10 Tool-Related Movie Mistakes
Hollywood is a land of fantasy, wonder and make-believe. It's also a land of wildly inaccurate representations of how tools actually work. Here's a list of 10 great examples of movie mistakes involving tools in some way. Some are funny, some are head-scratching and some are just bone-headed.
Unplugged and Unsure
One of the most common movie mistakes is found in films like American Psycho (2000), when killers seem to forget the essential step for using a pneumatic tool. Namely, plugging it into an air compressor.
In this still from the film, Christian Bale is clearly seen holding a pneumatic nail gun, which makes the following scene a little less than tense for those who know their tools. American Psycho may be a brilliant satire on the excesses of the ’80s, but as a power tool tutorial, it falls a little flat.
Photo: American Psycho/Lionsgate Entertainment
The most iconic member of the Hollywood “deadly tool” family, the chainsaw is consistently depicted in movies as an almost all-powerful cutting machine. Look, we get it— chainsaws are dangerous if used improperly. But manufacturers take great pains to make them as safe as possible.
Hollywood productions show chainsaws being used to cut rifles in half and being thrown through the air, chain still running, to cut down bad guys from a distance. In the Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986), we even get to see Dennis Hopper in an Errol Flynn-style chainsaw duel. Exciting and hilariously over the top? Sure. Realistic? Not so much.
If you’re in the market for a chainsaw, check out this review of popular models from Family Handyman. (No ranking for ‘Best Use of a Chainsaw in a Duel’, unfortunately.)
Photo: Denis Tabler/Shutterstock
Speaking of nail guns, these incredibly useful tools are constantly misrepresented in film. One might argue that this is because they’re a device that many filmmakers aren’t directly familiar with. More likely, it’s because of the word ‘gun’ in its name.
Hollywood nail guns function like tiny machine guns, spraying nails at a great distance with precision at the tap of the trigger. In the photo, notice the red cap on the end of the nail gun’s muzzle. That’s a bump cover that has to be pressed in to allow the gun to fire. In other words, nail guns simple won’t shoot a nail unless they’re in direct contact with their target.
It’s theoretically possible to circumvent that safety feature by taping or holding the bump cover in place. But even then the nail gun isn’t an efficient weapon. The television show Mythbusters found that one such modified nail gun was dangerous at close range, but the nails fired quickly lost velocity. That means that at any distance over a few feet, nail guns are simply not the deadly weapons that Hollywood holds them out to be.
For a more realistic view on nail gun safety and proper use, see this Family Handyman introductory tutorial.
Photo: Anna Berdnik/Shutterstock
Screwdrivers are not Skeleton Keys
Sometimes the star of a movie appears to mistake a screwdriver for a lock pick. Most common in action films, the hero grabs a standard slot head screwdriver, then moves close to the door, obscuring the camera. A moment later, the door swings open and the action continues.
The truth is that most screwdrivers are far too large to fit into a lock cylinder. Smaller screwdrivers can be used to pick a lock, but only really as a tensioner, putting pressure on the pins as another, thinner wire is raked across them, until the cylinder turns. It is possible to simply shatter a lock, especially a knob lock, with a screwdriver and a hammer, but that’s a louder, messier process that would require rekeying the lock to prevent discovery. If you don’t care about the noise and damage of destroying a lock like that, then you might as well simply kick in the door.
Continuity issues occur when things such as clothes or props seem to change, for no perceptible reason, from scene to scene or even shot to shot. They’re a whole category of movie mistakes in their own right, and for whatever reason, the intricacies of tool use seems especially susceptible. In The Simpsons Movie (2007), for example, Homer’s tool belt appears and disappears repeatedly over the course of the scene. Maybe it needed to be repaired and it slipped off, or maybe an animator simply lost track of it for a few seconds.
Another example of a continuity mistake are the White House windows in Independence Day (1996), which have grates when viewed from outside, but are full-pane when viewed from within the oval office.
Photo: Courtesy of Movie Mistakes
Chimneys as Entrance/Egress
Of all the movie mistakes on this list, this may be the one that’s had the most tragic real world consequences. While it’s true that in Victorian-era London especially small children were used to climb up onto the ash shelf and clean out chimneys from below, a grown adult simply won’t fit into a modern chimney flue. Further, there’s no real need to do so when it’s time to clean out a chimney flue. Chimney flues reduce down to only a tenth of the width of the fireplace, which means they can be cleaned with easily available tools, and are rarely large enough to allow anyone to squeeze through without getting trapped.
Still, every year someone, usually a criminal with more ambition than brains, manages to get wedged into a chimney. And when they do, things rarely end up well. Whether they’re inspired by the cheerful chimney sweeps of Mary Poppins (1964), or thought they could achieve what Kate’s dad couldn’t in Gremlins (1984) they usually end up either being hauled out by the police… or if they’re not so lucky, the coroner.
Photo: Mary Poppins/Walt Disney Studios
HVAC Systems as Secret Passageways
Seen in films such as Die Hard (1988), Sneakers (1992), and Air Heads (1994), the idea that air vents can be used to crawl through the ceilings and walls of large buildings simply doesn’t hold up to closer inspection. First of all, duct work is held up by supports designed to hold the weight of thin-walled ducts, not the weight of a person crawling through them. Secondly, all of these Hollywood ducts are amazingly clean!
Although rarely seen in film, travel through industrial-scale duct work is more practical, as it’s larger and more reinforced. Even then, the scope of the facility means that there are often filters and fans along the lines, limiting the ability to pass through key junctions.
Photo: Die Hard/Twentieth Century Fox
The Money Pit (1986) is the story of a couple who buy a house, only to find that it has far more problems than they’d dreamed possible. In one of the film’s best scenes, the new homeowners decide to take a break from their home renovations and enjoy a hot bath. They fill up their tub, but find that the weight of the tub filled with water proves too much for the floor, sending the tub plummeting into the level below.
While it’s possible for a tub to weigh too much for badly deteriorated floor joists, the problem lies with the almost cartoon-cutout the tub leaves in the floor, and the complete lack of plumbing connections (supply or waste) in evidence during or after the crash. Even if the couple had gotten to enjoy their bath, it’s a mystery where the water would have drained!
Photo: The Money Pit/Amblin Entertainment
Tools in The Shot
Missed props and anachronisms are common movie mistakes that often end up involving the tools and equipment used in film production. “Anachronisms” are modern items that appear on screen despite the fact that it doesn’t make sense for the film’s time period. Examples include a cowboy hat in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) and the gas canister on the chariot in Gladiator (2000).
Unless the ancient Romans used propane more than science would have us believe, that tank is definitely a Hollywood blunder. Luckily, if any gladiators need to know how to check the level of their propane tanks, Family Handyman has them covered!
Tools are Magic!
Also known as the “MacGyver/A-Team fallacy”, this movie mistake earns its name from the way thriller and action movie heroes have limited time to build some kind of intricate machine or gadget, and yet manage to do it with a few toothpicks and paperclips.
This is another movie trope that the gang at Mythbusters tackled. Despite professional training and plenty of time to plan the build, they found that they couldn’t create a two-seater ultralight plane out of makeshift materials. And they even had duct tape!
If you want your own list of MacGyver tricks (you know, just in case) check out this list of 15 Things You Need in Your Car Year Round.
Photo: Courtesy of UnCrate