All the Things Movies Get Ridiculously Wrong About Real Life

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Beau Lark/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

We all know that movies are pretend: No one goes into Spider-Man thinking it's real life. There are embellishments and inaccuracies, and we let them slide because they make stories better.

Still, moviemakers usually get just enough of the details right to be believable — and that's a problem. When the same mistakes or exaggerations are repeated again and again, people often start to take them as fact. Here are 30 you shouldn’t believe.

CPR Doesn't Usually Work

Movies love a happy ending. And nothing is happier than coming back from the dead! How many times have you seen a character drop dead from a heart attack or drown in a pool, and then medics arrive to miraculously bring them back to life with the magic of CPR?

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Photo Courtesy: GTG Entertainment/IMDb

Unfortunately, as much as we'd all like to believe that we can be resurrected, CPR doesn't always work. In fact, only about 45% of out-of-hospital recipients survive. If you ask a first responder or doctor, they’ll probably tell you that CPR is the best technique to resuscitate someone, but it's a last-ditch effort.

Getting Shot Won't Knock You Over

We've all seen those old-timey Wild West movies where one man challenges another to a duel. They're all alone on a dusty street with curious onlookers peeking out from behind the shuttered windows of saloons. Inevitably, the bad guy ends up getting shot — and he's knocked clean off his feet.

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Photo Courtesy: MGM/IMDb

While it makes for an exciting scene, most people don't fall over when they've been shot (unless they're dead; then they'll definitely fall over). It's just simple physics: If a bullet had enough force to knock someone over, it would also knock over the person who shot the gun. And we never see that happen.

Chloroform Doesn't Instantly Knock You Out

Based on a lifetime of movie and television viewing, most people likely believe that you can soak a rag in chloroform, hold it over someone's nose and instantly render them unconscious. It's a handy trick to have up your sleeve in case you're ever being held captive and somehow happen to have access to a bottle of chloroform.

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Photo Courtesy: Paramount Pictures/IMDb

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way in real life. Chloroform is an effective way to knock someone out...but it takes a little while. Even in higher doses, chloroform can take at least five minutes to render a person unconscious — not really practical when you're in a crisis situation.


Massive Explosions Don’t Happen in Space

Virtually every science fiction movie ever made features some sort of massive explosion in the middle of outer space. Take, for example, scenes in the Star Wars films: One of the staples of the franchise is massive explosions in space (the Death Star, a Super Star Destroyer, Alderaan). But this couldn't happen in real life (at least not in our galaxy).

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Photo Courtesy: LucasFilm/IMDb

Bottom line? Flames require oxygen to burn, and there is no oxygen in space. Therefore, there can be no fiery explosions in space. A space explosion would look more like a camera flash than a giant ball of fire: quickly there and then gone, sucked into a vacuum.

You Don't Always Get a Phone Call From Jail

If you've ever gone to jail (and we sincerely hope that you haven’t), you know that not everyone gets that "one phone call" as soon as they arrive. You may also know that, once you're locked up, you're not limited to just one phone call.

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Photo Courtesy: G-Base/IMDb

We're not sure how that misconception got started, but there’s no hard rule about how many phone calls you can make in jail. If your crime was serious enough (say, you shot someone), you may not get a call at all. If it wasn't serious, you may get several. Bottom line: It's up to the people arresting you.

An Air Vent Is Not a Feasible Escape Route

In Stranger Things, the gang decides to pull off a madcap mission by shimmying through an air vent to go spy on some Russians. The only problem? None of them could actually fit in the vent. They ended up paying a child (in ice cream) to do it for them.

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Photo Courtesy: Twentieth Century Fox/IMDb

Many adventure films would have you believe that an air vent is a handy way to make a fast getaway. But, as Stranger Things demonstrated, no full-grown adult would ever be able to fit. And even if they could squeeze their way in, the vent would definitely collapse under the weight of an actual person.


Spring Break Isn't Always a Wild Romp in Mexico

If the movies are to be believed, every single college student ever spends their spring break partying the week away in Mexico or some other glamorous tropical location. There’s usually a ton of alcohol, very little clothing and absolutely no supervision.

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Photo Courtesy: Muse Productions/IMDb

Any college student who’s struggled to scrape together enough money for ramen and bus fare can tell you that's not true. For many college kids, spring break is a week spent at Mom and Dad's, catching up on laundry and drinking Bud Light with high school friends. Not as exciting, but hey, at least you get some home-cooked meals.

Defibrillators Only Work Under a Very Specific Set of Circumstances

When it comes to movies, you see defibrillators used again and again as a cure-all treatment for all sorts of trauma situations. Usually, the doctor or surgeon claps the paddles together before powerfully thrusting them at the patient's chest. In real life, this is definitely not the way it works.

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Photo Courtesy: Pixabay/Pexels

Defibrillators actually only work for a very specific set of circumstances — and the paddles don't get clapped together first. Defibrillation is only used after CPR has been attempted and failed, and even then, it can only work on patients experiencing ventricular fibrillation. It's not the instant fix you see on film.

It's Impractical to Hold a Gun in Each Hand

Another myth from old Wild West films: Cowboys used to fight each other with a gun in each hand. Boy, do the movies love to show a man on top of a horse, fighting people all around him while riding at top speed. But how did he hold on?

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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/IMDb

Riding a horse is tricky enough with two hands. But when each of your fists is grasping a pistol, it's nearly impossible. Even when you're on the ground, it's terribly difficult to aim — and fire — two weapons at once. It's fair to say that this isn't the way gun battles worked in real life.


Amnesia Doesn't Usually Erase All of Your Memories

There's a common theme in many romantic movies: Two people are totally in love. One of them gets bonked on the head, ends up in the hospital and can't remember anything about who they are. Of course, they don't remember the love of their life, either. Complete tragedy!

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Photo Courtesy: Summit Entertainment/IMDb

In reality, it's unlikely that you'll lose so much of your memory that you forget entire sections of your life. Usually, amnesia just wipes out little bits and pieces of certain memories (but even those can come back through therapy). While it is possible to experience total memory loss in a very serious accident, it's rare.

Elevators Don't Have Escape Hatches

It's probably fair to say that we all grew up believing we'd be able to MacGyver our way out of an elevator if we ever got stuck. After all, tons of movies have shown some random person miraculously escape through the elevator's roof hatch right before it plunges to the ground.

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Photo Courtesy: Columbia Pictures/IMDb

Take a look next time you're in an elevator, though. Do you actually see an escape hatch? Even if there was one, what do you think you'd find up there? Certainly not a ladder to the top. It's a shaft, and unless you can shimmy your way up the cables, you're doomed anyway.

You Can't Pull a Grenade Pin With Your Teeth

Real-life soldiers are pretty amazing. Many of them risk their lives on a daily basis to keep the rest of us free. Of course, that isn't quite good enough for the movies. Directors have to amp everything up by 1,000% to make it more "exciting."

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Photo Courtesy: Anabasis N.V./IMDb

One thing they love to do is show a soldier pulling out a grenade pin with their teeth. As epic as that might seem, it's not possible in the real world. Grenades are dangerous, and they'll obliterate everything within their immediate radius. As such, manufacturers make that pin pretty difficult to remove with your hands, much less your teeth.


An Arrow Wound Will Really, Really Hurt

In movies, you can get hit with an arrow, pull it out and keep on going. It's barely a scratch, right? Sometimes, the character doesn't even bother to remove the arrow. They just run around with it dangling out of their chest like it ain't no thing.

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Photo Courtesy: Renaissance Pictures/IMDb

In reality, an arrow wound can seriously mess you up. In fact, getting hit by an arrow can be worse than getting hit by a bullet. Why? Because a bullet can pass straight through. An arrow is designed to get lodged in your body and destroy whatever's in there. Try to pull it out, and you'll be ripping up your insides something fierce.

Everything in NYC Is Not in One Convenient Location

Manhattan has dozens of iconic locations that look great in movies. As such, filmmakers often choose to set their scenes in easily recognizable spots, like the Museum of Natural History. This is fine when they do it once, but when they hop around from location to location like all the sites are right next door to each other, it's a problem.

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Photo Courtesy: Sony Pictures/IMDb

For example, in Men in Black, Will Smith chases a bad guy from Grand Central Terminal to the Guggenheim in mere seconds. In reality, it's about a 50-minute walk. While the world at large may not realize that anything is off, East Coast natives know what's up.

Quicksand Isn't Actually All That Quick

In the movies, falling into quicksand spells certain doom. Just think about the lightning sand in The Princess Bride: As soon as Buttercup falls in, she's sucked right under. It's as if she was never there at all. If it wasn't for Westley's quick thinking, she'd be gone forever.

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Photo Courtesy: Act III Communications/IMDb

In real life, quicksand is just mud mixed with water. It can be gooey and inconvenient, but it's probably not going to kill you. In fact, most types of quicksand allow you to float freely once you're about waist deep. The only time it really becomes dangerous is when people panic and struggle.


Pretty Much Everything About Childbirth Isn’t Accurate

Is there anything in this entire world more dramatic than a Movieland childbirth? You’d think that by this point, childbirth has been around long enough for filmmakers to get it right, but no. It's as if they've never heard of it before.

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Photo Courtesy: Lions Gate/IMDb

One of the biggest lies films keep perpetuating is that women go into sudden, hardcore labor and have their babies within minutes. Those babies come so fast that the ladies are lucky if they make it to the hospital first. Unfortunately, as many a mama can tell you, labor often lasts for hours (or days) on end and it's rarely a quick experience.

Knocking Someone Out Just Isn’t Like That

If we’re to believe movies, one solid punch to the head can knock absolutely anyone unconscious — and, on top of that, they'll stay unconscious for quite some time. It's very convenient when you're a spy and you need some time to dig around in the bad guy's apartment before he wakes up.

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Photo Courtesy: Chartoff-Winkler Productions/IMDb

In real life, however, it's not that easy to knock someone out. Even if you managed to do it, they'd likely wake up pretty quickly. More importantly, getting hit in the head hard enough to render you unconscious for any extended time is likely to do permanent damage to your brain, which is never discussed.

Heart Attacks Aren't as Dramatic as Movies Make Them Look

When a film character suffers a heart attack, it's usually completely unexpected and highly dramatic. A gentleman is having dinner with his wife, suddenly grabs his chest and falls over right where he's standing. While that can happen in real life, it's certainly not the norm.

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Photo Courtesy: Pexels/Pixabay

As it turns out, most heart attacks aren't that theatrical. Often, a heart attack starts out feeling like a mild bout of the flu — nausea, dizziness, headache. Unfortunately, believing that heart attacks should be dramatic events with tons of pain causes many people to write off their very real symptoms until it's too late.


Sharks Can't Smell Blood From 20 Miles Away

Sharks can't smell your blood from 20 miles away, even if you happen to cut your toe while you're in the ocean. This one can only partly be blamed on the movies, as panic-mongering "science" pages on social media have also certainly contributed to the hysteria.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures/IMDb

That's not to say that sharks don't have a highly evolved sense of smell (they do). It's just not as good as you may think it is. Studies indicate that sharks can, at best, smell a drop of blood across an Olympic-size swimming pool. While that's still pretty frightening, it's a relatively short distance (and they'd be close enough to see you, anyway).

There’s No Coming Back From a Flatline

Death is frightening, and no one wants to face their own mortality. That's probably why movies and television shows that feature dramatic "resurrection" scenes do so terribly well. After all, wouldn't we all like to believe that someone could magically bring us back to life after we've died?

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Photo Courtesy: Columbia Pictures/IMDb

Sadly, once you're gone, you're usually gone. Despite the movies' recurrent use of defibrillators to bring back a patient who's flatlined, it's just not possible. In order for a defibrillator to work, there still has to be some sort of electrical pulse in the heart muscles. Without that, it's impossible to bring a heart back to life.

Cops Don't Read Your Miranda Rights as Soon as They Slap On the Cuffs

Whenever an arrest is made in the movies, the officer reads the suspect their Miranda rights as soon as those cuffs get slapped on. Many people likely spend their entire lives thinking this is the way it actually works — because, unless you've been in a police car, you wouldn't know any better.

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Photo Courtesy: Wolf Films/IMDb

In reality, police usually don't tell perps that they have the "right to remain silent" right off the bat. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (like the criminal tries to give a full confession in the car), Miranda rights aren't technically necessary until it's time for the interrogation to begin.


You Shouldn’t Pull the Knife Out of a Wound

We hope that you never get stabbed. But if you do, absolutely do not remove the knife — despite what you've seen in the movies. Films make it look like you can take a knife to the chest, pull it out and keep running. In reality, that's like getting stabbed a second time.

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Photo Courtesy: Anabasis N.V./IMDb

Depending on the kind of wound and the kind of knife, sometimes the best bet is to leave the weapon exactly where it is. Some knives, like those with serrated edges, can do further damage on the way out. And, in many cases, keeping the weapon right where it's lodged is what's stopping you from bleeding to death.

Computer Hacking Isn't That Easy

Watch any movie about computer hackers, and you'll believe that anyone can furiously bang on the keys for a couple of minutes and hack into the Department of Defense's mainframe. It's no wonder we're all getting our private information stolen on the daily!

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In reality, if any one of us were to sit down at a computer and just try to guess someone else's password, it would likely never happen — neither would hacking into a government computer. That sort of work is actually highly specialized and it takes quite a bit of time to master. It's not something anyone could do in mere minutes.

Meteors Aren't Giant Balls of Fire

There was a time when doomsday movies about giant meteors crashing into Earth were the most popular things out there. In fact, prior to the 2012 end-of-time scare, they were about a dime a dozen (we've all seen Deep Impact, right?). Inevitably, the "meteors" they feature are always giant balls of fire headed straight for our planet.

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Photo Courtesy: Touchstone Pictures/IMDb

Crazy fact: Meteors are actually ice cold! That makes sense, considering they're coming from outer space, where it's around -450 degrees Fahrenheit. When you see a burning trail in the sky surrounding a meteor, that's actually the air around it catching fire. The meteor itself keeps its icy temperature.


You Shouldn't Pinch Your Nose When You Get a Nosebleed

According to the movies, any time anyone else so much as glances at your nose, it will immediately (and dramatically) start gushing blood. Of course, the only way to deal with it is to pinch the bridge of your nose and tilt your head back until the bleeding stops.

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Photo Courtesy: Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire Collection/Getty Images

Despite the fact that this is probably how 99% of us have dealt with nosebleeds for our entire lives (thanks, movies!), it's actually not recommended. According to experts, tilting your head back during a nosebleed leaves you at risk of choking on your own blood. Next time, just try ice instead.

People Actually Attend Class in College

In Movieland, you get into the college of your dreams, move onto campus...and then spend every single day going on fun adventures with your new friends. There’s never a classroom to be seen, yet somehow everyone still aces finals and holds onto their full-ride scholarship.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures/IMDb

In reality, attending classes is actually a pretty significant part of your college career. Most people go to college because they want to learn and, incidentally, they've paid a lot to be there. There aren't a ton of people who would throw away a year's tuition so they can go hang in the quad!

Not Everyone on Drugs Has Massive Pupils

When you're watching a movie, what's the one dead giveaway that a character is on drugs? Their eyes are the size of saucers. Maybe filmmakers just needed an easy out — one thing they could use to signal that someone is high without having to get into details. But, the thing is, not all drugs affect people in the same way.

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Photo Courtesy: Artisan Entertainment/IMDb

Yes, there are drugs that give you massive pupils: SSRI antidepressants, amphetamines, MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, ecstasy and cocaine are a few. But others, such as opiate-class drugs like codeine and heroin, actually cause the pupils to constrict.


DNA Matching Takes a Lot of Time

Crime movies are the worst at portraying how DNA evidence actually works. On film, it goes something like this: A detective finds a strand of hair at a murder scene. He swings by the lab and hands it to a technician, and the tech tells him within minutes that he's found a DNA match.

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Photo Courtesy: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

If you've ever done AncestryDNA, you know that processing DNA takes weeks. Sure, it's a little bit faster when a case is on the line — but not by much. Luckily, the FBI is currently working on a device that can analyze DNA in just an hour or two, so reality is about to catch up to the movies.

A Needle to the Heart Isn’t the Best Way to Stop an Overdose

Ever seen Pulp Fiction? If so, you remember that iconic scene where Vincent revives Mia from an overdose by plunging a huge hypodermic syringe straight into her heart. It's grisly and gory and certainly makes you think twice about ever doing drugs.

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Photo Courtesy: Miramax/IMDb

In real life, there are no benefits to delivering medication this way. The average person's blood volume circulates through their entire body in a minute or so, and administering drugs intravenously would be just as effective. Incidentally, stabbing a hole into someone's heart (no matter how small) would likely make them go into cardiac arrest or bleed to death.

Guns Don't Just Fire When You Drop Them

This myth isn't just perpetuated by movies — it's a lie that's repeatedly told by bad guys everywhere. "I didn't shoot the gun. I just dropped it, and it went off by itself." Any screenwriter who puts that line in a script doesn't know the first thing about guns or how they work.

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Photo Courtesy: Steve Buissinne/Pixabay

Guns these days are built with a ton of safety features that make accidental discharge a near impossibility. Given the rising incidence of children accidentally shooting other family members or even kids at school, this is obviously something manufacturers want to prevent. A hundred years ago, though, it was a totally different story — and movies need to get with the times.