25 Jan Math Movies & Documentaries for Kids – Plus How Math is Used in Making Films
Why talk about movies and math for children? Math-related films can help a child dream and perhaps envision a future using math in their lives and careers. They can also help kids understand that adults use math every single day of their lives as adults. For parts of the country where winter puts a damper on outdoor activities, math films and documentaries can make for a fun bit of educational screen time. In addition – your child, who may be learning the basics of coding, may be interested to learn how math is used in the making of movies.
How Math Helps Movies Get Made
This section falls under the “bet you didn’t know” category. Most animated films require significant amounts of math to bring them to life. People may not realize just how much math is involved for example:
- In making the fish in Finding Nemo move in a lifelike manner
- In creating the way most animated characters walk and talk, so that they look lifelike
- and even in how the lighting, and shadows enhance a scene
Animated films start out just like other films, with the writers trying to tell a good story through a written script. Then it is turned over to be created by animators working on computers, along with the director and the voice-over actors. The math involved can include trigonometry, algebra and even calculus! Math in animation is also used to identify aspect ratios, viewpoints, and color balance. Animators also use math to calculate movement and frame rates in each scene.
Math is also used in non-animated movies by the cinematographer and the film camera operators. A movie video camera is an expensive and intricate piece of machinery. It employs mathematics to make the choices and shots that the cinematographer makes… work correctly. From choosing the right aperture on the camera (which highlights what in the scene is in focus and in view during a shot), the focal length of the lens (wide angle or zoom), to selecting the camera angle to get the best shots for each movie scene. The cinematographer has to make those decisions based on how the math inside the camera works.
Stunt coordinators also need to use math to plan out the stunts action heroes and their stunt-doubles carry out. They calculate, distances, angles, trajectories and even the size of a special effect and how it might affect an actor or a camera operator.
Discussing this information with your child might help to connect his or her learning with real-world activities, especially if your child is learning coding and math.
NOTE: We have split the list of math-related entertainment PG movies and documentaries that make math fun and engaging, and a one PG-13 film for middle-school or older children. We suggest that parents review movies first, so they can decide what is appropriate for their child. We have provided where to watch links, and many DVDs are also available through your local library system. Please check the TV/online streaming services you subscribe to as films often become available and leave various channels/services. You can also check the IMDB.com (Internet Movie Database) for watch options, but it does not always show all options.
Math Movies for Younger Kids
Donald in Mathmagic Land (PG, 1959)
Why this film? Coming in just under 30 minutes and made in 1959, it is still relevant today. The math concepts in this film (featuring the lovable Donald Duck) haven’t changed. The 30-minute film, available either on YouTube or on DVD, covers both basic and some advanced mathematical principles. It shows how mathematics is used in games from chess to sports. The film covers a lot of territory also revealing how it is present in music; the natural world; and in science, engineering and even transportation. And when it mentions the more advanced concepts like the Fibonacci sequence and the golden section or ratio, it does so in kid-friendly language. As a matter of fact, several people in the YouTube comments said they watched this over and over as a child, and they credit this film in part, with their pursuing an interest in math and science. Although the automated captions on YouTube do a poor job sometimes of translating Donald Duck’s voice, happily the narrator’s captions are accurate. At the end it notes that “these are the doors to the future and the key to unlocking them is mathematics,” which is a great jumping off point for discussion with kids about how math has done just that. Remember, this was completed before the U.S. landed on the moon!
How to Watch:
- Watch free on YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BqnN72OlqA
- or buy a DVD from Amazon: Link: https://www.amazon.com/Donald-Mathmagic-Land-Paul-Frees/dp/B00287Z1F2/
The Story of One (G, 2005)
This G-rated 60-minute British documentary explores the number system that we use. Its clean humor creates an engaging romp through numbers and math by Terry Jones from Monty Python. From the number one and how it helped to build early ancient cities, to how money works, to how the number one teamed up with the number zero to create and dominate our current digital world.
Free to watch: https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/story-of-one/
More Math Films for Slightly Older Children
The Story of Maths (G, 2008)
This is a four-part British documentary series following the history of mathematics from the ancient past to the early 21 century. It covers familiar concepts from the invention of Zero to complex numbers and on to cryptography, from geometry to quantum mechanics and even explores the unproven Riemman Hypothesis. Very little in the field of mathematics is left unexplored in this film.
How to Watch:
The first episode is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOgc9DBXZu8
The entire series is currently available via Amazon Prime on Curiosity Stream or BBC Select with a 7-day free trial or if you have a subscription to those channels: https://www.amazon.com/To-Infinity-and-Beyond/dp/B08BVZNJ7P
Nova: The Great Math Mystery (PG, 2015) is 51 minutes long, which explores Mathematics and is from
Why this PBS program? It presents the origins and history of mathematics, exploring the question “Was math invented by humans or is it the language of the universe.” From Pythagoras and Newton to Einstein, through geometry, and Pi. This program follows threads, like the law of falling bodies and how it changed from Aristotle to Galileo to Newton and became the law of gravity. It pulls thread like these all the way through to landing the Curiosity rover on Mars. It delves into music, nature, digital photography, the internet, the cosmos and much more and most importantly, the math behind it all.
How to Watch:
Free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWb8gfoDDhs
Buy the DVD from PBS: https://shop.pbs.org/WC0492.html
Queen of Katwe (PG 2016)
Why? During the pandemic, the popularity of chess increased wildly, which means this film might be right up the alley for children who play the game. IMDb Synopsis: A 10-year-old Ugandan girl sees her world rapidly change after being introduced to the game of chess.
How to Watch:
It can be bought or rented from Amazon: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4341582
It can also be purchased YouTube Movies and TV and may be available if you have Disney plus
One Classic Math Movie for Middle School or Older Kids (PG, 1985; has some mild cursing)
Back to the Future
Why? This is a classic sci-fi, adventure, comedy film from 1985, Back to the Future, has our teenaged hero and his professor time travel in a Delorean sports car. If your child is interested in STEM and inventions this film will be a rollicking ride. From the IMDB: “Marty McFly, a 17-year-old high school student, is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his close friend, the maverick scientist Doc Brown.” In addition to the imaginary Flux capacitor, it also touches on real math concepts like statistics, rates, units, and probabilities. There is even an Education Week article on the mathematics in the movie. Check the IMDB section below the trailer to find your watching options. In addition to those listed, you can also buy it and watch it on YouTube as well.
How to Watch:
See options on the IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088763/ – Currently available on TBS, TNT or rent or buy streaming on Amazon Prime or buy the DVD.
Again, please search for these films on whichever services you subscribe to from cable to streaming, as the availability changes over time. Also please remember, many DVDs are also available through your local library system.
What are ALOHA Learning Centers all About?
Are you looking for an afterschool enrichment program in math, or reading and writing, for your child? At ALOHA, we help set the foundation children need for academic success and lifelong achievement. Inside your child lies an unrealized capacity for learning. At ALOHA, our mission is to unleash this potential so that your child can get ahead – and stay ahead – in a competitive academic environment. We use small-group, personalized teacher lead classes, rather than self-directed math worksheets or computer programs. An Early Start. A Lifetime of Achievement. For more information book an appointment, (877) 256-4203, (or) click the link to find a center near you https://alohamindmath.com/find-a-center.
Written by Cathy Larkin, a freelance writer, and social media coordinator, who has been a part of the ALOHA Mind Math team for several years.