Fiction has presented us with swords that can cut through buildings, battle stations that can blow up planets and bows that can shoot down high-tech planes. It's best not to think about it too much...
...except when you see a weapon so ludicrous, badly-designed or just plain impractical that you can't help but squint at the screen/page and wonder how on earth that could possibly work in real life.
Here are the 10 Most Impractical Movie Weapons (except for one, which is a video game weapon).
10 Star Wars - The Death Star/Starkiller Base
The Death Star isn’t just a weapon; it’s quite possibly the weapon. Imitators have come and gone, but we’ll always remember the giant evil space marble with enough power to blow an entire planet to smithereens. Aside from that one tiny weakness, the Death Star is a floating weapon of mass, MASS destruction that doubles as a base of operations and all-round terror machine. Imagine seeing this thing floating in orbit above your planet.
Sadly, it would seem that Sidious didn’t really think this one through. The power to blow up planets is nice and all, but terribly overspecialized. The Empire can’t just go round exploding whatever planet happens to irk them; their approval levels would sink to the point where every sentient race would actively loathe their existence and be secretly throwing their resources at the Rebellion. On top of that, research shows that the Death Star cost an estimated $8.1 quadrillion to build (in real-world currency), money that could’ve been spent building, say, an expanded Imperial fleet that could move around a planet faster than a plastic bag drifting in the wind and doesn’t leave a crippling financial gap after a single torpedo shot.
All this could’ve been forgiven if, say, the Death Star ever did anything particularly useful. Unfortunately, its accomplishments only include blowing up Alderaan (a planet full of pacifists) and a few Rebel ships when they were taken by surprise. For the rest of its screen-time, the Death Star just hangs in space like a really intimidating Christmas bauble.
The Starkiller Base, introduced in The Force Awakens, is at least an improvement in terms of power, able to destroy several planets and with incredible range. It’s too bad they stuck it in the middle of a planet, giving it all the Death Star’s weaknesses except much worse. The thing can barely move, is good only for one bizarrely specific job and one lucky shot causes the planet (and the entire investment) to implode.
To cap it all off, as we know… both weapons are insignificant compared to the power of The Force. And since both organisations are led by Force-users, you’d think they’d have known better.
9 Hunger Games - Katniss' Bow and Arrows
Katniss Everdeen is really good at using a bow and arrow. It’s on all the posters.
This worked just great in the original Hunger Games, as it was a survival contest in which youngsters had only the contents of the arena to use in their attempts to murder each other. The Horn of Plenty wasn’t exactly stuffed with sub-machine guns and flamethrowers; the contest was deliberately made more entertaining (relatively speaking) by equipping the tributes with more traditional weapons. Katniss already had hunting experience, so once she eventually gets her hands on the bow and arrows, it made sense for her to be a formidable enemy. This continued in Catching Fire, in which the arena is once again disappointingly void of grenades and mech-suits.
Not so once Mockingjay rolls around. Panem is a technologically advanced nation, filled with very real firearms and futuristic technology. District 13’s equipment might not equal that of the Capitol, but their soldiers still have guns. Like, all of them. There’s not a crippling gun shortage that we’re aware of. Therefore it makes little sense to let Katniss use a weapon that was considered outdated once we discovered that small metal ball + small explosion = more dead people.
It might add dramatic flair, what with how much of Mockingjay has Katniss playing it up for the cameras, but there’s absolutely no reason she should keep holding that bow once they stop rolling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a super high-tech tricked-out bow that responds to softly spoken whispers; the fact still remains that District 13 are sending a girl into a war zone with a weapon that is utterly outclassed - in terms of range, firing speed, ammunition capacity, weight and everything else - by the weapons the enemy will be holding. But hey, it sure looks dramatic when she’s all suited up and flying through the air. Maybe they needed a flashy martyr.
8 Jurassic World (2015) - Velociraptors
If your immediate reaction was "velociraptors don’t count as weapons," congratulations: you’re smarter than the main villain in Jurassic World. Humans and animals have often worked together in times of war, though less so in the modern era. We no longer need pigeons to send messages when we have email and such, and rounding up a bunch of angry lions and dumping them on the enemy would be frowned upon by most of the public.
It therefore makes perfect sense that the insane plan of Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) from Jurassic World is so readily maligned as being, well... insane. This is a man who thinks that breeding velociraptors and sending them into a war zone is somehow a better idea than drones. Y’know, drones that aren’t alive, always obey orders and are much easier to build than a living, breathing dinosaur that will bite off its Alpha's face if they feel like taking charge. To be fair, dinosaurs are scary, and velociraptors are scarier than most. This does not mean they’d be perfect weapons for open warfare, what with them being alive and quite amazingly volatile. Crocodiles are scary, but no one has yet had the idea of breeding them to fight terrorists. The cost and risks far outweigh any of the benefits.
To prove the point, the four raptors are deployed as weapons against the I. Rex, and they’re free for a glorious, trailer-shot-inducing few minutes before they have a heart to heart with their prey and realize that they’re not so different. The end result: they go utterly rogue and turn on their allies, because as Hoskins is told time and time again, these are wild animals. Cue most theaters breaking into applause as the man himself is set upon by his perfect weapon of war and torn to shreds, on account of being a smug, brain-dead idiot.
7 Star Wars - Blasters and Lightsabers
Once again, Star Wars makes the list. As many will tell you, usually whilst wearing an expression between smug and exasperated, it’s science-fantasy. The technology doesn’t exactly have to work, as long as it looks good. Star Wars absolutely gets a pass on this one. Still, there’s some horribly-designed technology lying around in that galaxy far, far away.
Blasters seem like a wonderful idea at first, and compared to pumping your enemies with cumbersome lead, they have a few advantages. No one in the movies ever runs out of charge, so you can keep firing without carrying entire vests of bullets around. It also looks like a single shot is enough to kill anyone, even a fully-armored Stormtrooper. Plus, they’re lasers. Pew pew, am I right?
It’s too bad that, despite all these improvements, good-old 21st century Earth tech is probably more efficient in a fight. Those colorful pew pew lasers will do a bang-up job of telling your enemies exactly where (and possibly even who) you are. It’s not like you can just mow down the whole lot of them in a heartbeat, either, since even the rifle variety has a terrible rate of fire, and their accuracy certainly isn’t any better than ballistic weapons. Speaking of speed, blaster bolts also travel far slower than your average bullet, to the point where non-Jedi Han was able to dodge one from just over a table (after shooting first, of course). Finally, we’ve all seen what happens with blaster vs lightsaber.
Lightsabers, on the other hand, are a mixed bag even without glitzy cross-guards. In the hands of a trained Jedi, they’re an unstoppable whirlwind of slicing limbs and blaster bolt invulnerability, provided you’re not part of a super-sad Order 66 montage. In untrained hands, they’re a quick and efficient way to off yourself. It says something when merely turning a weapon on can leave you with a searing hole in your chest.
Jedi themselves can’t be immune, either, as with all their Force-aided dexterity, a single tiny mistake could leave them with a missing limb. You know who makes tiny mistakes? Absolutely everyone. The fight against Darth Maul could very easily have come to a sudden and embarrassing end if one of his flashy lightsaber twirls had ended with his head rolling on the floor.
6 Final Fantasy - Sephiroth's Masamune
Cloud's Buster Sword gets a pass on this one, purely on the basis that the impracticality is based in weight. I’ve never seen Cloud Strife doing bench presses, so I can’t prove that he wouldn’t be able to lift it. We see the sword being carried around, drawn and used, which for a fantasy universe, is just about enough.
The same cannot be said for Sephiroth’s Masamune. For starters, there is no way to comfortably carry a sword than is taller than you. Unless you have the arms of either Inspector Gadget or Mr Fantastic, you couldn’t comfortably sheath it, and even if you could, every turn in a crowd would quickly become a gorier version of the Three Stooges ladder sketch. Carrying it on your back isn’t an option either, unless you’re fine with the blade constantly dragging against the floor.
But fine, let’s say you’re Sephiroth and you just carry the thing around in your hand. You don’t care. We mostly see Sephiroth wielding his sword in nice, wide-open spaces, which incidentally are the only places where it could be used. Swinging the Masamune in a place with even the slightest obstruction would be near-impossible. This means that yes, Tifa could take on Sephiroth, provided that they were both locked in a broom cupboard. Even in a straight fight on a grassy plain, the sword is far too long for most regular manoeuvres and would likely get jammed in the ground before too long. Sure, this would reduce Sephiroth’s ways of killing you to a mere fifty or so, but…actually, never mind.
5 Harry Potter - Offensive Magic
Countless children around the globe have waited in vain for their acceptance letter into Hogwarts, the definitely-fictional castle in probably-Scotland where kids go to learn things like "how to shoot blasts of light out of sticks" and "adults do not care about your safety." The world of Harry Potter captured imaginations with its depth, phantasmagorical wonder and intense secrecy. That last point is pretty important because, as J.K. Rowling herself has noted, there’s a reason that Muggles still rule the world.
Offensive magic is all very exciting when pitted against other offensive magic, because of the aforementioned blasts of light (scientifically referred to as magical PEW PEW). It doesn’t quite hold up against literally any other modern weapon in existence, though, so we should be glad that Voldemort never bothered to research nuclear weapons or chemical warfare. In fact, the Magical World is so insular that it’s unlikely they’ve developed any defenses against Muggle weapons. Disdainful they may be, but when you want results…
Physical violence is treated as almost an afterthought, which makes you wonder what would happen if you just sort of…chucked a knife at Voldemort’s head. Would he even know how to defend himself? Has anyone tried this?
Even offensive magic isn’t the most efficient weapon, as dangerous spells are color-coded for your dodging convenience and easy enough to avoid. The films make this problem even worse, portraying the blocking process as little more than a stylish flick of the wrist. This would definitely not work against a live grenade.
4 Star Trek - The Bat'leth
The Bat’leth is one of the icons of Star Trek, right alongside the Enterprise and William Shatner’s "acting." A Klingon ceremonial weapon that is also used for un-ceremonial dismemberment, it was perhaps most famously wielded by The Next Generation’s Worf, who is himself famous for completely failing at his job, all the time, every episode, forever. But we still love him.
As it turns out, the two go well together, as the bat’leth seemed custom designed to remove everything useful about melee weapons. It’s sharp and pointy, which is a nice thought except when you have to swing it and the pointy end comes right back at you. Generally speaking, a weapon that endangers you as much as your enemy isn’t the best choice for combat. The bat’leth is meant to be wielded with two hands, greatly reducing both the range and your attack options to a clumsy hooking slash, provided that your foe is standing within a one-foot radius. Were the handhold situated on the other side it could’ve been a low-range weapon that nonetheless had a fair amount of slashing power. Inexplicably, the creators chose to have the slashing edge facing the wielder.
While facing an angry down an angry Klingon holding a bat’leth is still cause for alarm, you’d be in far more danger if they chose to use literally any other bladed weapon ever created. Or a gun. Or just a sharp rock.
3 Goldfinger (1964) - Oddjob's Hat
James Bond henchmen have to distinguish themselves by their gimmicks. For some, it’s scary false teeth. Others are hulking brutes who don’t even flinch while being hit. Oddjob, making his appearance in Goldfinger, combines several of these; he possesses immense strength, nigh-impossible levels of durability and is almost entirely mute. And he has a hat. The hat is deadly.
Appearing to be a simple bowler hat, Oddjob is often seen using it for absurd feats such as slicing through metal and even stone, always retrieving it afterwards. It’s a fun gimmick, particularly since it doubles as a stylish accessory, but that doesn’t mean that it should actually work as a weapon in any sense. For one thing, in a no-holds-barred smackdown with stone versus metal, stone always wins. It’s probably something to do with physics.
Even more egregious is the method of use, which makes a bat’leth look subtle by comparison. The shape of a bowler hat is simply not designed to be thrown, and regardless of the weight of the blade, it’s going to catch some air in the head portion and ruin its effectiveness as a ranged weapon. Oddjob might as well just carry around a gun, or if he’s totally dedicated to the sharp flying objects theme, some actual knives. They might not take the head off a statue, but they’re a whole lot faster and more aerodynamic, plus you can carry more than one of them without looking like an idiot with a hat fetish. Also, you’re not getting it back if you throw it and miss. Oddjob gets one shot, wherein he would probably watch it curve in mid-air then gently float to the ground. As hats do when you throw them.
2 The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier
The S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier is perhaps more of a fortified mobile base than an actual weapon, but when its primary purpose is to fly around dumping highly-trained agents and actual superheroes on top of a problem, it could probably be considered one. The reveal of the helicarrier in The Avengers was heralded by a breathtaking establishing shot, showing its power and massive scale, while The Winter Soldier showed more weaponized versions with enough firepower to murder millions of people in the space of a few minutes.
However, as fans of both the comics and the movies will tell you, there’s a crippling flaw in the technology that doesn’t exist for most bases: it flies. That’s just great for ferrying jets around the globe, but not so much for when it’s brought down… and that happens a lot. There’s nothing quite so dramatic as a massive base of operations falling down from the sky in flames, meaning that this exact scenario has happened multiple times in the comics. Provided that the craft isn’t destroyed upon impact, this will often unleash a plethora of stored supervillains and criminals upon the world, as well as a great deal of damage control for whatever they landed on top of. You know what kind of base can’t crash and burn millions of dollars in investment? A building. In fact, one of the evil helicarriers from The Winter Soldier managed to kamikaze the Triskelion when it was brought down, thus rendering S.H.I.E.L.D. without headquarters (though to be fair, that one was swarming with HYDRA agents).
Nevertheless, the helicarrier is a staple of the organisation, with a new and improved version being developed in secret under the direction of Phil Coulson and revealed in Age of Ultron. This time, it manages to do its job without significant damage. We’ll see how long that lasts.
1 The Fifth Element (1997) - The Zorg ZF-1 Pod Weapon
The Fifth Element isn’t the most grounded of films, even in relation to other sci-fi. The Zorg ZF-1 Pod Weapon therefore fits into the setting by being completely ludicrous and wielded by Gary Oldman, whose hair is in turn completely ludicrous. The ZF-1 is designed to be an all-purpose firearm, and includes functions such as a rocket launcher, flamethrower and freeze gun, among other too numerous to name. The flashiness of the weapon fits the character of Zorg, as well as his preference for powerful weaponry.
When the guy from Mythbusters spends 13 years trying to replicate a prop and is barely close to succeeding, you know you have an impractical gun on your hands. The sheer weight of the ZF-1 is never explored, but with all those added extras, simply picking the thing up would’ve been a challenge. Lots of intricate parts for all the different firing mechanisms means there’s a heck of lot to go wrong, which is why you don’t see guns in real life with so many different types of ammunition. The Zorg ZF-1, in the end, is simply not meant to be a real gun, instead being a statement in the hands of an equally flashy character. Still, the fact that Zorg is able to comfortably lift the thing, let alone fire anything from it effectively, strains credibility…particularly since Zorg himself is a weapons designer.
Did we miss anything else that makes you roll your eyes? Let us know in the comments!