Movies About Geniuses That'll Make You Feel Like A Normal

Movie heroes are stamped from a few different molds. There’s the brawny action figure whose muscles protect their vulnerable heart. Or the teenager whose journey towards self-exploration begins the moment she steps outside the house. Or the average joe whose plain exterior hides his inner darkness.
But my favorite movie hero? The genius, whose brilliance manifests in flying chalk, focused expressions, and complicated personality traits. The movie genius comes in all forms. There are little girls who can move things with their minds, or janitors who do mental math after work. Artistic geniuses. Difficult geniuses. Child geniuses. Evil geniuses. Each varied in circumstance and realism, but all exhilarating.
So, here’s to our favorite movie trope, the one that reminds us of our pea-sized normal brains. These are some damn beautiful minds.
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The Greatest Showman (2017)

Not much about The Greatest Showman is based in reality, which is one of the musical's principal charms. All of that aside, the musical is about the father of modern show business: P.T. Barnum. Barnum was able to identify humanity's tendency to gawk at difference, and monetize that tendency through circuses and strange displays. Even if his freak shows were squirm-inducing, one must applaud his visionariness.
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The Hours (2002)

This heart-wrenching movie is about three women struggling with mental illness, one of whom is the straight-up genius author, Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman. When you read Woolf's prose, you know you're reading sentences delivered to you by a higher mind. The Hours follows Woolf as she writes Mrs. Dalloway, one of her greatest works.
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Shine (1996)

When David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) first appears onscreen, he's a fidgety and hallucinating. He plays the piano beautifully, but you can tell that his mind is not quite right. How did such a fate befall such a genius? Shine flashes back to David's youth, when he lived with a very controlling father, in order to show how David got from there — a prim, well-behaved boy primed for stardom — to here. It's a fascinating look at genius and parenting.
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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

A family of geniuses makes for a dysfunctional — and certainly memorable — family. Royal Tenenbaum's (Gene Hackman) three children accomplish incredible things as children, but they flounder as adults. Often wearing the same outfits they did as kids, Margo (Gwyneth Paltrow), Chas (Ben Stiller), and Richie (Luke Wilson) try to recapture some of their former glory.
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Limitless (2011)

Move over, Adderall. The pill that writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) gets his hands on allows him to unlock 100% of his brain's power. Instead of using his newfound brain power to write the Great American Novel, Eddie decides to make millions playing the stock market. Eddie's rise fueled by NZT-48 attracts the attention of Wall Street tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro), who suspects — rightfully — that something's amiss with Eddie.
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Gifted (2017)

Seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) can debate the Syria crisis as well as she can solve complicated square roots in her head. Though Frank Adler knows his young niece is special, he prioritizes her having a happy childhood over using her gifted mind to solve math all day. But after Mary debuts her genius in her first-grade classroom, the direction of Mary's life isn’t up to Frank anymore. Mary’s grandmother wants custody over her granddaughter to continue the family legacy of math genius.

While the family drama is compelling, the real highlight of this movie is Mckenna Grace as Mary, the most adorable child prodigy in cinema history.
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The Imitation Game (2014)

The time: WWII. The task: crack the German's enigma code. The stakes: very, very high.

With stunning mental prowess, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his team of British mathematicians set out to break a code previously thought to be unbreakable. Their work, carried out in a quaint England town, helps the Allies win the war. Later on, Turing's "Turing Machine" will become the modern-day computer. But while Turing's accomplishments changed life as we know it, the U.K. treated him terribly because of his sexuality.
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Magnus (2016)

Meet 25-year-old Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian prodigy who’s been rocking the chess world since he was 10. Hailed as the “Mozart” of chess, Magnus speaks of the spirit that governs his chess moves in this fascinating documentary.

Unlike Bobby Fischer, the chess prodigy cloaked in obscurity, Magnus comes off as, well, normal. He even models! You’ll be captivated by Magnus’s skyrocketing career, and by his playful, charming personality.
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Hidden Figures (2015)

Sure, we all know about Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. But before Hidden Figures, most of us didn’t know about these brilliant women behind the scenes, whose calculations brought us closer to the stars. In this heart-warming Oscar-nominated film, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe play a team of three Black women mathematicians who helped get those rockets into space.
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A Beautiful Mind (2001)

One thing you’ll learn from this movie about John Forbes Nash Jr., a real-life mathematician? Just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean your mind isn’t playing tricks on you. In this iconic biographical drama, Russell Crowe plays a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician on a journey through mental triumph and mental illness.
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Matilda (1996)

By the time she begins first grade, Matilda has already read Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice. Stuck at home all day with her no good, dirty rotten, scamming family, Matilda’s mental prowess is floundering. In fact, the elementary schooler is so under stimulated that she’s developed telekinetic powers. Soon, Matilda will use object-moving capabilities to take down the bullies at her school — the worst of whom is the headmaster, Miss Trunchbull — and forge a better future for herself than she could have at home.
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Amadeus (1984)

The composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) had the great misfortune of having a career at the same time as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce). And how can a perfectly good composer compete with the greatest composer of all time? By descending into jealous madness, that's how. In this Academy Award-winning drama, Salieri acts upon his resentment of Mozart's musical gift, and sets into motion a scheme that'll have tremendous consequences for both composers.
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Good Will Hunting (1997)

By now, putting Good Will Hunting on a list about geniuses is a trope in itself. But hey, it’s iconic for a reason. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a janitor who solves complicated math problems on blackboards after work. After Will solves a particularly tough problem, an MIT professor discovers his talent. But after Will’s arrested for assaulting a police officer, the professor will only work with him if he gets treatment from a therapist, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams).
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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Need to track down a woman gone missing for 40 years? The tattooed, pierced hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is your girl. As the journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) discovers, there is no firewall too high for this tech genius to catapult over. Whether she’s a heroine or anti-heroine is up for debate, but there’s no denying Lisbeth is a genius.
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The Big Short (2012)

In 2008, a hedge fund manager (and death metal aficionado) in California has a prediction that no one else agrees with: The housing market is going to collapse. Like Cassandra, Michael Burry (Christian Bale) believes in a future only he can see. But unlike Cassandra, he acts on it — and wins big.

Odds are, this movie about finance wizards making money off the 2008 financial crisis will incense you. But you'll walk away from The Big Short with greater understanding of the economy, and of the minds who can read the stock market like the rest of us read a book.
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Frida (2002)

As you’ll see, the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo lived a life with enough plot twists to fill up an entire biopic. When she was 18, Kahlo (Salma Hayek) was involved in a tragic trolley accident. In the years she spent convalescing, Kahlo painted her way through tremendous physical pain. In addition to showing the artistic lens with which Frida viewed the world, the biopic explores Kahlo’s tumultuous partnership with the muralist Diego Rivera, and an affair with Leon Trotsky.
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