50 movie plot holes and paradoxes
Even the best films have their flaws. Here's Nick's list of 50 movie holes and unexplainable paradoxes...
The suspension of disbelief is crucial to a film's success. Without it, we’d just spend the entire time going, "That couldn’t happen!" which would make watching movies one of the more irritating pastimes we could do. However, sometimes the internal logic of films stretches credulity so much, you can’t but sit up and take notice.
Here are 50 of the finest examples where things don’t quite make total sense. Some you definitely know, some you might not, and some aren’t the giant plot holes they’re made out to be. We approach all of this from a position of love: we might be being nit-picky, but we do enjoy most of the movies here. So read on, and add your own in the comments.
PLEASE NOTE: There are spoilers here. Check the name of the film, and if you haven't seen it, don't read the entry!
1. Lord Of The Rings: Eagles
The following is a common complaint in Lord Of The Rings: "Hey Gandalf, here’s a thought – why don’t you just get your giant eagle mates to fly you into Mordor and drop Frodo/the ring-bearer off at Mount Doom?"
Yes, it does seem obvious. Yes, it would have solved their problem of getting into Mordor quite easily. But here are a few issues with this. First off, you think Sauron might notice giant eagles flying into his domain, so you still need to create a distraction, like Aragorn at the gates. Secondly, the Eagles are doing their own thing. It’s not their war, they're just helping out their mate Gandalf.
And as an internet commenter pointed out elsewhere (I can’t remember where though, sorry), there’s a big difference between asking your mate for a lift into town in his car, and asking him to take you to Spain or the fantasy equivalent…
2. Back To The Future Part III: The extra DeLorean
So, this is most likely one of the first plot holes many of you would ever have noticed. Marty arrives back in 1885 in a DeLorean. Sadly, the time machine springs a leak and loses all its fuel – gasoline proving hard to obtain in the 19th Century. Cue he and Doc creating an ingenious and ridiculous plan to power the DeLorean via a steam train, and various rail hijinks en-route. But: why didn’t they just dig up the fully-fuelled DeLorean the Doc had buried in the mineshaft awaiting his 1955 counterpart? Timey-wimey, wibbly wobbly stuff, I guess. More BTTF paradoxes can be found here.
3. The Shawshank Redemption: The poster
Who put the poster back in place after the daring escape in The Shawshank Redemption? Andy spent months on that tunnel, and covered his tracks thanks to a poster. The hole is only discovered through an unlucky throw of a chess piece. But how did he attach it in place from inside the tunnel? How?
Well, it’s pretty simple really – he probably only stuck it to the wall via the top and let it fall down in place naturally. There you go, not just showing you plot holes, but solving them, too!
4. The Terminator: Why doesn't Skynet just send more Terminators back?
You'd think Skynet would want to make sure the job was done. But no, it just very occasionally sends one solitary Terminator back in time and then assumes it’s done completed its mission - a slightly risky strategy for a supposedly infallible sentient machine one might think. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of Terminators lying around. However, my favourite answer to this was suggested by critic Devin Faraci, and neatly ties in Terminator Salvation into the franchise in a way that makes it suck a hell of a lot less. Skynet is damaged at the end of Salvation, almost beaten in fact. It’s been driven to extreme action – using the last of its power to send one Terminator back in time in a desperate attempt to destroy the future, and thwart its own destruction. I really wish they’d put this on-screen.
5. The Avengers: Why don’t they bother keeping an eye on Bruce Banner?
So, SHIELD takes the trouble of taking their top agent, Natalia, off a vitally important mission (right in the middle of a dangerous situation too, and violating what appears to be Russian sovereignty with the threat of blowing up the building with missiles) and sending her to India with a full squad of heavily armed soldiers in order to ask Bruce Banner to come in.
They’ve also spent millions researching and actually building a cage for his alter-ego. They know exactly what Hulk can do. Yet once they’ve got him onboard, the top-secret, state of the art HeliCarrier, they let Bruce casually wander around with no restraints, and no one watching him – free to be shocked by Tony Stark into potentially Hulking out. Guess they thought Banner was a really cool guy once they met him in person.
6. Star Trek: What was Nero doing for 25 years?
Nero arrives in the Star Trek past all-guns blazing. It’s one of the finest sci-fi action scenes ever committed to film, and is responsible for much of the goodwill the 2009 Star Trek garnered. Nero has the technology and the motive to wreak havoc across the galaxy. So what does he do? Apparently sits around in his mining ship for 25 years waiting for Spock to arrive. Uh, ok…
Now actually, there’s a deleted scene which explains this plot hole – Nero’s ship is damaged from Kirk Senior's heroic sacrifice, and he's therefore unable to prevent his capture by Klingons. So he then spends a good couple of decades in a prison. However, with it out of the film, it does make you wonder. I’m choosing to ignore some of the other plot holes in Star Trek – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
7. Ocean's 11: fake money
The ultimate robbery has been committed – Ocean has successfully tricked Benedict into thinking the entire vault has been rigged with explosives ready to detonate unless he gives them all the dosh. Benedict agrees, but not without calling in a SWAT team to secure the vault and getting his men to intercept the van with his money in. Which they duly do, only to find out that the money has in fact been switched for hundreds of flyers of a lovely Las Vegas night lady.
Meanwhile, the SWAT team are actually Ocean’s crew – who then sneak the real money out. The fake money is the key to it all here, but stop and think for a moment – just how did they switch it in the first place? There’s literally no time for it to happen – and no way it could. Of the three thieves who get into the vault, Yen smuggles his way inside in a tiny cart, while Ocean and Linus rappel themselves down a shaft laced with lasers. Even Soderbergh admitted on the commentary he was stumped on how it was done, so you’re in good company.
8. Iron Man 2: The Whiplash master plan
In a stodgy Iron Man 2, Whiplash’s attack on the Monaco Grand Prix is a real highlight – and a heart-pounding action scene. Posing as a pit crew member, Whiplash gets onto the track and directly attacks Tony Stark, who just happens to be driving a racing car, after impulsively deciding he wanted to and chucking his driver out (probably someone who would have won the race like Vettel). So how did Whiplash know he was going to do that?
Tony Stark didn’t even know he was going to do that until moments before. Is it another case of a villain magically being able to see into the future and being able to plan for everything? (see Skyfall entry later on). Well, actually, I think not. Whiplash knew Tony was likely to be at the Grand Prix – it’s a lavish event after all. And he knew if he caused some shit, Tony would respond – leading to the same fight on the track. He just got lucky with Tony deciding to drive.
9. Edward Scissorhands: Ice blocks
It’s a truly beautiful moment in one of Tim Burton’s most magical and twisted fairy tales – Edward Scissorhands creates artistic wonders in the attic of his home. Just one small detail though, where did he get the ice from? I recently had a long and heated argument about whether Edward Scissorhands was a cyborg or not (I was in the wrong as I believed he was), and this point about the ice started it. So as a warning to you reading this, discussing plot holes can ruin friendships.
10. Raiders Of The Lost Ark: Indy saves Hitler
Indiana Jones, hero of the Nazi Third Reich. Why? Well if Indy had just stayed at home during Raiders Of The Lost Ark, World War II would probably never have happened. By his getting involved and reacting to events, he sets in motion a chain of situations that saves Hitler’s life. Belloq would have eventually uncovered the location of the Well of Souls (he was after all a good archaeologist, if a little misguided) and sent the Ark back to Berlin. Which is where Hitler would have opened it and had his face melted by the Angels of Death. Of course, there is a very fair argument that Belloq would still have opened it pre-Hitler anyway, and thanks to Indy being there, the Ark was prevented from being loosed on the world (and put into storage instead). So maybe Indy isn’t a friend of the Third Reich after all.
11. Jurassic Park: Geography
It’s a famous one – the geography of Jurassic Park makes absolutely no sense. Ravines appear from nowhere during the T-Rex attack, and the fact that the T-Rex can somehow get inside the visitors' centre are questions with no logical answer. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. It’s why we let plot holes go in the majority of cases – because the film works. Spielberg created such an impressive sequence that it doesn’t need to make sense in the real world. It’s true movie magic, and even knowing that it’s not really possible fails to detract from how it makes you feel. So really I guess what this list is about is defining good filmmaking. If a plot hole feels so stupid that it makes you enjoy the film less, than the director has not done their job. You should be able to acknowledge, but still enjoy.
12. Cars: Who built the world?
There’s a whole world built vaguely along human lines, but inhabited by cars. Who built it? Why do they need towns? I like to think that there’s a whole Planet Of The Apes subplot which will be revealed one day where humans built hyper-intelligent cars who eventually overthrew their masters and then proceeded to remake society along the only lines they knew how – human civilisation. Leaving us with a mockery of our own world. A lot of people also think they’re being clever and ask how they reproduce, but that’s a silly question. They get made in factories. However, the very best solution to this plot hole can be found in the Pixar Theory. If you’ve yet to have the pleasure, I suggest you make a cup of tea and look it up.
13. Transformers: The Allspark creates killer Transformers
So in the critically adored Transformers (well adored by the standards of the series), the Allspark, the creator of Transformer life, is used to bring everyday human mechanical objects into life. These same newly created Transformers then proceed to go on a murderous rampage straight away, suggesting that being evil is in the Transformers' nature. Does this make Optimus Prime and his Autobots some sort of weird hippy peace living cult then? And if Transformers just want to kill, then we should atempt to destroy them – not work with the aliens. This is not the Transformers I was brought up on.
14. The Karate Kid: The illegal kick
The original Karate Kid film tells the terrible tale of how cheating will win you competitions and should be condoned. Keep this movie away from impressionable youngsters, who may decide this is the lifestyle to aspire to. Why such scorn for what is to many a treasured film from their youth? Well, time and time again throughout the film’s karate tournament, we are told that kicks to the face are illegal, and will not be tolerated. How does Daniel-san defeat his nemesis Jonny in the final? By a crane kick to the face.
15. The Hangover: Doug just sits there
So after numerous madcap escapades (which definitely wouldn’t get old and tired over the course of two ‘hilarous’ sequels) Phil, Stu, and Alan finally realise Doug had been on the roof of the hotel the entire time. They rush to his rescue and find a very sunburnt but basically okay groom-to-be. The wedding is saved! Now, I don’t know about you, but I remain very sceptical about his survival up there. It’s an average of 41 degrees Celsius in July over in Vegas, with highs of 49 being recorded.
In an exposed space with no shade and no water, for several days, I rate Doug’s chances of making it out alive as very low. If by some miracle, he was still breathing, dehydration would have made him a jabbering wreck, hallucinating wildly and probably leading him to jump from the roof in despair at his abandonment. Not so funny now, is it?
16. Independence Day: Mac compatible aliens
They have travelled across space in order to harvest our planet of its natural resources. The best and brightest of humanity are no match for their initial onslaught, and our cities are destroyed. It’s our darkest day. Luckily, however, the alien invaders of Independence Day are Mac compatible and we’re able to upload a virus and win. Yay! Now anyone who uses Mac products will know that nothing is compatible with Macs that isn’t Apple produced. Which begs the question – is that what Steve Jobs was really doing back in the 90s? Sub-contracting firms to build vast star ships under the Apple banner? Still, it all made perfect sense to me as an 11 year old boy watching the film for the first time. And honestly, that’s what really matters.
17. Avatar: Go back home
Pandora is saved. Go back home to your dying planet you humans! I like to believe that yes, the defeated humans did reflect on what they had done, and maybe decided to value life and nature above commerce and needless industrialisation. After all, that was the subtle message James Cameron was trying to teach us. But even when watching the film for the first time, all I could think was, won’t the surviving military just go back to their ship in orbit and nuke the now clearly hostile and dangerous natives? Because that’s what I would do. Of course, they might not have had weapons aboard, and the plot of the sequel may well be the return of the angry earthlings. In which case, ignore this.
18. Harry Potter: not the brightest wizard
Dear Harry Potter, while I respect your claims to be the ‘chosen one’ without ever really seeing (or reading) evidence to prove this (instead we just get told repeatedly. Ah well, all hype and that), and admire your ability to foil villains plans by basically overhearing them while wandering around in the dark, there is one thing I cannot respect. Your decision to ignore that you had a proven, working time travel device (see your adventures with the Prisoner Of Azkaban) and let hundreds (if not thousands) die over the subsequent years, including close friends, when you could have easily saved them is pretty poor. Screw you Harry Potter.
19. The Amazing Spider-Man: Lizard’s rubbish plan
Honestly, does creating lizard men make any sense to anyone? Why is he doing it? Does he even know? In fact, the entire character is just completely all over the place and never really defined – can he control when and how he turns into a lizard? Is he simply a lackey of the unseen Norman Osborn? How can he find time to go and fight Peter Parker at his high-school when he’s on a strict evil plan time-scale? But none of the Lizard issues annoy me as much as when Peter dresses up as Spider-Man to keep his identity secret and then goes around taking pictures on a camera which is clearly marked PETER PARKER.
20. Star Wars: Not even target practice?
It’s a classic. And it’s a classic for a reason. In Star Wars, R2D2 and C3PO don’t exactly make a secret getaway after the Rebel blockade runner is captured by the Imperials. The film notes their escape pod hurtling down to Tatooine. But do the Imperials shoot it? No, not even for target practice. Not even due to the fact they’ve just been engaged in a firefight against heavily armed rebels who are suspected of hiding stolen plans for a secret ultimate doomsday weapon, and which self-same plans they’ll most definitely try and get off the ship. How? Probably in an ejected escape pod. No, it’s probably just a malfunction.
21. E.T.: Why doesn’t E.T. just fly after his spaceship?
The iconic bike scene proves E.T. is basically magic and can levitate objects. So… why doesn’t he just levitate himself right at the beginning of the film and get back onto his spaceship? He’s really close to it! Poor E.T.
22. Batman & Robin: Its, er, one flaw
Den Of Geek is well known for its fondness for Batman & Robin. It’s a cruelly dismissed mini-masterpiece of comic camp (don't worry, he's not being serious - Ed), but there’s one thing even we writers on the site can’t accept. If Mr Freeze really does have a terrible condition which has meant he has to lock his body in what amounts to a walking freezer unit, for fear of over-heating and dying, then why is he smoking a cigar? That’s just asking for trouble.
23. Iron Man: Stane’s secret plan
So Obadiah Stane spends years slowly and subtly manoeuvring himself into a position where he can take over Stark Industries. He must have been planning this for decades, first befriending Howard Stark and then mentoring young Tony throughout his life. Guiding him where appropriate but always with a incredibly long view to one day usurping the throne. It’s an Iago-worthy shadowy plan – accelerated only when Stane arranges a hit on Tony as he finally makes his move. But Tony survives, and provides Stane with one more incredible piece of technology. It’s then Stane reveals his master plan, one which he finally rid himself of the thorn in his side and control the world’s supply of weapons – all with no one realising. Yep, he builds a massive metal suit for himself and goes mental with it in downtown Los Angeles.
24. Skyfall: Silva’s gift of prophecy
Was this the straw that broke the back of the 'villain meaning to get caught' plot device? Perhaps, as no matter how fine a film Skyfall is (and it is), Silva’s ridiculous plan just gets even sillier on re-watches. Even if we buy into the fact that his plan was first to attack M but not kill her – destroying her office, leak the agents' identities and therefore get the government to summon her to a hearing and dismiss her in disgrace, we then have to accept that this was all to lead her into an exposed position for him to kill her – that two henchmen give him a fake police uniform backs up the fact that the hearing was always the target. But even ignoring that he could plant some explosives to bring down a tube train directly on top of Bond mid-chase, how did he know he would be captured when he was? What if Q took ages deciphering the code? He would have missed the court hearing! Oh well, it’s still a beautiful film.
25. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes: Never questioning the monkey
Not once - once! - in five years together does Freida Pinto’s character decide to ask James Franco why he has a super intelligent child-ape in his house. There’s nothing else to say.