Why is Science so Bad in Movies and Television?


I’ve been a fan of science fiction since before I could read. A long time ago I discovered that the best science-fiction was usually only found in written form. Sci-fi movies as a whole are typically riddled with bad science along with horrible plot holes (many of which are tied to the bad science). I suppose I’m a bit of a hardcore sci-fi snob.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy sci-fi movies or shows that aren’t based on real science. In fact, I really enjoy some of the odd or silly sci-fi movies including The Fifth Element and Doctor Who. But I’m often frustrated because stories that are classified as sci-fi are really sci-fi/fantasy or just plain fantasy. The Star Wars universe is a good example. Much of it is great (I grew up watching the original movies over and over again) but they’re littered with elements of fantasy. (Even one of my favorite series, the original Dune novels, is sci-fi with fantasy elements.)

My classification of fantasy isn’t limited to magic, super-natural, etc. Anything that is presented as science but is absolutely absurd falls into this group including movies such as The Core or 2012. Sure, certain aspects of these stories are based on scientific facts, but more often than not they’re really based on uneducated, incorrect understandings of such things. For example, one could not witness the Yellowstone Caldera erupt from so close and then outrun it, to put it simply. I suppose that could be ignored but movies such as these (including Armageddon) get so much wrong that that they have devolved into fantasy.

I’ve heard the excuse that reality is too boring and those plot points are necessary to make the stories interesting.

That’s bullshit.

Real physics, biology, astronomy, etc. are far more interesting (and powerful) then presented in the majority of films and shows. These inaccuracies (sometimes deliberate and other times from ignorance) are a shortcut – an unimaginative way to advance a story.

Part of this argument I hear repeated is that an audience wouldn’t be able to understand the details. Perhaps that’s true for some individuals but there are many scientists available who could provide a simple description of almost any scientific fact that the “general public” could relate to. If you don’t believe this then you were probably not fortunate enough to have ever met a good science teacher/professor.

And there’s evidence to disprove this assertion. Several stories with complicated plot lines have been successful.

There have always been some movies or shows that were hardcore sci-fi. But overall, I still feel that there’s not enough. Why do I have to wait months or years to watch some good science fiction? I think the quality and quantity of sci-fi is improving. Perhaps it’s because more people can relate to the stories of the future with all of the advances they now live with?

I understand the excuses that are presented for not using real science in movies but they’re just that – excuses. It’s not necessary to explain why and how everything happens but it wouldn’t hurt to make it realistic and thus satisfy both the casual viewer and the science geeks.

A bigger question is why is this acceptable? Drama and general knowledge aside, there are many other things we don’t allow to be compromised in the same way. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a great way of questioning this double-standard. If scientific accuracy isn’t important then why are other things?

Grading Science Fiction for Realism
Bad Astronomy – Bad Movies

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