5 Ways Hollywood Gets Weapons All Wrong
Movies, like real life, are full of violence. But it's the fun kind of violence, full of gizmos whose main job is to look cool. This week, we're taking a close look at those wonderful toys, seeing what makes them so memorable ... and what makes them so ridiculous.
Weapons are like Randy Quaid; they can make for an entertaining movie, but many of us still wouldn't want to be around them in real life. Hollywood increasingly loves making movies and TV shows filled with weaponry – if they ever remake My Dinner with Andre, you can bet that somebody will whip out a pair of nunchucks before dessert arrives – but they're certainly not immune from making some pretty big blunders, such as how …
Movie Guns Are Pretty Much Magic
Cinema history is full of more guns than Charlton Heston's coffin, from Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum to James Bond's Walther PPK pistol to Tony Montana's assault rifle that, heartwarmingly, he considered a close friend. But often, the way guns work in movies is, essentially, magic – and not in a "Kevin Costner's JFK conspiracy theory" way, but because they straight-up defy basic physics.
For starters, we rarely see any serious evidence of guns recoiling. People often fire off rounds with all the ease of spritzing a houseplant but send their victim flying off of their feet like a stage production of Peter Pan gone horribly wrong.
We know that this is impossible thanks to Newton – as in Sir Isaac, not the fig roll snack magnate. Newton's third law of motion, that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction," means that if the bullet has "enough force to lift someone off their feet," it would, therefore "exert the same force on the firer." So if the badass hero blows away the villain, they too should fly backward. Actually, the person operating the gun would feel more of a "push" than the victim because the bullet would slow down slightly in the air.
And this false premise has been taken to absolutely insane extremes in some films, like the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie Eraser, which features futuristic "rail guns" that fire "aluminum rounds at almost the speed of light." Putting aside the whole "almost the speed of light" business – which we would need to scream into a pillow for 45 minutes before unpacking – Schwarzenegger is able to launch nameless henchmen into the sky, and even flip vans over, while comfortably going for a brisk stroll.
This is just the tip of the gun iceberg – not to pick on Arnie, but remember in True Lies when a gun shoots a bunch of people while Slinky-ing down a flight of stairs?
That couldn't happen with a firearm built after the Gun Control Act of 1968 – yeah, even friggin' America was up for the amount of gun control required to keep the literal ground from murdering people. And scenes where a semiautomatic handgun is dramatically pointed at our hero but, in a surprise twist, when the trigger is pulled, it only clicks because they're out of bullets.
That makes no sense because, in real life, the "slides would be locked back, and each would know the gun was empty." Not to mention how silencers still leave guns loud as heck, and firing a gun in the air is a terrible, potentially lethal idea. We're looking at you, Point Break.
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Swords Weren’t That Heavy, Everybody
We all love great cinematic swords, from King Arthur's Excalibur to Frodo's Sting, which was, of course, forged by those Middle Earth Elves who were just super-into the music of The Police. If it weren't for swords, Conan the Barbarian would have been a 20-minute dramedy. In general, we're used to seeing movie swords depicted as humongous weapons, wielded by only the most beefed-up medieval he-men.
These swords are so heavy that they can barely be lifted by weaklings, such as Matthew Broderick in Ladyhawke.
But even the sword-maker for Conan the Barbarian admits that, first of all, the actual forging process depicted in the film would have resulted in "a broken sword with a shattered blade." More importantly, the sword itself was "too heavy for use in actual combat." In reality, the "majority of genuine medieval and Renaissance swords" weighed an average of only "2–4 lbs."
This means that carrying these swords would be not that dissimilar from hauling a burrito or two from Chipotle. Even the "large two-handed" swords from the 14th to the 16th century "rarely weighed in excess of 10 lbs" – so basically no heavier than a pet cat.m hauling a burrito or two from Chipotle. Even the “large two-handed” swords from the 14th to the 16th century “rarely weighed in excess of 10 lbs” – so basically no heavier than a pet cat.
Grenade Pins Can't Be Pulled Out By Your Teeth, Please Don't Even Try
Presumably, because fictional characters just love the taste of cold, dirty metal, many people in movies remove grenade pins using only their teeth – as if their fingers don't even exist. It happens in old-timey war movies like Objective Burma! starring Errol Flynn, and even in satirical dystopian masterpieces like Robocop. Okay, if any character actually does like the taste of cold, dirty metal, it's definitely psycho Red Forman from Robocop.
Again and again, we see characters yanking pins out of grenades with their teeth, as effortlessly as yanking a McDonald's french fry out of the hand of a small child. It even happens in comedies, like a Major Payne in which a commanding officer hilariously threatens to murder a squadron of innocent youths.
But if you ever end up in a situation where you're about to activate a grenade, and you want to look super-cool while doing it, do not try pulling the pin with your teeth because it is "pretty much impossible." Why? Because the end of the pin spreads wide enough to ensure that it won't be pulled out accidentally. If it's so loose that it could easily be removed by someone's mouth, what would prevent the pin from simply falling out? So pulling the pin "requires quite a bit of force" that could mess up your teeth more than a steady diet of Skittles and Cherry Coke.
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Throwing Stars Weren’t Actually For Killing
Throwing stars, or Shuriken, are an ancient Japanese weapon with a long and storied historical origin – so naturally, Hollywood utilized them as a way for Ninjas to quickly dispatch sleazy '80s crime lords.
Or for '80s Ninjas to take out other '80s Ninjas.
But historically, Shuriken were "rarely used to kill enemy soldiers" since they, by design, don't have long blades and therefore "aren't capable of penetrating deep enough to cause mortal wounds." Which … makes sense. Instead, they were used to "distract the opponent" or to "weaken a target" by hitting the "feet, arms, face, eyes, and groin." But watching a dude get slowly incapacitated by repeated groin-skewering is presumably less cinematic.
Hawkeye and Katniss Everdeen Are Terrible Archers (Also, Robin Hood was a Cheat)
It turns out there are major aspects of Hawkeye to criticize other than his haircut – namely, his archery skills. Granted, the most basic Avenger is seemingly pretty impressive with a bow and arrow, but, according to real-life experts, he kind of sucks. For starters, Hawkeye wears two arm guards in The Avengers, which seems like overkill. And his form finds Hawkeye not "loading the shot into his back" and "doing all the work with his arms," which ultimately has "no power behind it." Perhaps most conspicuous, though, is the scene in which he fires an arrow while falling off of a building.
With the string "digging into his chest," Hawkeye's not getting a full draw and is "losing a significant amount of power." According to one expert, part of the problem might be that Jeremy Renner was trained to shoot by Olympic archers, whose style may not exactly translate to the rigors of crime-fighting. And as for the scene where Hawkeye shoots three arrows at once, perhaps unsurprisingly, that couldn't happen. The arrows would probably just smash into each other rather than reach three distinct targets because "the string is going to push the top one down and the bottom one up."
As for that other famous archer from a 2012 movie, Katniss Everdeen, actress Jennifer Lawrence was generally praised for her form in the film – except for the fact that she has "her knuckles curled around the bowstring, which is not correct" and her grip "shows a finger on the arrow, which isn't safe." One young archer pointed out that her finger placement on the poster could "lead to a serious injury" like "ripped flesh."
But perhaps the most renowned film archer is Robin Hood, and even his exploits aren't free from criticism. The most iconic example of Robin's archery prowess is the scene in which he splits a rival's arrow in two. Unfortunately, he's arrested immediately afterward because, while his archery talents are top-notch, his talents for disguise suck pretty hard.
The arrow-splitting incident was tackled by an episode of Mythbusters, which determined that "the feat was only possible when shooting at a hollow arrow or an arrow made of bamboo." It's possible that the legend of the arrow splitting may have actually been a "simple textual misunderstanding" derived from earlier versions of the legend in which Robin Hood split, not the arrow, but the "wand" which is just a small "willow stick" in front of the target. Try writing an epic love ballad about that, Bryan Adams.
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Top Image: Lionsgate/Kino Lorber