In decades past, technology was often presented in film as the stuff of nightmares — think of tech dystopias like Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey. But thankfully, technophobia in film is dwindling, and a new generation of filmmakers are creating STEM-centered stories that are full of optimism and possibility. And that’s great news for parents and educators who want to inspire a love of STEM!
If you’re hoping to use the magic of movies to spark an interest in STEM in your kids, look no further: we’ve assembled a list of kid-friendly films that will nurture your child’s curiosity and show them the power of problem-solving.
This uplifting film tells the untold story of three African-American women at NASA who were instrumental in America's space missions in the 50s and 60s. Not only does this film present a number of scientific principles in an approachable way, it’s also bound to be especially inspiring for girls and children of color. This movie’s three Black protagonists — played by Taraji P. Henderson, Octavia Butler, and Janelle Monae — model academic excellence, confidence, and a passion for STEM, and they show how unity of vision and a commitment to scientific problem-solving can help to overcome all kinds of systemic challenges.
Cool science: a contradiction in terms? Not according to thousands of moviegoers who have been mesmerized by The Martian, in which an astronaut (played by Matt Damon) uses his science and math skills to survive being marooned on Mars. To generate water for growing crops, he burns hydrogen in the presence of oxygen. To power up the vehicle he needs to drive to the rescue site, he attaches leftover solar panels and battery packs to his rover. Math helps him determine the battery life he’ll need to reach the rescue site, and computer skills enable him to retool an old Mars lander to communicate with Earth. Your kids will love this space thriller, in which real STEM principles and science fiction collide.
Like Hidden Figures, part of Apollo 13’s power to inspire lies in its basis in real events. Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, is a family movie focusing on the lives of the astronauts on board the landmark American expedition to the moon. When numerous technical problems threaten the astronauts’ survival and the success of the mission, the brave protagonists must devise ingenious DIY solutions to land safely back on Earth. This film emphasizes the role of visionary leadership, clear communication, superior teamwork, and unrelenting courage in STEM.
Set in the fictional tech hub of San Fransokyo, Big Hero 6 follows the lives of brainy teens who use their ingenious inventions to become self-made superheroes. The 14 year old protagonist Hiro is a tech geek who participates in robotics projects at school and puts his brain to work in positive, practical ways. And though Big Hero 6 focuses on a group of science geeks using chemistry and engineering to battle the forces of evil, it’s also about family, loss, and the power of kindness.
Underwater Dreams is a heartwarming documentary taking American classrooms by storm. It follows the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants as they learn to build an underwater robot using parts from Home Depot — and take on engineering powerhouse MIT in a national competition. It’s an underdog story, a rousing high school competition film, and an insightful human interest story that shines a light on the underground Americans who deserve recognition.
A 2020 Christmas musical fantasy film, Jingle Jangle, which stars acting and comedy powerhouses like Forest Whitaker, Keegan Michael Key, and Phylicia Rashad, focuses on genius inventor Jeronicus Jangle and his passionate, whip-smart granddaughter Journey, who is also a budding inventor. This film brings STEM to the forefront through imaginative mathematical dream sequences, richly composed numbers about the self-affirming power of invention, and an adorable robot called the Buddy 3000.
You may not think of Legos as particularly scientific, but The Lego Movie speaks directly to the builder in every one of us. It’s an action-comedy featuring the voices of celebrated actors like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Will Farrell that showcases how creative engineering solutions and teamwork can solve even the most hilariously complex problems.
Though this beloved Pixar film makes a point of spotlighting the dangerous effects of industrialization at all costs, it also shows the positive power of technology through its protagonist, a big-hearted and curious robot named Wall-E. As Wall-E dutifully organizes trash, cares for his pet cockroach, re-watches old musicals, falls in love with a combat robot, and travels across the galaxy, kids will learn that they can use tech to nurture the planet and care for each other.
Sci-fi film Interstellar has been lauded by scientists and teachers alike for its ability to imaginatively and accurately portray complex and fascinating scientific phenomena and concepts, including black holes, gravity, wormholes, a fifth dimension, and special relativity. Set in a future in which Earth is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, the story follows former NASA pilot Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers as they travel across the galaxy to investigate a new home for mankind. Director Christopher Nolan said, “We hoped that by dramatizing science and making it something that could be entertaining for kids we might inspire some of the astronauts of tomorrow – that would be the ultimate goal of the project.”
It’s no secret that STEM careers are and will remain in-demand. But even kids who aren’t ultimately interested in a STEM career can get excited about the power and value of STEM – especially with the right movie. If your child is inspired by one of these films and wants to explore a STEM field for themselves, consider signing them up for one of our rigorous and exciting coding classes!