SF Movies/TV that got Newtonian gravity/forces stupidly wrong vs those that got it right (spoilers)

The topic is actually: Science Fiction movies and TV that seem to have tried to depict Newtonian physics accurately, but just screwed it up somehow.

Exceptions will be made for those that invoke a future technology as a workaround - so Star Wars, *Firefly *and *Star trek *get a free pass because there’s some kind of artificial gravity or inertial modification built into their fictional universes.

Consideration will also be given for works where accurate depiction of physics would have been silly or detracting from the story - so Moon gets away with not depicting lower lunar gravity because it might have ended up being too comical.


As far as I can tell, Kubrick’s 2001 got it mostly right - centrifugal faking of gravity seemed plausible and well thought out.

*Moonraker *got it wrong. The simulated gravity provided by rotating the space station was consistent throughout, and all at the wrong angles.

*Armageddon *got the same thing wrong as Moonraker, as well as having weirdly variable gravity conditions on the asteroid/comet itself.

*Ender’s Game *got it wrong - again, for similar reasons to Moonraker.

I’m willing to give inconsistent or illogical depictions of artificial gravity a pass just because doing it right would be absurdly expensive or distracting. Your thread title put me more in mind of spaceships that non-Newtonially glide to a stop in frictionless space, as the disabled Excelsior did in Star Trek III.

Not sure I get your exceptions. I don’t remember any artificial gravity being mentioned in Star Wars or Firefly, and in Star Trek it just a hand-wavey get out (eg, if they have artificial gravity, how come they never switch it off/turn it up to double when they get boarded by enemies? How come it never failed when the power was down?) Why does Moon get a pass? Anything could become comical in zero-G, so doesn’t this rule apply to anything?
However, for the record, I think Babylon 5 did gravity pretty well. The main station and Earth battleships required rotating sections for gravity, and B5 used the central spine of the station as a low grav area, which they used for manoeuvring ships through the docking bay. When people used the monorail, (which was nearer the spine, thus had lower gravity than ‘floor’ level) there were warnings about holding onto handrails at all times etc. When Sheridan had to jump out of an exploding monorail car, it wasn’t the drop that was going to kill him, it was that he was drifting towards the rotating floor of the station, which was moving at considerable speed in relation to him

Also, the Starfury fights had the pilot strapped to the front (rather than seated), and required at least two thrusters to fire to make a turn.

They went with “Show, Don’t Tell” - there’s a scene in *Serenity *( the pilot episode, not the movie), where they float crates into the airlock in zero-G, and they clearly fall to the floor when the lock cycles. They may not have been 100% consistent, but they were quite good about showing the difference between the zero-g outside and the agrav inside.

Do I recall correctly that the Excelsior had been travelling at warp prior to being disabled? If that involves using a warp bubble to stretch spacetime in front of you to make your destination actually closer to you (which I think is how they say ST warp works?) then disabling the warp while in transit would effectively lead to a deceleration to a standstill…

I knew as I was typing it that someone would correct me. Don’t remember that scene at all.


The Excelsior never got to warp - they suffered a major malfunction when they tried due to Scotty’s sabotage - so the made-up rules of warp speed don’t apply. The ship doesn’t actually stop, I see upon review, but it does appear to significantly slow for no apparent reason except to fulfill audience expectations, I guess.

I think it’s obvious - they have all sorts of artificial manipulation of forces (small F) - hovering things, force fields, and a universal sense of ‘down’ on all the ships. We can assume AG is a feature of this universe without it being explicitly mentioned.

As mentioned, the first episode shows the effect of AG being turned on while an airlock is compressing.

It’s mentioned a LOT in ST - not in TOS maybe, but all the others have ‘inertial dampers’ - one of the movies had AG being turned off in a Klingon ship; Enterprise explicitly mentions gravity plating.

Why didn’t they use it as a plot device more often? Bad writing and continuity. Same reason they develop a super-duper shield that lets you fly through the sun in one episode, then act like it never happened for the rest of the series.

Already explained - I think it would be distracting in a movie that, after all, isn’t really about space, but it about the nature of personal identity. It *doesn’t attempt *to accurately portray lunar gravity - it just ignores the issue.

No - because this is about movies that tried to get it right, but failed - for example, going to the bother of having a rotating space station for fake gravity, then** not having that fake gravity act centrifugally.

Was that supposed to be zero-G? I thought the crates were supposed to be on some sort of maglev pallet.

Naah, they moved them while they, themselves were also in zero-g.

Red Planet tried and mostly succeeded, physics wise (forget about the unmanned Russian probe having a GUI with a little bear mascot!) But they screwed up when Matrix-chick turned the centrifuge part of the ship back on and all the floating objects just magically fell to the floor, like it was magnetic or something.

This is true, but then, we are talking about a universe where you can conquer gravity just by thinking about it really hard, so you might be assuming too much.

Yeah, but I think you have to class bad writing as ‘got it wrong’. Its not that it isn’t used as a plot device; it’s that they mention it from time to time, then completely forget about it later

For example, in the episode Relics, they discover a Dyson sphere because of its enormous gravitational field (tried to get it right), but then beam down to a ship on the surface (running on minimal power), and aren’t crushed to death (got it wrong)

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECLvFLkvY7Y) (errrr…spoilers I guess)

(Not trying to be deliberately nitpicky by the way, just think you are setting the parameters of your question a bit too narrow. There just aren’t that many ‘realistic’ sci fi films out there :))

In “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars,” while they are in outer space, Costello fires a gun at one of the bad guys who have stowed away in the rocket ship. The bullet simply drops to the floor, “because they have moved away from Earth’s gravity,” IIRC.

If you think that’s goofy, the title is really crazy. They visit New Orleans and Venus, but never Mars.

If we listed all the examples where people walked, sat, drank coffee, and took a leak on a spaceship like they were in 1g, we’d be here all day. To me, this is one of those things where I don’t even handwave - I don’t expect SF filmmakers to deal with the lack of gravity problem, unless they want to. The budgetary issue alone would put the kibosh on making almost any film set in outer space.

I also don’t worry about implausibility if the implausibility is central to the movie. Otherwise, I couldn’t enjoy a superhero movie, monster movie, fighting robot movie… you name it.

However… yes, I do expect basic Newtonian mechanics to still operate in the movie world, even if the biology or astronomy or genetics or whatever is completely fake.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again: the worst violation of basic Newtonian mechanics (that nobody caught) was in the train fight scene in Spider Man 2. In this scene, Doc Ock throws Spider-Man forward relative to Doc Ock, whereupon SM is hurtled through a crosswalk, only to tackle Doc Ock from behind.

Scene here.

(And, no, the train didn’t speed up and slow down in 5 seconds, as has been argued before. They are trains, not rockets - they don’t work like that. :wink: )

Yeah, that makes no sense, but to me the real physics issue is how the superhumanly strong Spider-Man can land numerous punches and kicks to the head and body of Doctor Octopus and not, y’know, explode him like a dynamited watermelon.

True, but the invincibility of the opponent is also central in these types of films. After all, a movie where Spider-Man punches Doc Ock and his fist goes into his mouth, exploding out through the back of Doc Ock’s skull, leaving the rest of the film showing how Spidey deals with the emotional, spiritual, and legal fallout from killing somebody… what the fun is that? :wink:

(Though the cleanup scene would be funny. “Aunt May, how do I get brain stains out of clothing?” “You mean ‘bloodstains’, right dear?” “Uh… no, not really.”)

On the other hand, if the above was directed by Tarantino, I’d be there in a second.

Hell, that’s a good idea

Movies and TV shows generally ignore the rules of gravity altogether, and for the simplest of reasons – it’s too expensive to really show the way weightlessness and low gravity works. Usually they simply ignored things, or had one or two shots where they highlighted the effect, THEN went on to ignore it. They figured the audience wouldn’t know and/or wouldn’t care.
This has always bothered me. You COULD do low-g effects on the cheapo, if you planned things out correctly. Robert Heinlein’s Operation Moonbase did this, and it was originally supposed to be a TV show. In the 1950s!

With modern CGI you could do low- and zero-g very well (as Gravity showed recently).

In any event, it’s bothered me that virtually nobody shows low lunar gravity – not even the vaunted 2001. And shows like Space: 199 were hopeless. The recent Moon wasn’t convincing about it, either.
Anyway, here’s a list of shows or movies that at least tried to get it straight:

2001: A Space Odyssey – as mentioned above, doesn’t show lunar low-g correctly. And they make much about the “liquid food” on the moon ship dropping back. But the Zero-Gravity Toilet instructions are priceless.

2010 – much better than most, with Roy Scheider’s character actually using zero-G to make a point where he talks to Helen Mirren about how to get away from Jupiter.

Men Into Space – largely forgotten and overlooked late 50s TV series that pretty faithfully depicted spaceflight.

Operation Moonbase – the 3-D conference scene is priceless.

** Marooned** – the “Ironman” capsule scenes (based on the Apollo craft) were pretty good. Of course, this came out during the Apollo missions, and it would’ve stood out as unreal if they didn’t stayt true to reality.

Destination Moon – with screenplay by Heinlein (and others), roughly based on his Rocket Ship Galileo. Heinlein wrote a fascinating piece about trying to get this right, including the zero-G.

The Disneyland 1950s episodes *Man in Space, Man and the Moon, * and Mars and Beyond, made with the collaboration of Werner von Braun, Willy Ley, and other rocket engineers, naturally tries to get its facts straight about gravity. Originally Broadcast in black and white on the old ABC-TV show, the episodes were made in color, and can be seen on the Disney Treasures DVD set Tomorrowland.
These are all I can think of right now. Most other space dramas, even the better ones, simply ignored gravity (It! The Terror from Beyond Space), or assumed artificial gravity (Forbidden Planet)

In The Message Kaylee also mentions that it gets bumpy on board when they go down to a planet, because the planet’s gravity conflicts with the artificial gravity.

Gravity took four years to make.

It will be quite a while before gravity in space is shown accurately in a majority of films, probably not until we start shooting movies in space.