7 Scientific Facts That Will Ruin Movies For You

Like most of you, I tend to have what could only be described as a logic coronary when movies begin to fall apart if look at them too scientifically. I could get into it with Prometheus, but I don’t think we need to revisit that train wreck.

So here are seven movies with scientific flaws so bad that whenever someone rents one of these flicks, Neil deGrasse Tyson gets a migraine.

Photo: Volcano / 20th Century Fox

  • Viral Inoculation Takes Years To Develop

    Viral Inoculation Takes Years To Develop
    Photo: Outbreak / Warner Bros.

    The Movie: Outbreak (1995)

    The Plot: Before he was hanging out with Ace Ventura, Spike the monkey was shipped to the USA chock-full of something called the Motaba virus. It’s Sam Daniels's (Dustin Hoffman) job to stop the virus, prevent an outbreak, and foil Major General McClintock's (Donald Sutherland) plan to firebomb a small town.

    The Real Science: The problem with this movie is time. Like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day, Sam whips up a cure sooner than it takes me to understand the joke in a New Yorker Magazine cartoon (my record is three hours). Normally, it would take a team of virologists weeks, or even months, to study the virus, go through the appropriate tests, and create a cure for distribution.

    Then again, if the Motaba virus is anything like Ebola (it pretty much is), there would really be no need to quarantine the entire town or produce a cure because everyone would be dead within 48 hours.

  • There's No Way We Can Miss A Texas-Sized Asteroid

    The Movie: Armageddon (1998)

    The Plot: An asteroid the size of Texas is rapidly hurdling towards Earth. NASA decides to get Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his rag-tag team of oil drillers (think The Expendables brought by way of British Petroleum) to fly into space, drill a hole in the asteroid, drop a nuke, blow up the rock, and fly back.

    The Real Science: Here’s the deal: there are so many inaccuracies in this movie it’s hard to pick one. However, there a few key problems that make this movie ridiculous.

    Number one is that we would most definitely see an asteroid the size of Texas well before the last minute. The United States alone has a number of observers including JPL’s Near Earth Asteroid Tracking and the Air Force’s Maui Space Surveillance Site, not to mention private citizens like this guy. Not only would we know about and be tracking an asteroid that size floating in the main belt, but we would see it coming far sooner than the movie led us to believe.

    Oh, and their plan of drilling a hole 800 feet and placing the nuclear bomb into it is hardly likely to work (even with the stupid fissure). If the asteroid is the size of Texas, it would be about 870 miles across. 800 feet into something that size is the equivalent to scratching the surface of a volleyball. And don’t counter with the movie’s “fissure will crack the rest of it in half” argument; that’s what we call a Deus Ex Machina, and this list is about bad movie science, not bad writing.

    Seriously, this movie is so bad that NASA even used the movie during management training to see if the trainee was able to find all 168 inaccuracies.

  • DNA Has An Expiration Date

    DNA Has An Expiration Date
    Photo: Jurassic Park / Universal Pictures

    The Movie: Jurassic Park (1993)

    The Plot: A small group of people get trapped in a theme park that is overrun with dinosaurs. Think of it as the last movie in a trilogy that includes Westworld and Futureworld, but instead of Yul Brynner, you get a group of Velociraptors that can open doors.

    The Real Science: If we wanted to clone something, the DNA has to be perfect and even DNA trapped in 65 million-year-old amber would be way past its expiration date. Also, contrary to what Mr. DNA tells you, we can’t substitute other species' DNA (like, say, from a frog) to complete the chain.

    Even if we could hypothetically extract a perfect strand of DNA that wasn’t tainted by the insect’s DNA or horribly degraded, could we do it? Hell no. You see, we would need a viable, living dinosaur egg for implantation. Since the whole point was to create a dinosaur because they’re extinct, we’re kind of at an impasse.

  • Humans Can't Survive Immense Pressure

    Humans Can't Survive Immense Pressure
    Photo: The Core / Paramount Pictures

    The Movie: The Core (2003)

    The Plot: The Earth’s inner core stopped rotating, our magnetic field is tearing apart, microwave radiation is ripping through out atmosphere, and the world is thrown into chaos! Up is down, right is left, birds drop dead, and pacemakers stop working! Major Rebecca Childs (Hilary Swank) and her intrepid crew of “terranauts” must drill into the center of the Earth and activate a nuclear bomb to kick-start the core.

    The Real Science: Let’s forget the problems with actually getting to the center of the Earth, all the overlooked science (how in the heck did they stay in radio contact so far under the surface?) or the terribly conceived hurdles the team overcomes (how are they able to walk outside their craft in the recycled space suits from Sphere when the temperature would be thousands of degrees and the pressure would be immense?).

    Rather, let’s just focus on two huge oversights: 
    1) Earth’s magnetic field has little effect on microwave radiation. 
    2) Sure, the sun lobs plenty of microwaves (electromagnetic radiation), but that is just light. The worst we’re looking at is our radios and cell phones fizzling out.

    In essence, there isn’t really a disaster in this disaster movie.

  • It's Impossible For A Volcano To Form Under LA

    It's Impossible For A Volcano To Form Under LA
    Photo: Volcano / 20th Century Fox

    The Movie: Volcano (1997)

    The Plot: Ancient mammals from the Pleistocene era decide to get their revenge on modern day Los Angeles by generating a super volcano in the La Brea Tar Pits. Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones) reprises his role as “ornery-old-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold-that-mumbles-a-lot” and joins forces with seismologist Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) to save the day.

    The Real Science: The San Andreas Fault traveling through the west coast is a “strike-slip” fault; that means the Pacific plate and the North American plate create a fault line where they only slide past each other. In order for a volcano to form, two plates need to “subduct:” i.e, one plate slides underneath another, allowing magma to move to the surface. The plates in Los Angeles and the rest of the southern California area do not subduct; that really only happens further north.

  • There's No Way We Could Decipher Alien Technology

    There's No Way We Could Decipher Alien Technology
    Photo: Independence Day / 20th Century Fox

    The Movie: Independence Day (1996)

    The Plot: A highly advanced alien race invades the planet and destroys all of the Earth’s major landmarks. With the help of Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is able to upload his computer virus into the alien mother ship and save the day in time to fire up that bar-b-q and knock back a few brews.

    The Real Science: This one is relatively easy to point out: how in the hell did David figure out how the alien computers work, let alone design a computer virus to infect them? I mean, sure, we had that scout craft for 50 years, but if Data couldn’t work it then how did Jeff Goldblum do it in an hour? We’re also pretty lucky that the aliens installed a USB or parallel port so we have easy access to their controls.