20 Science and Engineering-Themed Movies to Watch While in Lockdown

These films will educate, entertain and inspire you, and the superheroes in most of them are real.
Marcia Wendorf

If you feel like you've come to "the end of Netflix," or if you've just watched Tiger King for the fourth time, we've got some movies for you. All of these films can be streamed directly to your home, either free with a subscription or they can be rented for $4.00 or less.

The streaming status was current at the time of this writing, but you can also check a film's streaming status on JustWatch. Not only will you experience some fabulous entertainment, but you just might learn something too. Enjoy!

1. Apollo 13 - 1995

Apollo 13
Apollo 13 Source: Imagine Entertainment/Wikimedia Commons

Director Ron Howard's movie starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon, is a nail-biter from start to finish. It tells the story of how NASA brought the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft home after it suffered a catastrophic explosion on its way to the moon. Currently streaming on STARZ, the movie is available to rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

2. The Right Stuff - 1983

The Right Stuff
The Right Stuff Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia Commons

This mesmerizing 1983 film from director Philip Kaufman recounts America's attempt to break both the "sound barrier" and the beginning of NASA's Project Mercury space program.


The movie features Sam Shepherd as test pilot Chuck Yeager, who was the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound in level flight, Scott Glenn as the first American in space, Alan Shepard, and Ed Harris as John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth. Available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

3. Gravity - 2013

Gravity Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia Commons

This blockbuster film from director Alfonso Cuarón stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts stranded in space after debris from a satellite destroy their space station.

Gravity probably best depicts the physics of movement in outer space, challenging only the weightlessness shots displayed in Apollo 13, and the movie's depiction of the triumph of the human spirit will leave you breathless. Streaming on IndieFlix, it's available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

4. The Martian - 2015

The Martian
The Martian Source: MoviePosterDB/Wikimedia Commons

This film offering from director Ridley Scott is based on Andy Weir's best-selling novel of the same name. The film tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who is accidentally left behind by his teammates on planet Mars.

Watney, played by Matt Damon, must learn how to survive on his own until he can be rescued, and you will never look at a potato in the same again. Also starring Jessica Chastain, the film is available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, VUDU, and DIRECTV.

5. October Sky - 1999

October Sky
October Sky Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia Commons

This release from director Joe Johnson describes the true story of Homer Hickam, who was the son of a coal miner, but who had dreams of becoming a rocket scientist.

Hickam went on to become an aerospace engineer at NASA and a best-selling author. The movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Cooper and Laura Dern, is available on DIRECTV, HBO Now, and for rent on Amazon, iTunes, the Google Play store and VUDU.

6 First Man - 201

Director Damien Chazelle's film describes the journey taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong both before and during the Apollo 11 mission when he became the first human to walk on the moon. Based on a book of the same name by James R. Hansen, the film stars Ryan Gosling as Armstrong and Claire Foy as his long-suffering wife.

Stung by a series of deaths including that of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Karen, and those of friends and fellow astronauts Elliot See and Ed White, Armstrong perseveres through the near disaster of Gemini 8 and goes on to walk on the moon along with Buzz Aldrin. The lunar landing sequence will have you on the edge of your seat. Streaming on MAX GO, Cinemax, DIRECTV, and HBO Now, and available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

7. Fat Man and Little Boy - 1989

Fat Man and Little Boy
Fat Man and Little Boy Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia  Commons

Fat Man was the code name for the nuclear weapon dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, and Little Boy was the code name for the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Director Roland Joffe's film stars Paul Newman as Colonel Leslie Groves who oversaw both the building of the Pentagon and the Manhattan Project. This was America's attempt to build the first atomic bomb. Streaming on Amazon Prime, available for rent on Amazon, Google Play, and VUDU.

8. Tucker: The Man and His Dream - 1988

Tucker: The Man and His Dream
Tucker: The Man and His Dream Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is a true story from the famed director Francis Ford Coppola stars Jeff Bridges as an automobile engineer and entrepreneur, Preston Tucker. Tucker's way ahead of the curve with his "Tucker 48" which featured a rear-engine, a low-RPM 589-cubic-inch engine with hydraulic valves instead of a camshaft, fuel injection, direct-drive torque converters on each rear wheel instead of a transmission, disc brakes, self-sealing tubeless tires, and a center "cyclops" headlight that turned.

Of the 50 "Tucker 48" cars that were produced, 47 remain in private hands, with prices of up to $3 million each. Streaming on MAX GO, and Cinemax, the movie is available to rent on Amazon, iTunes Google Play, and VUDU.

9. Madame Curie - 1943

Madame Curie
Madame Curie Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is a film by director Mervyn LeRoy stars Greer Garson as Marie Curie, and Walter Pidgeon as her husband, Pierre. Over the years as the film has been shown on television, some of its science aspects were edited out, however, the version shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) at 124 minutes is the complete, unedited version.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and she is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields — physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911. Available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

10. The Prestige - 2006

The Prestige
The Prestige Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia Commons 

This psychological thriller from director Christopher Nolan chronicles the attempts to out-do one another by two-stage magicians in London at the turn of the 19th century.

The two antagonists are played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, while Scarlett Johansson plays one of their assistants. We've included it in this list because of one of the characters visit the lab of Nikola Tesla at Colorado Springs, Colorado. Tesla is played by the weird David Bowie, and weird things happen when you play with electricity. Streaming on MAX Go, DIRECTV, and Cinemax, available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

11. The Imitation Game - 2014

The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game Source: Wikimedia Commons

This film describes the work of English mathematician, cryptanalyst, and budding computer scientist Alan Turing during his time during World War II at Britain's Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

Starring Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, as the tortured Turing and Keira Knightley as another cryptanalyst, the movie is streaming on DIRECTV, Sling, and TNT, available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, and VUDU.

12. A Beautiful Mind - 2001

A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by the best-selling book of the same name by author Sylvia Nasar, this film is also from director Ron Howard. It describes the life of mathematician John Nash, who made fundamental contributions to game theory, differential geometry and the study of partial differential equations, before spiraling into madness.

Starring Russell Crowe as Nash, Jennifer Connelly as his wife Alicia, and Ed Harris, the film chronicles Nash's climb back to sanity. Nash went on to receive the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics and the 2016 Abel Prize for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations. Streaming on STARZ and DIRECTV, the movie is available for rent on iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

13. The Theory of Everything - 2014

The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything Source: Universal Pictures/Wikimedia Commons

This is a film from director James Marsh starring Eddie Redmayne as physicist Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as his wife, Jane. The movie follows Hawking from his time as a graduate student at Cambridge University ,where he met his wife, to his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, which would rob him of all movement, and even his speech.

Hawking would go on to become the world's leading expert on black holes, and he predicted Hawking radiation. His best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, broke sales records for a science publication, staying on the Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. Streaming on Netflix, the movie is available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

14. Lorenzo's Oil - 1992

Lorenzo's Oil
Lorenzo's Oil Source: movieposter.com/Wikimedia Commons

This work is from physician and director George Miller who also directed the Mad Max movies. It stars Nick Nolte as Augusto Odone and Susan Sarandon as his wife Michaela, and it tells the true story of the World Bank economist and his wife who work tirelessly to find a cure for their son's genetic disease, adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).

Bucking both the medical community and support groups, the Odones devise a possible cure in the form of an oil which an elderly British chemist formulates. Today, many ALD patients are treated with Lorenzo's Oil. Streaming on Starz, and DIRECTV, the movie is available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

15. Awakenings - 1990

Awakenings Source: Wikimedia Commons

This film from director Penny Marshall stars Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. The movie tells the true story of famed doctor Oliver Sacks's experiment with the drug L-Dopa on patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica, which they acquired during the 1918 Spanish Flu.

Catatonic for decades, at first, the L-Dopa has a miraculous effect on the patients, but then side effects bring an end to the trial, and to the patients' "awakenings." Available on Sony Crackle and Showtime, you can rent the movie on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

16. The Aviator - 2004

The Aviator
The Aviator Source: PosterJunction/Wikimedia Commons

From famed director Martin Scorsese, the film tells the story of the rise and looming madness of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. A highlight is the movie's stunning depiction of Hughes's crash into three houses surrounding the Los Angeles Country Club, where he was attempting to land the prototype of the XF-11 aircraft.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, it is streaming on STARZ and DIRECTV, available for rent on VUDU.

17. The Spirit of St. Louis - 1957

The Spirit of St. Louis
The Spirit of St. Louis Source: Warner Bros./Wikimedia Commons

This film from director Billy Wilder shows Charles Lindbergh's struggle to design an airplane that will fly non-stop from New York City to Paris and fund the effort.

The movie stays with Lindbergh throughout the 33.5-hour, 3,600 mile (5,800 km) journey in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. The movie is available for rent on Amazon, Google Play, and VUDU.

18. Hidden Figures - 2016

Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures Source: Twentieth Century Fox/Wikimedia Commons

This moving offering from director Theodore Melfi stars Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, and Taraji P. Henson as three African American mathematicians hired by NASA during the beginning of the "space race."

Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film depicts the challenges women face, including simply finding a bathroom to use. The appearance at the 2017 Academy Awards broadcast by the three women on whom the characters were based was awe-inspiring. Streaming on FXNOW, it's available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

19. Altered States - 1980

Altered States
Altered States Source: Bemis Balkind/Wikimedia Commons 

Director Ken Russell's film, which was written by famed writer Paddy Chayefsky and based on his own novel, stars William Hurt, Blair Brown, and Bob Balaban.

The story is based on the true-life sensory deprivation experiments done by Dr. John C. Lilly, who explored the nature of human consciousness. Lilly also pioneered communication with dolphins, which inspired the movie, The Day of the Dolphin, which was released in 1973. Streaming on VUDU, and available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

20. Unstoppable - 2010

Unstoppable Source: IMP Awards/Wikimedia Commons

This is our "break in case of emergency" movie, and it's about how to stop a half-mile-long runaway freight train is barreling toward disaster. Directed by Tony Scott, the film stars Denzel Washington as a veteran train engineer, Chris Pine as his young trainee, and Rosario Dawson as a supervisor for the train line.

The last 45 minutes of the film will have you sweating and applauding in equal measure. Streaming on MAX GO and DIRECTV, available for rent on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and VUDU.

Watching these remarkable films might make you not want to get out of lockdown after all.

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