So, it makes perfect sense that our buddy would analyze the science behind our favorite films. However, Tyson not only explains matters like zero-G and proper constellation configuration, he calls out the movies that get the science wrong. When it comes to science versus Hollywood, Tyson often serves as judge, jury, and executioner.
The hype surrounding Tyson’s disdain for the disregard of good science in movies reached a fever pitch back in October 2013, when the astrophysicist took to Twitter in a series of tweets that pointed out the several scientific errors in the Academy Award-winning film Gravity. The hilarious tweets went viral, and Alfonso Cuarón cringed.
But here’s the thing, Tyson loves the movies, especially big-budget science fiction films. He explains his passion for cinema, “I want science fiction films to stretch the talent and imagination of visual effects experts. And the film above all else should create a vision of the future we either know that we don’t want, or know that we do.”
Additionally, just because a movie gets some of the science wrong, it doesn’t mean that Tyson hates it. In fact, he likes Gravity, and he sort of regrets all the negative attention surrounding his tweets. However, every man has his limits, and Neil deGrasse Tyson will not stand for a film that makes no effort in getting the science correct.
This list ranks the films that the Cosmos host has commented on from a scientific standpoint. We start with the most egregious offenders, the movies that seemingly ignored science altogether, films like The Black Hole and Armageddon. Then, we work our way down the rankings to the films that Tyson not only loves, but appreciates because they actually get all (or most of) the science correct.
Let us know if we missed any movies that you’ve heard Tyson speak about. Enjoy the list, there are some surprises on here. In fact, you won’t believe which superhero movie Tyson calls his favorite!
The Issue: It seems that the film, which did not have a science advisor on set, got more science wrong than it did right.
In His Own Words: TMZ asked Tyson what he thought was the most scientifically inaccurate film ever made. The astrophysicist did not hesitate when he declared that The Black Hole was an embarrassment. He raged (see the above clip for yourself), “They not only got none of the physics right about falling into a black hole, had they gotten it right it would have been a vastly more interesting movie.”
The Film: Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck team up with Michael Bay to try to save the planet from mammoth asteroid headed towards Earth.
The Issue: Tyson actually enjoys Armageddon on a strictly entertaining level, even if he contends that the science is completely off.
In His Own Words: Go ahead and have fun watching Armageddon, Tyson does, even if he thinks that film is an embarrassment from a scientific point of view. “I thought Armageddon was thoroughly entertaining, though it’s probably the most scientifically offensive film ever made. The script is hilarious, it has some tender and heroic moments, the actors put on some great performances, it’s a nice ensemble. That one has the limit of those two extremes, for me. If I’m channel-surfing and I hit Armageddon, yeah, I’m gonna stop and watch it.”
The Issue: Tyson took to Twitter with a series of tweets that pointed out the several scientific problems with Nolan’s film. He especially had issues with the black holes, worm holes, and the relativity of time.
In His Own Words: In an interview with NPR’s David Greene, Tyson expands upon his tweets regarding the bad science of Interstellar:
On wormholes: “A wormhole … is a science fiction writer’s favorite way to get from one place to another because you get to bypass the speed limit imposed by the speed of light: 186,000 miles per second. And that’s really fast for anything we would normally encounter in everyday life, but if you want to cross the galaxy, you would be long dead before you got there.”
On relativity: ” You can run the equations of general relativity and, when you run those equations, what you learn is that if you are in the presence of a strong gravity, you will have noticeable effects on how slow your time ticks, relative to anybody else who is looking at you from the outside.”
The Issue: Tyson repeatedly took to Twitter to bash the film’s bad science in a series of tweets that he labelled “Mysteries of Gravity.” His tweets went viral and suddenly everyone got in on the fun of Hollywood versus science. Tyson questioned everything from why Bullock’s hair didn’t float from her head during the zero-G scenes, to the placement of the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, and even why a medical doctor was servicing a Hubble Space Telescope in the first place. Tyson also argued that a better name for the film would have been Angular Momentum.
In His Own Words: Tyson has buried the hatchet with Cuarón, who he admits was not too happy with the criticism. However, the astrophysicist is excited that his viral tweets encouraged people to get fired up about science. “It kept people talking about the movie for many weeks, beyond the time when the principals did their talk-show circuit. It was being debated in the blogosphere, and the astronauts got in the debate, and so I think he was just charmed at the end that so many people were paying attention to the movie.”
It’s important to note that even with all of the film’s scientific inaccuracies, Tyson really enjoyed Gravity. He explained, “To earn the right to be criticized on a scientific level is a high compliment indeed. So when I saw a headline proclaim…’is riddled with errors,’ I came to regret not first tweeting the hundred things the movie got right.”
Source: The Dissolve
The Issues: There are quite a number of issues for Tyson. For example, sound travels in a vacuum in the Star Wars movies. But, we’re not supposed to hear things like ships traveling in space. Also, Han Solo uses the term parsecs in terms of speed, however when correctly used, the term refers to distance.
In His Own Words: Tyson likes Star Wars and admits that its filmmakers can pretty much do whatever they want. However, he does call Star Wars “fantasy land.” In fact, Tyson doesn’t see the Lucas films as scientific whatsoever, “I watch Star Wars and I’m not even checking out what they get right or wrong.”
Source: The Dissolve
The Film: In 1997, director James Cameron broke the hearts of millions of movie fans (especially teenage girls), with his three-hour epic weepie Titanic. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) experienced a love story for the ages, it just happened to be set around a historical disaster.
The Issue: Jack has drowned in the frozen waters of the Atlantic. Rose, still in the water after watching the love of her life die right in front of her, looks up to the starlit sky.
In His Own Words: James Cameron is a known perfectionist. However, Tyson points out that the night sky in April for the part of the world where the Titanic sank, would not be filled with the constellations that Cameron put in the original theatrical version of the film. He explains, “There she is looking up. There is only one sky she should have been looking at … and it was the wrong sky! Worse than that, it was not only the wrong sky; the left-half of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right-half of the sky!”
Never fear, Cameron did choose the proper stars for the film’s re-released cut.
Source: The Dissolve, Discovery
The Issue: Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) says that the distant planet where the film takes place is a “half a billion miles from Earth.”
In His Own Words: Tyson tweeted, “Prometheus goes 35 light yrs into space, but Charlize Theron gaffes, ‘We’re a half billion miles from Earth” – just past Jupiter.”
Prometheus is supposed to take place 35 light years into space. A light year is equal to 5.88 trillion miles, not billions of miles, as stated by Vickers in the movie. Therefore, 35 light years would put the Prometheus explorers 205.8 trillion miles away from home, way out of our cozy solar system. A half a billion miles would only be to about Jupiter.
The Issue: The opening shot of the film features the camera pulling away from Earth, zooming out, as the audience hears older transmissions as we move farther away.
In His Own Words: Tyson actually really enjoyed the movie Contact, and he is obviously a huge fan of Carl Sagan. His issue with the movie is minimal, and has to do with how we would really hear radio signals in space.
“The only thing they got wrong—and they couldn’t have gotten it right and still had the scene work, so they had to do it the way they did—since you’re overtaking the radio signals, you would hear them in reverse. That’s how it would actually happen, but it wouldn’t make any sense to hear Martin Luther King in reverse, or whoever we were listening to. Also, the radio sphere is way smaller than what was portrayed there. The way they did it, they allowed us to pass by some extraordinary nebulae, so it worked visually and the idea was accurately conveyed. The radio bubble is a real concept, really expanding at the speed of light out there.”
Source: The Dissolve
The Issue: This is another one of Tyson’s top ten favorite science fiction movies, even calling the first Matrix his favorite film of all time. In an interview with BuzzFeed, he reluctantly points out an issue with the narrative regarding energy and physics.
In His Own Words: Tyson loves everything about The Matrix, from its story to the film’s visual effects. However, he notes one criticism of the plot. ” It gets one thing wrong with the physics, but I’ll forgive it, because it did so much else so well. That part where [Laurence Fishburne] holds up the battery and says [the machines] are breeding humans to serve as a source of energy for their civilization, so that we’re just really like a battery, a copper top. That’s a weak point in the storytelling, because you don’t make a human, and use the energy of the human, because you have to put energy into a human to begin with. Whatever energy that you’re putting in the human, use that to drive your civilization. Any time energy transfers from one form to another, you lose efficiency. You’re losing some of your energy. And a human is not the most efficient way to express the energy that you’re feeding it. But then they wouldn’t have a story. So I gotta give them something.”
The Issue: Well, there were many, chief among them that BB-8 – your new droid boyfriend – wouldn’t even be able to get around on sand. He also took umbrage with a number of features of the Starkiller base and the sounds made by TIE fighters, which were the same both in the vacuum of space and the atmospheres of various planets.
The Issue: Tyson is a scientist first and foremost, so the nitty-gritty details are going to be important to him. He calls out the MIB III filmmakers for getting the phase of the moon incorrect on the day of the Apollo 11 launch.
In His Own Words: Tyson explains that the moon on the day of the Apollo 11 launch was actually not full but a “skinny, itty-bitty crescent.” However, the astrophysicist enjoyed MIB III for the way it accurately depicted the excitement of the space program in 1969, “I was so moved by how they portrayed 1969. You realize that was a time when people were dreaming about tomorrow.”
Tyson also appreciated the color of the alien’s blood. “None of them had red slime, and I’m intrigued by that,” he says. “Because there’s another way to carry oxygen through your body. You don’t just need the iron, which accounts for your red blood; you can use copper, and, in fact, shellfish use copper. And so does Spock on Star Trek, and that’s why they have green blood.”
The Issue: Tyson loves Kubrick’s film and lists it as one of his top ten favorite science fiction movies ever. He especially appreciates that the film was only 33 years ahead of itself, and that of course today, 2001 is in the past. Even still, it’s not perfect, especially in terms of zero-G. He explains a scene in which a space shuttle captain drinks from a straw, “He’s in zero-G sipping liquid out of the pouch. He stops sipping the liquid, and the liquid drips back down the straw, which it wouldn’t do in zero-G. You stop sucking, and then it would just stay there — whereas on Earth, you stop sucking and then the liquid goes back down the straw to the cup.”
In His Own Words: Tyson loves the effort that the filmmakers put into 2001. “I’d say it’s hard in that it’s well-researched and that it targets real science as much as it can. 2001 did that more than any movie had, at that point. They have the psychedelic journey and the encounter with this [alien] life, but any encounter with the ship and zero-G, that had foundations in real physics. You have to applaud all the efforts that went into that.”
The astrophysicist also appreciates the aesthetic qualities of the film and the story, “Perhaps the first film to be all about the discovery of alien intelligence yet not show what it looks like, knowing that our imagination could surely do a better job than Hollywood. In any case, it was a visual orgy of space travel and space exploration that we remain far from achieving, even 13 years after the 33 years-in-the-future it portrayed.”
Sources: BuzzFeed, The Dissolve
The Issue: Tyson does not typically criticize superhero movies with the same vigor as he would a straight up sci-fi flick. In fact, he likes the science behind Thor’s weapon of choice.
In His Own Words: The film explains that the power behind Thor’s hammer comes from the core of a dying star. Tyson buys the explanation. He posted on Twitter, “A dying star, if it’s of a certain variety, it could be made of neutron matter. And if it is, it is really dense and really heavy.”
The Issue: Tyson loves the 1968 classic; he ranks it as one of his top ten favorite science fiction films.
In His Own Words: Tyson appreciates the way that the film is a reflection of the ranking order of actual society. “Saw this again recently and it held up over all these years in many important details. Had not appreciated when I first saw it. The hierarchy of apes that ran the planet, chimps were the academics, baboons were the soldiers, orangutans were the diplomats. An action-adventure movie that was an insightful mirror to our lives and our civilization.”
Source: Hero Complex
The Issue: The original Terminator is one of Tyson’s top ten favorite sci-fi movies.
In His Own Words: Tyson appreciates all things Terminator, from the narrative to the casting. “Deftly woven action, violence, sentient machines, a heroine and time travel. All stitched together in a tight and scarily plausible storyline. And, when you think about it, a perfect acting vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a mostly mute terminator, whom many would rather look at than listen to.”
Source: Hero Complex
The Film: It’s 1951, the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War. An alien and his robot land on the planet earth with a stern warning, shape up or be destroyed by other planets.
This Issue: This is another one of the astrophysicist’s top ten favorite sci-fi films. Most likely due to the lack of special effects, Tyson doesn’t seem to have any issues with the movie from a science standpoint.
In His Own Words: Sometimes less is more. “The story was so strong and compelling that the film did not require heavy special effects or monsters or violence to be simultaneously hopeful and terrifying.”
Source: Hero Complex
The Issue: The Island is a top-ten sci-fi flick for Tyson. His biggest beef with the movie is not with the science, but in the time spent on chase scenes.
In His Own Words: Tyson likes the film’s tone and aesthetics. “Apart from too many minutes of gratuitous chase scenes, I think this movie is profound in its message as well as visually stunning. A rare study of science in the service of vanity, mixed with an exploration of corporate profits, human identity and free will. I’ve always viewed Gattaca (1997) as a lower-budget cousin of this film.”
Source: Hero Complex
The Issue: Tyson was generally satisfied with the Ridley Scott film (certainly more so than he was with Prometheus), celebrating its own celebration of scientific literacy and knowledge.
In His Own Words: Tyson praised the film for getting “enough of the science right.” He did point out that the storm that kicks off the film wouldn’t, in reality, be quite so strong, saying, “The Martian atmosphere is less than 1 percent the thickness of our atmosphere and so when the wind kicks up, it doesn’t pick up heavy things – it can’t and so it picks up only very light dust.” Source: CBS News
The Issue: Tyson is a Trekkie, plain and simple. He doesn’t necessarily come out and say all the science is perfect, but he does respect the fact that they try to get everything right.
In His Own Words: Tyson makes no bones about it, he likes Star Trek way more than Star Wars. He toldTMZ, “I’ve always been a Star Trek guy.” The astrophysicist added, ” Star Trek at least has some premise that they’re obeying actual laws of physics.”
The Issue: One of Tyson’s top ten favorite sci-fi films.
In His Own Words: The astrophysicist appreciates the film’s attention to scientific detail, and the way it makes the characters three-dimensional. “There have been many asteroid/comet disaster films. But this one took the time to get most of the physics right, and made sure you cared about all the characters in the film so that their prospect of dying matters to the viewer. And Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of the president of the United States may be the best ever.”
Source: Hero Complex
The Issue: Not only is The Watchmen one of Tyson’s top-ten favorite science fiction films, but he also considers it the cream of the crop of the superhero film genre.
In His Own Words: Tyson realizes that his opinions about The Watchmen may not be universally agreed upon, but he loves the uncanny believability factor that the movie creates, despite the fact that the entire premise is rooted in fantasy. He explains, “I don’t know if I am alone in thinking that Watchmen is the best-of-genre among all superhero films. I liked it because the characters had fully expressed, complex personality profiles. They experience love, hate, revenge, megalomania, moral anguish and trepidation. Nothing polished about them. For this reason, they were all more real to me. If the world really did have superheroes in it, Watchmen is the world it would be.”
Source: Hero Complex