11 TV and Movie Clichés You Never See in Real Life

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How many movies or TV shows have you seen where a young sylph in a filmy nightgown runs through a forest in high heels to escape a bad guy? She always trips and falls down. If this makes you groan and mutter “only in the movies…”, then we think you’ll enjoy this scientific-type debunking of 11 common film and television tropes and clichés.

1. The Chloroform Nap

As seen on Charmed...

A common scene in many mystery movies is the old “knock out an unsuspecting victim by holding a rag full of chloroform over their face” trick. Would this tactic work in real life? Probably not. First of all, chloroform begins to lose its effectiveness as soon as it mixes with oxygen (and some of those villains spend a long time lurking in the shadows with their rags poised). Secondly, chloroform doesn’t instantly knock a person unconscious; depending upon the victim’s size and weight, the chemical could take up to 10 minutes to subdue someone.

2. Falling Through Glass

No action film is complete without at least one person falling through a plate glass window and then walking away without a scratch. Injury-free defenestration is some definite Hollywood trickery that requires a “don’t try it at home!” warning. Broken glass has razor-sharp edges that can cut right through clothing and human flesh like a hot knife through refrigerated margarine. Even if a person survived the fall, he’d typically sustain so many cuts that it would look like he’d just taken a ketchup bath.

3. Exploding Cars


As seen on Breaking Bad...

Whether it’s on TV or the big screen, it seems like every high-speed car chase ends with at least one auto crashing and exploding into flames. Sometimes the vehicle drives over a cliff and spontaneously combusts into flames without any provocation. Gasoline actually has a very narrow flammable range, and the mixture of gas vapor to outside air must be very specific (between 1.4 and 7.6%) before anything close to an explosion will occur. Gas may cause a car to burn after a bad wreck, but it very rarely detonates.

4. Amnesia

Older sitcoms and cartoons often featured a character suffering from amnesia, and, according to the plot, the only “cure” to restore their memory was to conk them on the head one more time. According to doctors, though, this is just about the worst thing you can do to an amnesia patient. The brain is already injured, which is what is causing their memory loss, and another bash to the skull will likely only cause further damage.

5. When the Bullet Hits the Bone

How many cinematic scenes have portrayed a person being knocked off his feet and killed by one shot from a gun? In real life, death by gunshot depends upon the type of weapon and the ammunition. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll use a handgun as an example. Even if a person is shot at point-blank range by a handgun, he will not be lifted off the ground and sail through the air. If a handgun packed that much velocity, the shooter would be propelled backward in a similar fashion. The only wounds that are immediately incapacitating - that is, where the victim slumps to the ground and cannot move - are those to the brain or upper spinal cord. Even if the victim receives a direct wound to the heart, it will take several minutes for complete circulatory collapse, and in the meantime, the brain is still sending out “fight or flight” messages.

6. The Silencer

James Bond makes it look like you can shoot someone in a room full of people and then make a clean getaway as long as your handgun is fitted with a silencer. But a silencer only dampens that portion of the sound that is created by the exploding gases in a gun; the bullet is still traveling at supersonic speed, and its miniature sonic boom will still be quite audible. When a gun is fired, gunpowder in the bullet shell casing is ignited which produces gas at a high rate. The high pressure build-up of this gas propels the bullet forward, and as it exits the gun barrel, the release of kinetic energy makes a loud noise. It’s similar to the pop of a champagne cork, but much quicker and louder. A silencer attached to the end of a gun barrel is basically a series of baffles along with an expansion chamber, which gives the gas more time to cool off and dissipate before the bullet finally exits. A silenced gun sounds about as loud as a car door being slammed. It’s much quieter than the usual “bang!” but it’s certainly not the subtle little “whoosh” heard in those espionage films.

7. Crime Scene Aftermath

The climactic scene of many TV cop shows is a big shoot-out, followed by the detectives standing over the dead perp, telling the uniformed cops to “take him to the morgue, and clean this up.” Moments later, the detectives are shown unwinding at the local tavern. Of course, it doesn’t happen that way in real life. Any officer who fires his weapon has to remain on-scene until someone from Internal Affairs comes to investigate. He also has to stand by until the evidence technicians have finished collecting everything they need. And the uniformed guys would laugh at the suggestion that they “clean up” anything. Whether it’s a homicide or suicide, once the cops have all their information and evidence it’s up to the owner of the property to mop up. Luckily, there are many companies that specialize in the very exacting work that is necessary when it comes to grisly biohazard cleaning.

8. Computer Hacking

Have you ever noticed that on TV, it takes detectives three minutes or more to trace a phone call, but in a pinch someone can write a code to hack into a computer in half that time when it comes to tracking down a criminal? Programming requires many complex steps, including making changes to the existing code, compiling it, testing it, and debugging it. Just waiting for a compiler to finish its job can take hours. Even the best hacker cannot click a few keys and access a perp’s password-protected files within a matter of minutes.

9. Drowning Dramatically

Drowning victims have plenty of time for a dramatic rescue on the big screen, since they flail and splash loudly while reaching their arms up and desperately calling for help. In reality, most drowning victims don’t get rescued in time simply because no one nearby realizes that the person is in trouble. A drowning person typically dies quietly, since he is unable to keep his mouth above the water long enough or draw enough breath to cry for assistance. They usually don’t thrash about, either; instinctively they straighten their body as if they are climbing a ladder and spread their arms to the sides as if they are trying to push down on the surface of the water to lift themselves up. Because of this automatic response, a drowning person will rarely reach for a thrown life preserver or extended stick. Small children slip below the surface even quicker than adults, so it’s very important to take every precaution possible (life jackets, floaties, etc.) when youngsters are playing in the water.

10. Headstones in One Hour or Less

Showing a completed, personalized headstone at the gravesite during the burial certainly adds poignancy to any funeral scene (and often acts as shorthand to indicate “character didn’t survive”), but in real life it usually takes a minimum of four weeks after the order has been placed to have a grave marker put in place. And that’s for one from inventory stock; if you prefer custom artwork or other special touches, it could take 90 days or more.

11. Speedy Delivery

Women had been giving birth long before television was invented, so you’d think that at some point TV writers would have consulted with a real live female about the process. They might be surprised to find out that, as a rule, birth doesn’t occur three minutes after the mother’s water breaks. But we suppose that acknowledging such trivialities as facts would eliminate such plot points as a woman suddenly going into labor and giving birth in an elevator, a taxi, a restaurant booth, etc. In truth, it usually takes many hours after Mom’s water breaks before Baby makes his debut — 12 hours is about average, but 48 or 72 hours are not unheard of, especially in the case of a first pregnancy.

Which movie or TV cliché always makes you facepalm? Complain in the comments!

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September 11, 2012 - 11:28am
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