The Great Grounding Game Theory Guide: — The 23 Best Movies for Strategy Thinkers

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(6 min read)

What Is Game Theory?

Game theory is the name used to describe logical and rational concepts (systems) that explain why and how individuals and organizations strategize — make choices and decisions when one or more individuals might also affect the outcome of the decision being made.

Game theory skills can be used to solve simple and very complex problems. Watching game theory-oriented films can give you the tips, tools, techniques, strategies, tactics, and hacks for winning at the game of life. If you have seen the movies The Big Short, Money Ball, and or A Beautiful Mind, you have seen game theory in action.

Here are these three and other films in a similar genre to help you to move forward in your life.


• A Beautiful Mind — A biographical film of the life of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. inspired by the book by Sylvia Nasar. Nash’s work and ideas are central to much of game theory. The film was acclaimed and won the best picture at the Academy Awards. It does take liberties with the facts of Nash’s life. It is the film that piqued my interest in game theory and game thinking

• Lincoln Lawyer — This is an American legal thriller film adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly,

• In the Name of the Father — Set in the “Troubles” in the North of Ireland, it illustrates the Prisoner’s Dilemma*.

• Rebel Without a Cause — Presents the “Chicken Game.*

• Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb — One of the best films representing The Hawk-Dove Game*. The director of the film, Stanley Kubrick, read an article by Noble Prize-winning Game Theorist Thomas Schelling that included a description of the Peter George novel Red Alert, and conversations between Kubrick, Schelling, and George eventually led to the 1964 movie. The film is one of the best cinematic illustrations of various concepts in Game Theory.

• Reservoir Dogs — One of the best films illustrating a Truel* meaning a duel or competition among three opponents, in which players can fire on or attempt to eliminate one another while surviving themselves.

• The Warriors — A film illustrating The Stag Hunt Game*.

• Waking Ned (Also known as Waking Ned Devine) — One of the best movies showing The Ultimatum Game*.

• Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan — Explores the Kobayashi Maru (a Lose-Lose Game*) used among Star Trek fans to describe a no-win scenario, a test of one’s character or a solution that involves redefining the problem and managing an impossible situation gracefully. This is one of the best films illustrating a Lose-Lose Game*.

• Donnie Darko — A bit more complicated than other films, this one integrates elements of a specific type of lose-lose situation called a Catch 22*. It also includes aspects of Quantum Game Theory*.

• Sophie’s Choice — This is a problematic situation, known as a Cornelian Dilemma* (CD), essentially a lose-lose game. This is a situation in which the player is forced to choose between two courses of action. Each is mutually exclusive and will cause a negative consequence on the player or someone close.

• The Dark Knight — One of the best films illustrating plot devices using classic game theory. The game-based plot devices included are the prisoner’s dilemma, the cornelian dilemma, and The Pirate Game*. The Pirate Game is a more sophisticated version of the Ultimatum Game*.

• The Usual Suspects — This entire film is a simple game structure piled high with layers of deceit, twists, cheating, cognitive biases if every variety, and violence before pulling out the rug from underneath when we learn that the payoff* wasn’t what we expected — A zero-sum, simultaneous, imperfect information game.

 Eye in the Sky: This 2015 military game theory thriller explores mixed strategies, decision-making, and the ethical challenges of drone warfare. A multinational team, works on the capture mission against terrorists in Nairobi. The group, which are linked together by video and voice systems, debate different strategies designed to achieve a goal while reducing collateral damage. As a decision finally realized some variable in the game space changes requiring new discussion on the best course of action and who needs to make the final decision on acting against the terrorists, knowing that no matter what, there will be some collateral damage.

• House of Games — A heistthriller film built around many different elements of game theory. It features mid games, gambling, and con men. One of the treats is that its cast includes Ricky Jay, one of the world’s greatest magicians.

•The Spanish Prisoner — This neo-noir suspense film. The film is premised around a story of corporate espionage conducted through an elaborate confidence game. In spite of the film’s title, the actual plot includes only superficial similarities to the Spanish Prisoner* scam though there is, nonetheless much gamer-thinking.

• The Game — An American mystery thriller about a wealthy investment banker who is given a mysterious gift-the chance to participate in a complex Life Game. As the lines between the banker’s real life and the game become more uncertain it all takes on a surreal quality.

• The Last Casino— Loosely based on the activities of the MIT Blackjack Team. Three students and a professor use a counting cards* technique to “beat” a Casino in Canada.

• The Imitation game –A somewhat inaccurate American historical drama based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges (which was previously adapted as the stage play and BBC drama Breaking the Code). It explores the real-life British cryptanalyst Alan Turing, a gay man who was destroyed by the government he may have helped save.

To be specific, Turing de-crypted German intelligence codes for the British government during the Second World War and is considered by many to be the “father” of the modern computer.

• Crazy Rich Asians — In this game-theorybased comedy, an Asian-American economics professor must use game theory

to outwit, wealthy, adversarial zero-sum players to outwit outdated Chinese tradition, hierarchy, n competitiveness, to find romance, love, and happiness.

• Molly’s Game — Based on the real-life experiences of Molly Bloom, a former world-class skier who ran the most exclusive, high-end poker game in the world for over a decade. It is one of the purest applied game theory films ever made. Every flawed move here has significant consequences. The right to life plot includes; A-listers, Hollywood Stars, the Russian Mafia, the Jersey Mob, the IRS, the FBI, and that’s just for starters.

• Searching for Sugar Man — This 2012 documentary film of a South African cultural phenomenon. It details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s to find out whether the rumored death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez was true, and if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez’s music, which had virtually no success in the United States, was more popular in South Africa than Elvis. Yet, little was known about him in that country.

• The Boxer — The plot is built around the ending of the troubles in Northern Ireland. It explores the dynamics of a win-lose game player who has chosen to become a win-win player. The challenge is that he must now contend with those still committed to a win-lose scenario, and violently so.


Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar and a Results-Oriented Success Coach. He has a passion for knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory.

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“I am always exploring trends, areas of interest, and solutions to build new stories upon. Again, if you have any ideas you would like me to write about just email me at” or check out my courses and website at

“Lewis is amazing. I recommend him to anyone who wants less stress and more energy.” — Jack Canfield, Co-author, The Chicken Soup for the Soul books and films.

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