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What the Movies Always Get Wrong

Donate A roundup of all those things that movies always get wrong and make you mad.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under General Science

Skeptoid Podcast #942
June 25, 2024
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What the Movies Always Get Wrong

Today we're going to take a bit of a break from the hardcore skepticism — by which I mean I'm giving myself a few days break from the hardcore research of these past 17 years — and look at the lighter side of pop misinformation. We're going to point the skeptical eye at the movies, specifically, at the things they constantly get wrong, whether it's out of laziness or just the idea that this or that looks or sounds better. My thanks to the many of you who submitted these.

We'll start with the very most egregious thing that's wrong in every movie, and that's whenever your profession, sport, or hobby is depicted. Everything about it is wrong. There are too many of these to mention individually, but I do want each of you to know that I acknowledge yours in particular is indeed the very most egregious Hollywood error.

The second biggest one is space — everything about space, especially sound in space, and magical gravity on board the spaceships. However, here we must give Hollywood a pass. If every actor had to be floating around, it would prohibitively complicate production; but moreover it would be disconcerting and distracting for the audience. Just give them magical gravity, and get on with the darn story already. But all the rest of these today are the ones where Hollywood doesn't get a pass, because there's no excuse to get any of these wrong.

Let's look at a few pertaining to cars. In a movie, you can get into any car and find the keys hidden above the visor. Nobody puts their keys there. And any car driven more than 10 miles per hour makes constant tire screeching sounds, even on dirt — sounds that cars never actually make even when driven far more aggressively. And cars explode following any slight fender bender, single gunshot, or hitting a curb (they don't in reality because gasoline is not explosive; it's flammable, though its vapors are explosive). This is also why that movie tough guy can't actually ignite that trail of spilled gas with his cigarette; in fact you can actually put a cigarette out in gasoline. And also, have you ever noticed that in any period piece, all the cars on the street seem to be from that exact year, not from 5, 10, 20 years earlier? It's like everyone in past history always drove that model year's newest car.

How about a few about guns? Probably my #1 pet peeve in movies is whenever someone handles a gun, it makes all kinds of rattling, clattering sounds, as if it's full of loose nuts and bolts and hollow plastic boxes. No! Guns are heavy, solid, and built like little vaults. They do not rattle, ever. Also, they hold a certain number of rounds. You can't keep shooting them without swapping in a new magazine, and if it's fully automatic gunfire (as it always seems to be in movies), a typical gun like an MP5 drains its 30-round magazine in two and a quarter seconds. Imagine how many torturous un-cinematic hours the character had to spend loading those magazines one bullet at a time. And once you do shoot someone, they always go flying back like they got hit by a running bull. Newton's third law: the force experienced by the bullet recipient is equal and opposite to that felt by the shooter — not 500 times as much. But regardless, it's pretty quiet if they use a silencer, right? Wrong. Silencers, or suppressors, can only take roughly 30dB off the sound of a gunshot — hardly silent, and most people probably wouldn't even notice the difference. And also, bullets rip the heck out of you. You don't just get shot, grimace, say "I'll be all right," and go on with the adventure, and are 100% by the next day. One final gun one, here: How many times have you seen a cop use his gun in a movie, and then somehow manage to stay on the job, finishing out the investigation? Nope, doesn't work that way. Cops are generally reassigned or given leave after any discharge of their gun until it can be fully investigated. Except in Hollywood.

That laid-off cop might head for the local watering hole, where he might do my other pet peeve: simply ask the bartender for a "beer". Beer doesn't work that way, any more than you can place an order with your server for "food".

Should we even do computers, or is that too much? Like how computer monitors project a perfectly focused image of whatever's on the screen onto the user's face? Or how a screen full of text appears on screen one letter at a time, making noise like a teletype machine? Should we even talk about hacking? How any random person is somehow able to "hack" into any system in the world at will, in under a minute; and do things like "turn up the heat to 110º in Suite 2543," as the screen displays a dramatic 3D depiction of flying through the building's infrastructure? Or sitting at the villain's desk and getting around his password in four seconds. No. Let's not talk about that. I need to watch my blood pressure.

If you're outside alone at night looking for the thing that made the weird noise, and suddenly you hear the noise right behind you, you spin around instantly. Not in movies. You turn around incredibly slowly until you're facing the slobbering monster. Nobody in history has ever turned around slowly to see what made the noise.

Look up at the majestic eagle soaring high above, and hear its cry:

But really, you're hearing a red-tailed hawk. Because eagles don't sound majestic at all; they sound like this:

That's right: your whole life has been a lie.

When you're engaged in a brutal hand-to-hand fight with an enemy, and you kick his knee backwards so that it makes an audible crunch, he is done. Or at a minimum, his leg is done. He doesn't shake it off and continue fighting with full athleticism a few seconds later. He will need surgery before walking again, followed by months of rehab. Or a bottle is broken over his head — no, skulls are not stronger than bottles. And in that fight, god forbid someone crash into some glass — because movie glass never breaks the way actual glass breaks (which in modern buildings is often "not at all").

When the phone rings, movie characters can just pick it up and the other person will start talking, no hello needed; and then they almost always just hang up the phone without saying goodbye. What's up with that? Who does that? And when they do, the other person gets a dial tone. No, telephones don't work that way. You also can't just call and leave a message. No, in reality, you have to sit through:

Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system. The person you have called is not available. At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press 1 for more options. To leave a callback number, press five.

I want to see the movie where the person has to leave an important message and every second counts, but they can't because that stupid recording keeps droning on.

Oh no, your friend is dead? No heartbeat? Totally flatline? Grab that defibrillator off the wall and jump start him. No, defibrillators don't work that way. They can hopefully straighten out an irregular heartbeat, but they don't start a heart that's stopped. And if he's had a drug overdose or has just been exposed to some poison gas, no, there is no such thing as a dramatic stabbing of a giant syringe directly into the heart to inject adrenalin or anything else.

You ever see a helicopter pilot in a movie? Which seat was he sitting in? Probably the left seat, like he's the captain of a plane, or driving a car. Well guess what, helicopter pilots almost always sit in the right seat, not the left. This is due to the layout of a helicopter's controls. Today, most helicopters have the collective on their left side, and the cyclic between their legs. The cyclic requires more constant attention than the collective, so most pilots keep their right hand on it all the time. This allows them to use their left hand to operate things like the radio and navigation, which are on the dash in front of them. It would be too long of a reach with the left if they were in the left seat.

At this point I've got so many miscellaneous ones here that we're going to finish up with a lightning round:

  • If you call your buddy and tell him "Quick! Turn on the news, they're talking about X!" he'll probably miss it by the time he gets to his TV and finds the right channel; he won't get to hear the complete report from the beginning — unless, of course, he's fortunate to hear it start it "And just to recap…" at which point they repeat the entire story.
  • If a bad guy knocks you out, you won't conveniently wake up a few hours later with just enough of a headache to make a little joke. You have a serious traumatic brain injury and absolutely require medical care, and your recovery will take some time.
  • When you look through binoculars, the black border is a single circle. It's not two partially merged circles. How would that even work?
  • Crawling through a building's ductwork wouldn't work for many reasons. First, they're not nice clean metal, they're thick with dust and gunk; they would not even begin to hold the weight of a person; most of the ducts are much too small for a person; and they don't conveniently go to every room you'd like them to. They take you to a giant fan.
  • Chloroform doesn't work that way. Slapping a chloroform-soaked rag over someone's face takes about five minutes to produce unconsciousness; less than that, it's only going to deliver dizziness and headache. It might also produce death. It's actually really dangerous which is why it's no longer used. It was replaced by ether, which takes even longer: at least 15 minutes.
  • Your hero can't swim around underwater and perform complex tasks. Without goggles or a mask, nobody can see underwater very well.
  • Oh no, your buddy's hanging off the side of the building! "Quick," you shout, "grab my hand!" But in reality, almost nobody is strong enough to hold the weight of a person with one hand, or even to hold themselves up with just one hand.
  • Did that explosion go off right next to you, sending you tumbling from its concussive force? Well guess what; there's no way you're getting right back up and continuing to run. You're shot full of shrapnel, probably fatally. Also, barotrauma (blast injury) has probably destroyed your lungs, auditory organs, eyes, brain, and gastrointestinal tract.
  • Many period pieces show women being tormented and forced to wear painfully tight corsets. In fact corsets have never been torturous to wear; many women wear them daily, even today, as they are supportive, comfortable, and in no way painful.

Finally: All English accents for all foreigners, bad guys, and aliens — all the time.

By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.


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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "What the Movies Always Get Wrong." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 25 Jun 2024. Web. 18 Jul 2024. <>



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