Five movies that prove engineers are heroes

To be an engineer is to be underappreciated and misunderstood. You’ve experienced it, I’m sure. You come up with breakthrough solutions to intractable problems every day, only to have friends and family glaze over when you share your excitement.

Fortunately, we have the movies. Because while most people won’t sit still while you explain how your new mold design just prevented unnecessary waste in millions of plastic iPhone cases, they have no problem watching Matt Damon blow things up. And if Matt Damon happens to be playing the role of an engineer when the the sparks fly, that kind of makes you look like a hero.

Inspired by this premise and a recent viewing of the movie, The Martian, we’ve compiled a list of flicks that “get it.” Engineers and engineering types who see the design challenges all around them. And with a lot of ingenuity and science, they change our ideas about what’s possible.

Matt Damon with duct tape. (Screenshot from The Martian.)

So, gather up your loved ones and take in one of these pictures. While the family probably still won’t want a detailed account of what you did at the office today, they’ll know it was something awesome.

Goldfinger (1964).

James Bond uses clever gadgets to save Fort Knox from the bad guys. In our mind, of course, the hero here is Q. He’s the man who provides all the life-saving, crime-fighting inventions without which Bond would never survive.

So why Goldfinger and not Dr. No? Easy answer: Goldfinger introduced the iconic Aston Martin DB5. Have we mentioned lately that Aston Martin Racing is a PTC Creo customer?


Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5 (source Wikipedia)

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988).

This engineer-versus-the-establishment gem tells the true story of Preston Tucker and the car he designed in the 1940s but never got into mass production. “The car had many features not found on the cars of that time—air-cooled rear engine, disk brakes, independent 4-wheel suspension, an additional center headlight that pivoted left and right for better vision when turning, a padded dash, seatbelts, and a pop out safety windshield,” says the IMDb synopsis.

Wow. Imagine what he could have done with a little simulation software and a 3D printer.

Apollo 13 (1995).

When a 1970 moon mission is aborted, astronauts must find a way to get home using collaboration, communication, ingenuity, design reuse–and duct tape. Based on a true story, real life astronaut Jack Lousma said, “It was a bunch of people who were trying to solve these problems as they came up.”

But again, the technical folks needed a boost from Hollywood (25 years later) to get full credit. “When Ron Howard made the movie and everybody found out what really happened, people saw that it was one of NASA’s finest hours.”

The Dish (2000).

Another space program movie, but in contrast to Apollo 13, this film focuses on a moon walk, a satellite dish, and a whole lot of livestock. “In the days before the 19 July 1969 space mission that marked humankind’s first steps on the moon, NASA worked with a group of Australian technicians who had agreed to rig up a satellite interface,” reads to the film synopsis.

“That the Aussies placed the satellite dish smack bang in the middle of an Australian sheep farm in the regional town of Parkes was just one of the reasons that NASA was concerned.” Like most of the movies in this list, this one is based on a true story—loosely.

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005).

Burt Munro wants to break land speed records on his chopped 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle. And like so many engineers, he must overcome design challenges, budget limitations, and the bureaucracy to achieve his dream. A mere 40 years later, he finds himself on the salt flats at Bonneville.

True story. Oh, and if Munro inspires you, keep an eye on Polaris’ job boards. That company owns Indian now, and it seems to prefer engineering applicants with some PTC Creo experience