Science in Popular Movies
The following is a list of questions to ask pertaining to various video clips from popular movies. The source is unkown.
Science Movie Clips
1. Goldeneye (1:00) Very appealing physics as James bungee jumps a 722 foot high dam, then shoots a dart into a roof to hold his position, then reels himself in. Knowing the height of the jump you can calculate and estimate values for the stretch distance, the length of the bungee cord and the spring constant. You can then estimate the force on Bond when he stops. Is it possible for him to do this without being pulled apart? If Q made the bungee cord with a low k value, probably. Don’t forget that he probably reaches terminal velocity in this fall.
2. Speed-A (1:30) Estimate the velocity at the end of the freefall after the elevator cable is cut. Solve for the average force on a passenger during the emergency braking portion.
3. Willy Wonka (1:29) The Wonkavator breaks the rules of elevators. An elevator always stops accelerating after reaching cruse speed and always stops before reaching the ceiling! You can see clearly that the Wonkavator keeps accelerating by watching the background rush by. It is possible to estimate the acceleration from this.
4. The Omen(1:35) Warning! Not suitable for all audiences. Please screen this clip before showing it to anyone and use good judgement. A great demonstration of Newton’s First Law. A truck with panes of glass in the bed rolls backward down a hill. It hit an obstacle and stops suddenly. One of the panes of glass slides out, continuing to remain in motion, and decapitates someone out to kill Damien. Watch as the head remains at rest over the body as the pane slides over.
5. MoonrakerA (3:40) Great skydiving footage as James is pushed from a plane without a parachute. He lowers his drag coefficient and catches up with a bad guy to rob him of his parachute. Does a parachutist actually go up when the chute is pulled? Where does Bond go wrong after he notices Jaws after him? What should he have done? How does Jaws survive the landing?
6. Superman (2:32) A great demonstration of impulse. Notice how Superman and Lois continue to fall after he grabs her. You can estimate the distance and time and the average force on Lois. Contrast with #7, The Matrix Reloaded.
7. The Matrix Reloaded (1:53) Trinity is plummeting to the ground when Neo rushes in to “save” her. He stops her downward motion and accelerates her horizontally almost instantly. She would probably have had a smaller maximum force if she had hit the ground.
8. Mission Impossible (4:09) Good scene of someone experiencing a large drag force as Tom Cruise chases the bad guy on top of a bullet train. In the end he is propelled from a helicopter onto the back of the train by exploding gum. Who thinks these things up?
9. Independence Day (1:20) What is holding up the invading spaceships? Whatever it is, the pressure per square inch over the Earth’s surface should crush everything in their path.
10. Speed-B (2:00) Using the shot of the incomplete freeway early in the scene, you can estimate the width of the gap and the launch angle of the bus. From the bus’s speed, you can see if they should have made it. If Keannu would have died here it would have saved us years of his bad acting. What causes the bus to do a wheelie just before it jumps?
11. 2001: A Space Odyssey-A (6:24) This is the best space physics clip ever. From the Grip Shoes to the relative motion of the docking shuttle to the transition to artificial gravity, this clip is still astounding 46 years later (or should I say 3 years later). If you estimate the size of the window at the end you can come up with a pretty good estimate of the radius of the station. Measure the period and you can find out what g level is being created. Is this a good value to have?
12. 2001: A Space Odyssey-B (2:29) A good follow-up to the rotating space station in 2001 A. The scale is much smaller. The acceleration at the head would be significantly different than at the feet causing nausea. The percent difference can be estimated.
13. Mission to Mars (2:53) Another good rotating space station clip. Opens with astronauts in rotating section, then moving to non-rotating section where they dance to Van Halen. The radius of the rotating section can be estimated. Clip at the end that shows the outside of vehicle can be used to measure the rotation period. How does this g level compare to 2001?
14. Moonraker-B (1:28) Every physics teacher enjoys explaining artificial gravity produced by a rotating space station. But have you ever wondered what would happen if they stopped it suddenly? This clip does a pretty good job considering when it was made. Look for the tip-offs that there really is gravity.
15. Spies Like Us (1:10) Good centrifuge clip showing potential long-term effects of high acceleration. Should get some laughs even if they don’t know who Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd are.
16. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1:15) An amusing scene showing balanced and unbalanced torque as well as circular and projectile motion.
17. Men in Black (1:09) Shows what would happen to a bouncing ball without conservation of energy. Is it made out of flubber?
18. Return of the King (1:33) Some of the best trebuchet sequences from the film. One could do some numerical estimation of mass, velocity, range, max height, etc. That sure is one tough orc!
19.Deep Impact-A (2:00) You can hear someone say how many megatons a comet impact would equal but this scene shows what it means. The tsunami engulfing the World Trade Center will invoke a strong reaction.
20. The Sandlot (1:56) A good example of simple machines being put to good use. They also make a good catapult in this film.
21. Contact (2:55) Good example of how Earth’s radio and TV broadcasts spread out into space. As you move farther and farther away from Earth, you hear sounds from further in Earth’s past. Unfortunately, the scale used is WAY off. You travel back several decades before reaching Saturn. The silence at the end, where you have reached out in light years further than our radio signals have traveled, is humbling.
22. The Truman Show (0:49) What phase should the moon be in here? If only Truman would have learned more about the phases of the Moon. He would have figured out the ruse much earlier!
23. Space Cowboys (2:04) The scene that made this mess of a movie worth watching. I am willing to forgive them for ignoring that Tommy Lee and his spacecraft would have been vaporized in the impact because they get the phase of the Earth right. If the Moon is gibbous, the Earth would be a crescent. The music is a big plus too.
24. Predator (2:53) Arnold stumbles on a way to defeat the alien’s infrared vision. However, will it still work after the mud dries? Only if you are Arnold.
25. Fat Man and Little Boy (2:37) Very disturbing scene of them using a screwdriver to keep two shells of plutonium from touching and going critical. Was that Homer Simpson who drops the coffee mug? Good depiction of radiation, shielding, and radiation exposure.
26. Dr. Strangelove (2:32) Could Slim Pickens ride this one all the way? The difference in terminal velocities would make that difficult. The best clip of nuclear explosions ever. Too bad Ted Turner never got around to colorizing it. See “The Atomic Bomb Movie” for more footage of nuclear explosions.
27. Alien 3 (2:49) Warning! Some language not suitable for all audiences. It is not that obvious but please screen this one in advance. I use this for a problem where we calculate what initial temperature of lead would result in it solidifying around the alien. Hard to believe it can survive the hot lead but not the cool water.
28. A Christmas Story (2:09) Why does the tongue stick to the metal flagpole? Why not a wood telephone pole? Is it colder than a wood telephone pole? Is it colder than the air? What could Ralphie have done to help his friend?
29. Deep Impact-B (6:40) Shows that sublimation is not always sublime. What would escape velocity be on a comet? Can the sun really blind you in space, even if you close your eyes?
30. The Core (2:38) What happens to the material bored from the tunnel? The lasers outline a cylindrical shape, what vaporized the center? What happens to the energy that strikes the unobtanium?
31. 2001: A Space Odyssey-C (2:28) This one recalls late nights at college discussing could he really have done this. Good physics in the bounce and the sound coming back up after the door closes.
32. Outland (1:55) Warning! Not suitable for all audiences. Please screen this one in advance. Should this have happened to Dave in 2001-C?
33. Attack of the Clones (1:05) Seismic charges in space? Speed of sound delay in space? Come on George, you could do better.
34. Lord of the Flies (1:58) Is Piggy nearsighted or farsighted? Could they really use his eyeglasses to start a fire? Do wild pigs have trichinosis?
35. Jurassic Park (1:26) Thanks to Steven Spielberg for showing the close-up of the mirror so you can read the printing. Why are object closer than they appear anyway?
36. Christmas Vacation (2:15) Shows that making a complete circuit is not always so easy. You can estimate how much it costs to light his house from the electrical meter shot.