Help decide the World's Greatest Engineering Movie

What is the best engineering movie ever made? Help us find out, or at least point the way. We will be having a Movie Madness “playoff” elections in which 32 movies compete head-to-head in a several  brackets until there’s only one left.

We will need some help, however, to fill up those 32 slots. So please nominate a movie or two by emailing me ( Put Movie in the subject line, or leave a nomination at the end of this blog entry). Please include two or three lines as to why this movie deserves the engineering accolades.

Within a few weeks, we’ll start having “elections” pitting one movie against another, letting you and other engineering enthusiasts winnow down the field until only one remains, the World’s Greatest Engineering Movie.

Note: Please don’t confuse sci-fi movies with engineering movies. Not all sci-fi involves engineering. In general, a good engineering movie includes engineers as major characters, or talks intelligently about engineering issues or the profession. But these are just rough guidelines. Now send in those nominations.  

And watch this space for further details.

Discuss this Blog Entry 79

on Mar 15, 2014

A player on this list needs to be "The Wind Rises", an biographical picture based on the life of Dr. Hayao Miyazaki who designed the Mitsubishi Zero. The movie shows ihe work that goes into the design and how designers visualize how parts interact with each other.

Harry Andreas (not verified)
on Mar 15, 2014

No Highway in the Sky...specifically about an aeronautical engineer predicting fatigue failure....written by Nevil Shute, and aeronautical engineer.

Harry Andreas (not verified)
on Mar 15, 2014

The Ghost and the Darkness...the story (based on real events) of Lt. Col. John Paterson who was engineering the British East African Railway and had to deal with 2 rogue lions who were attacking the workers, and the subsequent strikes and labor unrest due to the attacks.

on Mar 18, 2014

Rocky IV, I enjoyed the movie but the robot scene stuck out to me at an early age. I became fascinated with robots which led me into my profession.

The music is classic too :)

FerHaus (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

What about Real steel, then?

ET (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

How about Falling Down starring Michael DOuglas as an unemployed defense worker (engineer) frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.

Billman (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

To get a little darker how about the SAW movie series and 13 Ghosts

FerHaus (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

Can we include anime?
I'd like to propose Ghost in the shell for its distopian use of technology? or Appleseed for the amazing display of cybernetic organisms.

hatley (not verified)
on Mar 19, 2014

The Astronaut Farmer with Billy Bob Thorton was not a bad movie. To launch a rocket from a barn is far fetched but entertaining.

AnonymousRex (not verified)
on Mar 20, 2014

Criteria for Best Engineering Movie
1. solid engineering / computing /coding or equiv content
2. great plot line
3. eye candy (his, hers, etc)
4. (optional depending on the year of the film): special effects
5. (optional 2): humor

Jurassic Park is one easy example. It has genetic engineering (science fictional, but not that far fetched these days). It has a cool plot line (the appeal of setting loose dinos in the modern era, caged only by the island they're on). If you saw that movie, you know the word Velicoraptor and what it means). It has some eye candy, but not the over-the-top gratuitous type. The special effects were great (thus demonstrating great image processing and therefore great engineering to make the movie), AND it provided the audience with the MEME software programmer AND a lawyer-eating TRex.

Rob Murray (not verified)
on Mar 20, 2014

I have two to put forward:

Hatari: The charater charged with getting a net over a tree tells his boss when asked why the rockets are faced away from the tree?, "Do you know anything about vectors, engineering or science?"


Temple Grandin:
This movie has a NASA engineer who inspired one of the best minds to achive great engineering and design feats in the area of bovine husbantry, feed and slaughter house setups. She also happens to be Autistic.

My favorites have already been nominated.

Nick at the Mining (not verified)
on Mar 20, 2014

Apollo 13, for sure. The engineer/astronaut (Gary Sinise) on the ground working to establish the proper restart sequence was an awesome excersise in problem solving with constrained resources.

mjlinden (not verified)
on Mar 20, 2014

Another vote for "Real Genius"...

Pietro (not verified)
on Mar 20, 2014

"Hellfighters", 1968 film starring John Wayne, based loosely on the life of Red Adair.
I saw this film when I was a kid, the details are a bit sketchy in my mind but the application of innovative methods for solving seemingly insurmountable problems fits the criteria.

on Mar 21, 2014

The Gravity and Apollo 13 are the best engineering movies as per my opinion. Engineering is at discussion from start to end of these movies.

Adventurer (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

I vote for Colosus The Forbin Project. 1970 show about a computer engineer/scientist who designs and builds a super computer with artificial intelligence. Sci-Fi kicks in when it links to a counterpart across the globe. The computers develop their own computer language and begin takeover of the world to eliminate war, poverty, disease, etc.

MikeM (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

I suggest:

Jurassic Park would be on the list but only top ten, not #1 (vehicles, enclosures, systems, and failsafes that actually fail).

Hugo - another top ten, fascination and creativity of machines

The General (Buster Keaton) - entertaining combination of slapstick incorporating the dynamics of locomotives, mortars, bridges, etc.

The Great Race - the creativity of the nefarious Professor Fate (Jack Lemon) is fantastic. Cartoonish to be sure but entertaining.

Finally I would nominate the entire body of Road Runner (& Coyote) cartoons. ACME must surely be the acme of engineering companies represented in film.

kid_of_the_80s (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

The Manhattan Project (1986) - teen makes atomic bomb with stolen plutonium.
War Games (1983) - teen breaks into NORAD computers. Infinity (1996) - the same teen from War Games (Matthew Broderick, aka Ferris) plays Richard Feynman who worked on the real Manhattan Project.

JJ (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

The Movie "CONTACT", because of the fantastic machine they build in the movie and how they figure it all out - engineering to the max! I keep hoping for a sequel to be made.

FerHaus (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

I'd say 2001 for the sheer effort of shooting the film without CGI. It still looks realistic after all this time.

If you like gleaming metal: Ironman and perhaps Transformers.

I also liked Ripley fighting an alien in a caterpillar.

But my final vote would be for The invention of Hugo cabret, for its ingenuity, the machine construction and the ability to actually say something about the human condition.

neatmachine (not verified)
on Mar 21, 2014

If it can be considered a "movie" I think 7-minutes of Terror (NASA) is pretty engaging which shows the application of a wide variety of engineering from several disciplines. Check out:

Brianj (not verified)
on Mar 22, 2014

When Worlds Collide

Odd no one finds this of interest - an engineered solution to a catastrophic incident.

Keith (not verified)
on Mar 23, 2014

Chain reaction (1996) with Keanu reeves. Entertaining movie about development of a device which extracts hydrogen from water

Harish S Rao (not verified)
on Mar 23, 2014

BBC documentary movie : SPACE RACE. Two rocket engineers from two opposite ends of world compete in reaching the space. A real life story worth watching by all engineers.

Fred Rak (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2014

So many good choices! One that I'd like to add to the mix is Bridge over the River Kwai. Take some engineers in an adverse situation and build a railroad bridge in the middle of the jungle and it actually works. The movie shows the basic processes of deciding a site for the structure, planning and meeting a deadline and uniting a workforce to get it done in time. Another auspect is demolition engineering in the same movie but not much detail for that other than deciding to use plastique exposives. Again, this is just another movie to take into consideration.

JK83 (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2014

Real Genius - One of my favorite movies and a classic. Whether the concept of eliminating a human target from space with a gigantic laser is fact or fiction is irrelevant. The movie depicts the struggles that a lot of engineering students encounter, be it social struggles, stress, or side line research projects on top of a heavy load of course work, I think a lot of engineers could relate to this movie... and it has its fair share of comic relief.

kbs2244 (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2014

Nobody votes for TRON?
It was a 2, if not 3, level movie.
From wiz bang motorcyle chases to how operating systems work.

on Mar 31, 2014

Tron earned 36% of the vote to Andromeda Strain's 64%. I thought it was the correct result; and it wouldn't have mattered which version of Tron it was going up against. Andromeda Strain was Chriton's first book, a mega-best seller, and the movie recreates the suspense of the book. I never heard of classifying movies by Level 2 or Level 3.

Akex (not verified)
on May 30, 2014

Another vote in for Primer. Rewatched it just now, and it's still as mind bending and interesting as it was the first four times.

Please or Register to post comments.

What's A Skeptical Engineer?

A questioning, sometimes humorous look at technologies, engineering, and the world.


Stephen Mraz

Steve serves as Senior Editor of Machine Design.  He has 23 years of service and has a B.S. Biomedical Engineering from CWRU. Steve was a E-2C Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer in the U.S. Navy. He...
Blog Archive
Connect With Us

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×