I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
Movies make their own rules.
Movies do their best to imitate real life better than any other art form. However, movies have their own separate reality as well. Certain details pop up over and over again which help to remind you that you are watching a movie, similar to the clues that lead you to realize when you are dreaming versus wide awake. Below are 20 of these instances that pop up frequently in movies but not so much in real life.
1. Phone numbers begin with “555”.
Phone numbers starting with 555 were originally not in use which made them perfect phone numbers for people who didn't exist except for characters in a movie or TV show. A commonly used phone number was 555-2368, such as was used in the movie, Ghostbusters (1984).
However, in 1994, the phone companies began to offer 555 numbers to businesses, keeping 555-0100 to 555-0199 for fictional use only. So, filmmakers can choose any combination in this group to ensure that they aren't displaying a number that's currently in use.
However, more and more movies are using unused numbers starting with the area code in which their story is set. Seeing the 555 does tend to remind you that you are watching a movie. However, it is still fun to spot.
Ghostbusters Commercial with 555 Phone Number
2. Animals understand what characters are saying and follow orders to help them out of a jam.
The average dog isn't going to be able to pick a lock to get you out of a trapped room, and your average spider doesn't know how to weave words into webs, but in the movies, animals not only understand humans, but they can use that information to get them out of a jam. Animals fetch crucial objects, untie bound humans, and run for help when there's a fire. They're useful creatures to have around, and when things get really bizarre, their humans understand them right back.
Beethoven can't speak, but he always manages to communicate through his actions and save the day.
3. Characters can faint without getting hurt or feeling woozy afterwards.
Fainting is a really comical way to break up a scene or show surprise. However, the way that some characters fall backwards would probably leave them with a concussion, or at least, a bad headache. Yet characters tend to bounce right back after a few head shakes and continue with their day. Sometimes there's an ice pack for show, but anyone who has fainted in real life knows that you're down for the count for some time after you black out.
Kat is reminded that only ghosts can pass through walls.
4. They have chance encounters with other characters at opportune moments.
Whether it be in a crowd at a party or in one of the largest cities in the world, if the movie needs two characters to come together, they will run into each other, usually a the 11th hour. Romantic comedies are notorious for this, but it can happen in any situation, as long as a story needs to build some tension and stack the odds against the heroes. While it's true that you're more likely to find something or someone when you stop looking, and we do have chance encounters with people, it's tipping the scales to assume that so many of these unlikely moments would occur in real life.
Forrest and Jenny reunite in the middle of a Vietnam War protest at the Lincoln Memorial.
5. When they're fired from their job, they collect their belongings in a box before shuffling out the door.
Whenever a character is fired, usually one who works in an office, they always leave their job holding a small paper box with built-in handles. While it's true that most offices have an abundance of these boxes, these characters always seem to be carrying the same stuff: a plant, a light, framed pictures, a coffee mug, etc.
This shot represents a walk of shame, indicating that the character is leaving a second home. The box makes them look vulnerable and destitute, carrying around these generic relics of their former life.
Clip from 'Bruce Almighty'
6. They spill a drink or drop something breakable when they hear bad news.
If something bad is about to happen or a shocking truth is about to be revealed, characters must be holding something breakable. That way, when they hear the news, they are so shocked that they forget to grasp what is in their hand, and it falls onto a hard surface, smashing into a million pieces. I've been known to tip my drink if I'm not paying attention, but I've never seen anybody drop what they are holding upon seeing a shocking image or hearing an intense piece of news.
Clip from 'E.T.': Mom Spills Her Drink
7. Musical numbers are executed perfectly without rehearsal, often in public and with total strangers.
This is especially true of musicals, and they get a pass because of their genre, but sometimes it even pops up in comedies. A song will come on, and suddenly, everyone in sight will be dancing in sync or singing along to a song that is made up on the spot. These sequences are well-rehearsed ahead of time to look like organically grown musical numbers on screen, but they are highly unrealistic to those of us watching in the real world.
Austin Powers always seems to wrangle a group of extras to begin his films with a dance number.
8. Bed sheets make a strong, solid escape rope.
When a character is locked in a room or a prison with a bed, they strip the sheets, tie them together, and use them as a ladder to climb out of a window. The sheets tend to be just long enough to reach the ground below, and the knots are sturdy, sometimes holding multiple characters at once. I always cringe when I see one of these scenes, sure that the homemade rope won't hold, but it always does.
A makeshift ladder made of bed sheets.
9. Women gain superhero strength while in labor.
It's clear that giving birth is a painful experience without the proper medication. The pain brings about aggression in its victim, and they tend to get violent. Many new dads can attest to having fingernails jabbed into their arms or their hands squeezed until they turn red, but movie moms tend to rip metal handles off off hospital beds, punch holes in walls, and break bones. She becomes superhuman for a short time, usually for comic relief.
Moms gain super strength and aggression while in labor.
10. Heroes can disarm a bomb with just a few seconds remaining.
Action and thriller movies love to play a crucial scene down to the wire in order to add suspense. That includes disarming timers on bombs, usually by cutting wires. However, if you talk to a real bomb expert, they do not recommend this approach. It just looks cool for the main character to place themselves in front of the potential explosion before saving the day. Plus, how many bombs are really sophisticated enough to run on a timer?
'Rush Hour' Disarming the Bomb
11. Characters can survive a large explosion uninjured.
In a movie, a large explosion will often detonate near a main character, sending them flying backwards. They end up a little disheveled with sometimes a cut on their head or soot on their face, but ultimately, it does little more than stun them. When they are the ones who set off an explosion, they tend to walk away from it slowly without being blown forward or even developing hearing loss. Characters in war movies aren't usually as lucky, though. An explosion will usually kill, injure, or deafen characters in a more realistic way. The inconsistencies tend to serve whatever story the movie is trying to tell.
Tony and Pepper get blown away but end up walking away unscathed.
12. A hero can pull someone who is hanging off of something high to safety without dislocating both characters' arms.
A real life rule is that if someone is hanging off of something high, like a ledge, pulling them up by their arm will most likely rip it out of its socket, along with the rescuer's arm. Movie heroes don't have to worry about this, though. Characters can hang suspended like this for several minutes at a time, which is usually the amount of time they need before the hero can muster the strength to pull them to safety.
A scene from Batman Begins involving two characters dangling off a cliff.
13. Good guys don’t get hit by flying bullets, especially in the middle of the movie.
The news is always reporting on gunshot victims that are hit by stray bullets in their homes, cars, or on the street. However, movie characters are usually able to avoid a spray of bullets in a confined space. When they do get hit, it's usually in a non-lethal area, and they don't bleed out. Instead, it makes them even more determined to take out the villain. When the hit is lethal, it's usually done in a way that could have been avoided or was caused by a bullet coming in a direction that was previously avoided. The bullets just do what the script tells them to do.
14. Name calling will get the characters to do whatever the name caller wants.
Biff in Back to the Future is always able to provoke Marty by calling him a chicken. Flick in A Christmas Story sticks his tongue on the frozen pole because he is "triple dog dared." Henry from Rookie of the Year is able to help win the big game by teasing one of the base runners until they attempt to steal a base at the wrong time for an easy out.
Romantic interests goad each other to get the upper hand in their relationships. Name calling can get the better of people sometimes, but in a crucial moment, people in the real world don't usually fall for it.
Needles bullies Marty into doing what he wants by calling him a "chicken."
15. To void a contract, a character will tear it up.
Many characters are faced with signing a contract that they don't agree with or one that will ruin them. Then, at the last minute, they are saved by some external force that keeps them from having to sign. In their defiance, they rip up the contract in front of their foe. In many cases, this does nothing to void the contract's existence. So, hopefully, they were only doing this for show, or maybe the legal system is different in movie world.
After the Goonies save the day, Mr. Walsh tears up the contract that would force them out of their homes.
16. Important news stories are viewed from multiple TV’s in a store window.
Movies love to show characters getting news when they're not at home. Often, they will be on a street corner and see a piece of news in a shop window. This is especially true of big news stories that affect more than just the main character. They usually have to compete for space in front of the window in order to hear the story. The volume is usually turned up to an easy-to-hear level, and the fact that the character is already out and about can get them on the move faster. Nowadays, news spreads much faster. So, seeing a piece of news on a phone is more realistic, but back in the day, an electronics store window would give movie characters the information that they need when they're not at home.
Big Bird finds out that Ms. Finch is after him from a TV store window in "Follow That Bird."
17. A punch will not hurt the person doing the punching.
Have you ever taken a swing at someone and connected? It hurts you almost as much as it hurts the person you hit. Yet, characters, usually just give their hand a quick shake after they have cleaned somebody's clock while the victim lies on the floor, spitting blood and teeth.
Comedies sometimes will make light of the fact that punching hurts, especially for those who are inexperienced, but for the most part, the act comes and goes with little consequence to the puncher. On top of that, a punch is usually accompanied by the classic "punch" sound that movies use to show the power of the hit. I've never heard this sound replicated in real life, yet it is used in even the most serious movies.
Learning to hit without being hurt.
18. People run away from their weddings.
More often than not, weddings to the wrong man or woman usually lead in the hero leaving midway through, or sometimes a character will run to stop a wedding before it's over. Otherwise, they are too late.
But a marriage ceremony isn't the same as getting married. It's not until they sign the paperwork that they are married. Sometimes this comes before the wedding. Sometimes it's on the day of or after the wedding.
The question they should be asking is, has the marriage certificate been signed? If so, then stopping that wedding isn't going to stop the marriage, at least not legally.
Julia Roberts spends an entire movie escaping from her weddings.
19. If you eat at a restaurant and forget to pay, they make you do the dishes.
For years, I thought this was how it worked in the real world. If you ate at a restaurant and you lost your wallet or forgot to bring enough cash, the next thing you know, you're in the back hand washing the dishes. In reality, the restaurant would just bill you or let you off without paying, but in the movies, you have to work off your meal, and it actually looks kind of fun.
Diner scene from Pee Wee's Big Adventure
20. Characters become stranded for long periods of time without looking unkempt.
Some movies try to look more accurate than others, but when it comes to female characters, especially, they look pretty good for someone who looks stranded for long periods of time. Facial hair doesn't grow, makeup is still applied, and wounds heal without scarring. They may lose weight, and men may grow beards, but they still look like movie stars, just with dirty faces and raggedy clothes.
Not a stray eyebrow hair to be found after months at sea.
Which movie trope is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!
Breanne Ginsburg on January 21, 2015:
Ha, this is a very funny and true article! It always gets me how every time a character hears bad news, they drop their glass! Also, while the musical thing is part of the whole musical television concept, it is utterly unrealistic; people would never happen to know the same lyrics and start at the same time randomly!