Hollywood physics

In real life,  gasoline-powered cars don’t often explode. But in the movies. cars are always exploding. Although I’m still waiting for the scene in which three cars simultaneously fly off cliffs and collide in mid-air.  And explode.

In real life, bullets  don’t have much momentum. But in Hollywood, they can pick you up and slam you against the wall. Although the shooter isn’t flung back:  Dean Drive?

The question: how should Hollywood deal with the electric car?  Sure, lithium batteries can catch on fire, but the whole point is that we aren’t strictly limited by the laws of physics.  Wouldn’t it be better if crashed Teslas were covered with crawling electric discharges, electrocuting everyone in the car, then building up through multicolored lightning to complete vaporization?




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47 Responses to Hollywood physics

  1. ziel says:

    “Wouldn’t it be better if crashed Teslas were covered with crawling electric discharges, electrocuting everyone in the car…”
    You mean that wouldn’t happen?

    I think Shane was the first movie to do that – have people flung backwards from gunfire. It was supposed to be a grittier, more realistic Western, and having bodies flying backwards was part of that, instead of showing victims doing a little pirouette and dropping in place, like the old movies did. But funny thing is in the old, silent Western era, which was supposed to be so unrealistic, Hollywood had consultants like Wyatt Earp working for them, who might have actually known a thing or two about how people reacted when they got shot dead.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Yes, ditto WWII movies from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that actually had WWII vets working as consultants, as opposed to the more recent, supposedly more “realistic” ones.

  2. Hesse Kassel says:

    Lithium ion sounds a bit like antimatter.

    So electric cars travel at the speed of light…. squared.

    Multiply that by the power of the Catholic mass and release the power of God.

    Big bang.

  3. Cloudswrest says:

    “then building up through multicolored lightning to complete vaporization?”

    Maybe they’ll even go back to the future!

  4. Coagulopath says:

    Hacking a computer is serious business in the movies.

    You wear black shades indoors, furiously type complete gibberish at a speed no UNIX terminal could process, and when you succeed you’ll see ACCESS GRANTED on the screen in huge helpful letters. Then the music will skip a beat while you say “we’re in”. Or perhaps “jackpot.”

    Has Hollywood made a movie where someone hacks into a QUANTUM computer? That’d be wild.

    • Gilberto Dorneles says:

      More likely they’ll use quantum computers to hack the entire world.

    • Bruce says:

      Remember when they showed UNIX in the first Jurassic Park – looked like Windows.

      • Patrick says:

        Actually – what they show in the scene with the quote “It’s a UNIX system! I know this!” is, in fact, an actual (if utterly useless, and slow in those days) 3D file manager for IRIX (SGIs UNIX system, primarily meant for graphics work).

    • megabar says:

      Or perhaps “jackpot.”


      Nit: the high-speed part that’s silly isn’t the terminal keeping up with the (slow) human typing — it’s the flood of text and window pop-ups that no human being would be able to parse that quickly.

    • Smithie says:

      I was not fully convinced by Mickey Rourke wearing glasses and saying something like “Software is shit!” in a fake Russian accent.

    • Highlander says:

      There have been plenty of terminals with Unix commands running on them in sci-fi movies. War Games was the first I distinctly remember seeing Unix running on some displays although most screens had huge dumb fonts with a fake conversations with the AI entity. Jurassic Park definietly had unix running on Samuel L. Jacksons display.

      The Matrix Reloaded had scads of screens with nmap output as did a bunch of other flicks:


      And The Bourne identity had a screen using bash! LOL

    • Let’s not forget the bar showing the computer either loading or shutting down just before the bad guy finds out… a reoccurring motif on ‘24’

  5. TWS says:

    Spontaneous worm holes in time.

  6. NobodyExpectsThe... says:

    The most extreme “rocket bullet” effect that comes to mind:

    From an otherwise, excellent movie btw

  7. Highlander says:

    “Wouldn’t it be better if crashed Teslas were covered with crawling electric discharges, electrocuting everyone in the car, then building up through multicolored lightning to complete vaporization?”

    I hate the existing batch of electric cars, so yes.

  8. Steven Wilson says:

    I remembering seeing the data on percentage of cars that exploded as a result of accidents and as I recall it was quoted as less than 1%. Then I noticed that most cars on TV and movies exploded. Therefore, the 1% of exploding cars was composed entirely of those cars that explode on TV and in movies.

    Now, if we could just halt the response of fire departments to every fender-bender and thus keeping the units in readiness for real emergencies.

    • Ursiform says:

      Mostly cars that “explode” really just burn intensely, they don’t create movie-style explosions. That kind of explosion requires the gasoline to be vaporized prior to ignition, which isn’t easy to accomplish.

    • Bruce says:

      They sent them out when I had a flat tire on the freeway.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Remember when “60 Minutes” put flares on a crashed car so that it would explode, as part of their “investigative” reporting?

  9. dearieme says:

    Even better when someone fires a bullet at a tank of, say, heating oil, and it turns into a roaring inferno.

  10. Irate eye rater says:

    I would like to see an electric car run out of power in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, theres a storm coming in and the heros have some jumper cables and enough scrap to cobble together good size lightning rod. It worked for Frankenstein, after all.

    Bonus points if this makes the car extra fast, giving them the edge they need to catch/get away from the bad guys.

  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    “Wouldn’t it be better if crashed Teslas were covered with crawling electric discharges, electrocuting everyone in the car”

    objectively good idea

  12. kamas716 says:

    About the only unintended vehicle explosion I’m aware of is from the opening chase of Beverly Hills Cop where the semi pushes a parked vehicle into a pole and it explodes.

    about the 2:30 mark in this clip

  13. Patrick Costello says:

    Hollywood is generally pro-electric car so they’ll be careful to avoid showing them in anything resembling a negative light. My guess is that a character driving an electric car will become a “this person will survive until the end of the movie” tell, sort of what the “pretty and virtuous white girl” used to be.

    In my experience the “bullets cause you to fly backwards and die immediately” trope is widely believed even amongst ostensibly well-educated people. Witness Amy Davidson in the New Yorker, incredulous that Michael Brown could have remained upright and moving after having been shot a couple of times:


    Unfortunately the misconceptions created by Hollywood have real world implications; for example, would people be quite so willing to make themselves “Full Code” in the hospital if they knew their actual chance of surviving to discharge after a resuscitation was ~13% vs. the 71% seen on tv?


    Is it time for another Hays Code, based just on reality?

  14. Highlander says:

    Apparently Teslas do burst into flames trapping their occupants in the burning wreck when they hit concrete walls.


  15. Thersites says:

    Although I’m still waiting for the scene in which three cars simultaneously fly off cliffs and collide in mid-air.

    If Michael Bay hasn’t filmed this yet, it’s probably on his to-do list.

  16. syonredux says:

    (corrected a typo)

    Meanwhile, on the Ron Unz front:

    Looks as though Ron has decided that Bacque’s “Crimes and Mercies” is substantially correct about post-War German deaths…..

    Minimum Maximum
    Expellees (1945-50) 2,100,000 6,000,000
    Prisoners (1941-50) 1,500,000 2,000,000
    Residents (1946-50) 5,700,000 5,700,000

    Totals 9,300,000 13,700,000


    We’ve already commented on the “prisoners” section (short answer: hundreds of thousands were simply allowed to go home). As for the “expellees” section…the normal range of estimated deaths goes from a low of approx 5-600,000 to a high of approx 2 million….As for the 5 million plus famine deaths in Germany….Bacques seems to have simply decided that the official figures have all been doctored…

    • gcochran9 says:

      Even when Ron was right about something, he was still wrong. For example, he helped end bilingual education in California – a good thing. But he assumed that those Mexican immigrants would not just learn English ( which they did) but would catch up academically and in test scores – which they did not.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Most people believe or publicly adhere to a lot of provably false notions – widely shared ones. That’s not enough for Ron.

        Let me tell you what widespread starvation looks like: people fall down dead in the streets. Was that happening in postwar Germany? no. It did happen for a bit in Japan in 1946: people walking in Tokyo really were collapsing and dying – the Japanese had been starving ( diversions of resources to war production, loss of imports from former colonies, collapse of transportation) in late 1945, partially masked by more spectacular events like firebombing and being nuked. The US then rushed in food supplies.

  17. Smithie says:

    Naturally, there will have to be tightly-packed stacks of fully energized batteries lying out in all weathers, so electric cars can crash right into them.

    Meanwhile, I think it would be best if H cars should burn like the Hindenburg, while flying up into space like a rocket.

  18. Cuddles the Cage Fighter says:

    Demolition Man already did it. Wesley Snipe’s character put a police tazer in the charging plug and the car exploded. I can’t find a clip on YouTube, it’s just after his first encounter with the police.

  19. Rich Rostrom says:

    On The Grand Tour (Amazon’s continuation of Top Gear with the actual Top Gear guys), Richard Hammond crashed a Rimac Concept One. (An all-electric supercar made in Croatia. Really – top speed 211mph, 0-60 in 2.5 sec.) It burst into flames and continued to burn for five days, off and on. (Hammond got out before it went up, in spite of a broken knee.)

  20. ziel says:

    I’ve often wondered about this with regard to the JFK assassination, where it is argued the shot must have come from the front right because it knocks his head back and to the left. Others have argued that it wasn’t the bullet but the brains exploding out the front left corner of the skull that knocked him backwards. But if you look at an HD version of the Zapruder film, pretty clearly he is not “knocked” back but instead his body moves or falls backward in response to the injury, as there is clearly a delay in his backward movement after the bullet hits and does its damage.

  21. If only they protected those things with flubber.

  22. Glengarry says:

    Electric AND self-driving.

  23. John Sanford says:

    The absolute best of Hollywood Physics are the EXPLODEY NAZI + BULLETS from Spielberg’s Redtails movie. Watch it, you’ll go from “huh, did that just happen?” to “WTF?” to “ROTFLMAO”.

  24. Nuclear Lab Rat says:

    Oh yes. Please yes.

  25. gothamette says:

    Didn’t they just pass a law in UK outlawing the internal combustion engine?

  26. JayMan says:

    Although I’m still waiting for the scene in which three cars simultaneously fly off cliffs and collide in mid-air. And explode.

    Sounds like a fine scene for the next Fast & Furious entry.

  27. Anonymous says:

    How about grounding a really big capacity and watch what happens when all those imprisoned joules escape at once?

  28. Steven C. says:

    I’ve seen so many movies with exploding cars that when I saw a movie set in ancient Rome, that featured a chariot chase, I half expected a chariot to crash and explode into flames.

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