It’s no secret that movies and reality don’t mix that well. Hollywood has always wanted to present an illusion of the world around us and we go along with it. Of course, some can go a bit too far by nitpicking and trying to sneak real science into fantasy or sci-fi movies – that can be a bit much. Yet it’s very obvious when Hollywood tries to put their spin on reality and it can be rough.
Indeed, it can be dangerous as many people have injured themselves trying to replicate Hollywood stunts or even the “life-saving” techniques of medical dramas that actually can lead to damage. It’s funny on the one hand, but it can be a risk for some people to take Hollywood a bit too seriously. Some scenarios we see in movies are more egregious than others, going so far beyond reality that they’re almost parody. Yet, because they’re presented straight, viewers can believe that they’re for real.
It’s easy to pick on, say, romantic movie gestures that can come off as stalking in real life, or the classic idea that high schoolers have all the answers while the adults are idiots. However, some movies present stuff that simply cannot happen in real life. They violate logic, physics, geography and more. They have been proven time and again to not actually work yet movies continue to push them as absolutely realistic. In some cases, time and technology have marched on to show how they can’t work, but other times there are things that even the writers must know are false but are still presented as fact.
The list can be long so here are the biggest cases of movie scenes that just cannot work in real life. Let’s marvel at how vastly unrealistic Hollywood can be!
15. Shooting At Explosives Or Gasoline From Far To Detonate
No one is sure how this got started, but it’s become a staple of action movies. Somehow, Hollywood believes bullets are mini-explosives capable of blowing up anything. It doesn’t even have to be with modern guns as Wonder Woman has a scene where, in 1918, Steve Trevor is able to use a World War I rifle to blow up a pack of bombs to take out a door. It may surprise one to know that explosives and bombs are specifically designed so that they don’t detonate if hit by some sort of projectile.
Indeed, a popular segment on Mythbusters has them put this to the test. The result is that a bullet actually just turns a grenade into dust, not a fireball while another disarms the bomb. As for C4, you can literally set it on fire and it won’t go off without the proper detonators. As for gasoline, the show tested that and the best result was simply bullets sinking into the ground. So, no, bullets don’t magically cause explosions no matter how often it happens on screen.
14. Gasoline Apparently Lasts Forever
This one is really amazing for how wrong it is. In every post-apocalyptic story, somehow, gasoline exists, albeit as a precious resource. The Mad Max movies show cars wandering the countryside easily and talk of how refineries are now protected fortresses. You can also see someone wandering around and siphoning off fuel from a long-deserted gas station for their vehicle as well as using it to power up buildings. But the reality is that gasoline is a lot like milk, in that it goes bad fast. Many people ignore the fact that gas has to be refined first, a delicate process that requires a huge crew and a lot of effort. It will oxidize and thus you’d see cars basically falling apart from the inside out. You can buy time putting it in an airtight container but that won’t last long and without the people or resources to refine, gasoline use will fade out. In other words, if The Road Warrior was more true to life, Mad Max would be going around on a bicycle.
13. You Wouldn’t Sink Into Hot Lava
Volcanos are undoubtedly impressive. When one erupts, the shockwaves and mountains of ash and chemicals can be deadly. Hollywood loves to sell the threat of lava and how deadly it is. The movie Volcano has a man trying to rescue people from a train car in a tunnel as lava overtakes it. Unable to get beyond the lava, the man jumps into it as he throws a passenger to others. By the time they’ve pulled him away, the man has sunk into the lava, completely incinerated to a crisp. It’s a pretty cool way to die… except it’s impossible.
Yes, lava is hot and can burn you badly. However, it’s also three times heavier and denser than water, meaning it’s pretty much impossible to just sink into it. There’s also the fact that when exposed to open air, lava tends to quickly solidify and cool.
12. Most Movie Trials Are Seriously Unrealistic
As with guns, you can do an entirely separate list of what movies get wrong about legal work. A big case is Liar, Liar as Jim Carrey argues that because his client lied about her age and was technically a minor when she entered into marriage, the prenuptial agreement she signed is null and void. The truth is that while it can be voided, the fact that she put up with this agreement for 15 years means it now holds up. Many a comedy plays on a couple getting married while drunk and forced to stay together. In reality, there’s an entire industry devoted to nothing but annulling drunk marriages. A big deal is made of how only the original document can be admitted into evidence when copies are perfectly fine. Also, forget that dramatic bit of how a jury basically does their own investigation to find out the truth as a jury is legally prohibited from doing that. Hell, the O.J. Simpson jury took four hours to reach a verdict.
11. You Can’t Outrun A Fireball!
This has been a staple of action movies for decades. A huge explosion goes off and the hero has to race down a hallway, just seconds before it strikes. So often, they’ll manage to survive, diving into water or such to avoid getting burned. It’s become a cliché by now and something you see in just about every action film trailer. Whoever came up with it has absolutely no idea how physics work. A regular fireball travels at the speed of sound, so unless you’re the Flash, there’s no way you can get away from that no matter how you try.
As for being blown back with no damage, that’s even wilder. Just being close to some sort of explosion can be incredibly dangerous and easily fatal due to the debris flying about at high speeds, turning any projectile into a deadly bullet. Thus, if you’re close by something about to blow, you can pretty much kiss it goodbye rather than just escape with a singed jacket.
10. New York Flooded By A Tsunami
In terms of epic visuals, a monster tidal wave swallowing up one of the world’s greatest cities is a striking one. Deep Impact has the shockwave of a meteor sending up a wave that not only covers New York but most of the East Coast. Likewise, The Day After Tomorrow has tsunamis washing over New York in seconds, flooding the streets to the point that tankers and other boats are floating past skyscrapers. It’s always a huge shock, people drowned before they realize what’s happened and the water hitting the city full-on. Other movies have done it as well and you can’t fault the CGI guys going wild with such a sight. Too bad it’s physically impossible to actually happen.
Apparently, no director or screenwriter bothers to look at a map and see the tiny fact that Manhattan does not face the open ocean. The Statue of Liberty faces Brooklyn which is to the east. In order for these massive tidal waves to hit, they have to first strike that little piece of land known as New Jersey.
9. Glass Is Not So Easily Shattered
In Hollywood movies, glass is so easy to shatter, it’s not worth talking about. Unless your car has super-duper military-grade bulletproof glass, it can come apart from a fender-bender. Bullets easily shatter glass from windows to cups and more with no problem. Not only that, you’ll see guys thrown through a glass frame with ease, shattering it and coming out with really nothing but a few pieces to their clothing. In fact, some movies actually have guys running right through glass windows like they’re paper doors during a chase. From action flicks to comedies, a glass pane is something meant to be cracked with little effort.
8. Silencers Aren’t Actually That Silent
Gun aficionados really go crazy on this one. In movies, a silencer lives up to its name, able to fire off a bullet with nothing more than a tiny wisp that can’t be heard outside the room. It’s the go-to for assassins and hitmen who can slip in, blow someone’s head off and slip out before the body is found. Some movies even have assault teams using silencers with their automatic weapons for raids. That’s not to mention the creation of makeshift silencers from empty plastic water bottles to just putting a pillow in front of the gun to muffle the sound. Whoever uses this, however, has clearly never fired a real gun with a silencer before.
The decibel of your typical handgun is in the 140-160 range. A silencer lowers it to…120 to 130 or roughly the sound level of a jackhammer. Videos clearly show how a “silenced” gun sounds almost as loud as a regular one, meaning there’s no way you couldn’t hear it from another room.
7. A Long-Deserted Car Can Be Ready To Run? No Way…
Jurassic World is the worst culprit here although you’ll see this mistake pop up in various movies and on Lost. Two kids come across a jeep in a base deserted for about twenty years. In just a few minutes, they’re able to fix the thing up and have it running well enough to drive on. Anyone who’s spotted a car at a junkyard knows there’s no way this can possibly work. Cars are complex and sure some can last a while but that’s only with constant maintenance and fine-tuning. Just throwing on a few spark plugs won’t do anything as those things would be long dormant and run out of any energy. That goes double for the batteries; you can put in enough energy to light up a building and it’s not going to spark up a battery dead for two decades. Then there are the tires which would have long rotted into useless rubber. You’d have better luck trying to restore a horseless carriage than you would getting a car long abandoned back on the road without a full auto crew behind you.
6. The Statue Of Liberty Wouldn’t Survive
To hear Hollywood tell it, the Statue of Liberty will endure long after the rest of us are gone. In disaster movies, it can suffer; Deep Impact has it smashed by a tsunami in New York while Independence Day has it knocked over by their attack. Movies that imagine the world flooded over will show the Statue underwater to emphasize the depth. In The Day After Tomorrow, the torch stands above a now-frozen New York. The most famous is Planet of the Apes where the big final shot is the Statue buried in the ground, revealing this planet is a far-future Earth.
The truth? The Statue would be one of the first things to go. The Statue is a mix of copper and iron, the framework built in the 19th century and it wasn’t actually intended to stand in the middle of a giant harbor. In 1986, just a century after it was built, the Statue needed $25 million in restoration to keep from coming apart. So forget Lady Liberty surviving the end of the world, this statue would be lucky to go a few decades beyond humanity before collapsing.
5. Piranhas Devouring People
Movies really love showing piranhas as nothing more than living teeth and limitless stomachs. They’ve been the stars of feature films to the tools used by a bad guy to eliminate failed underlings. In each case, someone is tossed in a tank, the piranha sweep in and within moments, all that’s left is a bloody skeleton. But as with sharks, the deadly tendencies of piranhas have been vastly overblown.
More than one reality TV show has featured a guy getting into a pool of piranhas who actively avoid him. Yes, they can be interested in blood and will go after a big bird or such, but even then they’ll still leave most of the carcass intact, hardly just bones left. The whole thing was really begun by Teddy Roosevelt who reported seeing a school of the fish chewing on an entire cow and rendering it to a skeleton fast. What Roosevelt didn’t know was that the natives of the area wanted to give him a show and thus starved the fish for days before feeding them.
4. Liquid Nitrogen Cannot Freeze People Solid
This is, pardon the pun, a pretty cool way to kill a guy off in movies. A famous case is in Terminator 2 as a tanker of liquid nitrogen freezes the T-1000 solid, leading to Arnie’s famed “Hasta la vista, baby” line. It’s used in other movies, a bad guy somehow pushed into some sort of nitrogen, either in liquid form or a vapor. The result is a guy turned into an instant popsicle, knocked over and shattering into a thousand pieces. While that may be fun to see, it can’t be that way in real life.
Yes, liquid nitrogen is very dangerous and at times, it can be blinding. However, by no means does it reach temperatures of ultra-sub-zero that would be required for instant freezing. The real danger is in its toxicity in an enclosed space which can cause choking and harm your senses. It’s been used to handle warts or even “freezing chambers” for some high-end physical therapy issues. You can even spray your hand with almost no damage at all. The fact is that only Mr. Freeze can create an instant ice beam as liquid nitrogen couldn’t turn folks into snowmen.
3. The Trading Places Turn
The 1983 comedy Trading Places has a somewhat complex climax which can be hard for those not trained in finance to understand. To sum it up: The Duke Brothers get their hands on a crop report saying the orange citrus market will be bad in the next year. They intend to use it to corner the market by having their agent buy up all the shares they can, inflating the price. However, heroes Winthorpe and Valentine had switched the report and are using their money to sell futures of that market at the inflated price. When the real report is read, the price plummets and Winthorpe and Valentine are able to buy up all those futures for a huge profit while the Dukes have overcommitted themselves with the inflated buying. When the trading ends, the duo has managed to make a fortune instantly. Meanwhile, the Dukes are informed they have to pay up $400 million immediately and when they can’t, the Exchange heads seize their assets and render them penniless.
Today, it’s almost impossible anyone could try this as the authorities have put in special rules (inspired, in fact, by the movie) to close off loopholes and prevent this from occurring. (It’s even called “The Eddie Murphy Rule.”) Ironically, the movie’s success is what ensures that this could never happen in real life just to avoid someone making such a killing.
2. Super-Fast Hacking Is An Exaggeration
The short-lived CBS series Limitless actually took this to task in an episode. Main character Brian is trying to do some hacking and his voice-over notes that “there’s a reason you always see hacking in movies or TV as a montage. That’s because, in real life, hacking is boring.” TV really loves to show off how hacking is a super-fast thing with wild bits (an infamous NCIS scene has two people on the same keyboard and that makes the program go faster) and crime shows have hackers capable of everything from shutting down a heart monitor to hijacking drones.
More importantly, contrary to what TV tells you, a vast majority of major systems can’t be accessed over the internet but only at the mainframe. Secure systems with multiple defenses take a longer time to crack (Mr. Robot plays this straight by showing how genius hackers need a day or two to get into major servers). So while it may seem cool to use a laptop to crack NORAD in minutes, in real life, it doesn’t work that way.
1. Half Of Everything Written About Guns
You can fill an entirely separate list of all the things Hollywood gets wrong about guns. Amazingly, the animated series Archer actually plays it straight and even mocks those tropes. Quite often, someone will seem to have what looks like unlimited ammo only to run out suddenly. A guy will waste a huge burst of machine gun fire, not grasping that they’re meant for short bursts and use up ammo fast. Another time, a gun can jam unexpectedly. Also, that series showcases how firing a gun in close quarters renders a person deaf for several minutes and emphasizes how being in a gun battle is a lot more dangerous than it looks as you can get more damage from flying debris than the bullets themselves
It’s remarkable how a cartoon manages to get the reality of gunplay far more accurate than anything Hollywood does.
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