5 Stupid Ways Movies Changed The World IRL
It's no secret that movies have a big effect on the real world. For example, over 10,000 people a year are killed while attempting to swoop around dark warehouses on bat wings, yelling at confused longshoremen to drop their crates and hand over the Riddler. Okay, we made that one up, but trust us, the real examples are somehow way sadder and dumber.
Al-Qaeda Wanted To Attack The Brooklyn Bridge ... Because Of Godzilla?
In early 2002, New York was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks when the NYPD suddenly swung into action to deal with a deadly threat to the Brooklyn Bridge. The public were warned to exercise caution, air and harbor surveillance were increased, and emergency vehicles were stationed around the famed landmark. Even the ceremony celebrating the bridge's 119th anniversary was cancelled because the organizers felt that large crowds and fireworks would pose an additional security risk. This was doubtless devastating news to the people of New York, who apparently love nothing more than crowding into the streets to celebrate the 119th birthday of a bridge. What deadly menace could cause such panic in the Big Apple? We've got one word for you: Godzilla.
Sadly, we don't even mean the cool Godzilla. This is actually about the 1998 Matthew Broderick disaster, a movie so terrible that making fun of it would feel like carpet bombing a bunch of defenseless baby animals. Which coincidentally is exactly what the heroes do at the end of the movie. Basically, imagine if Jurassic Park ended with all the dinosaurs getting absolutely shredded by Air Force miniguns and also Hank Azaria was there doing painful physical comedy the whole time. It was not well reviewed. But one target demo who did love it was apparently Al-Qaeda. In fact, they loved it so much that they were supposedly inspired to attack the Brooklyn Bridge after seeing Godzilla going to town on it in the film.
The story came from an alleged Al-Qaeda operative who claimed that the plan started when "we were watching Godzilla one day and we saw what happened when Godzilla stepped on the bridge, and we imagined the devastation we could cause by blowing it up." Now, as an important caveat, the guy who said that was Abu Zubaydah, who was tortured so severely by the CIA that he lost an eye, and was also quite possibly never in Al-Qaeda in the first place. To make matters even more confusing, a genuine Al-Qaeda plot against the bridge was eventually unearthed, which involved sending a guy with a blowtorch to individually cut the steel cables holding the bridge in place. This plan was instantly abandoned after the blowtorch guy actually saw the bridge.
So either Al-Qaeda's top masterminds just sit around all day watching shitty movies and musing on attacking America with an army of gremlins, or else the CIA repeatedly drowned a guy until he started rambling about monsters and then the NYPD sent all New York into a panic over it. Either way, this is probably not what Roland Emmerich had in mind when he looked at a Japanese actor in a foam lizard costume and thought "I could CGI that to look even shittier."
The Town Helped Get Three Guys Convicted Of Armed Robbery
The 2010 hit The Town wowed audiences with its unflinching look at a dystopian alternate universe where Jeremy Renner won't stop doing a Boston accent. Ben Affleck stars as a bank robber who hopes one last big score will allow him to start a new life in Florida. He also wrote and directed, although it remains a mystery where 2010 Ben Affleck got the inspiration for a character who desperately needs a big hit so he can get the hell out of Boston. Jokes aside, it's actually a pretty good movie. Also, three people went to jail because of it.
The three guys in question were actually suspected of two armed robberies, one in 2010 and the other in 2012. The 2010 heist was an amateurish job where the thieves tried to hide their faces with bandanas and repeatedly crashed through the ceiling while trying to crawl into a secure cashier area through an air duct. One guy eventually made it into the secure area, then went to let his accomplices inside and accidentally locked them all outside again instead. They never even got the safe open and escaped with only a small amount of cash, probably on three tiny tricycles or maybe all crammed into a little clown car. Their own lawyers called it "like the Three Stooges."
Meanwhile, the second robbery was a slick professional job in which the thieves wore realistic latex masks and cop uniforms, and poured bleach everywhere to destroy DNA and fingerprints before escaping with $200,000. The defense argued that the two robberies were so different that they couldn't possibly have been committed by the same people. But the prosecution had an explanation: the suspects had watched The Town at some point between the crimes. They even wheeled out the old DVD player and treated the court to a quick movie break, playing four clips from the film that they said inspired the second crime. You know there was at least one juror complaining about spoilers the whole time.
All three were convicted, but appealed the verdict, arguing that showing the jury an Oscar-nominated action-packed thrill ride was not the best way to secure an impartial decision. The appeal was ultimately rejected, although the judge acknowledged there was a risk that jurors "might conflate fiction and reality," presumably leading to Arnold Schwarzenegger's arrest for trying to freeze all of Gotham. Still, it is kind of cool that the government has officially acknowledged in court that watching The Town makes you an expert bank robber. We will not be using our new powers wisely.
Oliver Stone's JFK Convinced People Not To Vote
One of the most important elections in world history is coming up in November, to finally decide whether Ralph Gonsalves or Godwin Friday should lead St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Americans will also be voting, assuming they can outrun the minotaur, vault the snake pit and solve the Puzzle-Lord's maze in order to make it inside the polling station. So it might be a good time to remind everyone: voting matters. Which is a problem, because the quickest way to convince somebody not to vote is to persuade them that the country is actually controlled by a bunch of sinister conspiracies operating behind the scenes. And that's the exact plot of like every third movie ever made.
Take Oliver Stone's JFK, which stars '90s hunk Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, a square-jawed district attorney who uncovers a big gay conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination. A 1995 study found that the movie left viewers feeling deeply angry with the political system and "was associated with a significant decrease in viewers' reported intentions to vote or make political contributions." The study's authors suggested that this was due to "a response of helplessness to the film's message." After all, what's the point of voting for an inspiring young politician if the military-industrial complex is just going to run them over with a big cartoon steamroller, then chalk the whole thing up as a mysterious suicide?
Look, it's well-documented that movies change how we think about politics. For example, a 2011 study found that people became more supportive of abortion after watching The Cider House Rules, partly due to Michael Caine's wonderful performance and partly because Tobey Maguire just has that effect on people. But JFK really does not deserve that kind of influence. The real Jim Garrison was a ludicrous attention-seeker who drugged witnesses with "truth serum" and attempted to hypnotize them into agreeing with his belief that the assassination was a "homosexual thrill killing" committed at the behest of the CIA.
If anything, the Jim Garrison story should convince you how important it is to vote, since he repeatedly won elections despite a long record of bizarre behavior and corruption scandals. And look, there are conspiracies out there -- we've covered plenty -- but in real life they're mostly fairly fragile and bumbling and can easily be disrupted by a nosy official in the wrong place. And voting is the best way you gave to make that happen. So just get out there and do it before we end up with another disaster like the election of 1928, when the only person to actually vote was an opium-crazed street wino named Herbert Hoover, who wrote-in his own name then lost all the country's money playing dice with a guy called Fingers O'Hurlihan.
Zootopia Convinced People To Buy Illegally Smuggled Foxes As Pets
Do you remember Baretta? Of course you don't! The people who worked on Baretta don't even remember Baretta. Anyway, it was a TV show that ran for a couple seasons in the '70s about an undercover detective. And it helped to virtually wipe out the yellow-crested cockatoo in the wild. The main character was a cool guy with a pet cockatoo, so all the rabid Baretta stans decided they should get one as well. This sent prices soaring and led to massive illegal poaching in Indonesia, where the birds originate. Wild cockatoo numbers collapsed and they're considered critically endangered to this day. We're so mad we can't even make a joke about the word cockatoo! That's what Baretta has taken from us!
This is actually a huge problem and it just keeps happening. Take Zootopia, the charming animated comedy that taught everyone a valuable lesson about prejudice. Well, it taught some people that lesson anyway. A lot of other people just came away with the lesson that foxes are cool and that they should buy one. The movie was particularly popular in China, where the demand for illegally imported African fennec foxes went through the roof, even though fennec foxes are wild animals and unlikely to find happiness frantically trying to burrow into the floorboards of your one-bedroom apartment.
The situation is so common that there's actually a name for it: 101 Dalmatians Syndrome. That's because there was a truly massive spike in demand for the dogs after the movie came out, even though the average dalmatian is made entirely out of glass, gets the bubonic plague twice a week, and is plotting to burn your house down. Even Finding Nemo, a movie that is explicitly about fish being miserable as pets, led to an increase in clownfish being captured for sale as pets. At this point, we're pretty sure that half the people who saw Blackfish went home and tried to keep an orca in their swimming pool. As a result, animal shelters have to live in constant fear that someone's going to remake Rocky and Bullwinkle and suddenly thousands of people start showing up trying to palm off a problem moose.
For example, Disney once made a movie called G-Force, about a bunch of talking guinea pigs who are also secret agents. It was very dumb. But animal rescue charities had to swing into action and launch a publicity campaign reminding people to do their research before buying a new pet. For example, the movie shows the G-Force rolling around in hamster balls, but guinea pigs aren't as flexible as hamsters and can be injured quite badly rolling around in a giant ball. Seriously, Disney made a silly movie about animal spies and actual animal shelters had to fund their own cartoon guinea pig saying stuff like "our little bodies are very breakable and we get hurt easily." Same here, cartoon guinea pig, same here.
Blockbuster Movies Convince Us That Torture Works
Here's an astonishing sentence from a recent study: "The majority of popular films, including those for children, have at least one torture scene, and the scenes are usually depicted as achieving the torturer's goal." That sounds insane, but it's true. Let's take Zootopia again. In this delightful children's movie a petty criminal named Duke Weaselton won't talk to the cops. So instead they threaten to dump him through a hole in the ice to die in a frozen lake. And he gives them the information they need right away! You heard it here first kids: death threats work! Now get out there on the Internet and put that lesson to use.
In real life, torture doesn't work. Although we'll absolutely say that it does if you start threatening to break some fingers, because torturing somebody makes them way more likely to lie, not less. What would have happened if that cuddly rabbit detective from Zootopia had been wrong about Duke Weaselton? He would have made something up to avoid the ice, right? Or what if he did know something, but it didn't match their theory about the case? Would they have believed him, or just kept pushing until he changed his story to something they found plausible? These scenarios never happen because in movies torture is 100 percent effective, every time.
We're not trying to pick on Zootopia too much (although watching it was actually most of the St Paul police department's anti-bias training in 2017, which seems insane). This happens in most movies! The authors of that study examined the top-20 highest grossing movies every year from 2008 to 2017 and found torture in over half. And in all those 200 movies, there was exactly one where the hero tortures somebody and it backfires on him (it's in Quantum of Solace, where Bond drops a guy off a roof and immediately gets suspended by MI6). No wonder most Americans still think that torture works, especially since studies show that belief is reinforced by seeing torture work in movies.
There was famously an epidemic of pop culture torture after 9/11, when shows like 24 insisted that every national security problem could be solved by finding a brown person and shoving their hand into the nearest garbage disposal. In the early seasons, Jack Bauer was torturing so many guys that the writers ran out of plausible scenarios and he had to start saying completely deranged shit like "You probably don't think that I can force this towel down your throat. But trust me, I can. All the way. Except I'd hold onto this one little bit at the end. When your stomach starts to digest it, I pull it out. Taking your stomach lining with it." Which is easily one of the funniest scenes ever put on television, but fortunately the threat gets Jack the exact information he needs, just like always. (Whereas in real life, people just panic and start stealing plot points from shitty Matthew Broderick movies.)
Top image: Walt Disney Pictures