We all love movies, and some of us even love science. But when science and movies collide, it can be pretty rough sometimes dissecting the real science, the movie magic science, the hokum, the tomfoolery, and the outright fantasy.
While most of us don’t necessarily look to our entertainment to educate us, we do often assume that the way events are portrayed in film are just how they are. No one really believes this, but when a “sciencey” type of person starts explaining things in a “sciencey” way, we can take it at face value as science fact.
At least until we leave the theater, than the thought can dawn on you, none of that made any logical sense at all! The movie might have been good, but there is not one single way in any world that exists in the multiverse that the movie science could feasibly work, even in movies where there was a ton of research done, the movie still has to take place, and science be damned.
Here are 15 movies where the science is very wrong, and a special thanks to BadAstronomy, the site helped explain a lot of the bad science for this piece.
15. Independence Day – Alien Computer Science For Dummies
For those of us that were around in 1996, we can remember just how awesome the marketing was for ID4. The film was certainly positioned to rule the summer blockbuster season, reign supreme at the cinemas and cement Will Smith as a bona fide action hero, someone moviegoers would look to for next several years every single summer to save the world!
ID4 had so much going for it besides Smith, Bill Pullman as the President (and one of the best presidential speeches in a movie!), evil aliens coming to destroy as all, cameos from Brent Spiner and Harvey Fierstein, the incomparable Jeff Goldblum, all combine to make one of the best sci-fi action movies of the 90’s, or any other decade for that matter. No, it’s not terribly thought provoking, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was just supposed to be Earth vs. Aliens and it was.
But the entire premise of Earth’s grand victory against the war mongering extraterrestrials is just complete movie balderdash – the alien craft has been here since the 50s and an entire team of scientists from several generations haven’t been able to crack the code, and somehow Jeff Goldblum, who generally is the smartest guy in the room, has the smarts to not only figure out just about everything that no one else has, but somehow all of the sudden can understand complex alien computer language that no one else has been able to decipher and is somehow able to crack it and create a virus to take down their entire network.
14. The Matrix – Humans Can’t Be Batteries
For many people watching in 1999, the Matrix was a revelation. It was a crazy martial arts–meets–philosophy–meets–science–fiction movie that had seldom been seen on film before, if ever. The movie spawned two sequels, several video games, an excellent anime anthology, and about eight million movies that all spoof the film’s bullet time sequence.
Amidst all of the crazy action and effects is Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus delivering the film’s most intense and batcrap crazy speech – in the film’s reality; inside the matrix, the machines have enslaved us all to keep themselves going – human life is reduced to a Duracell battery keeping our machine overlords powered.
It is a scary reality and visuals or fields of human meat-sacks. But it is also complete movie fantasy. If the machines are so smart, then they would know that human beings do not emit the kind of energy needed to keep them and their robot society going. So in reality, mathematically speaking, the sentinels and other evil artificial intelligence are spending a lot of energy to keep humans alive to provide them far less energy than they’re using to keep us alive.
13. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull – A Refrigerator Won’t Save You From A Nuke
The phrase has become something of a nomenclature akin to when TV shows “jump the shark.” If you had ever wondered where the phrase “nuke the fridge” had come from, it’s this move, the god awful, long awaited return of Indiana Jones to the big screen, in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The film itself is universally panned by fans of Harrison Ford’s archaeologist/adventurer.
This is one of the big scenes as to why – Indiana Jones somehow survives a nuclear explosion; you know the kind of explosion that completely decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Indy somehow lives to tell about it and unscathed mind you, just by jumping into a refrigerator. Complete movie f*ckery, as if this film needed more help to completely ruin fans’ perceptions of the franchise.
Anyone with an IQ over three knows full well, that jumping into a fridge to survive nuclear holocaust is wholly an impossibility, and a notion that Steven Spielberg has admitted was his silly idea and is actually glad to be part of a new pop culture phrase, albeit a negative one.
12. Armageddon – A Texas Sized Asteroid Would’ve Been Seen Way Earlier
In the mid-nineties, disaster movies were all over the place. Just about every single disaster known to man had been brought to the screen – tornadoes (Twister), earthquakes (Escape from L.A.), volcanoes (Volcano), and movies like Armageddon were constantly pumped into cinemas and Armageddon was probably the biggest one.
Albeit ridiculous, the plot is easy to follow. An asteroid, the size of Texas is hurtling towards the planet and slightly smaller asteroid debris is hitting all of the bigger cities of the planet like New York and Shanghai, while smaller cities like Rochester are left to their own devices. The planet has 18 days left before being struck by the rock, unless a team of drillers can be taught enough about how to be to astronauts get onto the rock and split in half so that it never collides with Earth.
11. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me – Rockets Seen By Everyone
Like other movies on this list, the Austin Powers series was wildly popular. In The Spy Who Shagged Me, we are introduced to Mini Me, Fat Bastard, and of course, Felicity Shagwell.
It’s a straight up comedy, spoofing James Bond and every now and again 007 went into space (Moonraker), so why not Austin Powers? In TSWSM, Dr. Evil builds a “laser” on the moon and says that it will take six hours for the Moon to move into the range of Washington DC, which is his first target.
Not to get uber-sciencey, in reality there are two issues with this. The first is that the Moon does not rotate around the Earth, it revolves. Secondly, the planet takes 24 hours to complete a full rotation so it would take DC six hours to get into the line of fire, not the other way around.
10. Wild Wild West – The Sun, The Moon, And Cowboy Willie
There’s an old story running around Hollywood that producer Jon Peters had wanted Superman to fight a giant spider in the never made Superman Lives! film. The guy finally got his wish when Wild Wild West came out – heck he got the mechanical arachnid on the poster for the Will Smith debacle.
Obviously there were all kinds of scientific inconsistencies in a sci-fi western. Luckily nothing too ridiculous, unless you know science then the errors are pretty glaring. When West and Gordon are flying around in the weird da Vinci flying machine, there’s a full moon behind them.
But obviously, a full moon or any moon for that matter wouldn’t be able to be seen in the middle of the day. The scene made for a cool visual, but there was no way and there is no way that this could ever happen.
9. The Martian – There’s No Leaving The Red Planet
One of the biggest sci-fi films of recent memory that is dripping and oozing science out of its derriere is The Martian. Essentially, a high tech version of Castaway, starring Matt Damon, as the poor guy does his best to survive on the deserted red planet while trying to get in touch with NASA and get home, with barely any supplies.
At the very least, we have the movie to thank for a new line in the pop culture lexicon, “I’m going to science the sh*t out of this.” But while Damon gets to science his way off of Mars, the film’s science is not that accurate. The dust storm that strands Mark Watney in reality isn’t much more destructive than a dust storm on Earth, which means the whole movie wouldn’t happen theoretically if the storm was depicted realistically.
Much more importantly, is while you might be able to successfully get a team of astronauts to Mars, it is currently not possible to actually take off from the red planet and get home. NASA admittedly doesn’t know how to actually take off from Mars and what, if any problems would come with it. So not only would Watney be stranded, but the entire crew of the Ares III would be on a one way trip.
8. The Core – Blow Up The Inside World
Remember a time when it seemed like Hilary Swank was going to become America’s newest sweetheart and dominate the acting world? Then films like The Core get made, and Swank decides to star in them.
The film features disasters all around the globe, due to an unstable magnetic field because the Earth’s core is no longer rotating; which means a team of geologists and astronauts need to team up to dig their way through the Earth’s many layers of crust to get to the core and detonate several nuclear bombs to get the core spinning again and get the magnetic fields working again.
How bad is the science of the movie? In 2009, a poll of hundreds of scientists voted The Core the worst as far as science is concerned. The movie had the very gimmicky Unobtanium element – of course the science is zany, not to mention the whole ‘blow up the inside world’ theory that anyone, even in movie fantasy land would agree to.
7. Interstellar – Leave The Slingshots For The Kids
Even when the great Christopher Nolan teams up with an esteemed scientist for his film, Interstellar, movie magic has to happen to push the story along.
To get the epic science fiction film’s science correct, writer/director Nolan worked with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne to help keep the science seeped in reality while he told the story of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway traversing the stars and hurtling through black holes to find a hospitable planet for us to migrate to.
Since Nolan was not making a documentary, a few liberties were taken with the science, most notably when McConaughey’s Cooper flings himself into a black hole, which according to Neil deGrasse Tyson would cause spaghettification to even Superman, yet somehow Coop survives it, and comes back to be able to complete his mission.
6. Star Wars – Pretty Much Everything
Just to throw out a number, dollars to donuts probably 9 out of 10 people who have seen Star Wars f-in’ love Star Wars! Once maligned a little due to the prequel trilogy debacle, J.J. Abrams and Disney have done a remarkable job at not only reinvigorating the franchise, but once again instilling faith and wonder in even the most jaded fans.
Unlike the other grand sweeping sci-fi epic, Star Trek, Star Wars isn’t necessarily going for scientific accuracy in any part of the saga. For example, Queen Amidala’s badass ship made of super reflective metal but in black deep space, we still see the ship, when we really should just see a distorted reflection of stars, instead of the ship.
How about the fact that technically there is no sound in space, so all of the crazy epic space battles and dog fights that we love should be on mute. The list goes on for days–theoretically shooting into hyperspace wouldn’t create lines of stars. Perhaps most egregiously, the twin suns of Tattooine only elicit one shadow…two suns, two shadows.
5. Contact – Radio Waves Aren’t That Fast
As you might have already noticed while reading this list, then you’ll notice that even the most ardent of science films seeped in scientific facts and notations still often can get it wrong – submitted for your approval…Contact, based on the novel from the acclaimed super scientist, Carl Sagan.
The cast is super as well – the incomparable Jodie Foster stars as Ellie, a scientist chosen who finds evidence of alien life and is asked to make first contact. Matthew McConaughey costars, almost twenty years before his own Interstellar journey amongst the stars.
Even though director Robert Zemeckis took great pains to make the film as accurate as Carl Sagan would have wanted it to be, pretty much right from the jump, there are slight inconsistencies – for example the speed that the radio waves actually traverse the cosmos.
4. Signs – Water And Other Inconsistencies
After The Sixth Sense, the biggest gripe about M. Night Shyamalan movies is that the big twist is either very predictable, like in The Village or films like his third movie, Signs where the big reveal is pretty illogical and per pretty much every scientist is just plain ridiculous.
Throughout the movie, Mel Gibson’s character, Reverend Graham Hess does all he can to protect his family from invading aliens, including trapping an incredibly intelligent and agile alien in just a common household pantry – we’re mixing up two movies here, raptors in Jurassic Park can figure out complex locks, but we’re supposed to believe an advanced technological being cannot.
If that pill wasn’t hard enough to swallow, how about these superior overlords coming to a planet where three-quarters of it is made up of the one thing that can take these evil extraterrestrials out, water.
3. Superman Returns – Even NASA Isn’t This Careless
Who would have thought that out of all of the abysmal post-Christopher Reeve Superman movies that Superman Returns is actually still the best, or least abysmal? It has an upbeat mood that is necessary for big blue, but is nonexistent in Zack Snyder’s two Supes movies. But any movie involving the Man of Steel is going to have plenty of conflicts in science.
In Superman Returns, NASA, for some strange reason (ie: storyline sequence), actually allows a bunch of reporters onto a newly designed Boeing with a Shuttle Orbiter strapped to the top of the plane from which it would launch. Sure movies are movies, but then there are things like physics, even in a Superman movie!
Plain and simple, a shuttle can’t launch this way at all. You need a whole bunch of fuel, not to mention two solid rocket boosters to get the thing off the ground towards the stars. Imagine if this happened in real life – it would just give more fodder for conspiracy marks out there.
2. Star Trek – Red Matters And Black Holes
More so than any other sci-fi property, Star Trek has inspired so much science fiction to become science fact. Are you reading this article on an iPhone right now? Star Trek more or less had a hand held answer for every situation. The chronicles of Kirk and Spock have been around now for 51 years now and thanks to the recent reboot, there are no signs of slowing down.
But just because Star Trek has influenced innovation doesn’t mean it has gotten current science and physics correct. The first of the new reboots, starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto had some dodgy science going on. Most notable, detonating a bomb into the core of Vulcan to create a black hole and destroy the planet–at least they didn’t think it would get the core spinning like some other movie on this list.
So let’s um…science the ish out of this one – the mass needed to create a black hole gets very hot and needs to collect a tremendous amount of energy to create a black hole, if it was done the way the movie depicts than the black hole would not even be the size of a quarter, and it would take a lot more years to create that kind of damage to Vulcan for several more years, if ever.
1. Deep Impact – Blow Up A Catastrophe With A Catastrophe
Armageddon wasn’t the only giant rock hurtling to Earth to kill us all movie that came out in 1998 – Deep Impact, came out too. But instead of an asteroid coming to destroy the planet, we have to stop a comet from doing the deed. Luckily, unlike the former, the creative team behind this film actually met with scientists to discuss the plausibility of the film.
So when the world is saved by blowing up the comet, we should all yell “hip hip hooray!” and thank goodness we are saved, right? Not at all – according to the BadAstronomy website, blowing up the comet doesn’t do a bit of good, even if you blow it up, every single piece of the comet is still rocketing towards the planet, unleashing a slew of energy into the atmosphere, still creating a massive explosion.
All of this damage done, and the Capitol building in Washington, DC was still standing albeit ravaged…however due to the comet, a coastal town like DC would have been completely wiped off of the map thanks to the tsunami that would have been created.
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