best science movies for middle school

10 Science Movies for Middle School

10 Science Movies for Middle School

It can often feel a little taboo to talk about showing movies in class. I’ll see a teacher ask on a forum somewhere, “What are the best middle school science movies?” and the post will then be littered with a million teachers offering their opinion about how useless it is to show movies and how they would never do such thing.

Well… I’m here to say… I show movies (and documentaries) in class sometimes. There! I said it!

As a middle school science teacher, I know I’m not alone in saying that kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy a good movie in class. Whether you’re leaving it as an emergency science sub plan, using it to get some peace during the holiday season, or just need some time to catch up on grading, we’ve all shown a good science movie at some point.

And while I know admin is never a fan of movies, I have to ask: Are they really that bad every now and then?

Movies in the science classroom often receive a bad rap, but when used thoughtfully, they can be a powerful educational tool. A well-chosen science movie can bring complex concepts to life, making them more accessible and engaging for students. Visual storytelling can enhance understanding and retention of scientific principles by providing real-world connections.

Also, I really do feel that a huge part of my job is to get kids excited about science and see its unlimited possibilities. Hollywood is amazing for that! Movies can inspire curiosity and a passion for science by showcasing the excitement and wonder of scientific discovery. They also show kids the wide range of science careers that are possible. Movies are inspiring!

Science movies can also serve as a catalyst for discussion in a way that more rote methods cannot. Kids are more likely to put on their critical thinking caps when a movie is involved and will more readily participate in analyzing what they’ve seen. It’s another engagement tool in the toolbox.

When integrated into the curriculum with clear educational objectives, movies aren’t all bad!

Free Movie Guide

Before we get into the “best middle school science movies” list, I’ve made something for you that can be used with any movie on this list! Check out my FREE generic science movie worksheet! It can be used for any of the best middle school science movies on this list, or any science movie, for that matter! You will need no other movie guides! And it’s free for my readers.

middle school science movie worksheet
CLICK HERE FOR FREE WORKSHEET

Best Middle School Science Movies

Here are ten titles that I think are the best middle school science movies. They’re great as high school science movies, too! For each movie, I provide a quick synopsis, the educational value of using this movie in a science classroom, over-arching discussion points, and scenes you may want to skip. I’ve also linked the Amazon Prime version of each video. At this writing, they are all $3.99 or less to rent.

Disclaimer: Please watch these videos on your own before you show them to your classes! You know your middle school students and what they can handle best.

The Martian (2015, PG-13)

The Martian” follows the adventure of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon). He was presumed dead after a fierce storm during a mission to Mars. Left behind by his crew, Watney must use his scientific knowledge and ingenuity to survive alone on the red planet. He devises methods to grow food, generate water, and communicate with NASA.

Educational Value: “The Martian” is a treasure trove of scientific concepts, particularly in botany, chemistry, and physics. The main character’s problem-solving strategies show the application of the scientific method in real-world scenarios. His innovative approaches to growing potatoes in Martian soil, creating water through chemical reactions, and surviving the harsh environment offer practical examples of experimentation. Despite its PG-13 rating, I still think it is a great movie for a science classroom!

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • The scientific method: Analyze how Watney applied scientific principles to solve survival challenges.
  • Botany and chemistry: Explore how Watney cultivated plants and generated water.
  • Mars exploration: Discuss the feasibility and challenges of manned missions to Mars.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The scene at 1:00:00 where Mark Watney performs self-surgery can be intense and graphic. Additionally, there is a brief glimpse of Watney’s buttocks [can I say “butt” in an educational blog post?!] around the 20-minute mark when he is assessing his injuries.

October Sky (1999, PG)

October Sky” is based on the true story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner’s son. He was inspired by the launch of Sputnik 1 to take up rocketry in his small West Virginia town. Despite his father’s disapproval and numerous setbacks, Homer and his friends build and launch rockets. They ultimately won a science fair and earned scholarships.

Educational Value: This film is an inspiring testament to the power of perseverance. It provides a historical context for the space race and demonstrates practical applications of physics and engineering principles. Homer’s journey from curiosity to achievement can encourage students to pursue their scientific interests, regardless of their backgrounds or obstacles.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Rocketry and physics: Analyze the principles of rocket propulsion and trajectory depicted in the film.
  • Historical context: Discuss the significance of the space race.
  • Personal determination: Explore how Hickam’s determination and passion for science drove his success despite challenges.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The scene around 0:15:00 showing the coal mining accident might be distressing for some students.

Gattaca (1997, PG-13)

Gattaca” is set in a future where genetic engineering dictates people’s social status and career prospects. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke), conceived naturally and considered genetically inferior, assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a genetically superior individual. Using this identity, Vincent secures a job at Gattaca Aerospace Corporation.

Educational Value: This thought-provoking film explores themes of genetic engineering and ethics in science. It raises important questions about the implications of genetic discrimination and the consequences of advanced biotechnologies. “Gattaca” can stimulate discussions on bioethics, the limits of scientific intervention in human life, and the moral dilemmas associated with genetic manipulation.

Although this film requires a bit of nuanced understanding, it is still my favorite movie on the list. I often find myself having to interject explanations for my class, but I still find it a valuable discussion starter in a DNA and heredity unit.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Genetic engineering: Discuss the ethical implications of genetic manipulation and its potential impacts on society.
  • Discrimination and equality: Analyze how genetic discrimination portrayed in the film parallels real-world issues of equality and social justice.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The near-movie-end scene depicting Jerome’s suicide is intense and should be approached with caution. Additionally, the sex scene between Vincent and Irene (Uma Thurman) occurs around the 1:10:00 mark. When I fast-forward this part, I always say, “OK, soooooo they like each other.” The kids laugh and get the point.

Apollo 13 (1995, PG)

Apollo 13” recounts the harrowing true story of the ill-fated 1970 Apollo 13 lunar mission. After an oxygen tank explodes en route to the Moon, astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) must work with NASA’s ground control to devise a plan to return safely to Earth.

Educational Value: This film highlights the critical importance of teamwork, problem-solving, and perseverance in the face of crisis. It provides a realistic depiction of the challenges and complexities of space travel. “Apollo 13” is great to highlight the problem-solving process.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Space missions: Analyze the technical challenges and solutions during the Apollo 13 mission.
  • Teamwork and leadership: Discuss the roles of teamwork, leadership, and communication in achieving objectives.
  • Engineering challenges: Explore the engineering failures and adaptations made to ensure the crew’s safe return to Earth.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: There are no specific scenes to avoid in “Apollo 13,” but the film’s tense moments, such as the oxygen tank explosion around 0:56:00, might be intense for some students with sensory issues.

Contact (1997, PG)

Based on Carl Sagan’s novel, “Contact” follows the main character Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), a dedicated scientist who discovers a radio signal from an extraterrestrial source. As she deciphers the message, Ellie embarks on a journey that challenges her scientific beliefs and explores the intersection of science, faith, and humanity.

Educational Value: “Contact” delves into the realms of astronomy, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), and the scientific method. It addresses the balance between skepticism and belief. This film can be a catalyst for discussions on the nature of scientific inquiry, the vastness of the universe, and the philosophical implications of discovering extraterrestrial life.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • SETI and astronomy: Explore the methods used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
  • Communication with extraterrestrial life: Analyze the scientific and ethical considerations of communicating with potential extraterrestrial civilizations.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The scene around 1:12:00 involving Ellie’s personal loss is emotionally heavy.

Jurassic Park (1993, PG-13)

One of the most classic and best middle school science movies! In “Jurassic Park,” billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) creates a theme park featuring cloned dinosaurs. When a security breach allows the dinosaurs to escape, chaos ensues, and the visitors must fight for survival. The film follows Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) as they navigate the perilous environment.

Educational Value: This oldy-but-goody blockbuster film brings paleontology and genetics to the forefront, showcasing the possibilities and ethical considerations of cloning and genetic engineering. It provides a thrilling way to introduce students to concepts such as DNA, cloning, and evolutionary biology. “Jurassic Park” also raises questions about the unpredictable nature of manipulating life.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Genetics and cloning: Analyze the scientific feasibility and ethical dilemmas associated with cloning dinosaurs.
  • Evolution and biodiversity: Discuss how the film portrays evolutionary biology and its relevance to modern scientific understanding.
  • Ethical considerations: Explore the ethical implications of genetic engineering and the responsibilities of scientists in manipulating life.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The T-Rex attack scene around 1:00:00 can be intense and may be frightening for some students.

Hidden Figures (2016, PG)

Hidden Figures” tells the true story of three African-American women mathematicians: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). These women played crucial roles in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Despite facing racial and gender discrimination, they made significant contributions to the success of space missions. This is a seriously great film, regardless of the science concepts involved! In my opinion, this is one of the tippity-top, very best middle school science movies.

Educational Value: This film highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. It underscores the significant contributions of women and minorities in science and the obstacles they overcame. “Hidden Figures” can inspire discussions on the history of space exploration, the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity, and the role of math in science.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Historical context: Discuss the social and historical backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and its impact on scientific progress.
  • Contributions to space missions: Analyze the specific contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson to NASA’s space programs.
  • Gender and racial equality in STEM: Explore the challenges faced by women and minorities in STEM fields.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: There are no specific scenes to avoid, but the film does address issues of racism and sexism.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004, PG-13)

In “The Day After Tomorrow,” climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) discovers that global warming has triggered a series of catastrophic natural disasters, plunging the Northern Hemisphere into a new ice age. As extreme weather conditions devastate the planet, Jack must rescue his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is trapped in New York City.

Educational Value: While the film takes dramatic liberties and *may* be closer to science fiction movies, it provides a platform to discuss climate change, meteorology, and the potential impacts of global warming. It can be used to introduce students to the science of climate models, the greenhouse effect, and the importance of environmental stewardship. “The Day After Tomorrow” is a starting point for conversations about the real-world consequences of climate change and the need for sustainable practices.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Climate science: Explore the scientific principles underlying climate change and extreme weather events.
  • Environmental impacts: Discuss the potential consequences of global warming on ecosystems, weather patterns, and human populations.
  • Policy and action: Analyze the film’s depiction of government response and individual actions in the face of a climate crisis.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The intense disaster scenes around 0:45:00 might be a bit much for some students.

Interstellar (2014, PG-13)

Interstellar” follows a team of astronauts led by Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) as they embark on a journey to find a new habitable planet for humanity. With Earth facing ecological collapse, the mission is humanity’s last hope for survival. The film explores themes of time travel, gravity, and the survival instinct.

Educational Value: This visually stunning film delves into quite advanced topics in astrophysics, including black holes, wormholes, and the theory of relativity. It introduces students to the complex challenges of interstellar travel. “Interstellar” can provoke discussions on space exploration and the nature of time.

Like Gattaca, this film requires a nuanced understanding of the plot, so it might be best for older students.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Astrophysics and relativity: Analyze the scientific accuracy of the film’s portrayal of black holes, wormholes, and gravitational effects.
  • Space colonization: Discuss the feasibility and ethical implications of seeking habitable planets beyond Earth.
  • Environmental sustainability: Explore the film’s themes of ecological collapse and humanity’s role in preserving Earth’s resources.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: The scene around 1:45:00 involving Dr. Mann’s betrayal and the subsequent violence is intense.

The Biggest Little Farm (2018, PG)

The Biggest Little Farm” is not a movie but rather a documentary (sorry, I just had to include it!) that chronicles the inspiring journey of John and Molly Chester as they transform 200 acres of barren land into a thriving, biodiverse farm. Driven by their dream of creating a sustainable farm, they face numerous challenges, including pests, droughts, and financial strains. They implement innovative farming techniques to restore the ecosystem and cultivate a harmonious balance between plants, animals, and the environment.

Educational Value: This documentary provides a true story that beautifully illustrates the principles of sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and ecosystem management. It offers middle school science classrooms a practical example of how scientific concepts such as soil health, organic farming practices, water conservation, and wildlife habitat restoration can be applied in real-world farming scenarios. “The Biggest Little Farm” can foster discussions on environmental stewardship, the interconnectedness of ecosystems, and the impact of human activities on natural habitats.

Key Discussion Points for the Classroom:

  • Biodiversity in agriculture: Discuss the importance of diverse plant and animal species in maintaining a balanced ecosystem on the farm.
  • Sustainable farming practices: Analyze specific techniques used by John and Molly Chester to enhance soil fertility, manage pests naturally, and conserve water resources.
  • Environmental impacts: Explore how human activities, including farming practices, can either harm or regenerate natural habitats and wildlife populations.

Scenes to Potentially Avoid: While there are no specific scenes to avoid in “The Biggest Little Farm,” but some sequences depicting challenges like pest management or natural disasters provide teachable insights into the realities of farming and where our food comes from. Many kids really have NO idea where their food comes from, and they can be oddly affected by seeing a real farm in action.

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