There’s nothing worse than a smart-alec movie fan.
We’ve all done it, of course. Picked apart a cheesy blockbuster for its perceived flaws. Punch holes in some sloppy plot logic. Suggested a different ending that would have made so much more sense.
The fact is, however, that we are often not as smart as we think we are. Often, films are simply more interested in telling a story than in defending themselves against pedants.
Sometimes even widely circulated complaints are completely false. People are watching Titanic, for example, asking why Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t just jump on the door with Kate Winslet at the end. It’s enough to make you want to scream, “That’s not how buoyancy works!”
But sometimes plot holes are so egregious that you just can’t let them go. These are the ones that really stick in your mind, leaving you searching for any kind of plausible explanation.
Some of the best movies ever made have still tended to contain a few confusing plot holes, from Citizen Kane to Back to the Future. No matter what defense people conjure up, there’s always a nagging feeling that never quite goes away.
Here are 15 of the biggest plot holes in popular movies…
The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont’s prison drama has a famous twist, where it is revealed that wrongfully imprisoned Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) has secretly tunneled out of Shawshank Prison, hiding his escape route with a poster of Rita Hayworth. But how did he manage to reattach the bottom of the poster after going through it?
The karate child
In the final act of the 1980s classic The karate child, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) bests his rival Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka) with a sensational kick to the head. However, it was determined at the start of the match that blows to the head were not allowed, according to tournament rules – meaning LaRusso should have been disqualified. It’s a plot hole that was teased in the recent sequel series, Cobra Kai.
Much of the first Toy Story revolves around Buzz Lightyear’s (Tim Allen) refusal to accept that he is actually a child’s toy. If this was the case, why would he play dead when a human enters the room? It’s a plot hole that has been questioned by fans for years, and no explanation is ever completely satisfying.
Sci-fi blockbuster in the nineties Armageddon featured a plot hole so glaring that it was ridiculed by Ben Affleck in the film’s own DVD commentary: with Earth in grave danger, Nasa decides to train a cadre of drillers as astronauts, a long, expensive (and in reality impossible) process , rather than simply training existing astronauts how to operate the drill. “I asked [director Michael Bay] why it was easier to train oil drillers to be astronauts than it was to train astronauts to be oil drillers,” Affleck said of the comment. “He told me to shut up, so that was the end of that conversation.”
Back to the Future
Picking holes in Robert Zemeckis’s timeless time-travel romp might go against the film’s goofy spirit. But it’s hard to get past a lingering disagreement: why didn’t Marty McFly’s parents notice that their son looked like the strange and charismatic teenager who once set them up? Even if you accept that it’s been decades since they last saw his face, it’s a stretch to think they wouldn’t notice the uncanny similarities.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Towards the end of Peter Jackson’s nearly 10-hour fantasy trilogy, there is an almighty deus ex machina, as the forces of good are saved by the arrival of the Great Eagles. But the scene left many viewers asking the question: why couldn’t the Eagles have simply given everyone a lift to Mordor in the first place? The apparent plot hole has sparked endless debates among Middle Earth fanatics, with counter-arguments digging deep into Eagle lore to disprove its merits. But the fact is, to the everyday viewer, this was a head-scratchingly simple solution that everyone on the screen ignored.
Even such an immortally great film as Citizen Kane has its weaknesses – and the iconic opening scene is one such. As Charles Foster Kane dies alone in his bedroom, he utters the enigmatic word: “Rosebud.” The word becomes an enigma that newspaper people struggle to decode. The only problem? No one was around to hear him say that.
The beauty and the Beast
The titular beast of this classic Disney cartoon is shown to be approaching his 21st birthday; that’s when the spell becomes permanent. And yet one of the songs suggests that he has lived as a beast for a whole decade, meaning he was cursed when he was still a pre-teen. Not only does this raise a whole lot of questions about the circumstances that led to the curse, it also directly contradicts the portrait we see of the beast when it was human, looking very much like an adult.
In this Marvel caper, it is stated several times that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) retains his full size mass whenever he shrinks down to the size of an ant. It’s what allows him to punch people when he’s little. But this raises a whole host of inconsistencies about the way Ant-Man interacts with the world – not least when his human-sized bulk can be flown around on the back of an ant-sized ant.
The butterfly effect
This poorly received thriller starring Ashton Kutcher was quite solid in its understanding of the butterfly effect at times, showing how small changes in a moment in time can have far-reaching consequences. However, there were lapses, such as the moment when Kutcher’s character goes back in time to stab his childhood self through the hands – which led him to the exact same adult situation, only with hand scars. The idea that the experience wouldn’t have a larger effect on a young life is, frankly, absurd, and flies in the face of much of what the rest of the film is trying to say.
M Night Shyamalan’s 2021 sci-fi drama about a beach that causes people to age quickly was twisted, funny and original. It is therefore a bit of a shame that the film’s ending was hinged on one of the most bizarre plots in recent years. Tasked with monitoring the beach’s victims from afar, Shyamalan’s own character decides to pack up his gear and leave when the last two people dunked underwater for just a couple of minutes—apparently deciding that no one could possibly survive that long . After watching them for hours, he suddenly couldn’t spare another minute to be sure? It’s a funny moment in a film that is otherwise a thought-provoking and deeply disturbing watch.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Over the course of its dozen-odd films, the Star Wars franchise boasted its fair share of plot holes and unintended Easter eggs, but for a moment in the 2015s The Force Awakens had fans especially up in arms. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the gang return from the base after Han Solo’s death, General Leia (Carrie Fisher) rushes to give her a sad, grief-stricken hug, completely ignoring Chewbacca, her decades-old friend and Han’s former confidante . . Out with the old, I guess.
The Dark Knight rises
While the film had its ardent defenders, there was much about Christopher Nolan’s 2012 trilogy capper The Dark Knight rises which just felt a little undercooked. Whether it was the entire police force being lured underground and captured, or the fact that internationally famous billionaire Bruce Wayne was able to fake his death and live out his life without being recognized, the plot holes were so deep in this movie that you could follow them all the way to the bat cave.
After T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is nearly killed in a fight with Erik Kilmonger (Michael B Jordan), he lands in a river, and floats downstream until he is pulled out of the water by a fisherman. However, we later learn that the tribe that discovers him is vegetarian – so what are they fishing for?
A quiet place
While arguably one of the better studio horrors of recent years, A quiet place has been mocked for some of the smaller details – such as the board with “How many in the area??” scribbled in capital letters. A rather glaring plot hole comes midway through the film, when the family goes to a nearby waterfall, and is able to shout to each other without the noise being detected over the crash of the water. Any reasonable person would look at that and go… why not move closer to the waterfall? Some people like the silence.
This article was originally published in May 2022