If movies were completely scientifically accurate, they’d probably be as interesting as a Physics 101 lecture. In real life, there are no explosions in space, gas usually doesn’t explode from a lit cigarette, and Bruce Willis/Jackie Chan/Will Smith would most likely be in a coma after getting kicked in the head. Some movies, though, put science front and center in the story and more often than not the science proves to be head-slappingly bad. Here are some of the worst offenders.
That mammoth mothership hovering over the earth in geostationary orbit would be doing more than just freaking out the world’s population. Because of its close proximity and mass — 1/4th that of the moon, according to the film — the flying saucer’s gravitational pull would cause massive tidal waves, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The aliens wouldn’t even have to roll out their anti-matter ray to blow up the White House — it would already be underwater.
Could a band of cave-dwelling, preverbal giant insects really have the sophisticated mathematics and technology to hurl a rock millions of miles through space to crash into Earth? Plus, 70% of the planet’s surface is covered in water, so they only had a 3 out of 10 chance at even hitting solid ground, let alone a major city like Buenos Aires.
The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich brought his trademark academic rigor to the realm of climatology and the result proved to be so silly that NASA refused to help with the filming of the movie. For one thing, it would require most of Antarctica to melt in order to submerge New York City to the level it is in the movie. If all the rays of the sun were directed at the South Pole, its ice would melt in about two and half years. This ridiculousness drove Duke University paleoclimatologist William Hyde to publicly state, "This movie is to climate science as Frankenstein is to heart transplant surgery."
In the movie, the Earth’s inner core — a nickel-iron mass about 1500 miles in diameter — stops rotating, causing the planet’s magnetic field to collapse and microwave radiation from space to blast through the atmosphere. But microwaves aren’t affected by magnetism, and the radiation that comes from space is too weak to damage anything here. What’s more, if the core did stop rotating for whatever reason, we’d have more to worry about than that. The energy stored in the core would have to go somewhere, and the effect on the planet would be equivalent to five trillion nuclear bombs going off at once.
Much in the way of physics in the Matrix — like dodging bullets and running up walls — gets a pass because it’s all within a massive virtual world. But in reality, our supposed robot overlords are a bit dim. Humans are a remarkably inefficient energy source. Instead of turning the human race into Duracells, the machines would probably get more energy just setting those goopy people pods on fire.
Having a wildlife park full of dinosaurs would be a really cool idea if it weren’t for a few problems. No, not imperfect security or the possibility of spontaneous lizard sex changes. The problem is that it would be almost impossible to clone the dinosaurs based on DNA pulled from the guts of a 25 million-year-old mosquito. The dinosaur DNA’s double helix most certainly would have been broken down into individual chunks, mixing together with whatever else the mosquitoes might have eaten along with some of the insect’s own genetic material. Any creature constructed from that mess might be the stuff of nightmares, but probably wouldn’t look like a T. Rex.
The red planet’s gravitational pull is roughly 1/3rd that of the Earth’s. So if, for example, an Austrian bodybuilder were to visit Mars, he would be bounding across the room like Michael Jordan. Another problem: when exposed to the thin atmosphere of Mars, like bad guy Cohaagen at the end of the movie, you would likely suffer from a raging case of the bends and you would asphyxiate — both of which are plenty lethal — but your head wouldn’t bulge out and explode like an overused stress toy.
A monkey threatens a small town with a virus that kills everybody in less time than your average DMV visit, and only Dustin Hoffman can stop it. The trouble with a disease that virulent is it kills the host too fast to spread. Otherwise, we would be dead from the Ebola virus. Also, it generally takes longer to make a cure from monkey serum than it does to make a latte. Dustin Hoffman does look great in a hazmat suit, though.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones has survived a lot of improbable adventures, be it fleeing ancient spherical boulders or fighting off cult members while dangling off a rope bridge. But few scrapes have tested the bounds of believability more than Indy’s escape from a nuclear bomb blast thanks to a lead-lined fridge. The problem is that, even if he didn’t get flattened, horribly burned or suffocated (kids, don’t hide in refrigerators), Indy almost certainly would have gotten a lethal dose of radiation from the fallout. And that’s a lot scarier than snakes.