Trope-ic Thunder: Silent But Deadly, The Science of Guns

Trope-ic Thunder BannerBy Drew Parton

Hey there, folks, Drew Parton of Mindless Action Mondays here with a brand-spanking new column.

You may not know it, but I’m kind of the only person on Rooster Illusion’s illustrious writing staff that’s in the field of science (Psychology, specifically). Second Breakfast and The Tuesday Zone are both written by English majors, Strange Bacon got his degree in Government, SciFridays’s Sarah Lawrence got hers in Art, and Head honcho James is an English/film graduate. As a huge science buff, I’ve been given a whole new column in which to rant about science tropes in media. But let me first talk a bit about what science actually means.

You see, science is a weird thing, it’s by no means natural. Now, what science studies may be natural, but science itself is an approach, and an entirely man-made one at that. It’s not an instinctual thing, people don’t naturally think in terms of verifiable, valid, and objectively demonstrable empirical evidence. Our society has evolved much faster than our bodies can keep up- we’re still running the Cavemen 10.23 operating system in our brains.

That being said, the vast majority of people who makes movies are not scientists and are often not-even (what we call) “scientifically literate.” Thus, you see shit in movies that blatantly defy all known laws of physics like the bullet-bending you see in Wanted.

wantedbulletbendFor those who don’t quite get why this is so fucking ridiculous, let me break it down for you in Trope-ic Thunder’s first column: The Science of Guns.

In the gif above from the movie Wanted (2008), everyman-with-a-hidden-secret-talent Wesley joins a fraternity of assassins and learns he can bend bullets by flicking his wrist REALLY fucking hard. Let’s just talk about what’s happening up there: the bullet is moving faster sideways than it is forward (in order to do what it’s doing up there in that incredibly small amount of time). I don’t know if you’ve ever fired a gun or seen a gun fired in real life, but guns shoot bullets super-duper fast. Seriously fast. Like, think of the fastest thing you’ve ever seen (besides light). Make THAT twice as fast and make it hurl a small wad of metal. And it takes a goddamn explosion in order to achieve that kind of speed in a gun! Wesley’s imparting a greater sideways force on the bullet using ONLY his wrist. He’s gotta be the world’s most furious masturbator in order to get wrist muscles like that.

And even if he could impart that kind of force on the bullet, it’d still be impossible. You see, modern guns have what are called rifling. You’ve seen rifling before if you’ve ever seen a James Bond movie:

SkyfallGunbarrelThey’re little tiny grooves on the inside of a gun barrel that cause the bullet to spin like a football as it exits the gun. This spinning motion drastically increases the accuracy of the weapon and keeps the slug on a nice tight course to its target. This also makes the kind of bullet bending seen in Wanted IMPOSSIBLE.

Now, there is something to be said about this. If you were to use smooth-bore gun (think like a revolutionary-era musket or pistol) that used a ball as a projectile, assuming you could manage to flick your wrist hard enough, you (theoretically) bend the bullet. It’d be like throwing a curve-ball, with an explosion.

While I’m taking pot shots at Wanted (yes, this column will have puns too), there’s another scene that gleefully pisses in the face of physics. It’s the one towards the end where Angelina Jolie’s character kills the rest of the assassins (sans Wesley) with one well-placed curved bullet that goes through all of their heads and (SPOILER) hers as well(SPOILER).

tumblr_lqtck7qTHA1r222pao1_500There are two huge thing going on with this: First, skulls are hard, lead is pretty soft (for a metal), anybody who has seen Oliver Stone’s JFK knows that bullets do some weird shit when they hit hard surfaces (like bone) and tend to ricochet or change trajectories. But in this film, the bullet passes through each head along the exact same trajectory with which it was fired. Secondly, bullets drop. Bullets fired from a gun drop just as fast as bullets falling from an opened palm. Bullets don’t have wings- they don’t generate flight. The bullet fired from Ms. Jolie’s gun should have hit the floor by the time it got around to the 4th or 5th person, but instead it stays right at the same height as it originally started.

Another thing Hollywood tends to miss the target on is silencers. Now, just to start off, they are not called silencers. They are called “suppressors” because they don’t really silence the gun. They do make it much quieter than normal, and some very expensive suppressors get the noise down such that the clacking of the metal parts of the gun is just as loud as the shot- but it is still unmistakably a gunshot that you hear. I’ll let FPSRussia demonstrate.

Suppressors are used to quiet a gun NOT so that it is unable to be heard, but so that you cannot tell from what direction it is coming from. With a suppressor on, though you may be able to hear the gunshot if you’re not too far, you won’t be able to tell where it was fired from. How do suppressors work?

Vaime-Suppressor-22-WP-DrwgBasically, the hot gas comes out of the barrel and expands into the suppressor, where it is diffused and allowed to expand at a slower rate instead of all shooting out the end of the barrel at once like a champagne bottle uncorking.


And silencing a revolver is just completely impossible. It would do absolutely nothing except look fancy. In a revolver, there is a gap between the back of the barrel and the cylinder with the bullets that rotates. Hot gas that in a magazine-fed semiautomatic pistol would travel down the barrel and into the suppressor now partially leaks out through that gap, thus creating noise again.

One more infamous movie science error is the force of guns. Everybody who took a basic science course in middle school or fucking watched Bill Nye The Science Guy learned about Newton’s third law

That Fig-filled cookies are delicious

That Fig-filled cookies are delicious

Isaac Newton’s third law of Motion states that “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.” How this applies to firearms is extremely simple: the amount of forced applied to the target is exactly the amount of force applied to the shooter. That is to say, the person getting shot will only fly back as far as the person doing the shooting. Simple as that.

Join me next week as I deconstruct Hollywood tropes and delve into the magical world of science.

As the good Bill Nye put it: “SCIENCE RULES”

2 thoughts on “Trope-ic Thunder: Silent But Deadly, The Science of Guns

  1. Pingback: Mindless Action Mondays: I Want to Ride my Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike | Rooster Illusion

  2. Pingback: Rooster Recap: “The Following” Episode 15: The Final Chapter | Rooster Illusion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s