9 Absurd Movie Premises That Actually Happened
Even a great movie or TV show isn't above throwing in one ridiculous, larger-than-life character who almost ruins any element of realism in the plot. The genius who's too smart, the hero who's too cool, the rebel who breaks the rules but somehow never gets punished for it.
Hey, you know where else you find ridiculous characters like that? Real life.
The Ridiculous Premise
We're so used to Sylvester Stallone playing sneering, invincible killing machines that we forget that the whole point of Rocky was that the guy was a vulnerable, everyday schlub who worked odd jobs because he stunk at boxing. Hell, half of you reading this probably only saw the sequels and don't even realize the original Rocky ended with him losing the match.
Despite punching so much meat
No, the inspirational -- and laughably unrealistic -- part of the story was that this Philadelphia doofus and part-time boxer somehow got a shot at the flamboyant world champ, knocked him down, then went toe-to-toe for the duration of the fight, taking the best the champ could dish out. At the end, Rocky's face is a swollen, bloody mess, but he hangs tough and for one night proved he could hang with the best.
The real guy's name was Chuck Wepner. In 1975 he was a liquor salesman in New Jersey by day, boxer by night. And he got the same deal as Rocky. A lottery ticket of a fight that, if he won, would make him the champion of the world. It was considered such a big deal at the time that Wepner made the cover of Sports Illustrated, despite the fact that he looked like this:
"Take some of the light off his face? Or maybe throw a bag over it?"
Remember how by the end of his climactic fights, Rocky's face always looked like an animal you've never seen before had been run over by a truck? And the unrealistic amounts of blood leaping off of Rocky's face in slow motion every time he got punched? Wepner's boxing nickname was "The Bayonne Bleeder" because his face would spurt blood pretty much the moment a boxing glove touched it (Wepner had more than 300 stitches in his face -- he was apparently not the most elusive boxer of his era).
Instead of Apollo Creed, Wepner simply had to face one of the best boxers in the history of human civilization - Muhammad Ali. The champ wanted an easy fight as a warm-up to a real match later, so we're guessing he was looking at a list and picking between "The Bayonne Bleeder" and a guy named "Brittle Ribs Ranalli." Ali and Wepner would split the purse 94% to 6% in Ali's favor.
Just as in Rocky, Ali toyed with Wepner early on and just as in the film, Wepner knocked Ali down, shocking the boxing world.
And seriously, look at the guy
Ali got up, and spent the rest of the fight using Wepner's face as a speed bag. But just like Rocky, Wepner would not go down. Finally, in the 15th and final round, the refs stopped the fight. Wepner's face looked worse than Rocky's -- he'd need 23 stitches after it was over. But he stayed on his feet.
A young Sylvester Stallone watched that match on TV, and immediately pounded out the screenplay for Rocky, spawning an Academy award-winning film, five sequels and an entire generation of scrappy underdog protagonists in sports movies. Wepner would live on in obscurity, only capturing the public eye when he emerged from retirement years later to fight a Soviet superman and single-handedly end the cold war.
The Ridiculous Premise
Two things about the character of Sherlock Holmes clearly mark him as the figment of a writer's imagination:
A) His nearly magical crime-solving skills, including the ability to glance at a stain on the carpet and from that somehow deduce the killer's height, weight, age and current location;
B) The fact that he's not a cop but is allowed to solve crimes because he's so awesome at it.
"Don't argue. Clearly, I have the best hat."
That second one is something you might not have caught if you haven't read the stories. Holmes doesn't work for the police department, he doesn't have a badge and he has no authority to make arrests. In the stories, people hire him as a private investigator, and Scotland Yard calls him in to work under the table on cases that were too difficult to solve.
And according to Guy Ritchie's version, he was handy in cases that involved homoerotic pit fighting.
It's a classic fantasy of the armchair amateur sitting in his drawing room, puffing on a pipe and solving puzzles that baffle the professionals. And about as likely as those novels about crime-solving cats.
Sherlock Holmes, and basically every other character like him, ever can be traced back to this dude:
That's Eugene Francois Vidocq, the guy who invented modern criminology and who was, by the way, the world's first private detective. Before forensic science existed, the guy had his own laboratory -- he invented chemicals to detect forged documents and came up with the technique of making plaster casts of footprints. It is claimed that the guy was studying musket balls to match them to a murder weapon more than a decade before the science we now know as ballistics was even invented.
He created the first "database" of criminals and their modus operandi on organized index cards. Not that he needed them -- he is said to have memorized the face and details of every single bad guy he ran across.
How Holmes-esque was the guy? Police claimed that Vidocq showed up at the scene of a burglary in 1831, glanced at the damage done to the door and immediately told them the name of the thief. And he was right.
But the manner in which he got that job in the first place is even more ridiculous. On one hand, it's true that Vidocq studied crime his whole adult life. On the other, those studies consisted of being a criminal. Finally, at age 34, he found himself in prison and agreed to turn informant for the police, who hid his early release by staging an elaborate fake escape. Seriously, with everything this guy did, you can perfectly picture a glib Robert Downey Jr. in his place.
Turns out this film was pretty accurate.
Once back in the world, Vidocq put together his own private group of undercover detectives -- most of whom were ex-cons like himself -- and went about solving crimes, Holmes-style. Vidocq was a master of disguise and would slip into criminal gangs under fake identities. Which is to say, he revolutionized the concept of going undercover. By 1817, he and his crew were catching more than 800 criminals a year (compare that to Holmes' leisurely pace). By that point, the police were so impressed (and somewhat pissed off by how bad he was making them look) that they put his team (of ex-criminals, mind you) on the payroll. But he still took private cases on the side, and in 1833, he started the world's first private detective agency.
Today his legacy is carried on by the Vidocq Society, a club of crime experts who get together in their spare time and solve cases just for the hell of it. One 1984 murder went unsolved for 14 years until the club got a hold of it. Sixteen months later, the killer was getting sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Zohan From You Don't Mess With the Zohan
The Ridiculous Premise
Widely considered to have the second-most-ridiculous premise for an Adam Sandler movie (after the one where the 30-year-old man has to go back to elementary school for some reason), You Don't Mess With the Zohan stars Sandler as an elite Israeli commando. And while it does feature Zohan uppercutting people with his feet and kicking though brick walls, that doesn't seem like all that much of an exaggeration based on what we know of Israeli special forces.
According to Wikipedia, the martial art of Krav Maga "has no rules." Incidentally, that's a real knife.
No, the stupid part is that Zohan decides to give up his life of ass-kicking and travel to America to become ... wait for it ... a hairdresser! Boing! Yes, it's just that extra layer of wackiness that Sandler movies need to add in order to keep outdoing the last Rob Schneider effort. You win this round, Sandler!
It's totally based on a true story.
The real guy's name is Nezi Arbib, and he now owns and runs his own salon in San Diego and another in Los Angeles, with a little help from his brothers. All of them happen to be ex-Israeli soldiers.
"He's got a sharp object next to my face, he's got a sharp object next to my face!"
Seriously, Adam Sandler treated this like a goddamn biopic -- spending two weeks working with Nezi and his brothers, learning to cut hair and emulate their speech patterns and mannerisms. Reporters even interviewed some of Arbib's clients, who said You Don't Mess With the Zohan was "not that far off."
If that sounds a little mild, you should keep in mind that this was said about a movie where the character is portrayed as being the Wilt Chamberlain of hairdressers, satisfying his lady customers in ever sense of the word.
It was truly Sandler's Capote.
Tom Hanks' Character From The Terminal
The Ridiculous Premise
Some of you probably know this one only from the ads, which means you know it only as "that movie where Tom Hanks has to live in an airport for some reason."
Probably because of something offbeat and heartwarming.
The premise is that Hanks is a lovable and simple-minded foreigner whose home country's government collapses while he's in the air. Thus the papers he has are no longer valid. Unable to return home or to enter the United States, he's trapped at the airport ... for months. If you've seen the movie, you know it only gets sillier from there, with Hanks playing the stranded foreigner as almost a Forrest Gump-style man-child whose simple, folksy wisdom and rosy outlook on life change everyone he meets for the better.
"Life is like a box of chocolates ... except when it's an abandoned suitcase in baggage collection,
in which case you should get the hell out."
Critics were quick to jump on how silly the whole thing was, saying it "plays like the first few episodes of an expensive, gimmicky sitcom about a guy forced to live in an airport" and that it is a film where "real-life logic and believable people don't exist." Though one review did congratulate the movie on its "quirkily original premise."
It was based on a real guy, with one major difference: The real guy was stuck at the airport for much, much longer. To the tune of 18 years.
"Man, I hope my travel insurance covers this."
Mehran Karimi Nasseri was exiled from Iran in 1977 and settled in Belgium. In 1988, he decided to move to England, but his papers were stolen during a layover in Paris. Without his papers, he was unable to enter England and was sent back to France. Unable to return to Belgium without papers, he was stuck in the international terminal of the Paris airport, because he couldn't pass customs.
And there he stayed. He paid for food with donations from other passengers, which he turned into a small business. As his fame grew, he started charging reporters to listen to his story.
The French government finally gave the guy a visa to enter the country, but Nasseri refused, saying, "There are soldiers there who shoot you dead." Some people think he grew comfortable with the airport; others think he was crazy. One of the airport workers thinks he just didn't want to pay rent.
He was paid $250,000 for the movie rights to his story, making him the richest homeless man in Europe. In 2006, he got his freedom in a roundabout way when he was taken to a hospital in Paris. The reason for his hospitalization is unknown, but we're going to take a wild guess and say it had something to do with eating airport McDonald's twice a day for 18 years. He was released and was last reported living in a homeless shelter in Paris. That's right -- he's still not paying rent.
Sadly, he has never seen The Terminal, but that's OK, as none of us have either.
Jules From Pulp Fiction
The Ridiculous Premise
Whatever you may love about Quentin Tarantino, "gritty realism" probably isn't high on the list. His characters are quirky, verbose, larger-than-life criminals. No one demonstrates that better than this guy:
Pulp Fiction begins with Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson, duh) as a gangster, hit man and stone-cold badass who quotes made-up Bible verses at his victims before putting bullets in them.
"So verily the Lord sayeth, 'Thou is about to get rolled on.'"
But after surviving a gunfight, he sees the error of his ways and finds God for real. Then, in a twist that's pure Tarantino, Jules winds up in a Mexican standoff with some low-level thugs. Instead of murdering them both, he lets them go, encouraging them to leave their own life of crime in the process. His story ends with him leaving his possessions behind and devoting his life to God.
Meet St. Moses the Black.
Not the Ten Commandments Moses, but this one did beat someone to death with a stone tablet once.
No, really. That's how he's depicted. Check out the look on his face!
Moses the Black, born in the year 330 as a slave in Egypt, was fired for stealing and being suspected of murder. That's right, fired from being a slave. Somehow managing to avoid capture, he led a group of bandits who terrorized the Nile Valley. He wasn't a Robin Hood-style thief or any other kind of heroic criminal. He was a straight murderer. One day a barking dog ruined a robbery, so he decided to kill the shepherd who owned the dog. Fair? Probably not, but when you're Moses the Black, fair's got nothing to do with it. He swam the Nile with a knife in his teeth to kill the guy, presumably running some killer one-liners about learning to keep that bitch on a leash in his head. Fortunately, the shepherd heard him coming and hid. Unable to find him, Moses said, "Screw it" and killed his sheep.
"Well I'll be damned if I came all this way and didn't make full use of my knifing hand."
The government tried to chase him down, so he fled into the desert and took shelter in a monastery. Feeling he needed a lot of that "forgiveness" thing, he converted to Christianity and became a monk.
And then he had his "standoff in the diner" moment.
Presumably over a lamb chop.
One day, the monastery was attacked by four robbers. They attacked Moses and found out they had horrible taste in targets. Moses beat the holy hell out of them with his bare hands, tied them up and dragged them in front of the other monks, presumably screaming, "Bitch be cool!" the whole time. Moses didn't believe it would be Christian to punish the thieves, so he let them go.
He later became a priest and moved to a hermit colony in the desert to "walk the earth like Kung Fu," disconnecting from civilized life just as Jules pledged to do. And he met the fate that you can guess Jules wound up meeting after the credits rolled in Pulp Fiction: Bandits came to attack, but Moses forbade the hermits to use violence. He told them to run while he stayed behind and take what he knew he had coming. He was killed, sticking by his code right to the end.
"I shall turn the other cheek -- will you stop stabbing me!"
The Crime-Solving Mathematician From Numb3rs
The Ridiculous Premise
The cop show Numb3rs was the specific point at which mankind realized it had run out of ideas for cop shows. The "people from unrelated professions using their skills to solve crimes" format is well-worn on TV, which has given us crimes being solved by mystery writers, psychics, a guy who pretends to be a psychic and a guy with obsessive-compulsive disorder. But a goddamned mathematician? And they spell it freaking Numb3rs? What is this, the Internet?
I'M IN YR CLASSROOM, SOLVING sin(ax)sin(bx) - k cos(ax)cos(bx) = -1
In the show, Charlie Eppes is a mathematician who works for the FBI and who somehow turns each case into a mathematical formula. For example, in one episode, Eppes turns each of the known factors of the case into a variable and makes the whole thing an equation, then, using the city as a gridline, applies that equation to see where the criminal is going to hit next.
You know, because you can totally predict how psychotic and/or meth-addicted humans will behave based on an equation. What's next, a crime-solving astronomer, who compares every crime to a major constellation? A crime-solving chef, who turns all of the clues into a "recipe"? A crime-solving serial killer, who somehow catches other serial killers with the powers of sociopathy?
In the real world, there are a couple of pioneers in the field of crime-fighting mathematics. Jeffrey Brantingham is a mathematician at UCLA who figured that criminals don't just randomly commit crimes because they think it's funny -- they're fulfilling a need, be it stealing cars, mugging tourists, whatever. And even if you're the Joker, you're going to do your tasks in predictable patterns, just because that's the most convenient way. It's the same as how a mathematician could precisely predict the path you'd take through the grocery store when buying chocolate milk and Grey Goose.
Presumably via the antacids.
In Brantingham's case, he designed a model by watching hunter-gatherers in Tibet. After all, that's the same thing car thieves are doing: hunting and gathering. He figured out how to predict the growth or decline of crime "hot spots" in a city and even how to predict the effect different policing strategies would have on each.
But if you want to use an equation to catch a specific criminal, you want a guy like Kim Rossmo, a Canadian cop with a Ph.D. who worked with Brantingham. He's nailed down an equation that, if you plot the location of multiple serial crimes on a map, can tell you about where the bad guy lives.
In 1998, Rossmo was brought to Lafayette, La., on the case of the South Side Rapist, a masked assailant who had been assaulting women -- and getting away with it -- for more than a decade. Rossmo drew his graph, the cops took DNA from everybody in the "suspect probably lives here" zone, and they eventually got their man -- a sheriff's deputy from a nearby department. Then Kim slowly put on his sunglasses and said something to the effect of, "Guess he found out that crime does not Kimpute."
The Guy Who Can't Say No From Yes Man
The Ridiculous Premise
Jim Carrey, never afraid to go back to the same well twice, made two movies about the wacky hijinks and life changes of a guy who arbitrarily can't say certain things. First there was Liar Liar, about a divorced lawyer who couldn't lie because of a magic spell accidentally cast by his son. Then, 11 years later, there was Yes Man, about a divorced banker who couldn't say the word "no" because ... a seminar told him not to?
Could you say no to General Zod?
Yeah, the second one kind of makes less sense than the one that had the magic spell.
The film is actually based on a guy in England named Danny Wallace who vowed to spend six months without saying "no" to anyone, all because he ran into a random guy on the bus who told him, "Say yes more."
The experiment didn't exactly go the way the movie version did (probably because of all of the rewrites it takes to turn a true story into a Jim Carrey film), but not because Wallace chose to half-ass anything. For instance, because Wallace couldn't say "no" to a clear scam offer, he went to Amsterdam to claim the millions he was told he had won in the Spanish lottery. (Surprise: There was no money.)
But after a while, it didn't seem to matter somehow.
Over the course of six months, he did wind up saying "no" twice, once to another round of beers and once to a woman asking for sex. He turned the girl down because he was in love with a woman who lived in Australia. They didn't think their relationship could work, but through the power of "yes," the two saw each other several times, fell in love and are now married. The same as how in the movie, Jim Carrey wound up with Zooey Deschanel. We're assuming Danny Wallace went on to open a detective agency specifically for pets.
He also rules over a small kingdom. No, we're not making that up.
The Juror Who Takes Over the Investigation From 12 Angry Men
The Ridiculous Premise
We previously called out the stage and film classic 12 Angry Men on its wildly illegal criminal trial. Specifically because the film -- which is about a jury wrestling over a murder case with seemingly slam-dunk evidence -- involves one juror turning the whole case around by basically taking the investigation into his own hands. He even buys a knife similar to the murder weapon, to prove a point.
"This has a point."
It's the kind of "who cares what rules we break as long as we catch the bad guy" B.S. that you see in every crime or courtroom drama on TV. In the real world, however, rules matter. If you try to pull something like that, the whole case gets thrown out.
In Sunderland, U.K., a man was put on trial in the murder of a cabdriver back in 2008. Just as in the movie, one juror decided the defense team just wasn't doing a good-enough job.
During a recess, this juror snuck out of his court-appointed hotel room and visited the crime scene. He took pictures, did his own measurements and researched forensic techniques. He even questioned a witness. And make no mistake, England has strict jury-conduct rules, just like everybody else.
Plus on lunch breaks they hunt down Scottish people, just like any other civilized nation.
But rather than throw out the case, the judge did just what a Hollywood judge would do -- he accepted the evidence, and the murderer was found not guilty because the juror proved the prosecution's case was "fatally flawed."
"He's not actually dead, for one."
The All-Powerful Hackers From Live Free or Die Hard
The Ridiculous Premise
The fourth Die Hard, aka The One With Computers, aka The One Where McClane Just Flat-Out Becomes a Superhero, involves hackers infiltrating computer systems nationwide. They take over everything from the FBI mainframe to the power grid, shutting down communications and wiping out electricity on the whole East Coast.
It may be the silliest example of Hollywood's recent trend of treating hackers like magicians and computers like magic wands, as if a few clicks on the keyboard could let a roomful of geeks completely cripple a superpower.
"Well, there goes China."
Hell, the franchise should have just gone back to that thing where somebody fakes a terror attack to cover a heist. It's more believable, right?
"I know this has something to do with robbing that bank downtown, but I'll be damned if I can remember how."
In 1997, the Joint Chiefs of Staff authorized a "no notice" cyberattack exercise called Eligible Receiver. A team of 35 hackers, called the Red Team, were hired to pose as North Korean operatives. They were ordered to attack the Pacific Command Headquarters and a bunch of secondary targets, including the Pentagon.
They got in with ease. They did it by guessing passwords through trial and error, and if that didn't work, they just called and asked for access. Once inside the system, they created accounts for themselves, deleted official accounts, reformatted hard drives, scrambled data, shut networks down, read sensitive emails, disrupted phone service and "generally raised merry hell." And we're not talking about just annoying some IT staff and replacing people's desktop wallpaper with inter-species porn -- the hackers gained the ability to deny the Pentagon the ability to deploy forces. How is that possible!?
Eh, war. What's it good for?
But, you may say, these are hackers hired by the NSA, and this was a worst-case scenario of top-end operatives using the best hacking tools the NSA could provide. It's not like Anonymous could mount this kind of operation from their collective basements. Right?
As for the whole "shutting down the power grid" stuff, during mission debriefing, NSA officials found that the rest of the country's infrastructure was just as vulnerable as they made it look in Die Hard, and a similar attack could easily crash the power grid and damage the country's money supply.
We doubt we'd notice much of a difference.
Fortunately, the warnings sounded by Eligible Receiver were heard, safeguards were implemented, and U.S. government computers became impenetrable targets. Just kidding. A year later, 200 government systems were hacked, including those of the military, NASA, the Department of Energy and freaking nuclear weapons laboratories.
The part about there being a John McClane to save us, that's real too, right? Right?
He will rise again!
If you like crass humor mixed with your intelligent observations, purchase our book.
For more real-life situations that could make the silver screen, check out 5 Real Bank Heists Ripped Right Out of the Movies. Or find out where Tinsel Town gets it wrong in 5 Things Hollywood Thinks Computers Can Do.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn about how 4Chan is actually a microcosm for life.
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