Usually, it’s something we just accept as part of the fantasy, but the filmmakers sometimes go too far. At times, it’s all you can do to keep from storming out of a theater complaining that this nonsense is just too unbelievable.
But maybe we ought to be a bit more patient because reality can be pretty unbelievable, too.
10. People Who Can Deflect Bullets With A Sword
The idea of cutting a speeding bullet out of the air is so ridiculous that most movies don’t even bother trying to pass it off as possible. If you see somebody in an action movie blocking a bullet with his sword, they usually find some way to justify it. They’ll give him psychic powers or magic to keep it from being too ridiculous. After all, everyone knows that people can’t do that in real life, right?
Well, at least one person can. His name is Isao Machii, and he’s the world’s fastest swordsman. After years of practicing cutting things up in midair, Machii let a woman shoot him with a BB gun just to see how fast he really was.
The pellet fired out at 320 kilometers per hour (200 mph), moving so quickly that it went from the gun to Machii’s head in less than one-third of a second. And still, Machii managed to cut it out of the air with a samurai sword.
In principle, Machii’s reflexes should be physically impossible—but he pulled it off. Machii knocked the BB pellet out of the air, even nicking a piece of the pellet off with the stroke of his sword.
9. The Sharknado
Of all the movies that could have come true last year, Sharknado was probably the last one we would’ve predicted. A tornado pulling sharks out of the ocean and sending them whirling over a city in a cyclone of destruction isn’t exactly the threat that gets people to shell out money for a premium insurance policy. And yet, it happened.
In March 2017, for the first time in recorded history, the world experienced a Sharknado. While Cyclone Debbie was ravaging the coasts of Australia, one unfortunate bull shark’s pleasant swim in the ocean came to an unexpected end. The cyclone picked the shark up, twirled it through the air, and threw it directly at the town of Ayr, where it landed in the middle of the road.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt. The shark landed outside during a flood while everyone in the town was staying indoors. When the storm ended, they found it—a massive bull shark lying in the middle of the town road.
Granted, one shark is a relatively minor Sharknado as far as Sharknados go. But it was a Sharknado. And you can’t take that away from us.
8. The Joker’s Nerve Toxin
Batman’s archnemesis, The Joker, has a way of killing people that would fit in a horror movie every bit as well as it does in a superhero adventure: his nerve toxin. Joker’s toxin is a killer gas that puts his victims through an agonizing and painful death as it contorts their faces into a twisted mockery of a smile. It’s a pretty horrific concept to see show up in a comic book—but even more nightmarish to see in real life.
Joker’s nerve toxin really exists—or, at least, something very similar. It’s called water dropwort, and it’s a naturally occurring poisonous plant that was used to litter the island of Sardinia with eerie, grinning corpses 3,000 years ago.
The Phoenicians used this plant to poison and kill people they didn’t want in their society—specifically, their grandparents. When grandma got too old to be useful, they’d feed her water dropwort until her face twisted and froze into a terrifying forced smile.
The poison didn’t actually kill the victims in Sardinia. Instead, the town just beat them to death after making them eat it. But that doesn’t mean the real-life nerve toxin isn’t fatal. People have eaten enough water dropwort to stop their own hearts—and have gone out of this world looking like something straight out of an issue of Detective Comics.
7. Archers Who Can Split An Arrow
This one’s almost a cliche at this point—the archer who’s so talented that he can shoot an arrow right through the middle of another arrow. It’s an idea as old as the legend of Robin Hood, and it’s been a classic move for every archer since. By all means, it should be impossible.
It isn’t, though. Not only have people pulled this trick off in real life, but one man even did it while making a Robin Hood movie. A professional archer named Howard Hill worked on the 1938 Robin Hood film. Hill took Robin Hood’s winning shot himself and nailed it, splitting the arrow in the bullseye in half just like in the story.
Splitting an arrow in real life, though, doesn’t look as cool as you’d imagine. It either gets stuck in the other arrow or, as in Hill’s case, just splits through an unimpressive-looking sliver of wood. Even though they caught a real-life miracle on camera, the producers of the movie ended up using a faked shot instead of the real thing.
Whether it looks like the movies or not, splitting an arrow is totally possible. There are archers who can put on shows of splitting an arrow with another arrow, pulling it off almost every time.
6. MI6’s Spy Gadgets
Those fun little gadgets that Q gives James Bond aren’t entirely fantasy. MI6 has a real-life “Q” in charge of making them—and the organization really does equip its agents with spy gadgets.
Sort of. MI6 won’t give a lot of details about its top secret spy weapons, but they’ve admitted that the weapons aren’t exactly like the movies. MI6 has made it clear that they don’t really give their agents hidden knives or exploding pens. Although they haven’t said what their “Q” really does make, all signs point toward the boringly practical.
Thank God for America, though. During the Cold War, they made every gadget that Bond could have dreamed of. When Bond movies were at their peak, the CIA didn’t just invent spy gadgets—they even copied the ones they saw in the movies. There were real CIA agents walking around with poison-tipped daggers in their shoes purely because CIA researchers thought it looked cool in From Russia with Love.
MI6 might have stayed practical, but the CIA used every spy gadget you can imagine. They positioned a tree stump bug in the woods outside Moscow. They hid tiny guns in pens, pipes, and lipstick. They put little cameras in everything and even made a spy camera that looked like a tiny robotic dragonfly.
So Bond’s gadgets really were in use in the field. You just had to visit a US spy agency to see them in action.
5. Spy Cars That Drop Oil Slicks
Bond’s spy cars exist, too. People really have made their getaways in absurd cars loaded up with traps, including smoke screens and oil slicks to foil anyone who might chase them. But the most notorious real-life Bond car didn’t belong to an agent. Instead, it was owned by one of America’s most dangerous gangsters: James “Whitey” Bulger.
Bulger had a custom Chevrolet Malibu that was rigged like the car in Goldfinger. He used it to make sure that no one chased him when he fled the scene of a crime. He once got away with a drive-by shooting by putting a wig on his head, twirling a fake mustache, and driving away in that car—spraying smoke screens and spilling oil slicks behind him to keep anyone from chasing him.
It sounds a little silly, but Bulger’s spy car seems to have worked. He stayed out of prison for years after driving away in a car straight out of The Cannonball Run.
4. Jack’s Aging Disease
In 1996, Robin Williams and Francis Ford Coppola teamed up to make Jack, the story of a boy who ages at four times the normal rate. It wasn’t exactly a smash hit, and it didn’t really strike many people as believable. In fact, critics called it a “tedious, uneventful fantasy.”
Jack’s aging, though, really does happen to some people. The Hartshorns, a British family, suffer from a form of lipodystrophy that affects them exactly as Robin Williams’s character was impacted in the movie. The girls appear to age at four times the rate of normal children.
Young Zara Hartshorn was mistaken for a 40-year-old woman as soon as she turned 12. When starting at a new school, she once had a teacher hand her a lesson plan, thinking she was the substitute teacher.
3. Scrooge McDuck’s Coin Vault
Scrooge McDuck knows how to celebrate wealth with style. There’s no more iconic symbol for being rich than an obscenely wealthy duck diving into an absurdly deep pool of gold coins and going for a swim. It’s something we’ve all dreamed of doing—and at one time, you could have lived out the fantasy if you were willing to make a trip to Switzerland.
In 2013, a group known as the “Generation Basic Income Initiative” dumped a truckload of Swiss five-cent coins in front of Switzerland’s parliament building in Bern. They were celebrating their success at forcing a vote on a national referendum to give every adult citizen in Switzerland a basic income of 2,500 francs a month.
Later, the group stored the coins in a 45-square-meter (480 ft2) vault in a former bank building. Then they arranged an online auction to sell the vault and the coins to raise even more money for the expensive referendum battle ahead.
The vault stored only the Swiss five-cent coins, more than enough to buy McDuck Manor. The eight million coins (with each one representing a Swiss citizen) were worth a total of 400,000 Swiss francs—the equivalent of about US$500,000. All told, the massive pool of coins in that vault weighed 15 tons.
Granted, swimming through all those coins might have been a bit more difficult than it looks in the cartoons. But the vault did look just like Scrooge McDuck’s. No word on whether anyone was willing to pay the £3 million asking price to take that gold coin swim, but the referendum was ultimately shot down by Swiss voters.
2. The Penguin’s Umbrella Gun
As it turns out, Batman villains aren’t as far-fetched as they seem. Not only is there a real-life nerve toxin, but the Penguin’s signature weapon—the umbrella gun—really exists, too. And it changed history.
Georgi Markov was a Bulgarian dissident living in England. He wrote scathing criticisms of the Bulgarian regime and apparently made a few enemies. One day in 1978, he walking to work and saw a man tap him in the leg with an umbrella. Markov felt a strange little sting.
The umbrella had been loaded with a poisonous pellet filled with ricin, and the man had just injected it into Markov’s leg. Markov, though, thought he’d just bumped into a particularly clumsy man. The killer was able to walk off, hop into a cab, and ride away. Meanwhile, Markov began the process of dying a slow and painful death from ricin poisoning.
Technically, that weapon wasn’t a gun. But it was the most high-profile, umbrella-related murder. There’d been plenty more. The Cold War–era CIA made umbrella guns on an assembly line, and countless other spies used them. In fact, a 1928 issue of Popular Mechanics even had an article teaching the folks at home how to turn any ordinary umbrella into a rifle.
1. Scooby-Doo Villains
Everyone has problems. But outside of the Scooby-Doo universe, most adults have a bit too much dignity to deal with them by dressing up as ghosts and scaring townspeople. Still, there are exceptions.
Like Patch-Eye Pete, the real-life Scooby-Doo-type villain whose name we swear we didn’t make up. Patch-Eye Pete was a British miner who was put in charge of a team of Korean gold miners. He was convinced that they were robbing him blind every time he turned his back. So Patch-Eye Pete and the other supervisors came up with a plan straight out of a cartoon.
The supervisors put a gramophone in the mine shaft and played a spooky-sounding recording. It told the workers that an evil spirit would haunt the graves of their ancestors if they didn’t return what they had stolen. It was a crazy plan, but it actually worked—and without any meddling kids.
In fact, it may have worked a little too well. The miners returned the stolen goods, but they also went a bit overboard. They tied chickens and pigs together and threw them down the mine shaft as an offering to the angry spirit. While they banged on drums, one of the women walked over to the edge to lure the spirit into possessing her body. And then, when they were sure the spirit was trapped inside her, the other miners beat her senseless.
So these crazy plots really can happen in real life. They just don’t always end quite as well as they do in the cartoons.