Apollo 13 (1995, PG-13) is the real-life story of heroism, courage, and survival onboard the doomed flight of Apollo 13. This movie guide worksheet examines the storyline of the movie, while asking higher-order thinking questions about the plot, character development, situational dilemmas, and the meaning behind the symbolism as the movie unfolds. At its core, the film tells a story about faith in technology and faith in the strength of human willpower needed to overcome technological malfunctions in a life-or-death fight for survival. Only 3 of the 46 questions directly related to the physics shown in the movie, so being familiar with Newton’s laws will be necessary to answer those. One of those physics questions hits on a violation of Newton’s Laws shown in the movie. Topics alluded to include the space race, American history, engineering and design, spaceflight, course trajectories, course corrections, inertial properties, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
This movie is appropriate for the following classes: physics, astronomy, physical science, general science, and American history.
The runtime for the movie is 2:14 minutes, designed to be shown over 3 days of class. The movie will play for roughly 45 minutes each day, allowing time at the end of class for a teacher-facilitated discussion or individual student answers. The movie guide worksheet is 5 pages long, with a total of 46 questions.
Contact (1997) is based on a novel by Carl Sagan. This film depicts the struggles of Ellie Arroway, a SETI researcher, to find meaning through the complex societal web that sometimes places faith and religion against science and logic. The theme of the movie, at its heart, is a philosophical debate between the merits and meaning of love, compassion, faith, and metaphysical mystery, versus the objective, non-judgmental, and quantifiable realm of the hard sciences. This film makes a grand comparison between Ellie Arroway’s personal journey to enlightenment, and humanities struggle with the ramifications brought by our technological capabilities. Just as Ellie found a meaningful balance between science and belief, human civilization must also strike a balance between our scientific technological capabilities and our decisions on how to use them wisely.
The scientific topics discussed in the movie include the Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, time dilation, light years, wormholes, and the SETI Program.
The film is well-suited for the following classes: astronomy, general science, physical science, physics, the humanities, and psychology.
The runtime is 2:22 minutes. The 45-question movie guide worksheet is slip-up over 4 days of classroom viewing, with about 36 minutes of viewing per day. The questions are higher-order in nature. They ask the students to analyze and apply the concepts discussed in the film, form a substantiated opinion, and then write an explanation based on their individual interpretation.
Gravity (2013) is a stunning movie exploring the potential dangers of space and the physics behind them. This movie captivates the students through dazzling visuals, but the movie guide keeps them focused on analyzing the physics behind the scenes. Having said that, there are very accurate and inaccurate depictions of Newton’s Laws of Motion. But the inaccuracies add to the dramatic tension and advance the storyline of the movie. The movie guide is designed to have the students analyze the physics of the movie scenes, choose which of Newton’s Laws applies, and then describe why it applies or why it is inaccurate. The movie guide does not analyze the plot or emotional arcs during the movie, it just sticks to the physics behind each scene. The movie guide is best used for classes like physics, physical science, or astronomy.
Interstellar (2014) is a masterpiece of visual artistry and a well of accurate scientific information. The storyline seamlessly blends the human element with aspects of Einstein’s theory of Relativity in a fight-for-survival of the human race. This movie is standard viewing for any physics class where relativity is taught. Appropriate classes for this movie guide would be physics, astronomy, or physical science. The movie guide consists of 32 physics-related higher-order questions. There are no questions relating to the storyline or emotional arcs presented in the plot. Topics discussed include, relativity, time dilation, the fabric of space-time, spatial geometry, black holes, worm holes, singularities, event horizons, the twin’s paradox, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Newtons Third Law, gravitational pull, magnetism, multiple dimensions, higher dimensions, centripetal force, and aero braking.
The runtime is 2:25, over the course of five days. Each day consists of roughly 30-36 minutes of viewing time, leaving extra time for students to complete the questions, or facilitate classroom discussion. But when showing this to my students, I typically pause the movie at certain junctures explaining what is happening and why. The students greatly appreciate this. It lends to a deepened appreciation of the film.
The Martian is an excellent movie demonstrating the science behind survival. Mark Watney becomes stranded on Mars and has only his scientific training and can-do attitude to save him, while waiting for rescue. This film delves topically into the actual scientific mechanics of interplanetary survival in terms of chemistry, physics, and also Earth-based politics. Scientific topics discussed include Newton’s First and Second Laws of Motion, the gravitational slingshot effect, orbits, trajectories, relative velocity, the chemistry of combustion, mass and acceleration, space flight, human isolation, Martian dust storms, heat from nuclear fission, botany, air pressure differentials, electrostatic charges, evaporation, condensation, logistics planning, long-range radio communications, the light minute, hexadecimal communication system, artificial gravity, circular motion, mass and escape velocity, and G forces.
This movie chronicles the development of America’s space program from Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier to John Glenn’s orbit of the Earth. The film touches on a number of scientific, social, and engineering topics. The theme of the movie centers around humanity’s drive to push the boundaries of what is possible, in terms of the marriage between science and technology. But sprinkled in that marriage is the human element, complete with the highs and lows that result from trying to push the envelope.