Hollywood Hates Math

A supercut of moments in cinema and television where characters hate on math.

In fairness, people hate math. Hollywood just turns on the cameras.

BTW. Here’s the behind-the-scenes. I went to SubZin, searched for “math,” crossed off the (few) movies that had anything positive or neutral to say on the subject, queued up all the other movies in NetFlix and ripped those scenes over the course of a few months. Then I wrote down all the lines and started moving them around like an essay. The supercut was easier to edit knowing I had some large passages where kids talked about flunking math or adults referred to their own trouble with math. I was also able to make the movies talk to each other, like the dialog between Jamie Lee Curtis and Megan Fox.

Featured Comments

Jennifer Ouellette:

Great supercut, but there are also Hollywood movies that celebrate math. A Beautiful Mind, Mean Girls, the TV series Numbers, Good Will Hunting… Maybe fodder for another supercut. :)

Barry Smith:

Mathematical genius appears in too many of those pro-math movies. Good Will Hunting, Numbers, Real Genius, Beautiful Mind — everyone watching those movies recognizes that the protagonists are far outside the norm.

Mr. K:

Worse yet, the math geniuses often aren’t even really doing math. They are math like Buck Rogers is science. Numb3rs is a particularly horrific example of this.

Ray O’Brien:

Yup, we are the academic equivalent of dentists.

@MatthewMaddux:

I disagree with the title. I suggest: Hollywood Hates [School] Math.

2013 Apr 24. Nick Douglas of the Slacktory as a nice rundown of the supercut business.

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I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

30 Comments

  1. I really like your project idea, Jennifer. I wonder if we could crowd-source it somehow… Ask people to each find their favourite positive line from a movie and create a quick capture of it, and then share the results.

  2. Less helpful is correct. Well obviously if you take a ton of quotes about people saying negative things about math it will appear that “hollywood hates math”. As Jennifer stated there are plenty of movies that celebrate math. A popular more recent example is the movie 21, if you were to make a supercut with quotes from those movies it will appear that hollywood loves math. It’s all about perspective dan.

  3. Unfortunately, this is all too often a common theme. Perhaps you need to contact some Hollywood producers and suggest they make a “pro-math” movie starring real math teachers. These math teachers could play the role of disengaged students who ultimately overcome the incompetence of their teachers by creating their own meaningful activities.

  4. I second http://www.math.harvard.edu/~knill/mathmovies/ ! Students enjoy:

    * Wizard of Oz clip misquoting Pythagoran Theorem
    * Father of the Bride clip for discussing multiples
    * Abbott and Costello just because error analysis is fun
    Just be sure to preview clips on this site before assuming they contain classroom-appropriate language ;-)

    Your compilation was fun to watch, Dan. After all… “Math class is tough!”

  5. Lincoln’s quotation of Euclid stood out to me not only for its correctness, but for its context. The truth in Euclid is important to Lincoln not only in the realm of geometry, but beyond.

    Perhaps the culmination of Dan’s most excellent Three Act Math movement can be a renaissance of the old masters. There’s perplexity and drama a-plenty in Euclid, Euler, Calkin, and Wilf. Lincoln saw it. So can we.

  6. I agree with @MatthewMaddux – if the movie compilation was called ‘Hollywood hates problem solving’, it would be dramatically shorter.

    I also disagree with the premise that the solution is to counter with a list of movies where math is good. This makes us math teachers feel good, but is somewhere on the spectrum of appearing desperate to pathetic to people that don’t feel as we do. For most people that watch such a compilation, the response would likely be one of two possibilities: 1. “THOSE people like and do math, and I’m not one of those people” or 2. “THAT isn’t what I did in math class.” Neither helps bring people to our side.

    The better solution is to do what Dan and many others here are doing to change what math class looks like. Interesting problems, less time on algorithms, and more opportunities for students to cheer at the end of act 3. If you get more kids remembering and sharing those experiences, that changes the perception of both the students in those classes and the parents that hear those students talk about math positively when they get home.

  7. I love this! All compiled together, it seems so ridiculous. If the language was cleaner I would show it in my senior classes as a discussion starter.

    As @Cathy pointed out, I LOVE finding errors in media and showing it to the kids (GLEE one time had a major error that I love showing the kids). And the Costco Lasgana that you have Dan is a favorite too. I usually challenge the kids at the beginning of the year to find a math error somewhere in the world and bring it in. (I’ve only ever had one brought in, but it was worth it!)

  8. Mathematical genius appears in too many of those pro-math movies. Good Will Hunting, Numbers, Real Genius, Beautiful Mind — everyone watching those movies recognizes that the protagonists are far outside the norm.

    Rain Man did something similar for (or to?) autism. For many, it was their only experience with autism and skewed their views toward thinking all autistic people are savants.

  9. Worse yet, the math geniuses often aren’t even really doing math. They are math like Buck Rogers is science. Numb3rs is a particularly horrific example of this.

  10. I could show this to my freshman algebra class except for the expletive. Darn! They could probably name the movies sooner than describe what we did yesterday in our lesson on solving linear systems of inequalities.

  11. Holly Brie Thomas

    January 25, 2013 - 6:43 am

    Great work, Dan!

    I find it interesting that in a lot of these scenes, math is being used as code for “smart”. So, I read the anti-math attitude as both a manifestation of American anti-intellectualism _and_ a diss to the subject.

    In my experience, the montage is a MUCH more accurate reflection of the general population’s feelings about math than movies like Real Genius & Beautiful Minds (although I would be thrilled to see a pro-math mashup!)

    Any chance you could do a kid-friendly edit? This would be GREAT to share even at the upper elementary level.

  12. seconding that kid friendly comment. I teach 8th grade and could probably just hit mute at the right times a few times, but ass and grope are definitely not cool. could maybe get away with homo and retard.

  13. Looks like all of you who want either a) a kid-friendly edit or b) a math-positive counterpoint now have an excuse to dust off that free editing software on your machine and learn how to cut video. For a limited time only, here’s the HD file of my clip to assist you in all your remixing needs.

    FWIW, I find the idea that Hollywood (or popular culture, in general) is remotely mixed on math for regular people (as opposed to savants like Rain Man or John Nash) to be a tough sell. I’m looking forward to being proven wrong.

    @John, that’s from the TV show Psych.

  14. PS. I lobbed comments from Jennifer Ouellette, Barry Smith, Mr. K, Ray O’Brien, and @MatthewMaddux up to the main floor. Thanks for the contributions, team.