6 Films about Famous Mathematicians

With Bio-pics a popular choice, it is no surprise that Hollywood and other movie makers have made so many films about famous mathematicians.

We have reviewed some great movies about real famous mathematicians.

1. A Beautiful Mind – John Nash
2. The Imitation Game – Alan Turing
3. The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking
4. Hidden Figures – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson
5. The Man Who Knew Infinity – Srinivasa Ramanujan
6. Agora – Hypatia

Mathematics has been around for several millennia so there are many time periods and topics of to make interesting movies about. Then other sciences have been founded and developed from mathematics, such as physics and engineering, opening up an even wider range of films about mathematics.

Moneyball (one of the best math movies in our opinion) tells of the introduction to statistics to baseball. Whilst a true story, its not about a famous mathematician – more about the application of statistics, a field of mathematics.  Other movies about mathematicians are often about imaginary characters like in Good Will Hunting.

A Beautiful Mind – John Nash

movie about famous mathematicians
(2001 Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly) This movie is about a great mathematician who struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. This condition has adverse effects on how he relates to people. His relationship with his family, friends, and colleagues remains complicated by his inability to maintain that interpersonal connection. To cope and live a relatively healthy life, he seeks professional help along the way. The most significant victory of the mathematician’s life is when he eventually wins the Nobel Prize at an advanced age. The leading role is played by Russell Crowe.  Russell does an amazing job bringing out the challenges faced by the brilliant mathematical mind of John Nash.

The Imitation Game – Alan Turing

famous mathematicians in films
(2014) This movie is a thriller that sees a group of mathematicians and computer scientists crack the Nazi Enigma Code. The code itself was a platform for encrypting messages, and it proved very crucial in wartime communications. Set in World War II, the Brits worked hard to decode the content sent using this particular method, to reveal the Germans’ plans. The film also sheds some light on the rule of law and the evolution of human rights. Alan Turing, the mathematician leading the British team is later arrested and tortured due to his (then) outlawed sexual orientation. With the primary focus being on his achievements, he was still expected to comply with the law, oppressive or not. A great movie on a major historical event impacted by a famous mathematician.

The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking

best movies about great mathematicians
(2014 Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones) This movie tells the story of a brilliant mathematician and scientist who suffered from motor neuron disease from an early age. The condition made everyday life difficult for this extraordinary mind; making him a social misfit right from the start. His brilliance in physics was beyond impressive. Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne), falls in love with a college mate Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), who later becomes his wife. This couple goes on to achieve beyond what any of them could have imagined. Hawking’s study of time begins just after he learns that he may not have too long to live, and this marks the start of a great journey of discoveries with the love of his life, Jane.  RIP 2018 Stephen Hawking.

Hidden Figures – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson

movies about famous women mathematicians
(2016 Taraji P. Hendson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer) This is a movie about the triumph of three women over segregation, and how mathematics proved fundamental in sending John Glenn to space (the first American into orbit). The story finds root on the real-life events surrounding the life of women mathematician, Katherine Johnson, a key player in NASA’s Mission. Her two colleagues were Dorothy Vaughan, a brilliant computer programmer, and Mary Jackson, a graduate engineer and the leading lady in petitioning school systems to allow her to take courses offered in an all-white school. These three clever ladies show how talent in mathematics and science always stand above race and gender.

The Man Who Knew Infinity – Srinivasa Ramanujan

movies about famous Indian mathematicians
(2015 Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons) This story originates from the real-life events of famous Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. In the story, a young man born in Madras, India, is struggling at life, earning a living as a casual laborer. The young man’s ability with numbers earns him accounting tasks with his employers. The bosses then encourage him to make his maths work public after they see the brilliance in what he does. Ramanujan writes to a great mathematician, G. H. Hardy, who immediately notices his brilliance and invites him to join Cambridge. He overcomes segregation and works for a long time under Hardy, braving tuberculosis in the process. Though ill, he is later reunited with his family back home after groundbreaking work in mathematics.

Agora – Hypatia

women mathematicians in film
(2010 Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella) Agora in Greek was the name for meeting places in ancient Greece. This movie showcases the battles of long ago between maths, science and superstition. The story is about Hypatia, who has three dedicated students under her; Davus, Synesius, and Orestes. All three male students are attracted to their teacher, who objects to their advances. Beyond religion and other beliefs, Hypatia only finds passion in science and ideas. This fourth century AD mathematician finds focus in a world full of distractions and unrest, where disagreeing factions believe firmly in the death of anyone who opposes them.

Other movies (that we havent seen) about famous mathematicians include:

“N is a Number” about mathematician Paul Erdos

“Evarist Galois”, and “Non ho Tempo (No More Time)” about Evarist Galois who died tragically young.

“A Hill on the Dark Side of The Moon” and “Sofia Kovalevskay”, both movies about female Russian mathematician, Sonia Kovalevskaya.

“Infinity” about Richard Feynman and chaos theory

“Morte di un Matematico Napoletano (Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician)” about Italian mathematician Renato Caccioppoli.

We’d love to hear your review of these movies too.

Conclusion
So many significant aspects of life rely on mathematics.

All technological advancements that aid our daily communication and assist in making life more convenient find root in mathematics. A consistent theme in the movies is that mathematics is a powerful tool in everyday life. Mathematicians can be regular people, and sometimes inherently gifted individuals.  Both types of mathematicians invest time and resources to get answers and change our lives. Life’s big or little struggles do not stop these great mathematicians from pursing their vocation in life.

We enjoyed these movies about famous mathematicians and hope you do too.

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