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Good examples of physics in movie clips?

  1. Nov 26, 2012 #1
    I posted this in education.

    Basically, I teach HS Physics. I want to start using mroe movie clips, especially super hero clips, to teach concepts. Specifically, clips where you can estimate some things and then solve.

    In my class today we used Spider-man. We estimated his mass, and how much work he did to climb a building. Then his GPE at the top before he swung, then his speed at the bottom of the swing.

    We also looked at the scene where he stops the train with web, estimated the train speed, mass and distance before it stopped and calculated the spring constant of his webbing.

    It's certainly not exact, but it got the kids thinking about these concepts in a different way.

    Anyway, any good clips that demonstrate physics, which can be calculated.

    I was thinking in Iron Man, when he flies straight up calculate work and power), then GPE when engine stalls, then his velocity before he manages to boot back up. Again, it won't be exact, we will likely ignore air resistance and roughly estimate heights.

    So, ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2012 #2
    I particularly liked the part in When Harry Met Sally where the main character jumped, and then returned to the ground via the action of gravity. I thought that was very realistically portrayed.

    It sounds what you are looking for is just "cool clips of astounding moments" and then performing some calculation on them.

    This one however, has an engineering bent to it. He's using an excavator, on a barge, as an oar, to row the barge, with its digging scoop. For some reason, perhaps the barge's engine failed and they improvised a solution.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  4. Nov 27, 2012 #3
    It's not sci-fi, but I remember a scene from (one of?) the Crocodile Dundee movie(s?) where he stops a running thief by throwing a can of food after him, which hits him on the head and knocks him out.

    The fun about this one is that Croc himself would have had to estimate the thief's speed before throwing the can.
  5. Dec 8, 2012 #4
    You can perform similar calculations from the Batman movies. The mass of the batmobile when busting through a concrete wall, strength of the cable required to flip that 18 wheeler, HP of the grappling hook, etc.

    I get what you're after.. fun way to get/keep kids interested in science. :)
  6. Dec 19, 2012 #5


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    Not a clip from a movie, but a time travel problem. You roll a billiard ball towards your time machine that sends the ball back in time a few seconds so that it reappears on the billiard table rolling in a direction and speed that intersects the billiard ball before it enters the time machine.

    First problem is to get a stable process that converges into a single reality. For example, the billiard ball is rolled at an angle that would bounce off the rail into the time machine, but the time machine sends the ball across the billiard table, into the billiard ball, knocking it directly into the time machine instead of banking off the rail. You'd have a stable single reality, even if it was radically different from the original reality.

    Then toss in that, somehow, the laws of conservation of energy and momentum and mass would still apply, even if somewhat indirectly. The billiard ball has to have the same momentum vector in the new reality that it had when it left the old reality, even if it's in a new location in the new reality.

    And then do it where the billiard ball sent back in time intersects the billiard ball so that the billiard ball sent back in time is the billiard ball that enters the time machine instead of the billiard ball from the previous reality. And can it be done without violating any laws of conservation (other than the new reality billiard ball constantly looping in time).

    If nothing else, by time they finish the last problem, they'll understand the premise of the movie, "Loopers". (Never mind that the movie winds up grossly violating the premise they started with - it's a movie.)
  7. Dec 19, 2012 #6


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    From the original version of the movie Red Dawn -- There is an explosion (I seem to remember that it was a car, but I don't remember it offhand) in the distance, and the makers of the movie were true to real life and you see the explosion before you hear it. Most movies and TV shows give you the expolsion visual and sound at the same time, which is BS for distant explosions.

    If you can find the clip, you can have your students estimate how far away the explosion was...
  8. Dec 20, 2012 #7
    Just watched Taken 2 last night. On a similar note as berkeman's, Liam Neeson's character had his daughter, while on the phone with him, count to three then throw a grenade, and he counted the time between when it should have blown up and when the sound gets to him to determine the estimated distance.
  9. Dec 20, 2012 #8


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    Metin Tolan investigated physics of several movies, you could try to find english translations of his work (the original language is German).
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