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The Nonsensical Physics of Movies

We love watching science fiction movies because they show us cool tricks that would never be possible in real life. But, as physicists, we can’t help but cringe when something happens in a movie that is so obviously wrong - like hearing the Death Star explode in space. There are many more laughable inconsistencies that have gone unnoticed, especially in the MCU.


We would hope that the producers of 'Guardians of the Galaxy' would have done their research before making the movie, especially because it is a space movie relying heavily on detailed physics principles. Yet, the simple principle of momentum was still overlooked. It may have gone unnoticed for most people but as physicists we cannot help but point out the obvious mistakes. When Rocket turns off the artificial gravity, guards everywhere start floating, even the ones who were previously stationary, as if there was an invisible force pushing them upwards[1]. Magic? Yeah, right!


Figure 1: Apparently Newton's First Law means nothing....

(Taken from: YouTube. 2018. Guardians Of The Galaxy (Zero Gravity Scene). [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3dyZs9G-GA> [Accessed 26 November 2020]. )


Funnily enough, this was not the only movie to ignore the conservation of momentum. One of the opening scenes in the award winning film ‘Gravity’ shows Sandra Bullock unclipping herself from the spinning robot arm and flying off in a completely different direction. Not tangential to the spinning motion as you would expect.


Moment of silence for the laws of physics. [2]


Figure 2: Newton's First Law still means nothing....

(Taken from: Lemire, C., 2020. 10 Best Films Of 2013 - Christy Lemire. [online] Christy Lemire. Available at: <http://christylemire.com/10-best-films-2013/> [Accessed 26 November 2020].)


At least these details can be overlooked most of the time or excused for dramatic purposes. However, it is simply lazy writing when seemingly unusual phenomena, where the regular laws of physics don’t apply, are explained away by “put[ting] the word “quantum” in front of everything.” [3] Even the average person can tell that it's simply ‘quantum mumbo jumbo’. On the other hand, the very nature of quantum physics is such that the regular laws of physics do not apply on the quantum scale. So maybe there is some reality to these theories, but there definitely is a lot more artistic flair. Just as you would expect in a movie. [4]


Figure 3: At least they're obeying Newton's First Law

(Taken from: Petrakovitz, C., 2020. Ant-Man And The Wasp Is The Perfect Post-Avengers Comedy. [online] CNET. Available at: <https://www.cnet.com/news/ant-man-and-the-wasp-review-shrinking-the-focus-to-father-daughter/> [Accessed 26 November 2020].)


These are only a few instances where physics was completely ignored in these movies. If we keep looking, there are so many more sci-fi movies that have butchered the laws of physics. Fixating on all these mistakes would simply ruin the fun of them. So we can choose to wallow in frustration and obsess over the minute mistakes in these movies, or we can choose to turn a blind eye and forget about real life physics for a few moments. After all, it is science fiction. These movies need to be given creative freedom so they can be the geeky sci-fi movies we know and love.



References:

  1. Tyler, G. and Geaghan-Briener, M., 2019. Physicist Breaks Down The Science Behind 10 Iconic Marvel Scenes. [online] Insider. Available at: <https://www.insider.com/marvel-movies-physicist-breaks-down-science-10-iconic-scenes-2019-5>

  2. Astronaut Chris Hadfield Reviews Space Movies, from 'Gravity' to 'Interstellar'. 2020. [video] Directed by V. Fair. YouTube.

  3. Ant-Man and the Wasp. 2018. [film] Directed by P. Reed. United States: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

  4. CBC. 2018. The Science Behind Ant-Man: Did They Really Just Put 'Quantum' In Front Of Everything? | CBC Radio. [online] Available at: <https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/july-21-2018-bread-came-before-agriculture-driving-drowsiness-and-more-1.4753031/the-science-behind-ant-man-did-they-really-just-put-quantum-in-front-of-everything-1.4753036>

Cover Image:

D23. 2020. 7 Cool Things To Look For Inside Hong Kong Disneyland’S Latest Attraction: Ant-Man And The Wasp: Nano Battle! - D23. [online] Available at: <https://d23.com/7-cool-things-to-look-for-inside-hong-kong-disneylands-latest-attraction-ant-man-and-the-wasp-nano-battle/> [Accessed 26 November 2020].

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