Movies On the Brain

In 2018, more than 1.3 billion movie tickets were reportedly sold in the US and Canada, alone, so I think it’s safe to say, people like watching movies. Why not take advantage of their widespread popularity and plan a movie screening or film festival for Brain Awareness Week!

Already a proven and popular activity among Brain Awareness Week partners, screenings can work in a more formal setting for adults, but also as a classroom activity for kids. To make them truly informational, it’s great to follow the movie with a lecture or panel discussion featuring experts on the move topic, or with a classroom discussion between a teacher and students.

Brain-related movies for adults are probably easier to come by. Among them are “Concussion,” “Awakenings,” or “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” But there are also a number of free videos outside of the Hollywood domain. The Dana Foundation YouTube channel offers hundreds, sorted by topic and delivered by experts. From lectures to recordings of our own panel discussions, you can delve into subjects such as autism, the opioid epidemic, and phobias. An hour-long feature, “Successful Aging & Your Brain,” is ideal for screenings to a seniors audience, explaining steps proven to help keep the brain sharp.

Many feature-length movies for adults can appeal to teenagers too, but one with great crossover appeal that can speak to all ages is Pixar’s “Inside Out.” Animated characters bring emotions to life and set the stage for a talk on mental health. But to fit the timeframe of a school class, there are also a number of free videos teachers can stream that offer a more straightforward lesson for students.

Brain Awareness Week superstar and neuroscientist Eric Chudler at the University of Washington has hosted and produced three (and counting), approximately 30-minute episodes in his BrainWorks series for middle school aged-kids, exploring: sports-related concussions, exercise and the brain, and brain-computer interfaces. (The latter two were produced with partner support from the Dana Foundation.) In each episode, curious kids ask the questions and then embark on a series of fun experiments to determine the answers. And for classroom ease, each episode has its own “Viewer Guide,” with questions to encourage a dialogue about the topic at hand.

But there’s more. For bite-sized videos, “Mysteries of the Brain,” a seven-episode series produced by NBC Learn in partnership with the Science Foundation, offers five-minute overviews of topics such as emotion, perception, and consciousness. The winners of the Society for Neuroscience’s annual Brain Awareness Video Contest also deliver five-minute-or-less videos that explain a neuroscience concept. This year’s winners focused on sleep, the runner’s high, and what the funny bone can tell us about how we feel. (If you like what you see and feel inspired to submit a video yourself, check out the guidelines!)

Brain Awareness Week begins exactly one month from today (March 11), so while the clock is ticking, there is still time to plan an event! Take it from our partners, screenings offer a prime opportunity to entertain and inform. Share your ideas for best movies on the brain in the comments section below!

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