It is essential when watching films that you are able to suspend your disbelief to appreciate the story. What is so great about cinema is that fantasy is possible, where you can time travel, have encounters with aliens, survive explosions and anything else that is impossible in real life. Sometimes, however, a film will feature such bad science that it will make you cringe and is impossible to ignore. If a filmmaker is going to create science fiction, it is best to either completely skip on the science or ensure it is 100% accurate. Look away now, scientists…
10. Enemy of the State – Enhance
There are dozens of films that use this poor piece of science, but it is particularly noticeable in Enemy of the State. It appears that filmmakers do not understand the concept of pixels, as there seems to be some kind of magical button on computers that enable them to repeatedly zoom in and “enhance” a photograph or security camera footage. This enhancing can seemingly continue forever until they are able to pick out some minute detail, and in Enemy of the State they are somehow able to rotate this image in 3D also. CCTV footage has been improved in recent times, but this magical “enhance” button defies science is used too often in film (and TV).
9. Transformers – “Saved” During a Fall
It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the stop. In the Transformers films, humans are often saved by Transformer robots that “catch” them at the last second as they fall from tall buildings and other structures. Once you are travelling at such speed, it does not matter if you hit the sidewalk or are caught by a robot, you will get squished as soon as you are “stopped” due to the sudden change from terminal velocity to a dead stop. The only way to land safely is to be decelerated, which is essentially what a giant cushion would do or an air bag when in a car. Director Michael Bay is famous for skipping on science (e.g. Armageddon—more on this later), instead opting for explosions and special effects. With his films, the only option is to sit back and enjoy the ride.
8. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – “Nuking the Fridge”
This terrible bit of science in the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise led to the invention of the term “nuking the fridge,” which is used to describe the declining point in a film franchise (similar to “jumping the shark”). Indiana Jones is the master of escaping danger, but they took it slightly too far with this incident. In one scene, Indiana Jones is able to survive a nuclear explosion by simply hiding in a refrigerator. This is, of course, completely absurd and not good advice, and Spielberg has since admitted to its ridiculousness. He stated “that was my silly idea… I’m proud of that. I’m glad I was able to bring that into popular culture.” Although it is humorous moment, it also marks the decline of a franchise and will have left scientists rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.
7. Speed – Bus Jump
The only thing less believable than Keanu Reeves as a policeman in Speed is the laughable bus jump scene. In the scene, the bus (which will explode if going under 50 miles per hour) attempts to jump a 50 foot gap in the L.A. freeway. Somehow the bus “leaps” off the end and clears the jump, despite there being no ramp or slope and instead the bus inexplicably tilts upwards as it takes off. Objects will only fall if they launch horizontally, so the only way it would clear the gap would be if where it lands is lower than where it takes off from (which it isn’t). It would have been quite a grisly end had the film stuck to science, but they easily could have avoided this problem by adding a convenient ramp off the freeway (stranger things happen in films all the time).
6. Jurassic Park – Pre-Historic DNA
Whilst Jurassic Park is unquestionably a classic movie and one that can be enjoyed by all, it does contain some very flawed science which is best ignored when watching the film. Where the logic is flawed is that in order for anything to be cloned, the DNA would have to be perfect. Even if this DNA had been trapped in amber in a mosquito’s gut for millions of years and well preserved, it would be degraded and past its sell-by date, and also tainted by the mosquito’s DNA. On top of this, even if the DNA strand was perfect and not out of date, you would still need a dinosaur egg for implantation, which nobody had in the film. This does not take away from what is a terrific film, and everyone can rest assured knowing that dinosaurs won’t be re-created anytime soon.
5. Independence Day – Understanding of Alien Technology
Although Independence Day is unquestionably a classic, the idea that Jeff Goldblum is able to write a virus, which can then be uploaded to help destroy the alien mothership, is head scratching (although if anyone could do it, it would be Jeff Goldblum). He was able to understand how an advanced alien race’s computer systems work, and then write a compatible virus in less than an hour. Fortunately the aliens didn’t have any kind of anti-virus software on their computers. It seems unlikely that this alien race was using Macs or PCs, but that does not matter to Jeff Goldblum, who manages to (inexplicably) save the day with his remarkable knowledge of alien technology.
4. The Day After Tomorrow – Climate Science
Fortunately, the science in disaster flick The Day After Tomorrow is ludicrous, and so bad, in fact, that NASA refused to help in its filming due to the factual inaccuracies. The film shows global warming strike at an alarming rate, seeing the entire world plummet into an ice age in just a few days. Even the fastest-descending ice ages would take around 10 years to consume the entire planet, but this would hardly make for an entertaining watch. The melting of the ice caps (which would take many years) somehow causes tsunamis that submerge NYC, which is just another ridiculous piece of science, but undeniably a striking cinematic moment. The film is supposed to shock and has a message behind it, but it has been mocked by the science community. One Duke University paleoclimatologist stated “this movie is to climate science as Frankenstein is to heart transplant surgery.”
3. The Core – Multiple Flaws
In any kind of disaster movie you will have to suspend your disbelief, but there is only so far that this can go. You don’t need to be a scientific genius to spot the awful science in this film, which sees a team travel to the core of the Earth (which has stopped rotating) to activate a nuclear bomb. As the core has stopped rotating, the planet’s magnetic field is tearing apart and microwave radiation is blasting through the atmosphere. The key problems are that the magnetic field has little effect on microwaves, and also the radiation from space would do little damage. The painfully obvious terrible science in this film is how the team only gets a slight sweat on as they travel to the core, and they are even able to walk outside their craft and not get vaporized or succumb to the immense pressure.
2. Armageddon – Flawed Logic Throughout
The science in Armageddon is so terrible that scientists must feel insulted just watching it. There are dozens of flaws in the film, which sees an asteroid about the size of Texas flying towards Earth. NASA send Bruce Willis and his team to the asteroid, where they drill a hole and put a bomb in it before returning home. The key errors in the film are that an asteroid the size of Texas (around 870 miles) would be noticed long before it is in the film, they only drill 800 feet into the asteroid, which would merely be scratching the surface of such a large object, there are fires burning in space despite there being no atmosphere, plus many, many more. There are, in fact, so many errors in Armageddon that NASA used the film during training to see if trainees could identify all of the errors.
1. 2012 – Neutrinos “Have Mutated”
In an attempt to explain the science in the story, many films use words they think people won’t know the meaning to, and hope that it will go over their heads. In the film 2012, the Earth’s crust is rupturing because the core is being heated up from the sun’s neutrinos. The only explanation in the entire film is that “the neutrinos have mutated.” Neutrinos are super small and can travel through matter almost undetected, and certainly cannot gain the electrical charge that is required to heat the Earth’s core. The entire premise is therefore pure nonsense, and you would think that they would have conferred with scientists before writing the film and spending a gigantic budget. The science is so bad in 2012, that NASA named it the most absurd science fiction film ever made and that it was an “exceptional and extraordinary case” of bad movie science.