- A physicist takes a closer look at the realism of the “Fast and Furious” franchise.
- Dr. Leslie-Pelecky reacts to 11 memorable scenes from the popular movie series and rates them based on their accuracy.
- “Fast & Furious 9” is the franchise’s tenth installment and hits theaters June 25, 2021.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Below is a transcript of the video.
– Diandra Leslie-Pelecky: I thought that was really creative and totally possible. My name is Diandra Leslie-Pelecky. I have a PhD in physics, and I started off my life as a condensed-matter physicist working in nanomedicine. Along the way, I ended up writing a book called “The Physics of NASCAR.” So today I’m gonna use that knowledge to talk to you about some clips from “Fast and Furious.”
“Fast Five” (2011)
This is one that is a little difficult to analyze, because you’re not quite sure how long they’re falling. It could be anywhere from 11 seconds to maybe 15 seconds. That’s a really long time to fall. I calculated out what Dom’s terminal velocity would be, and that’s biggest velocity you can fall given that drag gets bigger as the speed goes up. And he almost approaches it. After 11 seconds, Dom would be going 200km per hour when he hit the water. He would have fallen about 541.02m at that point. Now, 200km per hour into water, maybe that’s survivable. Laso Schaller holds the record for the highest jump. That was from 58.83m. He hit the water at 122km an hour. He broke his right clavicle and dislocated his pelvis. The Golden Gate Bridge is about 74.68m. People hit the water at 138km an hour. Only 5% of the people who jump survive. So the probability of them surviving is pretty small. They built a launcher and took this beautiful 1966 Corvette and actually launched it off the side of the cliff, and then they had stuntmen who did it separately from the car because being hit by a car midair would be worse than actually hitting the water. And so they had the stuntmen do it, but the stuntmen were on cables. Then they came back, did it on a green screen with the actual actors, who were, you know, maybe eight feet above the ground. But this one I think I would have to give a score of two, because there’s absolutely no way they could’ve survived a jump that long.
“2 Fast 2 Furious” (2003)
So, this a 1969 Camaro. It’s got a mass of about 1,588kg. So, they’re hitting 90, so you know the boat’s going at least 145km an hour. One of the things that you notice is that when the car and the boat are both speeding along, they’re parallel to each other. Now, how they all of a sudden get behind the boat, I’m not actually sure how that happens. But let’s assume they can do that. When they take off, they’re going at approximately 45-degree angle off this ramp, and they’re going 193km an hour. So not all of the speed is taking them in a horizontal direction. So I’ve taken cosine of 45; they’re only now going about 126km per hour toward the boat. Now, that’s a problem, because the boat and the car looked like they were going the same speed. And the problem is, if the boat’s going 161km per hour, it’ll be 365.76m from the shore. The problem is, the car can only go 288.04m in the time it’s in the air. There’s actually no way that the car could make it onto the boat. Let’s pretend the boat is only going 126km an hour, because if they are, it’s totally possible. It is going fast enough, and it makes up all the distance between it and the boat. So if you include drag, they’re gonna lose some of their speed due to air resistance. They’re still gonna hit that boat at around 169km per hour. The kinetic energy of the car and the guys in the car, at that point, is equal to about a fifth of a pound of TNT. Some of that goes into wrecking the boat and wrecking the car, but not all of it. Which means some of it is gonna go into the guys, and they’re gonna have a whole lot worse than a broken arm. I think I’d give it probably a seven out of 10, because it’s possible it could happen.
“Fast & Furious 6” (2013)
They had to modify this tank so it could go 97km an hour, ’cause they normally only go 48km an hour. Dom, we’ll assume his car was going 97km an hour, so when he left it, he was going 97km an hour. So you can look at conservation of momentum and figure out that by the time they hit and continued on, they were probably going around 64km an hour. So a little bit of change in speed, but the problem is when he hit the car going 64km an hour, and she is about 54kg, he’s about 225, so you’re talking about 340 or so pounds. You’re gonna be hitting it with an acceleration of almost 100 g. They have no protective gear. So, you know, race-car drivers routinely survive hits of 100 g. They’ve got a big car around them. And maybe it’s possible that Dom could launch himself at just the right angle to intercept Letty. And then maybe it’s possible that that path took you onto the second bridge instead of over the first one, and maybe it’s possible that there happened to be a car at the point where they were landing, and maybe it’s possible they survived hitting the car together. Each one of those things might have happened, but all four of them together is just too much of a coincidence. Once you’re in the air, you cannot steer. So if you misjudge in any way, you’re gonna miss her. Now, if you watch baseball players, they develop this very intuitive ability to know the arc of a ball. And after all, it’s just a parabolic motion. Maybe just Dom understands physics so well that he knew exactly where to launch himself. And if you talk to a race-car driver, they would be able to understand centripetal acceleration and explain it to you. Again, no equations, but they get this intuitive understanding for it. So, it’s just possible, maybe Dom has rescued enough people who are flying through the air that he understands how to do it.
“Fast & Furious 6” (2013)
Hollywood has its own physics. One of the rules is they have time dilation, which is that when something really exciting is happening, it can take as long as you want it to take. Slowing down, let’s say 193km an hour, and I pick that number only because that’ll tell you, at 193km an hour, the car is going two miles every minute. So for every minute of that clip, you’re traveling two miles. The longest airport runway in the word is 5km, which means if they were on that runway, this still could take 1.7 minutes. And it doesn’t. It takes a lot, it takes, like, 11 or 12 minutes, which would result in just this unfathomably long runway. OK, so Dom is driving a 2012 Dodge Charger, and let’s pretend this is a super-reinforced version of a Dodge Charger. He doesn’t have a lot of time to get up speed. Because he’s only got the inside of a plane, and as you saw from the fight that was going on, there’s not a lot of room. I think I have to give a one. Just because here, they stretched my ability to ignore reality just a little further than I’m capable of doing.
“Fast Five” (2011)
Try to figure out how much that vault weighs, according to the storyline. So, we’re gonna assume it’s a 5-ton vault. That’s about 4,536kg. There’s $100 million in $100 bills. That’s gonna give us another 998kg. Dom is 102kg, and the car is 1,896kg. That gives us a total weight of 7,532kg that his car has to accelerate. If you ever tried to move something heavy, like a refrigerator or a bookcase, you push on it, and it doesn’t move. And you push harder, it doesn’t move. And you push harder, and finally it moves. That moment when it moves, you’ve just overcome the static frictional force. The static frictional force is higher than the kinetic frictional force. And what that means in real-people talk is that once you get something moving, it’s much easier to keep it moving. So the question is, is it possible for this 2010 Charger SRT to overcome the friction needed to move? So we’re gonna calculate how long it would take him to accelerate up to 50 miles an hour. We’ve got the 425-horsepower car accelerating 7,532kg. And it turns out that would take about 5.86 seconds, which is a little longer than it took him to actually do it in the movie. So the fact that he got the car accelerating that fast, that definitely couldn’t happen in real life. But that’s without friction. So once you put friction in, what you find if you calculate is that the coefficient of friction between, like, steel and asphalt is pretty high. And you probably could not, even with a nitrous oxide boost, get the vault moving. So, once you got it moving, you could keep it moving. What the folks have said who did this stunt, they found the same thing. They learned a lot about static friction the hard way. And they actually put a slippery material on the bottom of the vault to get it moving. But one of the problems with that is when you make something easier to start moving, you also make it easier to stop moving. And my understanding is they were very surprised when they thought it would come to a stop and it took a lot longer to stop than they thought it would. The other thing is the question of, you have this fairly small mass of a car and Dom. That’s about 907kg. And the mass of the vault, which is about 6,804kg. So you’ve got something that’s seven times bigger than something else. Now, think about when they’re coming down and then Dom starts, stops, and he lets the vault sort of swing around. The vault is, you know, seven times heavier than Dom and his car. And I just don’t buy that he has enough traction to swing the vault without the vault pulling his car along. Making these stunts work in real life, with practical effects and not CGI, so they built something like seven or eight different vaults with different weights so that they could do all the different parts with the vault. And in fact, in some points, they actually had a little semi cab inside the vault and the vault was driving around by itself. So I would give this stunt a five.
“Furious 7” (2015)
I mean, we’ve all tried to go up a down escalator, right? That’s all he’s doing there. This whole stunt relies on the person being able to run faster than the bus is falling. When they filmed this, the stuntperson did actually run up the bus as it was falling. I had some real questions, because it’s not like you’re pushing off something solid. You’re pushing off something that’s moving in the other direction. It spun around to be in exactly the right position for him to grab the bar. When he’s holding the bar and she stops suddenly, you get this really great example of Newton’s law of motion where an object in motion will keep moving, because she stops the car, and he keeps going flying around. I would give this one a 10 for running up the bus. I thought that was really creative and totally possible.
“Furious 7” (2015)
Again, you see a lot of tight shots, so it does make it hard to see what’s going on necessarily. This is a Lykan hypercar, and it’s got 780 horsepower. This car is $3.4 million. There’s only seven of them in the world. Sometimes I think they put it in slow motion just so people like me can’t do the detailed calculations and mess with them. How fast do you have to be going so that you can span the distance between the buildings? So, if we assume that distance is 45.72m, you’re gonna fall a little bit. So anytime something comes off horizontally, it’s going to go down a little bit. And you can actually see it in there, that it probably falls about two stories, which is roughly 6.10m. And so the question is, how fast do you have to be going to fall two stories in 45.72m of horizontal distance? If you’re gonna fall two floors, it would take just a little more than a second, and you’d need to be going 220km per hour. If you fall four floors, it would be about 1.6 seconds, and you’d have to be going only 153km per hour. Now, this car has a top speed of 394km per hour. Top speed is no problem. What is a problem, however, is how long it takes you to get to top speed. So, the car goes 0 to 97km an hour in 2.8 seconds. In order to do that, it needs 37.49m if you assume constant acceleration. Those look like pretty small spaces, because he was doing an awful lot of turning as he was going around. And that’s only 97km an hour. If you wanted to get to 125 miles an hour, according to the specs, that would take you 9.4 seconds. You would need 262.43m to reach that speed, and I don’t see how you’d do that in that tiny little tower. And the other problem is that when they’re just driving around, they must be pulling tremendous g-forces, because they’re driving these tiny little circles. I tried to look up the coefficient of friction between tires and marble, but it turns out that it’s very hard to find because most people do not drive cars in their apartment buildings. So I couldn’t find that, but even so, you know, I question, at going at high speed on marble, whether he could even keep traction going around like that. You know, again, you’ve got another example of, there’s a bunch of things that could happen, and if you put them all together, you might not buy it. Even the very strong, reinforced glass they would use on a skyscraper like this is not gonna stand up to a car that’s 1,361kg traveling at 120, 209km per hour. The kinetic energy of the car is just too high.
“The Fate of the Furious” (2017)
Was he not wearing a seatbelt the whole time? I just love the look after he does these things. I mean, he just sort of looks like, “Oh.” I understand this Charger was especially modified so it could drive on ice. Obviously, the ice here is gonna be pretty thick, but if you’ve got that much heat, it’s gonna melt the ice, and that’s gonna make it much harder to get traction. The physics of how the car would move after he hit it, that was pretty accurate. I was pretty impressed by that. One of the things that happens that people don’t appreciate is when a car is on fire, the fire quickly depletes all the oxygen. And, you know, it’s using it up, and if you’re in a car, you get very, very warm, you get disoriented, there’s smoke, you can’t see what you’re doing. And so I think, when something’s on fire, him coming out of this amount of fire, that’s got some issues with the realism, too. I don’t see any reason why this couldn’t happen. So this one I would have to give a 10. I think this one’s pretty plausible.
“Fast & Furious” (2009)
So, if you look up a fuel tanker that holds, oh, I don’t know, maybe 26,498l of gasoline, the density of gasoline is 3kg per gallon, about 19,051kg coming toward them. Now, if it were something doing, you know, moving regularly, something bouncing, that’d be fine because you could gauge it. It’s like a jump rope, where you know it’s coming around, you know to jump. But the problem with this is if you look how it’s rolling, it’s rolling in this direction and it’s rolling forward. So there’s no way you can predict exactly how it’s going to roll. And if the tanker is 19,051kg and the car is 1,814kg, it’s gonna squish the car. So, my first car was a 1988 Buick LeSabre, which is about the same size as the 1987 Buick Grand National that you see. The chances of it rolling over the tanker, pretty darn slow. When the tanker starts rolling, it’s got a certain amount of kinetic energy, but every time it hits something, like the wall of the canyon or the ground, it’s gonna lose some of that kinetic energy. And that means it’s not gonna bounce as high. So actually the longer he waits, the harder it is gonna be for him to get his car under that tanker. So I would give that one a three.
“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006)
So, this a Nissan 350Z, I believe. The person inside the car is actually using a combination of the steering wheel, the clutch, and the brakes to make the car go around the turn. And it turns out it’s actually easier to drift around the turn than it is to drift in a straight direction. I believe that this guy could probably do that, but I’d like to know how many takes it took. But you can drift for as long as your tires will hold out. It’s a problem because you want to have equal traction on all four wheels. And that means you need the same amount of weight. When drifting, what you want is you want the rear end of the car to be able to slide back and forth. When you’re actually driving where the tires are rolling, you’re actually sliding those tires. And so it’s a totally different phenomenon. At some point, you’re going to do enough damage to them that they’re probably going to pop. A good driver can definitely do that. Now, if they would’ve shown the other guy, who’s just learning, doing that, I would’ve given it a zero.
“The Fate of the Furious” (2017)
This is a perfect example of a static equilibrium. So, as long as all the cars are pulling with the same force, Dom can’t go anywhere. And what that means is, imagine it’s just Dom and two cars, one pulling left, one pulling right. Those two cars are pulling with equal force. Dom can’t do anything. The problem you have is the traction between the tires and the ground is what is our limiting factor here. And they’re talking about his car having 2,000 horsepower, 3,000 horsepower, 5,000 horsepower. I don’t know if it has that much. All it has to have is enough horsepower to get a little bit of slack. What he’s doing, is all he has to do is get enough slack that he can move forward, but what I’m not understanding here is what’s happening to the forces on him from behind. And, of course, once he gets one of them, then you’ve got unbalanced force. And the only reason this works is because the net sum of all the forces on this car is gonna be zero. And once he breaks free of one, all hell breaks loose. This only works if the people on the other side aren’t doing their job right. We have a theory that one of the people in the other cars momentarily lost concentration and that must be how he got out of it. Because that’s all we could figure out how to make it happen. And the problem giving something like this a grade is that you don’t get to see all of it, because you’re seeing the insides of each of the cars, and you’re not seeing the overhead view. It’s really hard to see how that happened.
“Furious 7” (2015)
The doctor has to have taken that into account, because the purpose of the cast is to immobilize the arm, and you have to take into account the fact that he could flex his arm, so. Could flexing the arm break the plaster of paris? I bet it could. But wouldn’t you assume, I mean, maybe that’s why he’s always wearing sleeveless clothing. You know, it’s hard to extrapolate, because I know I couldn’t do that. So you watch some of those things, and you go, “Yeah, he might be able to do that.” They aren’t exactly 100% true to life. I love these movies. I think they’re fun to watch. And I think it’s really great to watch something knowing the good guys are gonna win in the end.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2020.