How to Survive an Action Movie, and More

Issue 5, Volume 113

By Uma Sukhu 

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Movies require a certain amount of suspension or disbelief to be interesting. In a few popular genres, such as action and horror, this suspension is particularly important to enjoy the film. I asked Stuyvesant students to point out instances in movies and shows where reality was bent, so I could see if they might work in real life. From stabbings to shootings, I researched a few common tropes and crazy scenes. Let’s talk about them.

What are the chances of reacting to and avoiding a bullet in time?

In “John Wick: Chapter 2” (2017), skilled assassin and titular character John Wick walks through a crowded subway station as crime boss Cassian shoots at him from an upper level. Both pistols have silencers attached, presumably to mask their sound from civilians, and they continue to shoot at each other without success as the camera pans between each man.

First of all, silencers are not silent. With modern firearms, silencers reduce sound only to the low 100-decibel range. That is still quite loud—about the sound of an indoor movie theater or fireworks. In Wick’s well-populated station, it is possible that background noise may have rendered the guns quieter, but it still doesn’t add up that nobody close to either shooter heard them at all.

When it comes to hearing the gunshot in time to react to it, it depends on what kind of gun is being used. The guns from the John Wick scene are the Arsenal Firearms USA AF-1 Strike One for Cassian and the Smith & Wesson SW1911SC E Series for Wick. Both of these are high-precision instruments and are engineered for accuracy and control, meaning there is very little recoil, the backward push from the force of firing. The bullets from Cassian’s gun will leave the muzzle at a velocity in the around 1200 ft/sec. From Wick’s, the bullets are slightly slower at around 1000 ft/sec. The speed of sound is 1125 ft/sec at standard temperature and pressure, so it will not be possible to hear the gun fire before being hit. On the other hand, if the gun in question isn’t such a serious one, there may still be a slight chance to avoid it.

In any case, avoiding the bullets comes down to seeing them in time. People’s reaction times are generally around 0.2 seconds, and someone highly trained like Wick or Cassian would have improved times. The shooter would have to be at least 250 feet away for you to have any chance at all to rely on a quick reaction, assuming superhuman vision. Regardless, bullets are tiny, and when the gun has a silencer, the muzzle flash when fired is reduced. Spotting the flash, predicting the trajectory of the bullet, and having time to duck would not happen within 0.2 seconds. Essentially, John Wick should not have survived and you certainly would not have either, but nobody ever watched an action movie for realism!

How long would it take for a vampire to suck the blood out of a victim?

As I understand it, vampires bite their victims and proceed to suck their blood out. That’s pretty inefficient, but we are already working with the supernatural, so some liberties can be taken. Bloodsucking is somewhat analogous to sipping from a straw; the world record for drinking 500mL of water through a straw is 7.3 seconds. Blood is roughly three times as viscous as water, so it might take closer to 22 seconds for the vampire to drink 500mL of blood. The average adult has 1.2-1.5 gallons of blood in their body. Thus, it’ll take between 3.5 and four minutes for a vampire to suck the blood out of someone at a high speed if that vampire had unobstructed access to that blood. In reality, the complex vasculature that contains human blood would make it more difficult to consume blood quickly. The pumping of the blood by the heart would help somewhat, but about half a gallon of blood loss is enough to kill a person. The vampire would only be a third of the way through a victim’s blood supply before death, making the rest of the blood much more difficult to reach.

From a health perspective, would an all-blood diet even be sustainable? Interestingly, blood has roughly 450 calories per 500mL. This means that the vampire is getting 4,090-5,110 calories per person. Blood is also almost entirely protein, so the vampire is essentially on a protein shake diet. That’s good for bulking, but nothing else.

How many times can someone reasonably get stabbed and survive?

Most Halloween movies have at least one stabbing scene, and most of them are not inherently unsurvivable. Naturally, surviving a stabbing depends on where one is stabbed. There isn’t really a “safe” place, but there are certainly worse areas than others. In truth, survivability depends on proximity to a hospital. The stomach area is packed with intestines which will spill out of even tiny wounds, but assuming no major arteries or veins are cut in the process, the best-case scenario may be living with a colonoscopy bag. A stabbing in the upper body is harder to survive because of the amount of vasculature found there. Arms and thighs are small, so the wound could easily puncture crucial blood vessels. The neck and chest are easily the worst places to be stabbed and would require immediate medical attention, and even then, nothing is guaranteed. Worse, the stabbing instrument may introduce bacteria that could kill you even if the wound was managed.

Would a thick, serrated knife cause more damage than a thin and faster-moving one? It depends: the damage is more about kinetic energy than what is sliced with the stabbing instrument. The velocity squared increases kinetic energy, so the faster the instrument, the more serious the transfer of energy to body tissue is. However, it is tricky to stab someone with enough speed to make use of that.

While waiting for medical attention, surviving a stabbing comes down to blood loss. If a person loses over half a gallon of blood, or about 40 percent, they will die. For a wound to the neck’s carotid artery, this is possible in five to 15 seconds. From a more slow-bleeding area not connected to major vasculature, or when the stabbing instrument is kept in the wound, blood loss is less extreme and would leave time for additional stabbings. Thus, a person can get stabbed any number of times as long as the wounds are in less life-threatening areas, there isn’t too much blood loss, and robust medical attention is provided, though every wound decreases their chances of survival.

If you’re ever in a shootout, stabbing, or under attack by a vampire, knowledge of movie scenes isn’t going to offer much advice. What’s the best way to survive anything? Be in Hollywood, preferably as the main character.