Leave a theater after an action movie, and you’ll hear such exclamations as “Dude, that was epic!”, “Dude, that was insane!”, or, “Dude, Megan Fox!”
You won’t hear many people claiming that the film was realistic, though. But maybe they should...
Falling an impossible distance and surviving
In action films, gravity is a mere inconvenience. If you’re the good guy, you can fall from a ridiculous height and survive. Real life doesn’t work like that, though.
Unless you’re Vesna Vulovic. In 1972, Vulovic, a flight attendant on JAT Flight 367, fell 33,333 feet when an explosion destroyed the plane. That’s the type of fall that would kill Iron Man, or at least Hawkeye (hopefully).
Vulovic survived, though. She was in a coma for nearly a month, and did suffer temporary paralysis due to her injuries, but that’s still pretty impressive when you consider that most of us were probably too scared to jump off the high-dive at some point. Now, we’re not suggesting that Vesna Vulovic has superpowers, but we are going to point out that she has an alliterative name. You know who else does? Clark Kent. Bruce Banner. Peter Parker.
Planes roaring through a canyon
Thanks to Star Wars and Independence Day, we’ve learned that an aerial dogfight isn’t truly exciting until it involves flying through a narrow canyon because a self-preservation instinct is for wimps.
On November 13, 1966, Israeli pilot and all-around lunatic (apparently) Ran Ronen was part of a squad tasked with providing air support for a ground operation when a squad of Jordanian pilots approached to intercept the Israelis. After minutes of combat, neither side lost a plane. This didn’t sit well with Ronen, who chased an enemy pilot into a canyon and pursued him for eight minutes before shooting him down. His target tried to eject but ended up launching himself into the canyon wall. No report on whether or not Ronen quipped “Welcome to Earth!” at that moment.
Prison helicopter escapes
Action movie villains don’t take the easy way out. When they make their escape from prison, they go as over-the-top as possible. Sometimes literally, by having someone fly a helicopter in to rescue them.
This, strangely, happens all the time. In 1971, Joel David Kaplan, an American businessman accused of killing his partner and sending money to Latin America via the CIA, escaped from Santa Martha Acatitla prison in Mexico when a helicopter landed in the yard and escorted Kaplan and another prisoner to America.
In 1973, an IRA member stole a helicopter and busted three of his associates out of a Dublin jail this way. In 1986, Michel Vaujour escaped from prison by threatening his way onto the roof—using a fake gun and, amazingly, nectarines painted to look like grenades—and was picked up by his lovely wife in a helicopter. In 1987, gangster John Kendall, along with murderer Sydney Draper, got out of prison when a hijacked helicopter picked them up from the exercise yard. There are many, many more. This has happened as recently as 2014. By this point, it wouldn’t even seem like an outlandish plot point in "Orange is the New Black."
S.W.A.T. teams blowing up walls and swarming in
When terrorists take over a building, Bruce Willis blows up walls, bursts through windows, and does whatever it takes to be sure he makes a badass entrance. In reality, such operations aren't usually so action-packed. We all saw Zero Dark Thirty. Seal Team 6 stormed Osama’s compound like suburban cops busting up a high school party.
But Operation Nimrod was different. In 1980, six men took over the Iranian embassy in London, holding 26 people hostage and demanding the release of various Arab prisoners. After six days, the British government sent in the Special Air Service (SAS) to rescue the captives.
The operation was straight out of a summer blockbuster. The SAS began by sneaking an explosive charge into the stairwell of the embassy, detonating it to create confusion and giving them an opportunity to break in. Next, eight team members rappelled down from the roof, “hacked” entrances into the building, and tossed in stun grenades before making their entrance. Another team used explosives to blow up the windows and rush in. The building actually caught fire, adding a level of urgency that you normally only get at the end of Terminator 2 or Aliens.
Though one hostage was killed in the ensuing firefight, five of the six terrorists were taken out, with the final one being captured.
And yes, there's video.
Going onto the wing to fix a plane in midair
You know the scene. The plane’s taken damage, and it’s up to one crazy-brave lunatic to perform a midair repair by climbing out of the cockpit and fixing the problem.
In 1935, airmen Kingsford Smith, Bill Taylor, and John Stannage were flying from Australia to New Zealand when an accident destroyed their starboard propeller and caused their port engine to lose oil. With the starboard engine useless and the port engine soon to run out of fuel, Taylor climbed out onto the wing strut to gather oil from the starboard engine and transfer it to the port engine.
Yes, he went outside the plane while it was flying in a last-ditch attempt to save everyone’s life. And he had to do it more than once in order to get enough oil. Luckily, the insane plan worked, everyone survived, and Taylor presumably had the greatest bar brag in history from then on.
The car with the flamethrower security system
If you’re an action hero, your car better have ridiculous weaponry like machine guns, missiles, and/or flamethrowers.
Or, if you’re not an action hero, being a South African citizen is another option. That’s because, in order to help deter carjackings, inventor Charl Fourie created a flamethrower that could be installed in your vehicle. And yes, it was legal. And it was also called the Blaster, because if you’re going to go badass, might as well go full badass. The only reason why it’s no longer produced is the fact that it was too expensive for anyone who wasn’t Bruce Wayne to afford.
The invincible dude who just won't die
Even in non-superhero action films, characters are often very, very difficult to kill. Usually, such characters are trained, physically fit, and prepared for anything. In reality, it seems like true invincibility comes from being frail, confused, and drunk.
Such was the case with Michael Malloy (third alliterative name in this article, just sayin’), an otherwise anonymous figure who frequented the underground bars of 1930s New York. Seeing that the old man had little family, friends, or operating brain cells, one speakeasy owner, along with two associates, decided to take out a life insurance policy on Malloy, then help him drink himself to death.
It didn’t go as planned. Malloy could drink a lot, but he couldn’t seem to die from it. So, they served him wood alcohol, which was poisonous, but it didn’t affect him. Next, they waited until he was unconscious, then dumped him in the snow, stripped him nude, and poured water over his body, assuming he’d freeze to death. That didn’t work either. Finally, they simply ran him over while he was too drunk to know what was happening.
And he survived. At this point, it seemed that Malloy had no family because they all died when Krypton exploded. Eventually, he did perish, succumbing to poison from a gas light fixture, though at that point killing him was less about the money and more about making sure he wasn’t truly immortal.