This may come as a shock, but people need oxygen in order to survive. That's why breathing is one of our automatic internal functions, which seems to be something the entertainment industry doesn't quite understand because, despite the fact that we need oxygen to breathe, popular films and television shows have a tendency to trap their characters underwater for uncomfortable amounts of time.
People can temporarily survive without air. A few seconds of holding our breath won't cause lasting damage; however, someone who spends too much time underwater cannot always be saved with CPR, as most films and television shows suggest. Conversely, there are some underwater scenes in which the character is only underwater for a minute, but the tension and drama make us believe they're in real peril.
We have to tip our hats to the drama of a good water scene. The inability to catch your breath builds the suspense, but we also have to call out the ridiculousness of these underwater action scenes. The fact that Tom Cruise can actually hold his breath for six minutes, for example, makes Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation the champion of all underwater scenes. As for films like Kingsman: The Secret Service and Casino Royale, you might be surprised to find how long these characters were actually submerged.
Why Is He Underwater? In Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on a mission to find the Syndicate, an international organization involved in illicit activity. His journey eventually leads him to Morocco where he has to access a secure server under a power station that holds crucial information regarding the Syndicate's operations. In order to gain access to the building, Hunt has to insert a fake personnel profile into the facility's security vaults which are located underwater. All of this has to be done within three minutes, without the help of an oxygen tank. Hunt ends up underwater for way too long carrying out an elaborate plan.
Time Spent Underwater: 6 minutes
What Does He Do Underwater? Hunt jumps into a fast-moving current that carries him to the underwater vaults. He slides down a watery passageway and eventually emerges into the secure area, where the water whips into a vortex. Although Hunt is banged around a bit inside the vault, his partner turns off the vortex and he's able to make his way over to the appropriate repository. Initially dodging a circulating arm that allows access to the information, Hunt opens the vault and removes the card housing the personnel profile while simultaneously taking out his own fake profile to make the switch. At that moment, the circulating arm rams into him, and he's whisked away from the vault, dropping both cards in the process.
At this point, the vortex turns back on, preventing Hunt from reaching the cards in a timely manner. He chases the cards around the vortex and eventually inserts the one he needs into the appropriate vault, just in time. Though he's clearly running out of breath, he finds his way to the security hatch that is his escape, only to pass out before he opens it. He's saved by his companion, Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who finally gets him into the open air and revives him after a full six minutes underwater.
Why Is She Underwater? In this installment of the Alien franchise, scientists produce a clone of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in order to harvest the embryo of an alien queen from her body. The scientists take care of clone Ripley while creating aliens using Ripley's queen embryo. Shockingly, that doesn't go well.
The aliens escape, wreaking havoc on the ship in the process. Ripley manages to escape the initial danger and eventually finds the laboratory where she was created. Along with the rest of her companions, Ripley explores the desolate environment and searches for an escape. The crew finds a way out, but they're forced to swim through the mess hall, which is now completely underwater.
Time Spent Underwater: About 3 minutes
What Does She Do Underwater? Ripley swims through the mess hall, making her way towards the exit. Although things seem to be going well at first, the team suddenly finds that they're being pursued by aliens. They manage to take one out while underwater, but they grow increasingly panicked when another arrives. Eventually, the alien picks off the slowest member of the team while Ripley calmly watches. She makes it out of the water alive, only to meet even more aliens on the other side.
Why Is She Underwater? In Now You See Me, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is a talented magician. For one trick, she chains her ankles and wrists together and falls into a tank of water. She must escape the chains before a timer hits zero or else a bucket of piranhas will be released into the water with her.
Time Spent Underwater: 3 minutes
What Does She Do Underwater? Reeves falls into the tank and manages to unlock her wrist chains rather quickly, but the chain gets stuck in the grate at the bottom of the tank and Reeves immediately starts to panic. She yells for help and an onlooker tries to break the glass, to no avail. Reeves finally yanks the chain free, but too late. The piranhas are released into the water, turning the tank a ghastly red. As the crowd panics, Reeves reveals that she's standing among the revelers - it was all a trick.
Why Is He Underwater? In The Lady in the Water, Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is a maintenance man for an apartment complex who's experiencing some problems with the building's pool. Someone has been swimming in the pool past 7 pm and globs of hair have accumulated in the filter. Curious about who (or what) is inhabiting his residence, Heep decides to investigate.
Time Spent Underwater: 2 minutes, 15 seconds
What Does He Do Underwater? When Heep can't find anything wrong with the pool in the filter that's accessible from dry land, he heads below the surface. He removes the pool grate and dives down through a creepy tunnel which eventually opens into an underwater room filled with mysterious objects. He spends some time exploring with his flashlight, lifting glass cups that hold different materials.
Eventually, he discovers a large door and accidently breaks the handle. He tries to push the door open, but grows frustrated as he runs out of air. Heep uses one of the cups and a pen to suck in a bit of oxygen before prying open the door, where he finds a mysterious lair. Rather than explore the lair, however, he is forced to return to the surface to breath.