography, plus it's one of Tom Hanks’ best performances.
The Imitation Game
This Oscar-winning film tells the story of Alan Turing, widely regarded as “the father of the computer." The Imitation Game captures not only Turing’s groundbreaking discoveries, but also portrays the adversity he faced as a gay man. This powerful film is both educational and eye-opening.
Mercury 13 is an honest depiction of gender-based discrimination within NASA in the 1960s. The documentary depicts the true story of female pilots who, despite undergoing extensive training for space exploration, are passed over in favor of male astronauts.
Though a work of science fiction, Interstellar still provides excellent food for thought. From black holes to wormholes and more secrets of the universe, this award-winning film offers a launchpad for viewers to discuss the future of space travel.
More ways to spark a love of STEM!
STEM offers plenty of educational stand-alone projects and subjects worth exploring. In our opinion, however, it’s so much more enriching as lifelong learning and ongoing investigation, study, and exploration!
Here are a few other resources to inspire your youngster to get excited about all things science, technology, engineering, and math: