The 15 Best Movies About Geniuses and Gifted People

There's something exceptionally compelling about watching a genius protagonist who's way smarter than you are.
The 15 Best Movies About Geniuses and Gifted People

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Being a genius or gifted individual is, in many ways, pretty awesome. At the very least, you can excel in your courses (as a student) or at work (as an employee) with minimal effort and never break a sweat.

But when a movie features a genius or gifted individual, you can be sure you'll be in for a ride—whether it's a comedy centered on a nerd, a mystery featuring an intuitive investigator, or even a thriller about someone whose high IQ grants special powers.

With creative twists, the narrative possibilities are endless when supermind characters are involved. Here are my picks for the best movies about geniuses and gifted people.

15. Lucy (2014)

Directed by Luc Besson

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik

Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller (1h 29m)

6.4 on IMDb67% on RT

The premise of Lucy rises from the common myth that humans only use 10 percent of their brain capacity. This movie asks the question: what would happen if someone could use all of their brain power?

Of course, that's not exactly how the human brain works—and Lucy received a lot of critical backlash for its unsound scientific foundation. But if you can look past that, it's not a terrible movie at all.

Lucy stars Scarlett Johansson as the titular female lead who's involved in a drug trafficking scheme. The drugs are sewn into her stomach, and an accident causes them to rupture... which ends up giving her heightened mental abilities that unlock her brain's full potential.

Using her newfound powers, which include telekinesis and supreme focus, she can even see the wavelengths used by cellular phones.

14. Animal World (2018)

Directed by Yan Han

Starring Yifeng Li, Yunhe Yi, Bingkun Cao

Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi (2h 12m)

6.5 on IMDb69% on RT

Animal World is a Chinese movie that features a rock-paper-scissors game with a twist.

Everyone is given 12 cards to play a game, and they must use up all of their cards while making sure they have 3 stars by the end of the game. The cards consist of rock, paper, and scissors. Stars are gained if you win against someone, while stars are lost if you lose.

Using his deep analytical skills, Zheng Kaisi is able to deduce strategies and formulate plans of attack. But even as he makes his way through the game, unexpected events and social uprisings interfere.

13. Matilda (1996)

Directed by Danny DeVito

Starring Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Mara Wilson

Comedy, Family, Fantasy (1h 42m)

7.0 on IMDb91% on RT

Matilda revolves around the story of a little girl named Matilda who lives with her cruel family.

Though she really wants to go to school, her parents are always against it—so instead she's stuck at Crunchem Hall Primary School. With Miss Trunchbull around, her school life grows full of challenges that seem nightmarish for young ones like her.

This movie stirred up mixed emotions in us: tension, comedy, drama, and so much more as the cast are all subjected to the disciplinary methods of Miss Trunchbull.

One of the most interesting parts of this movie is when Mathilda learns to control her extraordinary gift of telekinesis, which she uses to make Miss Trunchbull run away from the school.

12. Bad Genius (2017)

Directed by Baz Poonpiriya

Starring Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Eisaya Hosuwan, Teeradon Supapunpinyo

Comedy, Crime, Drama (2h 10m)

7.6 on IMDb100% on RT

If you were extremely good at academics, would you use your genius to cheat for the sake of your friends? Would you do it if you were offered the right amount of money?

Bad Genius is a famous Thai movie revolving around the story of an academic girl genius and the challenges brought upon her throughout the film, which lead to a lot of suspense and thrills.

Lynn is a top secondary student who was accepted as a scholar because of her academic achievements. At one point, she shows her genius by using piano patterns as codes to relay answers during an exam, which goes unnoticed by the teacher.

Eventually, Lynn starts to accept money for her services, which leads to a grand plot: cheating for an international standardized university admission test, where she uses all kinds of factors—including timezones and barcodes—to reap cash from many clients.

But despite her genius, the plans don't always go accordingly. And when they slip up, thrills await just around the corner.

11. Little Man Tate (1991)

Directed by Jodie Foster

Starring Jodie Foster, Dianne Wiest, Adam Hann-Byrd

Drama (1h 39m)

6.6 on IMDb73% on RT

Raising a genius kid as a single mother is a hard job, which the movie Little Man Tate explores, placing emphasis on the environmental factors that hinder his normal life. Fred, the son of Dede, who shows indications of being a genius, is somehow isolated in the community.

Fred joins a school of gifted individuals, participates in contests, and even starts studying quantum physics. With all those things done to adapt to his environment, at the end of the day, a mother who nurtures his son emotionally is all he needs.

10. Gifted (2017)

Directed by Marc Webb

Starring Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan

Drama (1h 41m)

7.6 on IMDb73% on RT

Gifted is the story of Mary, a young genius girl who's bored with the basic math problems given to her by her teacher.

Because of her mathematical prowess—which she inherited from her late mother—the principal suggests enrolling her in a school for gifted kids. Sadly, her uncle turns down the idea.

The story also centers on other elements, like the fight over Mary's guardianship, Mary's innocence, and the characters' own ideas of how Mary should live her life—either as a math genius who can solve nearly impossible equations, or as a kid like everyone else her age.

9. Like Stars on Earth (2007)

Directed by Aamir Khan and Amole Gupte

Starring Darsheel Safary, Aamir Khan, Tanay Chheda

Drama, Family (2h 45m)

8.3 on IMDb92% on RT

Like Stars on Earth (originally titled Taare Zameen Par) is a dramatic movie about Ishaan Awsthi, an eight-year-old boy who suffers from dyslexia. He has trouble recognizing letters, and instead sees the letters come to life and even jump out from their pages.

Because his condition is unknown to his teachers and family, they just think that he doesn't like school. But at some point, his teacher notices the boy's special needs and starts attending to him, giving him special lessons to overcome his dyslexia.

Though we can see that Ishaan is just learning his letters and numbers, the movie features more than that: his gift of art, which is expressed through paintings and flipbook animations.

8. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

Directed by Steven Zaillian

Starring Joe Mantegna, Ben Kingsley, Max Pomeranc

Biography, Drama, Sport (1h 49m)

7.4 on IMDb100% on RT

Searching for Bobby Fischer follows the story of Joshua Waitzkin, a real-life chess prodigy who won the U.S. Junior Chess Championship in 1993 and 1994. The film is adapted from the book of the same name, which was written by his father, Fred Waitzkin.

Josh took an early liking to chess, as many young boys do. However, he was so good that he began competing on the professional stage at the age of seven, which put a great toll on his mental health.

Featured in this film are two distinct play styles that Josh used in his tournaments—the first is reckless and fast-paced, adapted from players he played with in the park; the second is organized, patterned, and by-the-books, which he learned from his chess teacher.

7. Limitless (2011)

Directed by Neil Burger

Starring Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish

Sci-Fi, Thriller (1h 45m)

7.4 on IMDb69% on RT

Like Lucy, the film Limitless features a plot centering on drug-induced mental enhancement. But in this one, the medication is ingested as a pill rather than taken directly into the bloodstream.

Limitless follows the story of Eddie Morra, who's given a dose of a nootropic drug that unlocks the full potential of his brain. He doesn't have any esper-like abilities, but his heightened brain functions include impeccable memory and super-fast processing of information.

With his brain chugging along at 100 percent, he climbs his career ladder and wins the girl—but things take a turn when others want the drug for themselves, leading to some action-packed scenes.

6. Good Will Hunting (1997)

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Drama, Romance (2h 6m)

8.3 on IMDb97% on RT

The "smart guy" and "bad boy" are usually different characters, but they come together as one person in Good Will Hunting.

This movie stars Matt Damon as Will Hunting, a man with a genius-level intellect who's able to solve math equations that stump even the brightest of scholars. But he's also hard-headed and delinquent without guidance, leading to behaviors that squander his gift.

The promise of Good Will Hunting revolves around Will's character and how bright his future can be, but the film is also grounded as it explores his past hardships that turned his heart cold, a defense mechanism that pushes everyone away so he doesn't get hurt again.

Apart from his friends who support him, there are two people who play a crucial role in his life: the professor who wants him to make full use of his genius intellect and make a successful life for himself, and the therapist who wants to help him heal emotionally.

5. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Felix Lemburo

Biography, Drama, History (1h 53m)

7.6 on IMDb86% on RT

Building something useful out of old and worn items may be common on YouTube these days, but in a third-world land stricken by poverty, it's not as easy as the influencers make it seem.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind follows the story of William Kamkwamba, a young boy who lives in a poor community that's blighted by drought and famine. He sets out to build something that would benefit not just him and his family, but also his entire village.

Though he's smart enough to apply the concepts he has in mind, he lacks the resources and funds to make it happen. Without that, it's nearly impossible for him to build his life-saving project.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind might be predictable in its wholesome results, but every moment is earned by strong writing and even stronger performances. It's one of the best movies about geniuses that show how brilliant minds can be found anywhere.

4. Pawn Sacrifice (2014)

Directed by Edward Zwick

Starring Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard

Biography, Drama, History (1h 55m)

7.0 on IMDb72% on RT

The game of chess has a pretty interesting history, one that's "slightly" featured in the gripping chess movie Pawn Sacrifice.

While the aforementioned Searching for Bobby Fischer only features Bobby Fischer as a background name, Pawn Sacrifice is actually about Bobby Fischer himself.

The movie follows the story of Bobby Fischer (Toby Maguire), how he started playing chess at a very young age, and his achievements against other great chess players during his time.

While several topics meld together in this film—including the Cold War and the Soviet dominance over professional chess—Fischer's life is still featured heavily, giving us the story of one of the most prominent and most gifted players in the history of chess.

3. The Theory of Everything (2014)

Directed by James Marsh

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior

Biography, Drama, Romance (2h 3m)

7.7 on IMDb80% on RT

We've all heard the name Stephen Hawking, a renowned theoretical physicist who made many contributions to various fields of science. A modern-day Einstein in the truest sense.

Despite his struggle against worsening health conditions, Hawking defied all odds and inspired millions around the world, even going as far as authoring a best-selling book in A Brief History of Time.

In The Theory of Everything—which was adapted from the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, authored by none other than Hawking's first wife, Jane—we're treated to the story of his life.

While the film does feature some of Hawking's contributions and works, it centers on the love story between Stephen and Jane, which is both romantic yet heartbreaking.

2. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Directed by Ron Howard

Starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly

Biography, Drama (2h 15m)

8.2 on IMDb74% on RT

Based on the book of the same name, A Beautiful Mind centers on real-life mathematician and economist John Nash, following his story from student to rising career to downfall caused by schizophrenia.

The movie is elevated by its incorporation of psychological thriller elements, like the hallucinations that stem from his underlying mental disorder, as well as his obsession with codes (that are apparently "hidden in the magazines") and his paranoia of spying special agents.

While most of these elements are fictional to the real-life accounts of John Nash and his mental illness, the creative storytelling shows how schizophrenia greatly affected his life and career.

1. Hidden Figures (2016)

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

Biography, Drama, History (2h 7m)

7.8 on IMDb93% on RT

Hidden Figures is the story of three black women who work at NASA as engineers and mathematicians. In this movie, they restored the nation's confidence during the 1960s, which was a time of racial and gender inequality in a society full of discrimination.

These women are responsible for one of history's greatest operations during the Space Race, which launched astronaut John Glenn into orbit, such is their genius. Yet they have to deal with racial and gender discrimination at work every day.

Despite this obstacle, they are the ones who are assigned to calculate the momentous launch of John into orbit and guarantee his safe return, earning them the respect of the team.