The Absolute “Must-See” List of ‘Science in the Movies

As compiled by panelists and audience at the Special Edition Café Scientifique: Science in the Movies at the Worldviews Conference


•  Dan Falk – Science journalist, Broadcaster, and Author
•  Mark Langer – Professor Film Studies, CarletonUniversity
•  Yasaman Soudagar – Dept. Of Physics, University of Toronto
•  Natasha Eloi –on-air reporter for InnerSPACE show at the SPACE Channel

The panelists chose:

E.T. (1982)
“scientists as evil zombie-like devotees to rationality.”
(Dan Falk)

Contact (1997)
“a pretty positive three-dimensional female scientist who discovers an alien signal.”
(Dan Falk)

Primer (2004)
“to show that science can sometimes proceed through mistakes and trail and error.”
(Dan Falk)

Frankenstein (1931)
“the original ‘It’s alive!’ scene, with some lines censored by loud thunder based on the censorship of Hollywood in the 1930s.”
(Mark Langer)

Maniac (1934)
“Director Dwayne Esper used ‘mad scientists’ to flout the censorship laws of the 1930s.”
(Mark Langer)

Back to the Future Part II (1989)
“fake science, but a great movie because it does so with humor.”
(Yasaman Soudagar)

What the Bleep do we Know? (2004)
“some good science interspersed with nonsense new age philosophy. Dangerous because it purports to be a ‘documentary’ ”
(Yasaman Soudagar)

I, Robot (2004)
“shows our society’s anxiety over ceding control to technology.”
(Natasha Eloi)

Alien, 20th Century Fox

Alien (1979)
“this movie is my chicken soup – I’ll watch it in Italian, Spanish, whenever it’s on TV.”
(Natasha Eloi)

Gattaca (1997)
“a great look at a possible future of eugenics once we learn more about the human genome.”
(Natasha Eloi)

The crowd chose:

Terminator (1984)
“a love story in time…”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
“check out the description of their mutation”

Splice (2009)
“when Adrian Brody sleeps with the hybrid creature: most awkward moment ever.”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 20th Century Fox

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
“subject to the ‘scientific’ Weapon X program.”

Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
“when the parents find the cure…”

Lost in Space (1998)
“ ‘Danger Will Robinson’, it’s all good with robots until they achieve awareness another 100 years from now”

Back to the Future (1985)
“ ‘I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity I need!’ – Doc Brown“

Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
“ ‘We’re now a quarter of an inch tall, and sixty four feet from the house. That’s an equivalent of three-point-two miles. That’s a long way. Even for a man of science.’ ”

Flubber (1997)
“Also check out the original Absent-Minded Professor (1961).”

Star Trek (1979)
“the holodeck: ‘I’d never leave’ says Dan Falk.”

Apollo 13, Universal Pictures

Apollo 13 (1995)
“ ‘Ok guys, we have to make this fit into this using this.’ ” Lessons learned: “you really can fix anything with duct tape!”

The Night of the Living Dead (1968)
“Explanation of the zombies has something to do with radiation.”

2001: Space Odyssey (1968)

“the aliens influenced our predecessors for us to become who we are now (humans = aggressive = smart?). Are they still out there watching us?”
“when the apes first use a tool to kill another ape and eat their first meat [sad].”
“when Hal dies he’s signing ‘Daisy Daisy’ ”
Also sprache Zarathustra and weapons in space”
“open the pod bay door, Hal.”

Inception (2010)
“breaking into the mind”

Matrix (1999)
“ ‘Woah, I know karate’ ”

Repo Man (1984)
“deranged scientist driving an old Chevy Malibu with 3 dead aliens in the trunk”

Most Valuable Primate (2000)
“when the monkey learns to do sign language to communicate”

Invaders from Mars! (1953) –
“the fact that most aliens look like they evolved from something on Earth and/or speak English.”

Multiplicity (1996)
“rapidly aging clones that stop when they reach the same age as the original. They also live normal lives as long as they live like the original does.”

Professor Balthazar (1967)
“check it out on YouTube.”

Forbidden Planet (1956)
“when Walter Pidgeon attacks Leslie Neilsen’s ship.”

“Enhance! – an instant way to increase resolution of digital photographs.”

Powder (1995)
“ ‘It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.’ ”

Dr. Who (1996)
“The Tardis”

Looney Tunes: To Beep or not to Beep (1963)
“the coyote never falls in a parabolic path. And only falls when he realizes he’s no longer supported by ground.”

Avatar, 20th Century Fox

Avatar (2009)
“Battle to prevent the destruction of the forest for mining development.”

Species (1995)
“Sil kills the bounty hunters sent to destroy her.”

Battlestar Galactica (2004)
“Weapons fired in space don’t make noise.”

Event Horizon (1997)

The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls (1959)
“how can he stand on the floor?”

Invisible Man (1933)
“he wouldn’t be able to see because the light wouldn’t get trapped by his retinas (the light would just pass through).”

2012 (2009)
“The neutrinos, they are mutating!”