Tuesday, November 11, 2014

9 Examples of Bad Science in Movies

by Doug Schultz
In space, no one can hear you. Like, at all. Because it's a vacuum.

1. Explosions in space

Bad for two reasons -- 1.) in the vacuum of space, there are no molecules to propagate sound waves, and 2.) space has no air to transfer explosive energy. Thus, explosions would have an initial brilliant flash, but no traditional fireball or audible "bang" (also, debris would expand far too fast for the eye to see). Pretty much every sci-fi movie disregards these facts, including the Star Wars series, because, well ... explosions look and sound cool.

2. We only use 10 percent of our BRRRAAAP
Looking at you, Lucy (and, to a lesser extent, Limitless). Let's dispel this myth once and for all, shall we? Humans don't use just 10 percent of their brains. Director Luc Besson has admitted that he knew his film was based on bad science, but he used the trope anyway. And I guess that's any artist's right, right? It just feels SO EASY to make up facts to suit the story.

3. Chloroform? More like bore-oform!
Sure, it's POSSIBLE to knock a person out with chloroform. But it wouldn't be instant. A cloth soaked with pure (or highly concentrated) chloroform can cause a person to become unconsciousness if 100 percent of it is inhaled into the lungs (no outside air). It was used, after all, as anesthesia in the 19th century. Even if the placement of the rag over the victim's mouth and nose was perfect, it would still take several seconds, if not minutes. I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE. A more likely outcome? A really, really bad headache. It's also toxic to the central nervous system, and can cause cardiac arrest. Cloak & Dagger? More like, Choke and Gagger. Zing!

4. Dino DNA!

Jurassic Park is a great movie. It pains me to shit on some of its science, but SHIT ON IT I MUST. Unfortunately, DNA from dinosaurs is far too fragile to have lasted to present time. Even under perfect conditions, a DNA molecule can't survive past seven million years. Which means we're about 60 million years too late to bring back velociraptors (and, really, why would we want to? They were pesky, chicken-sized nuisances, not the scheming, pack-hunting megathreat the movie portrays). This stinks, because, despite (you know) the entire POINT of the movie being how we shouldn't play God and meddle in species creation (because look what happened!), it would still be SUPER COOL to have an island filled with dinosaurs. Or maybe that's just the fever dream of the 12-year-old boy trapped inside me (hmmm ... that doesn't sound right).

5. Map of the stars' homes
When a bunch of geeks get all riled up (led by their king, Neil deGrasse Tyson), you just know director James Cameron (a bona fide geek himself) is bound to listen. When Titanic was originally released in 1997, the starscape depicted in the night scenes was, well, wrong. I mean, it's just a bunch of twinkly lights, and who really looks at that stuff? Nerds, apparently. According to Tyson, "[Rose] is looking up. There is only one sky she should have been looking at ... and it was the wrong sky! Worse than that, it was not only the wrong sky; the left-half of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right-half of the sky! It was not only wrong, it was lazy! And I'm thinking, this is wrong." When Titanic was rereleased in 2012, a more scientifically accurate sky map from 1912 replaced the old footage. ARE YOU HAPPY, NERDS?

6. You can't dodge a laser
Did you know that the word "laser" is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation"? THE MORE YOU KNOW. In other words, a laser is light. Pure light. Traveling at the speed of (you guessed it) light. In most movies, lasers actually behave like slower-moving bullets, giving combatants plenty of time to get out of the way. That old adage, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a laser," is flat-out WRONG.

7. Faster-than-light travel

I WANT TO BELIEVE! Let's be honest -- the only way humans will be able to travel to a world outside our own solar system is if we somehow harness the ability to exceed the speed of light. Under Einstein's special theory of relativity, "a particle (that has rest mass) with subluminal velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light." Whatever THAT means. Alls I know is that I want to visit Pandora, and science has so far failed to provide me with the means to get there. Stupid science. You go squish now!

8. Enhance!

Enhance. Enhance! ENHANCE!

9. Everything in Armageddon
The size of the asteroid, the size of the explosion, the size of the drill, the size of Ben Affleck's caps -- ALL are ridiculous! But don't take my word for it.


  1. Great list. As much as I love BTTF I firmly believe it should be up there (maybe in place of Jurassic park, because you know, life finds a way). There is no way that the walkie talkies they used in No.2 had any where near the range they suggested in the movie. I literally bought a pair and they had a range of about 2-3 metres. Granted they were for kids, but still, my point stands, unrealistic science.

    1. Exactly. I'm also reminded of The Avengers when, during the climactic battle sequence at the end of the film, all of our heroes are simply pressing their fingers to their ears to talk to one another. I mean sure, but c'mon.

      At the end of the day, the lousy science doesn't really matter if the basic story is good. In the case of BttF, the story is the best, so who cares?

    2. But the BTTFII walkie-talkies are from the future, so there's the potential excuse that in 2015, even cheap kids' walkie-talkies are amazing. If you want to talk BTTF, you should rather note that even bumping shoulders with your parents would erase you from existence and replace you with a sibling (a different sperm out of millions would have made it). Also, does the DeLorean travel through space as well as time? Because the Earth orbits the sun and spins, so Hill Valley in 1955 is in a very different cosmic location than 1985 Hill Valley. But even if the flux capacitor tries to take that into account, there's no way it could calculate said motions with the perfect precision of keeping a car on, but not significantly under or over, a given road.

      And Chaybee, I think you meant Thomas Dolby said it best. "SCIENCE!" ;)

  2. Hows about someone flying ten feet backwards when getting shot with a handgun? That's a PRETTY popular trope in action movies.

    As we all know, for that to happen the gun's recoil would have to have an equal force, also sending the shooter flying backwards. Rarely happens in movies though.