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Top 25 physics films unveiled

tom hanks.jpg
CERN featured in the recent blockbuster Angels and Demons, which did not make it into a new list of top physics films, but the European physics facility will play host to an international film festival in February Credit: Sonypictures

By Matin Durrani

If you’re a film buff — and even if you’re not — you’ll no doubt be interested to learn that a website called Online Engineering Degree has posted a list of its “top 25 movies for physics geeks”.

Top of the charts for us physics geeks is October Sky. It’s a film I’ve never seen – but then my colleagues often accuse me of living under a cultural stone – but it is, apparently, a “feel-good movie about boys launching their own rockets”. Hmm, can’t say I’m desperate to watch it.

In second place is Apollo 13 — the Tom Hanks blockbuster that has that scary bit where our hero almost carks it on his way back to Earth. Now I have seen that one.

Third is Infinity, a bio about the Manhattan project, featuring Feynman et al. Now you’re talking.

There follow a couple of others I also hadn’t heard of before – Stargate and Parralel Worlds, Parallel Lives — before we reach a quartet of definite blockbusters: Deep Impact, Armageddon, Star Wars and Star Trek. The full list can be found here.

I’m not quite sure what Goldeneye is doing on the list though. The compilers, however, reckon that Brosnan’s first Bond film has “its share of physics conundrums”, such as his ability to catch up with a falling plane — by jumping off a cliff, of course.

I emailed Suzane Smith, who alerted me to the list, to ask how the films were picked — was it a mysterious cabal of physicists or just her and her chums musing one lunchtime? Sadly she has not yet got back to me so I cannot say what criteria they used, if any.

No doubt you’ll have your own view so take a look at the top 25 and let us know what you think of the list by commenting below.

Meanwhile, genuine filmmakers with a science-fiction or science documentary film in the can might be interested to know that entries are now being invited for the next Cinėglobe International Short Film Festival, which is to be held at CERN from 16-20 February 2010.

Entry is free and review copies can be sent on DVD or uploaded to the festival website. The festival rules can be downloaded here.

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7 comments

  1. Jenga

    I agree with less than half of those – I wonder how they came up with those too! There are much better physics based films than Deep Impact, Cube 2 (though the first Cube is good, but not very physicsy) and Solaris!! What about Primer – a brilliant film about time travel. Sunshine is a pretty good one too. And Star Trek should be much higher up the list :o)

  2. FFree

    What a poor list especially putting Angels and Demons at the top. I a graduated as an Engineer at the best school in Canada, Waterloo. I am teaching now and am forever trying to destroy misconceptions in physics but here is this talk of antimatter in the film. The historical misconception that Galileo got in trouble with the church for changing the idea for heaven above and hell below to earth going around the sun. The church held to doctrine and Aristotle’s view of the solar system; earth month mercury venus sun mars. Galileo said Aristotle was wrong; Sun mercury venuse earth mars. A good physics film should have solid science plus fiction and good history.

  3. I enjoyed reading your review much more than I enjoyed reading the list. First, I must also be in the cultural void, but I just can’t see how you can have this list without “Real Genius” being on it. A great mid-80s film center around grad students and lasers. Perfect for this list.

  4. Prince T

    Solaris, Gattaca, The Matrix and Contact are good picks.
    I am really dissapointed that they didn’t include “Sunshine” from 2007, a recent favourite of mine. Some of the physics in it is no very realistic, but that is weighted up by all the parts that are. I wish people would give it more credit. I’m definately gonna get the blu-ray once the price drops to a reasonable level.

  5. Alf

    Good call Jenga I was going to suggest Primer but figured no one would know what I was talking about. Its easily the best time travel movie I’ve seen. It covers all of the usual time travel plot features plus many others that I haven’t seen in any other movie.

  6. Kyle

    I highly recommend the film Flatland. A film based off a book called Flatland written in 1888. An interesting animated film about a 2D world that conceptualize the third dimension simply because it does not exist in their universe, until an unexpected 3D visitor comes. Cool contrasts between the physics of 1 dimension, 2 dimensions and 3 dimensions.

  7. Eskeemo

    This list is missing:

    1. Fat Man and Little Boy (1989); covers WWII manufacture of the atom bomb.
    2. Cambridge Spies (2003); covers trade secrets of applied physics traded between 1934 and 1951 from London to Moscow. True story.
    3. The Right Stuff (1983); about NASA
    4. Dr. Strangelove(1964); about Cold War and nuclear detonation

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