Kids remind audiences of their innocence. Before the growing pains, there was a time when being carefree had no consequences. Whether it’s the fun-loving, tireless ribbing of friends, finding best friends to laugh with, or discovering the difference between them and their peers, the experience of childhood is a magical and unique time.
And sometimes, there are kids who achieve things almost effortlessly. Child savants whose quick minds pick things up that even adults struggle with. They understand what it is like to be an outcast among their peers, a victim of ageist condescension, and a mature, smart individual. These movies capture the unique position of highly intelligent children the best.
A Brilliant Young Mind (2014)
Asa Butterfield plays nine-year-old math prodigy Nathan Ellis in A Brilliant Young Mind. Nathan is diagnosed with autism shortly after his father, the only person who could connect with him, dies. His mother enrolls him at a new school, where he develops a mentorship with another math wizard and teacher, Martin Humphreys.
Mr. Humphreys trains Nathan to showcase his skillful mind in the International Mathematical Olympiad, a competition for young mathematicians. Nathan is pressured to perform, realizing he is not the smartest person in the room anymore. Coupled with culture shock and social anxiety, Nathan nearly fails the qualifying round until female Chinese student Zhang Mei helps him adjust.
Nathan, the Autistic Math Whiz
On the day of the event, the first test question triggers Nathan, giving him an emotional panic attack related to the memory of his father. Earlier, Zhang Mei was pulled out of the competition by her uncle, who learns that she had slept over in Nathan’s room. Up until his travels to Taiwan, Nathan dealt with the pain of losing a loved one through solving math problems. The coping mechanism used his intellect, something he could control. However, Nathan learns how to express his emotions, acutely and deeply, when the moment counts.
Stream A Brilliant Young Mind on Kanopy
- Release Date
- April 12, 2017
- Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Michael Kendall Kaplan
- Main Genre
Gifted stars McKenna Grace as Mary Adler, a seven-year-old math genius. The intellectually gifted Mary is caught in the middle of a custody battle involving her uncle Frank and grandmother Evelyn. As the sole caretaker of Mary, Frank feels she deserves to experience a childhood like kids her age. Evelyn believes Mary’s mathematical skills should not be wasted and could give her a promising future.
Mary, the Gifted 7-Year-Old
Mary, like most kids her age, has guardians or parents that decide what is best for their child. They struggle to address her intellect and her innocence. Mary is able to separate the two and, when necessary, accept both. She did not relate to her classmates or schoolwork at first. Her hyper-focused life of homeschooling made her isolated, but Mary does acclimate to a traditional education with kids her age while pursuing college-level studies.
Rent Gifted on Vudu
Little Man Tate (1991)
Little Man Tate follows the titular child prodigy played by Adam Hann-Byrd. He grows up in an apartment with his single mother, Dede, played by Jodie Foster. The seven-year-old Fred Tate excels at school and extracurricular activities, like reading, mathematics, and playing the piano. His advanced learning prevents him from making friends.
Fred debuts his intellect in a problem-solving program called Odyssey of the Mind where he meets other smart kids. He later enrolls in college, but still feels alone among young adults. Fred experiences an identity crisis as he is treated like a number in a case study rather than a growing boy.
Fred, the Child Prodigy
Fred is caught between two worlds. He grows up too fast on account of his intelligence and solitary childhood. He is also persuaded and lulled into a false sense of self by expressing how smart he is. Fred reads too much into his situations, which makes it difficult for him to form relationships. When he stops overthinking or analyzing so much, Fred begins to enjoy good company and have genuine interactions.
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- Release Date
- August 2, 1996
- Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris, Paul Reubens
- Main Genre
Matilda is about a child prodigy who comes from a neglectful and verbally abusive family. Starring Mara Wilson as the title character, Matilda Wormwood is six years old and already more worldly than her family of ignorant consumers. She educates herself by visiting the public library since her parents initially refused to enroll her in school.
Matilda also develops telekinetic powers; when her father forces her to watch television, she makes the TV set explode with her raging mind. When she finally goes to school, Matilda befriends her teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey. She advocates for Matilda’s higher education, but is rebuffed by the tyrant principal, Miss Trunchbull.
Matilda, the Magical Girl
Matilda had no role models until she met Miss Honey. She was held back by her own family, the people that should care the most about her. Her independence became a necessity and a means of survival. Matilda’s world opens up first through the books she reads, then through her time at school, finding a good teacher and good friends.
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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
- Release Date
- May 16, 2012
- Wes Anderson
- Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand
- Main Genre
Moonrise Kingdom explores the budding young love between Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop. They express their shared status as outliers through letters. Sam is at summer camp while Suzy is home for the season. Both pen pals make a plan to meet and run away together. A search and rescue team looks for Sam and Suzy while the two camp, fish, and try to make a new home in the wilderness.
Sam the Scout and Suzy the Reader
Sam and Suzy are mature for their age, as well as intelligent. Sam is especially impressive, fully engaged with his training as a Khaki Scout. He can read maps and knows how to survive in the wild. As a Scout, he proves himself to be formidable. Suzy is more artistic, bringing her cherished books and music into the wild with them. While it isn’t practical, it adds meaning to their adventure together when she shares her passions with Sam.
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Powder is about an albino young man named Jeremy Reed who, as his physics teacher learn, has the highest IQ of anyone alive. Jeremy also carries electric and telepathic powers. He experiences uncontrollable surges of energy when his emotions go unchecked. On a hunting trip, Jeremy is able to imbue a hunter with the pain of a deer that he shot and killed. Jeremy’s life flashes before everyone’s eyes when a lighting bolt strikes him and makes him disappear.
Jeremy, a Supernatural Genius
Jeremy lived a sheltered life. He was born prematurely after his mother was struck by lightning when she was pregnant with him. He lived in the basement of his grandparents’ home and worked on their farm until their deaths. Jeremy was self-taught, reading all he could in his isolation. The internal lives of smart kids like his can be incredibly lonely, but at the same time, life-affirming.
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Real Genius (1985)
Real Genius follows genius high school student Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret), who is recruited into a college project with brilliant goofball Chris Knight, played by Val Kilmer. Together they work on a science project that involves laser physics at Pacific Technical University. Professor Jerry Hathaway selects Mitch to help Chris develop the laser as a weapon for the CIA, without his knowledge. Mitch hero-worshipped Chris until he meets him, and realizes Chris is more interested in partying than physics.
Mitch, the Cool Genius
Mitch feels a lot of pressure to do well in the unique opportunity he’s received, and at first he struggles with Chris not taking things seriously. The expectations of being the best student can be stressful. Gradually, Mitch learns that there is more to life than studying, and that Chris’s carefree approach sometimes produces moments of brilliance as well.
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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums
- Release Date
- October 5, 2001
- Wes Anderson
- Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson
- Main Genre
The Royal Tenenbaums is about a dysfunctional family with gifted children that deal with the fallout of a highly pressured childhood and a controlling, complicated father. Chas, Margot, and Richie experienced major success in their youth: Chas wrote financial articles published in Forbes and created a breed of dalmatian mice, Margot was an accomplished playwright, and Richie was a professional tennis player. The three find failure in adulthood and must remedy their personal struggles and make amends with their manipulative father.
The Gifted Young Tenenbaums
The Tenenbaums banked on their achievements before the end of high school. As wayward adults, they fall privy to common vices of gifted kids, like isolation, insecurity, and mental illness. As kids, their proficient output of work gave them fame, and that same fame overshadows their future. But as adults, they are still smart enough to reconcile the past and present to move on with their lives.
Rent The Royal Tenenbaums on Vudu
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
Searching for Bobby Fischer is based on the early life of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin. He was inspired to play at age seven, after watching chess players in Washington Square Park in New York City. He is coached by Bruce Pandolfini, a national chess teacher. Josh’s father, however, takes control of his playing strategies, jeopardizing his performance in tournaments and their relationship.
Josh, the Chess Prodigy
Josh is exposed to different mentors and mentalities. What began as a fun pastime turns into a bid for calculated competition. The selfish control of the adults in Josh’s life corrupts who he was: a kid playing chess. Josh learns to make his next moves from a stable place, using the opinion that matters most: his own.
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Temple Grandin (2010)
Temple Grandin follows the life of the young animal behaviorist Temple Grandin. She grows up in the care of her mother and therapists due to her autism. Temple was nonverbal during her teenage years, but had an affection for animals. Working on her aunt and uncle’s farm, she was inspired to develop a new squeeze machine for cattle, a mechanism designed to keep animals calm in herds.
Temple, the Animal Whisperer
Temple feels more comfortable with animals than she does with humans. Her intuition and care for creatures leads her to change the livestock industry for the better. Temple’s love for psychology and animal science makes her an advocate for creatures big and small, but also for people lacking a humane touch.
Stream Temple Grandin on Max