Bad Movie Physics: A Report Card

March 14, 2008

Space epics almost always play fast and loose with science, treating the laws of physics like suggestions. Sound in space, unprotected bodies splatting in vacuum, and alien planets that all look just like Calabasas. But some movies dismember Newton and Einstein with way more gusto than others. We rated 18 movies based on how many laws of physics they mangled, and here's our report card.

To some extent, it's understandable that space adventures play fast and loose with physics. After all, who wants to watch Han Solo spend years on the journey to Alderaan, only to find that the planet has twice Earth gravity and he can barely stand up, much less swagger?

The categories of mistakes in our report card should be pretty self-explanatory, but just in case, I'll expand on them a little bit:

There's no sound in space
Not all planets have Earth gravity
Planets should have diverse climates, instead of one unified climate across a "desert planet" or "forest planet."
It shouldn't be too easy to communicate with alien creatures, without some kind of high-technology "translator" explanation.
And it definitely shouldn't be too easy for humans to interbreed with aliens.
Humans exposed to vacuum without a spacesuit shouldn't explode or shatter. And a "hull breach" where the ship's crew is exposed to vacuum should kill everyone instantly.
You can't have fires in space, unless there's oxygen leaking out somehow.
Asteroids or other objects shouldn't be able to float close together without falling into each other's gravity
People shouldn't be able to dodge lasers and other speed-of-light weapons
And there's no reason why someone would move in slow-motion in zero gravity.
Faster-than-light travel is probably not ever going to be possible.

By the way, we left out Star Trek because there's so much of it, even if you just include the movies, and if you look hard enough you can find places where it violates almost all of these rules. Illustration by Stephanie Fox. Research by Nivair Gabriel.

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