I recently became aware that there are two versions of Flight of the Phoenix. Apparently, when it's referred to, most people are talking about the 2004 remake starring Dennis Quaid. I only learned of that one when talking to someone about the version I'd seen, which is the 1965 B&W original with Jimmy Stewart. He's a little bit not right for the character he plays, because he doesn't come across as an aviator type. Yet he gives a strong performance, which rests of the intensity of his character's drive to find a solution to the situation. And of course that's at the core of an engineering problem. My favorite is near the end, the argument between the Stewart chjaracter and the (model) airplane designer character played by Hardy Kruger, where the latter tries to stop the former from testing whether the plane will start by using up the one starter charge they have. So of course in an engineering sense, the Stewart character is completely in the wrong here and the (model) airplane designer is correct. And the hanging onto the wing stuff wouldn't really work in real life, I don't think. (In WWII movies, there are scenes which make a point of showing wing-hangers falling to the ground as the plane takes off.)
Sounds like a good documentary. That is good for exisiting Engineers, but we need movies that will make real engineering a thing kids want to do. I like "October Sky" too (by the way, the book is called "Rocket Boys", they are anagrams), but it was more about perserverance and dreams than engineering. It is a great representation of what scientists and engineers are really like, and a great story. I think a lot of people who see the movie will admire Homer (and he deserves it, it is a true story), but they won't want to be Homer.
What we need is a story of an Engineer taking on a problem that we can all identify with, like a disease or other common threat to human life. Without getting too technical, show his ideas, his inspirations, and frustrations. The process he goes through at a level that most people can understand (it is okay if there are a few things they can't). And the most important part, his eventual win and how much it means.
If we can communicate that Engineering is about overcoming technical obstacles to win great victories, that will inspire people. Even those who feel it is beyond them will admire the people who are doing these things and want to support them.
Know any movies like that?
BTW I don't mean that there should not be technical details in the movie. There should be, and they should be accurate. However, the audience has to be able to follow what is going on. The details have to be presented in a way that everybody can understand them.
OK guys you are just mentioning some others to be different. Apollo 13 is flat out hands down the best, on several levels. First: It shows the foibles of all the lowest bidder problems. The CO2 scrubbers round in the comand module square in the LEM. Then the movies show the best of AMERICAN ENGINEERING SPRIT, we simply won't let these guys be lost. Finally the thinking on their feet of the actual astronauts, and the fact that they actually had to fly the thing! Spam in a can my a$$. We need goals like this again.
I love several of the lines in the movie, but the best is when Neil Armstrong is at the Lovells house trying to console his mother, and She says, " Don't worry son, if they could get a washing machine to fly my boy could land it!" The men AND the women in those days had real guts!
Falling down doesn't even rate consideration. The guy could have run a cement mixer.
I also love Flight of the Phoenix because they actually built the plane/monster that flew for a few moments at the end. It cost us a great pilot as Paul Mantz crashed the plane when flying it for a second "take" for the cameras.
David Cox is indeed correct that the Michael Douglas character in "Falling Down," which I picked as one of my favorite engineering movies, could in fact have been tagged as a member of any other profession or job. There was no "engineering" in the movie, except the scene where, if I remember correctly, he went to his childhood bedroom, and there were some equations scribbled on a pad. But the reason I put it in the engineering-movie category is I found it notable that a filmmaker would go out of his way to call a character an engineer. Usually movies avoid engineers. And it did kind of capture the boom-and-bust cycle of the defense engineer work lifestyle. I guess that no longer exists so much, but it did when I started out. I also think Douglas's character captured something of the engineer mindset, even though there was definitely stereotyping/overdoing it for effect (like the pocket protector he wore).
A lot of the science fiction movies from the 50s and 60s were based on projecting existing science and engineering into the future. Even Star Trek based many of its episodes on engineering and science. By the 70s and 80s, it seems that most science fiction focused more on projecting social trends into the future, which took the science out of science fiction.
October sky was good, but by far, the most creative engineering movie was "The Smurfs." Little blue men creating adorable little cottages and devices with a minimum of modern instruments was truly amazing and inspiring. Nothing else comes close!
I disagree with listing "Falling Down" as an engineering movie. The fact that Michael Douglas's character was an engineer is only relevant when used to describe his disillusionment with the world and how his character has been handling (or not) his stress level. It is easy to imagine him in the role when compared to a Hollywood envisioned engineer. My picks are movies that show some insight into the personal and professional work worlds of engineers. One is a slightly sophomoric "Real Genius" starring Val Kilmer as a college student used by his professor to work on a high powered laser system and the second is Christopher Walken in "Brainstorm". Both these movies show some of the politics and personal sacrifices engineers make to follow their dreams.
These are interesting definitions of an engineering movie. I never would have thought of Falling Down as one, although it's one of my all-time favorite movies (especially after living in LA). I think of it more as social commentary and assumed the fact that the main character is an engineer is due more to Hollywood's idea of a normal nebbish type Everyman. I think the title of this article should be "What's Your Pick for Best STEM Movie?" Anyway, I agree with Jenn, Flash of Genius is probably my pick.
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