The best movie myths tested on MythBusters

Pretty much everything you see at the movies requires some suspension of disbelief. No one really thinks there are talking dragons (or any other kind of dragon) and everyone knows that vampires don't glitter. But some movie myths are so pervasive that we almost believe them. For example, the next time you lock yourself out of the house, you can just shoot your way back in with a handgun (just kidding, don't do that). And if you ever find yourself suspended from a ledge 10 or 15 stories up, don't worry — you can just hang there until help arrives (just kidding, don't do that either).

Hollywood sure shows us some amazing stuff, though, and how are we supposed to know if any of it is really true? Well, years of MythBusters episodes actually answered some of those questions for us. In fact Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, and their crew have tested dozens of movie myths over the years, some from specific films and others that are used over and over and over again on the big screen. Here are some of the best.

Can you have a conversation while skydiving?

In Point Break, Keanu Reeves plummets to earth with a gang of surfer/bank robbers as the score plays melodramatically in the background and everyone in the audience sighs in satisfied happiness. Or something. Anyway, skydiving is something that people do every day for reasons that remain totally unclear to those of us who'd rather not fall out of a plane, and in this bonding moment, the five buds join hands as the ground rapidly approaches. They then proceed to have a conversation about how awesome the experience is. Well, a shouting conversation, but we're led to believe that they can all hear and understand each other. Hmm ... seems a bit fishy.

The MythBusters thought so too, and in episode 94, they decided to test the theory by making Grant jump out of a plane. While in freefall, Grant was approached by a skydiving instructor who was asked to shout a specific phrase several times, but Grant was unable to understand the words. In freefall, the sound of rushing air drowns out the sound of a human voice. Thus, the myth was busted. Incidentally, it also takes around 31 seconds to fall 4,000 feet — in the movie the freefall took three times that long. That myth was busted in the same episode.

Just get on the stupid door, Jack

Maybe you didn't notice through all of those salty tears, but when Jack and Rose are floating around in the ice-cold North Atlantic at the end of Titanic, there's a moment when they both could have been saved. Or at least, that is what people were saying back in 2012, when someone released a bunch of photos showing all the different ways that both Jack and Rose could have fit on that stupid floating door.

You can't ever bust a myth until you actually do it for real, though. To honor the 15th anniversary of the movie that every American female under the age of 25 saw like 50 million times, MythBusters decided to find out if it really was possible for both Jack and Rose to survive the sinking of the unsinkable liner.

James Cameron, who directed Titanic, told Adam and Jamie that the door wouldn't have been buoyant enough to support both of them. But full-scale testing seemed to prove otherwise. In fact, Adam and Jamie boosted the door's buoyancy by tying a lifejacket underneath it. They were both able to climb on and stay more or less out of the water. 

Cameron was unmoved. "I think you guys are missing the point here," he said. "The script says Jack died. He has to die. So maybe we screwed up and the board should have been a little tiny bit smaller, but the dude's goin' down."

Will an awning break your fall?

In 2006, MythBusters did a whole two-hour special on movie myths, including the often-seen one where a person falls out of a window, hits an awning, and then lands mostly unscathed at ground level. So, could an awning really save you from a fall? How about multiple awnings, as seen in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Jackie Chan's Project A?

Fortunately, this is a pretty simple myth to test out. All you need to do is throw someone off the edge of a building in the path of multiple awnings, and then see what state they're in when they get to the bottom. Not a real person, of course, but the MythBusters' usual fall guy, the crash-test dummy lovingly referred to as "Buster." When Buster took the plunge he suffered what would have been serious injuries on a person, but the injuries were still considered "less than lethal" by his onboard shock sensors. This myth was deemed "plausible."

Is a thick layer of gold paint lethal?

James Bond films are full of ridiculous ideas like x-ray specs that see through clothes but not underclothes, and Bond managing to never get an STD (herpes is forever, dude). Most of the stupidity just gets overlooked because it's James Bond. Who really cares whether or not science agrees with anything he does?

But some of the dumb stuff in 007's adventures really needs to be myth-busted. One of those things is that goofy scene in Goldfinger where Jill Masterson gets smothered in gold paint and then ... dies. MythBusters called BP (bull poop) on that one, and both Adam and Jamie went under the paintbrush to see if they could survive being covered in gold paint. Jamie seemed to have a weird blood pressure response (though doctors speculated it was probably just because his blood pressure tended towards high anyway), and Adam had a drop in body temperature (which maybe had more to do with the fact that he was essentially naked except for the paint), but neither of them suffered any serious physical consequences. Well, except for the rectal thermometer, but we won't talk about that.

Can you open a door by shooting the lock?

Everyone knows if you need to get through a locked door, all you have to do is shoot the doorknob with a handgun. Everyone knows that, because Hollywood has been reminding us like every three and a half action films. But is it really true, or just another movie thing we've seen so many danged times we don't question it anymore?

MythBusters tested this one on their two-hour "Mega Movie Myths" episode. First, they tried the basic handgun vs. lock technique employed in Big Trouble in Little China — both a 9mm pistol and a .357 Magnum failed to open either padlocks or deadbolts. You can, however, disable a lock with a shotgun or high-powered rifle, but not because the bullet engages the lock's mechanism or anything. The only reason it works at all is because those guns are powerful enough to just destroy the entire lock. No lock, no locked door.

Hang on, I'll get help

So, you're dangling off a ledge by the fingertips. It's okay — just hang on for a few and help will arrive. We've seen this one in the movies enough times to know that ledge dangling is just a temporary problem. Hey, Frodo could do it even when he was short one finger.

Well, we were right about one thing — ledge dangling is only temporary, because no one can hang onto a ledge for as long as the movies seem to imply you can. MythBusters tested this one on episode 138, finding everyone who tried was able to hold onto the ledge for only a minute, and that was only because they had about three inches of space to hang onto. When the space was reduced to an inch, their times were cut to between 40 and 30 seconds (with the exception of Grant, who could not get a grip at all). So unless someone happens to be standing by with a safety net or a large bucket of styrofoam peanuts, your chances of surviving a ledge-dangle really aren't great.

Can you curve a bullet?

What about shooting around corners? This one maybe isn't as prevalent as some of the other movie myths the MythBusters have tested over the years, but what gun-toting movie hero or villain doesn't wish for a device that will let them shoot around a corner? Or at the very least, have some extra control over the direction of a bullet?

Well, MythBusters tested a couple of myths related to this idea. In the first, they bent the barrel of a rifle and tested it to see if the bullet would exit the barrel with actual lethal force and — surprise — it did. On another episode, they tested a specific myth perpetrated by the movie Wanted, in which the characters can curve a bullet just by swinging their arms. Cool, but does it work?

No. No, it does not. When MythBusters tested this one, they were unable to duplicate the feat using normal humans, though it sure looked like they were all having fun trying. But just to be sure, they also rigged a robotic arm to swing twice as fast as a human arm, and the bullet still left the gun in a straight line. Sorry, Wanted fans. Busted.

Madness, brilliance, or special effects?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has a lot of great moments, but one of the best is that scene where Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner use an upside-down rowboat as an improvised submarine. In the film, we clearly see them walking underwater with a rowboat over their heads, and when we cut to the inside of the rowboat we can see a handy pocket of air that lets them breathe while sneaking across the ocean floor. "This is either madness or brilliance," Will says. Jack replies, "It's remarkable how often those two traits coincide." Indeed.

But then the MythBusters had to come along and wreck it all, because the MythBusters love to do that. In episode 92, they tested the rowboat myth and a couple of others from popular pirate movies. When they tried to walk into the water with the boat over their head, they found that they weren't able to actually drag the rowboat down with them because their bodies were too bouyant. 60 pounds of pirate gear didn't help weigh them down enough, and neither did 500 pounds of weight on the boat itself. In the end, they figured it would take around 2,000 pounds of force to keep the boat underwater, which means there's really no way Jack and Will could have pulled this one off, whether madness or brilliance.

Can you survive cold temperatures inside the carcass of a large animal?

Is it possible the MythBusters could ever be wrong? Of course not. They are science incarnate. Sure, they occasionally send cannonballs through random suburban neighborhoods, but they're never wrong.

In the MythBusters Star Wars Special, Adam made a Tauntaun out of foam and synthetic skin and fur. The MythBusters stuffed the fake carcass full of fake organs, and then put "Thermo Boy" — a dummy with a circulatory system — inside of it. They then warmed the gross duo to 99 degrees and put them into a -40 degree refrigerator. Jamie and Adam reasoned that Han Solo would have needed 2 ½ hours to build a shelter, and by the end of that time period Thermo Boy's temperature had only dropped to 92 degrees. This myth: plausible.

Not everyone agrees with them, though. In 2012, Gizmodo came to the conclusion that Luke would have been a goner inside the tauntaun, though they used some slightly different numbers to arrive at that conclusion. They decided on a starting temperature of 95 degrees, since Luke was probably already in a mild state of hypothermia, and an outside temperature of -60 instead of -40. Using those numbers as a baseline, they figured Han only had about 47 minutes to get Luke inside a real shelter. They didn't have a fake tauntaun to try it out on, though, so let's go with the MythBusters' "plausible" conclusion.

Confirmed: Indiana Jones is awesome

Indiana Jones is all kinds of awesome, but he's extra-awesome with a bullwhip. He could use it to swing across holes in the floors of scary jungle temples, yank a hot poker out of the hand of that Nazi guy with the weird lips, and even disarm a pistol-wielding assailant. MythBusters did a whole episode on Indiana Jones, and three of the myths they tested were bullwhip-specific. 

Adam and Jamie made a chasm out of shipping boxes and put a wooden post over the top to simulate a tree branch. When they covered the post with sandpaper — which is more similar to the bark of a tree than sanded wood is — Adam was able the cross the simulated chasm via bullwhip. In the second myth, the pair tried to master hitting a small target with a bullwhip, which is evidently not as easy as our fedora-clad hero makes it look. They brought in a whip expert (which, frankly, seems like the world's coolest thing to be an expert in), and after that, Jamie was able to snag Adam's hand with the whip, which would have been enough to throw off his aim. Adam was then able to strike Jamie's (gloved) hand, which would have been enough to make an ungloved hand drop its weapon. Both myths: plausible.

Can you make a candle out of ear wax?

Shrek is a charming dude, but he's gross. Sorry, Fiona, but he is. His farts can kill fish, he makes stew out of swamp rats, and he's a butt scratcher. Also, he picks wax out of his ear and uses it to make candles. But he's animated, and he's an ogre, so most people would agree that he can pretty much do whatever he wants. Still, the whole earwax candle thing sort of begs the question — could that actually be done? It's wax, right? 

But it's really too gross to contemplate, so of course no one would ever try it. Except the MythBusters did, because they don't shy away from gross myths. They just make Grant do it.

Yes, the MythBusters really did test the earwax candle myth. They didn't harvest their own earwax, though, instead getting the wax from a local ear/nose/throat doctor who saved the stuff he collected from hundreds of patients. The team melted it down, but Grant reported that it smelled so awful he couldn't bring himself to complete the test. Everyone else tried to make it into a working candle, but they were also unsuccessful. So, busted, with one small problem — the ear wax wasn't actually ogre ear wax, so can they really be sure?

Can you blow up a shark with a scuba tank?

Jaws is a classic. It's so much of a classic that your mom probably made you watch it when you were eight and then you were so traumatized that you couldn't sleep for weeks because you thought great white sharks might be living in your waterbed. No? Well, anyway...

Any movie about the hunt for a man-eating great white shark is going to be thrilling, so did Steven Spielberg really need the climax to be an explosion? Of course he did. It's not like you could kill a giant shark with a whale-sized harpoon gun or something obvious. But could you actually blow up a scuba tank by shooting it while it's lodged inside the mouth of a very big fish? Inquiring MythBusters want to know.

Well, MythBusters busted this one not once but twice — shooting the scuba tank in the mouth of their fake shark did nothing, until they tried shooting it with a .50 sniper rifle. Even then it didn't explode, though it did puncture, propel down the fake shark's gullet and out the tail end. So it would have been a kill shot for sure, just not the dramatic explosion we got to see in the movie. Still, most of the gross points would have been there. 

Bad news if you ever find yourself buried alive

In Kill Bill Vol. 2, our heroine finds herself in a coffin. Unlike most of us, she doesn't freak right the heck out and end up dying from oxygen deprivation within a few minutes because of all the hysterical screaming. Nope. She keeps her head and punches a hole in the coffin, then she climbs out through the dirt and literally rises from her grave, thus giving hope to all humans who have ever been terrified of waking up inside their own coffins. 

But then MythBusters had to go and snatch all that hope away when they busted the coffin punch myth. They built a punching robot that could generate the same force as a human punch, put the poor thing inside a pine coffin and let it try to punch its way out. The robot punched the lid 600 times and barely cracked the lid. Okay, so let's just bypass that part of the myth and see if it would be possible to dig yourself out through the dirt. 

Nope, that's not possible either. The MythBusters tested that part of the myth using a coffin with a sliding trap door in it that allowed dirt inside, and when buried six feet under, the coffin filled with dirt so quickly that it would have been impossible to get out before suffocating. Better just go back to that whole bell on a string idea from the Victorian era.