You’ve seen the movies. A protagonist shoots a shotgun or a rifle and his target goes flying back ten feet, careening through saloon doors or crashing out a glass window.
Sometimes it’s a stylistic choice — I don’t think Quentin Tarantino’s first priority is in adhering to the laws of physics, and his films are rooted in cinematic tropes that many of us have grown to love, when done right. However, it’s clear when filmmakers are trying to make a movie realistic, and yet they have gunshot victims flying all over the place, as if getting his by a bullet was the same as getting hit by a truck.
The problem is that this is simply not possible. And if you’re thinking of some LiveLeak video where you swear you saw this happen, then I have news for you — it was fake. Just because something looks real doesn’t mean it can go ahead and break the laws of physics.
When we’re talking physics, we’re more specifically referring to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which goes something like this: “If an object A exerts a force on object B, then object B must exert a force of equal magnitude and opposite direction back on object A” (pulled from Khan Academy). For example, in space, if an astronaut throws an object one way, the act of throwing it will exert an equal amount of force in the opposite direction, sending the astronaut floating backward away from what he threw (assuming he was still to begin with).
How does this apply to guns? Well, if the bullet from a weapon was so powerful and forceful that it sent someone flying backward several feet, then it would also send the shooter flying back several feet as well. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have much interest in shooting a gun like that. I’ll make an exception here for the “Men in Black” gun, the Noisy Cricket.
The damage done by a bullet isn’t from the raw, blunt, pushing force. The damage is in its penetrative and cutting power — it rips apart the body and creates an internal cavity, it doesn’t punch it like a bus. Not only that, but if the person isn’t wearing any sort of armor, then whatever little force was exerted (roughly equivalent to the kick of the rifle) is absorbed by the cushion of the body itself. If the person was to wear invincible armor and get shot at point-blank range, then they would get knocked back approximately the same amount as the kick of the weapon. That’s not to say no serious damage will be done if someone gets shot in the plates — you’re still getting shot with bullets, after all. It’s just that it won’t make you go flying anywhere.
Interested in these kind of filmmaking myths? Check out why suppressors make more noise than you typically see in movies.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.