10 Lies That Action Movies Have Been Telling Us for Years

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987's 'Predator'

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987’s Predator | 20th Century Fox

Many movies require a certain suspension of disbelief for us as an audience. Action movies in particular, ask us to set aside our skepticism for the sake of entertainment, as we watch our favorite heroes beat up baddies with little to no ill effects. More than this, we see the genre defy the laws of physics on a regular basis, to the extent of which we actually start to believe in the impossible. Given that action flicks feature scenarios we likely never would encounter in the real world, they become our only frame of reference.

How often have we seen a single man render a dozen bad guys unconscious in a fight scene? Or seen a hero walk away unscathed from a massive explosion mere feet away from them? Both of these scenarios and more, number themselves among the tropes we see in action that are about as far from the truth as you can get. While it’s necessary for our own entertainment for us to believe these things are possible in a movie, it’s still important to get the science straight.

1. Dramatically walking away from an explosion

Known as the “Unflinching Walk,” it’s something we’ve seen in countless movies. A hero sets off a timed explosion, and as it unfolds in slow motion, they turn their back and walk away as everything goes up in flames behind them. This, of course, couldn’t be any further from the truth. Per Gizmodo:

Military doctors studying the effects of barotrauma on US Armed Forces have compared the effects of an explosive blast on the human body to the act of squeezing a tube of toothpaste—blood and bodily fluids are forced into your brain and skull, resulting in edema.

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of an explosion, the concussive blast would wreak havoc on your internal organs, firing off a supersonic shockwave of force that would pass straight through your body. In short, the above video from The Other Guys is the absolute best case scenario.

2. Fist fighting

Out in the real world, the most prevalent examples of fist fighting are seen in boxing and MMA. Ever wonder why both sports require their athletes to wear protective gloves? It’s certainly not a style choice. Fighters tape their hands to keep their fists in alignment, which in turn prevents serious injury. Improperly punching someone can lead to what’s known as the aptly named boxer’s fracture. This can occur with a single poorly thrown punch, breaking the long bone that runs the length of the top of your hand. A bad punch can also lead to fractures in the wrist and elbow, and can occur in even the most experienced fighters.

Next time you see a movie hero wildly throwing their fists around, know that the unscathed result isn’t possible in reality.

3. Rendering someone unconscious

We’ve all seen it in movies: Our hero is wildly outnumbered, challenged by a group of five, 10, and sometimes, even 20 bad guys. They all come at him, and one by one we see him come out victorious, as single hits put each successive challenger on the mat. Anyone who’s ever watched a boxing match, though, knows just how hard this is to accomplish. The human body is nothing if not resilient, and it takes a strong blow to very specific pressure points to render your enemy unconscious with a single hit.

Perhaps the most realistic depiction we see of this is in Netflix’s Daredevil, where our titular fighter requires an exhausting number of punches to multiple enemies before each one hits the ground. Even then, they’re little more than woozy and disoriented. It’s not easy to punch someone into unconsciousness, and even harder to do it with a single hit (also, note how Daredevil tapes his hands and wrists for optimal punching!).

4. Silencers on guns

This one is a myth that to this day hasn’t been kicked by action movies. Basically, it’s the idea that putting a silencer on an otherwise noisy firearm will suppress the noise of a gunshot down to a quiet piff. In truth, there’s a reason the apparatus is more commonly known as a “suppressor,” it suppresses, not silences. The science behind it tells us that the reduction in sound from a “silencer” kicks the sound down 14.3–43 decibels, which is the same reduction level as typical ear protection gear you’d see at the firing range.

5. Noise in space

This one’s a tad more forgivable than most other action movie tropes, and yet it’s still worth noting. Take Star Wars as a prime example: Space battles include the whooshing of ships, the piercing shrill noise of laser blasts, and of course, the boom of the Death Star going up in flames. If the trilogy was true to science, these sequences would be far quieter, and subsequently stranger, as we would be watching everything take place sans noise.

Movies like Interstellar and The Martian have been more true to life, reflecting the silence that the vacuum of space forces. The basic explanation from one study tells us the following:

So, in order for sound to travel, there has to be something with molecules for it to travel through. On Earth, sound travels to your ears by vibrating air molecules. In deep space, the large empty areas between stars and planets,there are no molecules to vibrate.

We certainly don’t expect Star Wars to accurately reflect this anytime soon, lest we’re gifted with a far quieter new trilogy. Still though, it’s refreshing to see more true-to-life takes in modern cinema all the same.

6. Tracing a phone call

You’ve seen it in just about every movie and TV show where a kidnapper or villain calls the police: “Keep them on the line so we can trace that call,” the commanding officer will say. After a lengthy chat, we see the cops slowly triangulating the call, until the villain abruptly hangs up right before they can finish the trace. This has little basis in reality, given the fact that the FBI can trace a phone call the second you pick up the phone. With the rise of mobile phones, each call can be tracked to a location instantaneously, regardless of how long the villain stays on the line.

7. Crawling through air vents

Bruce Willis in Die Hard

Bruce Willis in Die Hard | 20th Century Fox

While it’s not necessarily impossible to successfully navigate an air duct, what we see in movies isn’t at all what it’s like. An “Ask Reddit” thread taught us just that, with people who’d actually done it claiming they had to crawl through “spiders, dead spiders, cobwebs, dust, mouse poo, even some dead mice.” So, sure, John McClane probably could have found his way through the vents of Nakatomi Plaza in real life, but he also would have come out the other end covered in mouse feces, dirt, and dead spiders.

8. Enhancing blurry photos

We’ve seen it in virtually every police procedural: A blurry photo with a reflection gets zoomed in on and enhanced, showing us a perfectly clear image that successfully identifies a criminal. There’s a lengthy scientific explanation for just why that’s completely impossible, but we’ll boil it down to one, simple idea: “zoom in and enhance” is equivalent to asking a photograph to create data out of nothing.

9. Escaping to Mexico

Movie prisoners have made a habit of running for the border

Movie prisoners have made a habit of running for the border | Grantland

We’ve seen it a million times: A man on the run makes a mad dash for the Mexican border, where the long arm of the American law can’t touch him. The thing is, if you tried to hide down south in real life, you’d find yourself shipped right back home again the second a Federale gets his hands on you. The reason: Traditionally, the United States and Mexico have had one of the friendliest extradition treaties in the world. If you really want to flee the country, you’re either going to live out your days stuck inside an embassy in Ecuador, or hope that Russia will be kind enough to host you indefinitely.

10. The “car cushion”

The Dark Knight

Batman safely lands on a car in The Dark Knight | 20th Century Fox

Imagine you’re the hero in an epic story, and you’re pushed off of a tall building. Worry not though, because there’s a row of pillow-soft parked cars waiting for you on the street below, where all the impact from your 100 foot tumble will be absorbed. It’s not hard to see where that logic breaks down.

First off, a car is made of freaking metal. If, for some reason, you landed on one after falling, you’d shatter every bone in your body, dying on impact in the process. As Cracked points out, a 30-foot fall (roughly three stories) generates 1,500 pounds of force. Imagine that force getting funneled directly through the metal frame of a car, and you’ll see how there’s little chance of survival.

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