Engineer as Hero

Here are movies in which a major character was an engineer. Did you know there were so many? Or that so many of them were good?

Ron's Rating System & Genres
Rating Definition Genre Genre Defined Genre Genre Defined
***** How can you call yourself an engineer if you haven't seen this one? A action/adventure M mystery
**** Worth seeing unless you have something important to do. C comedy R romance
*** Flip a coin. D drama S suspense
** Not worth seeing unless you have nothing else to do. HD historical drama SF science fiction/fantasy
* Bleah. You're not busy? I can find you something to do. H horror TV made for TV, mini-series
0 Never mind watching it. This is a movie that should not have been MADE. K kids W war
    Mu musical We western

I liked this movie. :-)

The Movies Themselves
Movie As the/an Engineer
(or something close)
Genre Year Ron
IMDB Rating
21 Josh Gad, Jim Sturgess D 2008 *** 0478087 PG-13
1408 Isiah Whitlock Jr. H/S 2007 *** 0450385 PG-13
The Abyss Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio SF 1989 ** 0096754 PG-13
The African Queen Humphrey Bogart D 1951 *** 0043265 unrated
Anaconda the snake (villain) H 1997 * 0118615 PG-13
Antitrust Ryan Phillippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, Tim Robbins (villain), Yee Jee Tso S 2001 * 0218817 PG-13
Apollo 13 (#2 ALL-TIME) Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Loren Dean D 1995 ***** 0112384 PG
Arlington Road Tim Robbins (villain) D/S 1999 **** 0137363 R
Armageddon Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Isaacs, Peter Stormare SF/A 1998 ** 0120591 PG-13
Around the World in 80 Days Steve Coogan SF/A 2004 0 0327437 PG
Austin Powers: the Spy who Shagged Me Mike Myers (villain) C/A 1999 **** 0145660 PG-13
The Aviator Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Ross HD/A 2004 ***** 0338751 PG-13
Back to the Future (#8 ALL-TIME) Christopher Lloyd SF 1985 ***** 0088763 PG
Batman Begins Morgan Freeman A 2005 **** 0372784 PG-13
Belles on Their Toes Myrna Loy D/Mu 1952 *** 0044410 unrated
Birdman of Alcatraz Burt Lancaster HD 1995 **** 0055798 unrated
Body and Soul Kristin Scott Thomas D/TV 1995 ***** 0108711 unrated mature
Box of Moonlight John Turturro C/D 1996 **** 0115738 R
Boys and Girls Freddie Prinze Jr., Heather Donahue R/C 2000 ** 0204175 PG-13
Breaking the Code Derek Jacobi D/M/TV 1996 **** 0115749 unrated mature
The Bridge Over the River Kwai Alec Guinness W 1957 **** 0050212 PG
A Bug's Life Dave Foley K 1998 ***** 0120623 PG
The Center of the World Peter Sarsgaard D 2001 0 0240402 unrated mature
Chairman of the Board Carrot Top C 1998 0 0118836 PG-13
Challenger Karen Allen, Peter Boyle, Joe Morton, several others HD (TV) 1990 NR 0099237 PG-13
Cheaper By the Dozen Clifton Webb, Myrna Loy C 1950 **** 0042327 unrated
Chicken Run Julia Sawalha K/A 2000 *** 0120630 PG
The China Syndrome Jack Lemmon, Wilford Brimley D 1979 *** 0078966 PG
Chinatown Darrell Zwerling M 1974 *** 0071315 R
Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers to the Rescue (animated) K 1989 NR 0200528 G
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Dick Van Dyke K/C 1965 *** 0062803 G
City of Ember Tim Robbins D/SF 2008 *** 0970411 PG-13
Colossus: The Forbin Project Eric Braeden (villain) SF 1969 * 0064177 PG
Contact John Hurt, Jodie Foster SF 1997 **** 0118884 PG
The Core Aaron Eckhart, DJ Qualls SF/A 2003 ** 0298814 PG-13
The Dam Busters (#4 ALL-TIME) Michael Redgrave W 1954 ***** 0046889 unrated
The Dark Knight Morgan Freeman A/SF 2008 **** 0468569 PG-13
Dark Portals: the Chronicles of Vidocq Gerard Depardieu M/A 2001 **** 0164961 PG-13
The Day The Earth Stood Still Michael Rennie SF 1951 ***** 0043456 G
Death Machine Brad Dourif (villain) SF 1994 * 0109575 R
Deep Blue Sea Michael Rapaport H 1999 * 0149261 R
Deep Core Terry Farrell SF 2000 * 0202314 PG-13
Desk Set Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn C 1957 *** 0050307 unrated
Die Hard Clarence Gilyard, Jr. (villain) A 1988 **** 0095016 R
Disclosure Michael Douglas, Dennis Miller, Suzie Plakson S 1994 * 0109635 R
The Dish Patrick Warburton HD 2000 **** 0205873 PG-13
Edison the Man Spencer Tracy HD 1940 ** 0032432 unrated
Efficiency Expert Anthony Hopkins C 1991 ** 0102969 PG
Eight Below Jason Biggs K 2006 *** 0397313 PG
Eight Legged Freaks David Arquette SF/C 2002 *** 0271367 PG-13
Enemy of the State Gene Hackman A 1998 *** 0120660 R
The Emerald Forest Powers Boothe D 1985 ** 0089087 unrated
The Englishman who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain Hugh Grant C/D 1995 *** 0112966 PG
Ever After (#9 ALL-TIME) Patrick Godfrey SF/K 1998 ***** 0120631 PG
Executive Decision Joe Morton, Oliver Platt A 1996 ** 0116253 R
eXistenZ Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm (villain) SF 1999 *** 0120907 R
Falling Down Michael Douglas (villain) D 1993 0 0106856 R
Falling in Love Robert DeNiro D 1984 NR 0087233 PG-13
Fat Man and Little Boy Paul Newman, Dwight Schultz, John Cusack HD 1989 *** 0097336 PG-13
Fighting Seabees John Wayne W 1944 * 0036824 unrated mature
Fire: Trapped on the 37th Floor (engineer unknown at this time) D (TV) 1991 NR 0101881 PG-13
Firewall Harrison Ford, Mary Lynn Rajskub A 2006 *** 0408345 PG-13
Five Million Years to Earth (Quatermass and the Pit) Julian Glover, Andrew Keir SF 1967 NR 0062168 unrated
Flash of Genius Greg Kinnear D 2008 ***** 1054588 PG-13
Flight of the Phoenix (#3 ALL-TIME) Jimmy Stewart, Hardy Kruger D 1965 ***** 0059183 unrated mature
Flightplan Jodie Foster A 2005 *** 0408790 PG-13
The Fly Jeff Goldblum SF 1986 ** 0091064 R
Fly Away Home Jeff Daniels K/D 1996 *** 0116329 PG
Forbidden Planet Richard Anderson, Robby the Robot :-) SF 1956 ***** 0049223 G
Gattaca Ethan Hawke SF 1997 *** 0119177 PG-13
The Ghost and the Darkness Val Kilmer M/A 1996 ***** 0116409 R
The Glass Bottom Boat Rod Taylor C 1966 *** 0060463 unrated
Goldeneye Alan Cumming (villain), Izabella Scorupco A/M 1995 *** 0113189 PG-13
The Great Race Jack Lemmon (villain) A/C 1965 *** 0059243 unrated
Gremlins Hoyt Axton SF 1984 **** 0087363 PG
Gung Ho Michael Keaton C 1986 *** 0091159 PG-13
Hackers Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie SF/S 1995 * 0113243 PG-13
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets Mark Williams K/S 2002 **** 0295297 PG
Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves Rick Moranis K/C 1997 ** 0119310 PG
Inspector Gadget Rupert Everett (villain), Joely Fisher K/SF 1999 * 0141369 PG
Into the Night Jeff Goldblum C/A 1985 0 0089346 R
Iron Man (#5 ALL-TIME) Robert Downey, Jr. A/SF 2008 ***** 0371746 PG-13
The Italian Job Seth Green C/A 2003 **** 0317740 PG-13
Jurassic Park Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight (villain) SF/A 1993 *** 0107290 PG-13
Kansas Pacific Sterling Hayden, Harry Shannon W/HD 1953 **** 0045954 approved
Kate & Leopold Hugh Jackman R/C 2001 *** 0035423 PG-13
A Knight's Tale Laura Fraser A/C 2001 ** 0183790 PG-13
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life Noah Taylor A 2003 ** 0325703 PG-13
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Naseeruddin Shah A 2003 *** 0311429 PG-13
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events Emily Browning K 2004 ***** 0339291 PG
Lorenzo's Oil Nick Nolte D 1992 ** 0104756 PG-13
Lost in Space Jack Johnson, Jared Harris SF/A 1998 ** 0120738 PG-13
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines Terry-Thomas (villain) A/C 1965 *** 0059797 unrated
The Man in the White Suit Alec Guinness D 1952 ***** 0044876 unrated
Mission: Impossible Emilio Estevez A 1996 ** 0117060 PG
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium Mike Realba, Dustin Hoffman K 2007 NR 0457419 PG-13
Mr. Mom Michael Keaton C 1986 *** 0085970 PG
The Mosquito Coast Harrison Ford (villain?) D 1986 **** 0091557 PG
Jules Verne's Mysterious Island Patrick Stewart, Kyle MacLachlan, Roy Marsden SF/TV 1961 * 0448965 PG
Mysterious Island Michael Craig, Herbert Lom (villain?) A 1961 *** 0055207 PG
The Net Sandra Bullock M/A 1995 ** 0113957 PG-13
No Highway in the Sky (#7 ALL-TIME) Jimmy Stewart D 1951 ***** 0043859 unrated
October Sky (#1 ALL-TIME) Jake Gyllenhaal HD 1999 ***** 0132477 PG
Office Space (#6 ALL-TIME) Ron Livingston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu C 1999 ***** 0151804 R
On the Beach Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire SF/D 1959 ***** 0053137 PG
Paycheck (#10 ALL-TIME) Ben Affleck SF/M 2003 ***** 0338337 PG-13
Pineapple Express James Franco C 2008 *** 0910936 R
The Prestige David Bowie D 2006 **** 482571 PG-13
Primer Shane Carruth D 2004 ** 0390384 PG-13
Real Genius Val Kilmer, Michelle Meyrink C 1985 *** 0089886 PG
Red Planet Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss SF 2000 *** 0199753 PG-13
Richie Rich Michael McShane K 1994 *** 0110989 PG
Ridicule Charles Berling D 1996 NR 0117477 R
Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves Morgan Freeman A 1991 *** 0102798 PG-13
The Rocketeer Alan Arkin, Terry O'Quinn A 1991 **** 0102803 PG-13
Rodan Kenji Sahara SF 1957 *** 0049782 PG-13
Schindler's List Ben Kingsley, Liam Neeson HD 1993 **** 0108052 R
The Scorpion King Bernard Hill A 2002 *** 0277296 PG-13
Serenity Jewel Staite SF/A 2005 ***** 0379786 PG-13
Shooting Fish Stuart Townsend (villain?) R/C 1997 NR 0120122 PG
Short Circuit Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens C 1986 *** 0091949 PG (ha!)
Sneakers Ben Kingsley (villain) M 1992 *** 0105435 PG-13
Space Cowboys Marcia Gay Harden, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean (villain) C/D 2000 **** 0186566 PG-13
The Specials Jim Zulevic C/SF 2000 **** 0181836 R
Spider-Man Willem Dafoe (villain) A 2002 **** 0145487 PG-13
Spider-Man 2 Alfred Molina (villain) SF/A 2004 **** 0316654 PG-13
Spitfire Leslie Howard, Ralph Bellamy W 1942 * 0034734 unrated
Spy Kids Alan Cumming (villain) K/A 2001 *** 0227538 PG
Stand and Deliver Edward James Olmos D 1987 **** 0094027 PG
Star Trek: First Contact LeVar Burton, James Cromwell SF 1996 ** 0117731 PG-13
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home James Doohan SF/A 1986 **** 0092007 PG
Steamboy Anne Suzuki (Japanese version), Anna Paquin (English version) K/SF 2004 **** 0348121 PG-13
Superman III Richard Pryor SF/A 1983 * 0086393 PG
Terminator 2: Judgment Day Joe Morton SF 1991 **** 0103064 R
Things to Come Raymond Massey SF 1936 *** 0028358 PG (UK)
Timeline David Thewlis (villain) SF 2003 *** 0300556 PG-13
The Time Machine Guy Pearce SF 2002 ** 0268695 PG-13
The TimeShifters (Thrill Seekers) James Allodi, Martin Sheen (villain) SF 1999 *** 0204686 PG-13
Titanic Victor Garber HD 1997 *** 0120338 PG-13
To Sir With Love Sidney Poitier D 1967 *** 0062376 unrated
The Towering Inferno Olan Soule D/A 1974 NR 0072308 PG
Traitor Don Cheadle (villain) S 2008 **** 0988047 PG-13
Transformers Rachael Taylor A/SF 2007 **** 0418279 PG-13
Tucker: a Man and his Dream Jeff Bridges D 1988 ***** 0096316 PG
Tycoon John Wayne D 1947 ** 0039927 unrated
U-571 Matthew McConaughey, Jon Bon Jovi W 2000 *** 0141926 PG-13
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Stellan Starsgaard D 1988 NR 0096332 PG-13
Unstrung Heroes John Turturro C/D 1995 *** 0114798 PG
Van Helsing David Wenham SF/A 2004 0 0338526 PG-13
Volcano Tommy Lee Jones SF/A 1997 *** 0120461 PG-13
Le Voyage dans le Lune (This is an 8:30 silent film) Georges Melies SF 1902 **** 0000417 unrated
Voyager Sam Shepard D 1991 *** 0102050 PG-13
The Way We Live Now Cillian Murphy, David Suchet (villain) HD/TV 2002 **** 0300879 unrated mature
Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit Peter Sallis K/A 2005 **** 0312004 G
Western Union Dean Jagger We 1941 NR 0034384 PG-13
Wild Wild West Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh (villain) SF/C 1999 * 0120891 PG-13
Wind Jennifer Grey, Stellan Starsgaard D/A 1992 *** 0105824 PG-13
xXx Michael Roof A 2002 ** 0295701 PG-13
Young Sherlock Holmes Nigel Stock A 1985 *** 0090357 PG-13
Ron's Top Ten
Paycheck 10. Paycheck (action, PG-13)

Despite the fact that Ben Affleck often appears to be a wooden figure on the big screen, his shortcomings as an actor aren't enough to muddle a movie derived from a Philip K. Dick work (I've never seen a movie from Philip K. Dick short stories that I couldn't enjoy.)

But this movie's strength is from the plot and the action, not from the acting. (Face it, some movies are just not made to be actor vehicles. This is one of them.)

Affleck's character, Michael Jennings, passes over US $90M for a job, choosing instead an envelope full of seemingly random objects -- and he can't remember why. His discovery of "why" -- and how he goes on to save the world -- are like MacGyver writ large.
Ever After 9. Ever After (fantasy, PG)

Patrick Godfrey's spin on Leonardo Da Vinci -- who appears almost inexplicably in this supposedly "true" version of the Cinderella Story -- is quirky and fun. The kids will love it.

Godfrey walks on water with little boats on his feet. Yeah, it's a violation of everything we know about Fluid Mechanics. But somehow you get the impression that's not why Drew Barrymore screams when she first sees him at it.

The whole movie is pretty much summed up when Godfrey tells us, "yes, I shall go down in history as the man who opened a door!"

As an engineer, I'd like to have seen Godfrey on the screen a bit more. That's why this movie isn't rated more highly. I guess director Andy Tennant must have figured he had to tell a fairy tale somewhere. :-)
Back to the Future 8. Back to the Future (fantasy, PG)

As you must know, the second and third in the "Back to the Future" series are repeats of the highly innovative first, only in different settings. But that doesn't take away from the fun of watching the first for the first, or even the fifth, time.

Christopher Lloyd's quirky Doc Brown is one of the best individual characters ever conceived in a movie of the "engineer as hero" genre. "1.21 GIGAWATTS!" LOL "What the hell is a gigawatt?" Sure, the movie is filled with Star-Trekish technobabble. Sure, time travel is impossible (as far as we know). That doesn't take away from the fun.

The only small zinger I can give this movie is that no kid is going to become an engineer because of being inspired to it by Dr. Emmett Brown. :-)
No Highway 7. No Highway in the Sky (drama, unrated)

This is appropriate for the kids, too, but they won't watch it. This one is really for the adults. And it's highly technical, too: Jimmy Stewart plays an engineer (though he insists, for reasons unknown, on calling himself a "scientist") who is running a life-cycle vibration test on the tail section of an airplane.

The same type of airplane that he is flying from Britain to Canada to begin a failure investigation on yet another of the same type of airplane. (This plane has problems, and Stewart thinks he may know why.) The plot is based on Stewart's fear -- irrational to all others on the plane -- that the tail section will fail before the plane can land safely in Nova Scotia. He is inexplicably able to get Marlene Dietrich to buy into his story, though (as is often the case when engineers explain technical stuff to non-engineers) she has trouble understanding what the heck he is talking about.
Office Space 6. Office Space (comedy, R)

Office Space has become a symbol for everything that's wrong with the American white-collar workplace. Malfunctioning fax machines, inconsiderate and non-functional colleagues, unappreciative and clueless bosses -- all come together to make a product that as many American engineers can relate to as they do Dilbert.

Even when Ron Livingston's character, Peter Gibbons, decides to get his two best friends together in a plot to defraud his soulless company of fractions of pennies from each bank transaction, you find yourself rooting for him, and wondering if there is any way the poor sod can come out ahead. A cult classic and then some.
Iron Man 5. Iron Man (action/SF, PG-13)

Tony Stark was a brilliant engineer and a careless playboy, until a terrorist attack forced him to create a suit of armor to keep him alive. As president of a weapons manufacturer, Stark was able to upgrade his armor to include the latest in weapons and tactical technology, blah blah blah.

What makes this movie great is that we can relate to the flawed super-hero character that is Tony Stark. He's got all kinds of problems, and tries to work right through them to do the right thing. This has been the Marvel Comics tradition since the so-called Silver Age in the 60s, when their greatest super-heroes were first created. We find ourselves practically cheering when Stark is able to matter-of-factly say "Yeah. I can fly."

There may be better "engineer-as-hero" movies, and there may be better super-hero movies. But there is none better at both. Robert Downey Jr. IS Iron Man, and his portrayal will be the standard by which future super-hero movies will be judged.
Dam Busters 4. The Dam Busters (drama, unrated)

This movie features probably the single most interesting device created by engineers in any of the movies of this genre: a bouncing bomb. It is launched from airplanes with speed and trajectory not unlike skipping stones on a lake.

Personally, I'm not usually inclined toward war movies: but this one is fascinating from beginning to end. Techies will love it.

Somewhere out there on the wide Internet are films of the actual skimming bomb. I'm sorry: I don't have the link at this time.

Peter Jackson is signed on to produce a remake of this movie in 2007.
Flight of the Phoenix 3. Flight of the Phoenix (drama, unrated)

Flight of the Phoenix is the story of a group of men stranded in the desert by a plane crash; who decide (after much argument, dissention, and a few deaths) to rebuild a smaller plane out of the original plane's scavenged parts.

Little does the crew know, however, that the German engineer in whom they entrust the new plane design is not a designer of "real" craft at all, but rather of toys. Jimmy Stewart is the pilot of the original plane, torn between the need to keep everyone alive if he can and his lack of trust in the new plane's design.

Apollo 13 2. Apollo 13 (historical drama, PG)

Everything goes wrong on Apollo 13: an electrical explosion causes the loss of NASA's command module -- most parts and capabilities -- for what should have been a "routine" mission to the Moon. (Routine in the sense that the American people were no longer paying attention to moon landings.

Instead, the failed mission became a lesson in courage (supplied by the astronauts, including Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell) and engineering innovation (led by Ed Harris as Gene Kranz). As an ex-NASA engineer myself, I can't get enough of this one. But there are enough lessons learned in this movie that it should be required viewing for every class of engineers at every university in the world.
October Sky 1. October Sky (historical drama, PG)

The best engineer-as-hero movie ever made chronicles the experience of the Rocket Boys, led by Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer Hickam (the movie is based on Hickam's excellent book). Four boys (there were more in the book, of course) decide to try to win a science fair by launching a rocket -- Hickam has the inspiration after seeing the attention (and fear) given to the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik by Americans.

In this movie, you see rockets fail by the dozens. Each time, Hickam and his friends learn something new and improve their design -- while always keeping up with their studies and battling teenage angst. Of course there is a happy ending too. Something for everyone!

Engineer as Hero Hall of Fame
Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming
Loren Dean
Loren Dean
James Doohan
James Doohan
Dave Foley
Dave Foley
Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman
Jodie Foster
Jodie Foster
Sir Alec Guinness
Sir Alec Guinness
Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal
Ed Harris
Ed Harris
Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer
Christopher Lloyd
Christopher Lloyd
Myrna Loy
Myrna Loy
Joe Morton
Joe Morton
Gary Sinise
Gary Sinise
Jimmy Stewart
Jimmy Stewart
John Turturro
John Turturro