Movie Misconceptions about Physics

Guest post by Guy Micklethwait

American professor Sidney Perkowitz has recently stated that science fiction movies should be allowed only one major transgression of the laws of physics. He has won backing from a number of his peers after creating a set of guidelines for Hollywood. Perkowitz comments, “I am not offended if they make one big scientific blunder in a given film … You can have things move faster than the speed of light if you want. But after that I would like things developed in a coherent way.”

I disagree. A film that contains a lot of bad physics allows the audience to realise that this is a science fiction film and they are then in a position to question all the physics in the film. Yet, if you had a film that was full of good physics but had just one violation of the laws of physics buried in the middle – as Perkowitz desires – the risk is that the audience might not think the film was science fiction, which might then create a misconception about physics for them. Sci-fi movies have been particularly effective in the past at blurring the distinction between fact and fiction,[1] and that is not a bad thing if it is clear that you are watching a science fiction movie.

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