Pi Day Movies – the Best Math (or Pie) Films to Watch on March 14

the symbol for pi in blue
Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. There might be a few numbers involved.

Mid-march, three unusual holidays rear their heads for movie rewatch fun: Pi Day, The Ides of March, and St Patrick’s Day. It all starts on March 13 with Pi Day. That’s the 14th day of the third month: 3.14. If you pay enough attention, you can even celebrate Pi Minutes and Pi Seconds. (1:59:26 comes around the clock twice, unless you use Military Time.)

If you scroll down, you’ll see every Pi and math movie we consider crucial for your home entertainment curriculum. But first, you have to understand what Pi is, then prepare some actual pies for feasting. On Pi Day, both sweet and savory pies count. More on that soon.

Do you know what Pi is?

long string of Pi numbers
Just memorize this and you’ll be fine.

This is a big topic. You can start by thinking about Pi as the ratio of a circle’s circumference, related to its diameter. Do you consider yourself smart? Apparently you can spend the rest of your life digging into the mysteries of this transcendental,  irrational number. (WIRED gives it a relatively simple whack, while the Wikipedia offers more Pi detail than most people actually want.)

Feast with Pies on Pi Day

Whatever your feelings about Pi, math, and advanced mathematics, I’ve long considered March 13 Pi Day. It’s a holiday that’s picking up more pop-culture steam every year.  For decades, my husband and I used to rewatch a classic math movie each year, feasting on Chicken Pot Pie, Pumpkin Pie, or sometimes Pizza Pie.  Even a Calzone or Omelette is a pie, albeit half of one.  We’d use fractions to eat them, as one does with flat, round food. 🙂 Make a meal with lots of circular edibles. Maybe Pita Bread. Be creative.

Announce the fractions you cut from the whole. Eat like math is your passion for one day a year!

We celebrated Pi Day this way because we’re geeks. RunPee loves weird holidays where you can watch movies, dress for the occasion, and plan an appropriately themed meal.

So. Pull on your geekiest science tee shirt and pick something from this list of great Pi adjacent films.

Make Pi Day 3.14 Times as Nice

It’s a good idea to phone your favorite ‘pie’ place and ask for the Pi Day Special: it’s fun to spread the word, and many places will give you an off the menu deal just for choosing them for your Pi needs. At the very least, you might encourage them to make a Pi Deal for next March.

Oh, please tell them RunPee sent you.

the first few numbers in the Pi string
Pi, looking friendly and fun and not at all intimidating.

Here’s RunPee’s list of favorite math, Pi, and pie movies for Pi Day, in no particular order, with release dates, and a few thoughts to help you select the perfect film to celebrate an irrational number.

Linked titles go to RunPee’s own movie reviews, where we have them. Eventually, we’ll review them all. It’s an easier task than calculating the exact value of Pi.

16.5 Movies To Enjoy in Honor of Pi Day

    1. Pi (1998) – Pure numbers, baby.
    2. Life of Pi (2001) — Not about math, or even pie, but a man named Pi. It’s a great, quietly gripping story, where you’re not sure what’s going on. Pay attention to the details, whether this is your first, or Nth viewing. It’s a very worthwhile film and almost Inception-lite. And BTW, that’s not a spoiler. Just enjoy the rhythm of the film.
    3. Good Will Hunting (1997) – Matt Damon makes this list twice, because he’s got a lock on that understated, funny, and too-pretty-to-be-so-smart look that perfectly bellies his mad science skills.
    4. Hidden Figures (2016) – This recent feel-good film centers around three black women hired by NASA as human computers during the 1960s events of Project Mercury, and its fabulous. (‘Sheldon Cooper’ even has a small role.) Award-winning and based on real people, including John Glen, who was apparently a great guy. If his computers said not to go, he stayed put. Smart man.
    5. The Theory of Everything (2014) – If you adored Stephen Hawking, like we did at RunPee, you probably found news of his death so very, very sad. But from all indications, he loved his life, had joy, family, a great career, and  unfettered commitment to allow his fine brain to roam the cosmos. We saw his sense of humor was as extraordinary as his mind. Not a bad legacy at all. Eddie Redmayne did an A+ job saluting Hawking’s contributions to our understanding of the universe.
    6. A Beautiful Mind (2001) –  I honestly don’t remember much about this film (it was too upsetting and sad for my tastes), but realize it would be a big snub to leave this inspired-by-a-true-life-story it off the list. The IMDb writes this: “From the heights of notoriety to the depths of depravity, John Forbes Nash Jr. experienced it all. A mathematical genius, he made an astonishing discovery early in his career and stood on the brink of international acclaim. But the handsome and arrogant Nash soon found himself on a painful and harrowing journey of self-discovery.
    7. The Imitation Game (2014) – Benedict Cumberbatch plays a lot of geniuses, or at least men smarter than the average bloke. If you like Alan Turning and enjoy cracking impossible Nazi codes, this movie was made for you. It’s also a drama with a message. 
    8. Gifted (2017) – I enjoyed this light film about how a normal brained single Dad (Chris Evans) learns to beat to the system to keep and raise his young, brilliant protegee. This scene is a standout — be sure to watch the whole segment:
    9. x and y (UK)/A Brilliant Young Mind (US) (2014) – A kid with ‘special powers’ in math learns to navigate childhood.
    10. Apollo 13 (1995) – First of all, it’s a space mission that really happened, and through massive sciencing, everybody makes it home alive. Not a spoiler; this is history. Also, Apollo 13 is has Tom Hanks as Captain Jim Lovell,  and those men are gods to me. I think the inspiration for Legos must have come from that scene with the square filter an the round vent — “Work the problem, people!” (Ed Harris is a god too. Godhoods for everyone in Apollo 13!)
    11. The Martian (2105) – Matt Damon’s character scienced the SHIT out of this movie.  A pure joy to watch and rewatch, and I have to remind myself this, unlike Apollo 13, hasn’t actually happened. Yet. 🙂
    12. Contact (1997) – This one happened in real life too, didn’t it? Didn’t it?  Damn. Watching this movie just makes me happy, and yes, it’s full of life, death, and MATH. The scene where we’re contacted with Prime Numbers is a standout. It’s one of those scenes that makes me tear up without a single line of dialog, or even much facial expression. Remember in The Return of the King, when we saw the lighting of the fire beacons above Gondor, calling to Rohan for aid? Same thing. When you saw Contact for the first time, how long did it take you realize those pulses were primes? I expect the universal  language of math will prove yet again that fiction pre-dates fact. This is the best segment in an already outstanding film. I had to add two videos to catch the whole scene:
    13. The Accountant (2106) – Ben Affleck gave a surprisingly charming and understated performance as a certain kind of savant specialist who learns to relate to people in his own, sometimes deadly way.
    14. Stand and Deliver (1988) – What is Calculus? Why should we care, unless we’re lucky enough to have someone like Edward James Olmos teach it? I need to re-watch Stand and Deliver, as I’ve forgotten much of this classic 80s film.  Here’s a summary:  A Los Angeles high school teacher opts to immerse his students in higher math. After intensive study, his students ace California’s calculus test, only to learn their scores are being questioned.
    15. The Cold Equations (1996) – This short, harrowing film details to the Nth degree how important math is – specifically, down to milligrams of weight in space.  Are there any space movies where weight limits aren’t a thing? In this one, math is the whole plot. As the pilot and young stowaway work frantically against the clock, we’re reminded how dangerous space is, how fragile spaceships are, and how very, very much math matters. It’s only 40 minutes and it’s worth a watch, even if the effects are a bit dated. The story is still a good one. Here’s the entire video for The Cold Equations:
    16. Real Genius (1985)  – Taking a trip in the way back machine, Real Genius makes this list by pure force of fun. In fact, you can watch the entire feature film right here. I’ll leave this up until someone takes it down — it’s clearly a film taped on a cell phone. Enjoy this blast from the nerdy past!

…Aaaaand the promised .5 movie: American Pie (1999, the original):

Don’t worry if you hate numbers.  Lock yourself alone in the bedroom with a warm apple pie, and try out just how good it feels. Or, less weirdly, rewatch one of the movies in the American Pie franchise with friends, compare Band Camp Stories, and laugh again at the awkwardness of being young and inexperienced. Beware: this scene is suggestive, and  is clearly intended to be. You can’t unsee it. It’s the PIE scene. On Pi Day. Have fun.

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Quick question: How many numbers in a string can you list for Pi? Write them out in the comments below, and no cheating! Surely there must be some out-of-the-closet geeks out there.

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Just below: a brilliant Pi video for those of you who are too smart for Pi itself. Just peruse this movie list on Tau Day, and you’ll be set.

Super Pi Geeks Argue About how Tau is Better…

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RunPee Movie Reviews Related to Math and Pi

Movie Review – Hidden Figures

Movie Review – The Theory of Everything – More About Stephen Hawking Than Math

Movie Review – Gifted

Movie Review – The Accountant