For those of us a few years out of math class, pi—also written π—is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This means that pi can be used to calculate a circle’s circumference (2πr) or its area (πr²), among other things. More importantly, it also makes March 14th a really fun day for both math nerds and pie lovers.
In celebration of Pi Day, DVD Netflix recommends that you surround yourself with only round food (oranges, pizza, cookies) and settle in for an evening of movie-watching with those round discs that we call DVDs and Blu-rays. We’ve assembled a list of films related to the number π, the word “pi,” or just plain pie. We are sure you’ll have a ball! (Get it? Balls are round! Heyyy.)
Math Movies for the π-Loving Nerd in All of Us
This movie earned Matt Damon and Ben Affleck Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and the late Robin Williams his only Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor. The story follows Will Hunting, a young janitor at MIT, who reveals his genius-level intelligence by solving, during his night shift, an extremely difficult math problem posted in class by a professor aiming to stump his grad students. Will soon gets into legal trouble and agrees to math lessons under said professor and therapy sessions to avoid jail time. This learning and reflection allows Will to contemplate what he truly wants for himself in life and love.
It’s a dramedy in its truest form, and the scenes between Damon and therapist Williams are priceless.
From mathematics at MIT to counting cards in Vegas. Rain Man is the story of wheeler-dealer Charlie (Tom Cruise) who, after his father’s death, discovers that he has an older brother living in a mental institution. Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) suffers from savant syndrome, which allows him to exhibit incredible recall and mathematical prowess, but also requires him to adhere to strict routines, without which he erupts into extreme distress. It’s not your typical road trip movie, but Rain Man’s witty writing and fish-out-of-water scenarios earned it four Oscars. Rent it and see why.
Now, wait a gosh-darn minute. A baseball movie that’s really about math? Yep! This film is set in the early 2000s, when the Oakland A’s turned to the science of sabermetrics, or the analysis of baseball via in-game activity statistics, to produce a winning team. The film, which stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, is based on Michael Lewis's 2003 book and was co-written by Aaron Sorkin. It will have you on the edge of your seat, like any good movie about sports or, er, math.
If you're looking for a gritty drama about the cut-throat world of physics and mathematics academic research, well, this isn’t it. Real Genius is '80s camp at its best. What could be better than watching Val Kilmer party in college? Watching a genius Val Kilmer party in college with a bunch of super-nerds. This film was ahead of its time: mathematicians, programmers, and physicists are the cool kids we now know them to be, and it's a blast to watch them outsmart a crooked school administration, the CIA, and even a mail-in sweepstakes.
There is no doubt that every student in this film knew the first 100 digits of π by heart. Runner-up '80s movie about college geeks fighting back: Revenge of the Nerds, where fraternity and sorority villains get their due. It’s a must-watch.
Is everything chance or is there a grand design? That is the question at the heart of this film, which centers on mechanic Ed (Tim Robbins) and Princeton doctoral candidate Catherine (Meg Ryan) who might just fall in love—thanks, Albert Einstein. This romantic comedy’s plot is part Cyrano de Bergerac, part existential query, and it will have you rooting for this odd couple and giggling with Einstein.
Based on a memoir, this film depicts life with acclaimed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking as he is diagnosed and begins to succumb to ALS. It stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking, who meet at Cambridge in the 1960s and fall in love. It simultaneously follows the development of Hawking’s theories on the Big Bang and black holes that resulted in the bestselling book, A Brief History of Time.
It’s a beautiful story about how love endures through time, which leaves one questioning, “What really is the theory of everything?” Runner-up movie about a genius studying at Cambridge: The Man who Knew Infinity follows Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) in his struggle to gain acceptance as a mathematician at Cambridge during World War I.
Movies that Reference “Pi” for Your Pi Day Viewing Pleasure
Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut, this dark psychological thriller earned the Sundance Film Festival Directing Award and an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. It’s a surreal examination of number theory as it relates to the stock market, mysticism, and religion. You might think that a film that references mathematical theories such as the golden spiral, chaos theory, and bifurcation theory would be a little dull. It’s definitely not. We all know math can be perplexing, but Aronofsky proves that it can also be frightening.
This beautifully shot and engineered Ang Lee film tells the story of Pi Patel, who at age 16 survives a shipwreck and ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger adrift on the open ocean. Their encounters with bioluminescent marine life and a man-eating island are just the start of the adventure. You will quickly understand why it won four Academy Awards.
Movies about Pie, Just Because
Waitress is a whimsical comedy about Jenna, a Southern waitress who is stuck in an unhappy marriage with a baby on the way. At Joe's Pie Diner, Jenna creates imaginative pies with unusual names inspired by her life. Written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, this much-beloved film has now been adapted into a musical with music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles. Jenna’s earnestness and reverence for pie will have you wanting another helping!
This film adeptly addresses tense race relations during the Civil Rights era. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962, the story centers around young journalist “Skeeter,” played by Emma Stone, and her relationship with two black maids. This leads her to write an exposé about their experiences. The scene involving pie is a seminal one that is not to be missed, and helped earn Octavia Spencer an Oscar. Runner-up movies with prickly pie scenarios: American Pie, Stand by Me, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.