It’s every student’s dream to put down his or her pencil for a day and watch a movie during class. In fact, when students walk into the classroom only to find a substitute in their teacher’s place, they can hardly contain their excitement knowing that an easy movie day will likely replace the rigors of their usual lesson.

But what if watching movies could deliver educational value rather than simply hold students’ attention for the duration of class? They can! When presented as a learning opportunity rather than a free pass, teachers can use film to encourage students to ask open-ended questions, think critically, and discuss answers as a group. Here are 5 STEM movies that will prove their worth as educational tools before the credits roll.

1. Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures follows three African American female mathematicians. In the 1950’s Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson began working for the space program at NASA. They played a large part in the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

Learning Topics:

  • Diversity in gender and race
  • Mathematics
  • Science and technology
  • Space
  • Human rights

Discussion Questions:

  1. What or who are the “Hidden Figures” referred to in the title to this movie?
  2. Who or what is the antagonist in this story? What defeats the antagonist?
  3. Coffee serves as a symbol in this movie. What does it symbolize?


When Vincent Freeman was young, his dream was to go to space. Though, when it was time for testing, he was pinned as invalid due to being genetically inferior. Vincent didn’t let that stop him as through DNA Vincent takes on the identity of Jerome Morrow and joins the GATTACA Space Program – but not without complications.

Learning Topics:

  • DNA
  • Ethics
  • Genetic Engineering

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about genetic engineering? If possible, would you choose to cure diseases, make people stronger, better looking, etc. What limits should we place on it?
  2. Should we permit people to make human clones of themselves? What about someone who cannot have a child?
  3. What were the screenwriters trying to tell us through the episode of the 12 fingered pianist? What is wrong with engineering children to have 12 fingers if, as a result, they will be able to make extraordinarily beautiful music?

3. Planet Earth (series)

Plant Earth is a series of documentaries that shows the importance of our planet’s ecosystems.  This is a great way to show the beauty of earth science with another medium besides text.

Learning Topics:

  • Earth Science
  • Animal Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Plant Science
  • Habitats
  • Animal Reproduction
  • Extinction

4. Jurassic Park

Paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler and mathematician Ian Malcolm are selected to tour an island theme park full of dinosaurs made of prehistoric DNA. While the group is assured the park is safe, they quickly learn that is not the case.

Learning Topics:

  • DNA
  • Humanity vs. nature
  • Technology in science

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is cloning? Do you think cloning made the dinosaurs more susceptible to violence? Explain. How do you feel about cloning people and animals today?
  2. What was the main flaw of Jurassic Park?
  3. Do you think Hammond really cared about taking the world of science to a new level?

5. Imitation Game

Taking place in 1939, MI6 recruits Cambridge mathematician Alan Turing to decipher Nazi code. Along with Joan Clarke, he analyzes messages while building a machine to decipher them. While they do finally succeed, Turing becomes a disgrace.

Learning Topics:

  • Problem Solving
  • Breaking Code
  • Societal Pressures

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is Alan Turing’s plan for decoding Enigma?
  2. What was the first thing Turing did as leader of the Enigma project?
  3. What do you think Turing means when he says, “There is very little difference between humans and machines”?