It’s no big secret that action movies and TV shows require the suspension of disbelief for really most things that happen. If the movie’s good enough we’re usually well invested to the point that we don’t care that the exploding device probably shouldn’t have created such a huge fireball or that Batman was just bankrupt and he still somehow managed to get to a different country and obtain a very nice jacket on the way, after mending his broken spine by having a guy kick it.
Other times stuff can take you right out of whatever you’re watching. I’ve compiled a short list of the improbable happenings that take me out and unceremoniously throw me back into that awful real world, where we’re limited by physics and our soft, easily hurt bodies. Either you’ve thought of these already and you can join me in a nice pat on the back for being so observant or I’m about to ruin your favorite media.
It’s Really, Really Hard to Shoot People
Speaking as someone who has never shot a gun but only really held them and been mildly interested that they weigh this much, I can’t personally vouch for this. But based on research and generally knowing about aiming things at other stuff, I know that it’s actually way hard to shoot someone and hit them, unless you’ve spent a lot of time training.
But then you see shows like The Walking Dead, where good ol’ Sheriff Rick Grimes and co. regularly make head shots while running, or hanging out of goddamn moving vehicles. It makes some sense that Rick is decent at it, and that he’s given his group some firearms training, but headshots are way hard to get and the survivors are headshot savants.
Most police officers are trained to aim for the center mass of a target, which does have a lot to do with trying to stop the assailant rather than kill them, but has more to do with actually being able to hit the guy. Your big fat torso will always be easier to hit than your tiny, moving head.
But even when you’re standing still and aiming for a big, squishy torso, it can be hard for you to hit someone, especially if you’re untrained. Understandably, accuracy goes way down when you introduce movement or stressful situations, like you know, being in a gunfight.
So really, we all owe stormtroopers a big apology. They might actually be very well trained, they’re just accurate to life and people like Luke are just exceptionally good at shooting. Probably because of that whole “The Force” thing.
Notable Examples: Dawn of the Dead, Hard Boiled, Firefly (TV)
Bullets go through your soft, squishy body
Hey, guns again! These things are crazy, right? We’ll be done after this, I swear. Anyway, this is one that comes up quite often. The hero is looking for cover and sometimes the closest thing to use is some hapless henchman’s nice soft body, or if you’re Arnold Schwarznegger playing Douglas Quaid, some poor random guy who will now have a closed casket funeral. (But it’s okay because that guy was just a figment of Arnie’s imagination.)
The problem here is that bullets tend to go through people, especially when you upgrade the weapon and the ammo or, obviously, when they’re not wearing any kind of protection. Both of those are true for the scene above, so really what should have happened is that Arnie dies while holding a now horribly mangled man who we’ll call Rick from now on.
You may have seen posts on Reddit and from your friends in shittier neighborhoods about bullets going through the walls of their apartments, sometimes through multiple walls. Your average random street shooter doesn’t have access to high grade weapons, depending on what state you live in (Commentary, kind of!), so if even those are going through windows and several inches of wood or brick, you can imagine that one dude’s soft, organ filled body won’t provide much stopping power. Unless you happen to grab a dude who happens to be wearing a bulletproof vest, like MacGruber.
Notable Examples: Saving Private Ryan, Crank, Thunderball
It’s very hard to hang on to cars, moving trains
Jumping onto a moving car and fighting with the driver is a pretty standard way for an action movie hero to stop a baddy from escaping, and like, why? Best case scenario is he wrecks and it takes out the villain and himself, but in most situations it would probably just result in the hero very quickly being thrown from the moving vehicle to become a crumpled heap of sad on the ground.
This one was tackled in a more fun way than a study I can link to in that it was handled by the Mythbusters in the 2009 episode “Prison Escape.” Even at speeds below 45 mph, the team showed that it was next to impossible to be able to keep a grip on a car while it was moving. Turning or stopping makes things way worse, and even if the windows are rolled down or the hero gets on the hood to find some place to grip, the odds still aren’t great that they’ll be able to hang on. Maybe for slightly longer, but they’ll still likely end up in the same place, which is on the street, getting run over.
As far as awesome traintop battle sequences go, trains are usually going too fast for people to do much more than hold on for dear life. They should really move inside the train, it’d be much easier. Because really, once you move onto the top of a speeding train, where are you going? Given the speed, pretty much every option is painful, even leaping to grab onto that nearby branch. Once you jump up for it, you’ll realize how fast you were going and have a fun time slamming into it and then dying.
Notable Examples: Back to the Future, Dirty Harry, Skyfall
Fighting in a burning building is a bad idea
Aww, yeah. Burning building fight. If you’ve seen like, most kung-fu movies you know that a lot of great battles tend to happen when a building is on the verge of structural collapse. Oh, and when it’s also really sweaty.
This is usually accomplished by having the building be in the process of burning down, or in some cases (ex. The Protector), with just enough fire to not spread and destroy everything but still look cool, like how fire never works.
But really, the fights should look more like the involved parties coughing and sputtering while shielding their eyes and stumbling around. Then dying, of course.
Remember when you were like, seven and some nice police officer or fireman or a responsible parent told you how to escape your burning house/school/factory/ancient temple?
One of the first steps was probably to get on the floor and crawl to the door to avoid breathing in smoke, which is the complete opposite of standing up and roundhouse kicking. Though there is a clear gap in terms of which one is cooler, there is also a notable gap in which one would leave you less dead.
Notable Examples: Spider-Man, Event Horizon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV)
Patrick is a writer and comedian living in Chicago and enjoys sitting on his lazy butt and watching things, so he has the time to think about this stuff. Please be his friend. But if you can’t do that, be sure to follow him on Twitter @fatfraud if you like seeing links to other articles and the occasional 140-character max. joke.
Patrick last observed pop culture in a non-criminally insane way a long time ago, with a look to new Star Wars films In a Galaxy a Few Years Away…Then he got weird again with Now We Pay Video Games to Make Us Feel Bad.