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Great (& Realistic) Physics Movies

Movies That Even the Nit-Pickers Will Like


Most movies use science poorly, but some get it right. Here are a handful of films that deal very well with the topic of physics. By and large, these movies represent films that take few liberties with what is physically possible, although in some cases (such as science fiction) they may extrapolate a bit beyond what is currently known.

Apollo 13

Universal Pictures
In 1970, astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) is commanding a "routine" mission to the moon, Apollo 13. With the famous words "Houston, we have a problem." begins a terrifying true journey of survival, as the three astronauts attempt to survive in space while scientists and engineers on the ground work to find a way to bring the damaged spacecraft back to Earth safely.

Apollo 13 has a phenomenal cast, including Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and others, and is directed by Ron Howard. Dramatic and moving, it retains scientific integrity in exploring this significant moment in the history of space travel.

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October Sky

Universal Studios
A film, based on a true story, about a teenager (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who becomes fascinated with rocketry and, against all odds, becomes the inspiration of his small mining town by going on to win a national science fair.

The Abyss

20th Century Fox
The Abyss is one of my personal favorite films, and though more science fiction than science fact, there's enough realism in the portrayal of the deep sea, and its exploration, to keep the physics fan quite interested.
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Paramount Pictures
This fun romantic comedy features Albert Einstein (played by Walter Matthau) as he plays cupid between his niece (Meg Ryan) and a local auto mechanic (Tim Robbins).


First Look Pictures
Infinity is the film telling the story of young Richard P. Feynman's marriage to Arlene Greenbaum, who suffered from tuberculosis and died while he worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. It is an enjoyable and heart-tugging tale, though Broderick doesn't do full justice to the depth of Feynman's dynamic character, in part because he misses out on some of the more enjoyable "Feynman stories" that have become classics to physicists.

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001 is the definitive classic space film, considered by many to have ushered in the era of space action special effects. Even after all these years - several years after the supposed date of the film has passed - it holds up quite well. If you can deal with the pacing of this film, which is a far cry from the whiz-bang of modern science fiction films, it's a great film about space exploration.
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NOVA: Einstein's Big Idea

This is actually a documentary instead of a fictional film, but it is so highly dramatized that it feels more like you're watching a movie instead of a PBS documentary! It centers around Einstein's equation E = mc2. The documentary really brings to life the personalities and ideas that influenced Einstein, laying the fundamental concepts that led to his insights about the nature and relationship of matter and energy.
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