With the recent spate of superhero movies, it is easy to forget that not every movie has a superhero in it. Even superhero films aren’t always about someone on steroids (Captain America) or weather presenters (Thor) but are instead about your everyday billionaire playboy (Batman, Ironman, Arrow). So it is easy to forget that feats of superhuman strength are not meant to be the norm in films.
Think about the scenes where the everyday hero is clutching the edge of a building by their fingertips whilst the love interest or bad guy is dangling from their other hand. Of course, the hero never loses their grip on the ledge, but the bad guy may slip from their grasp.
We accept that scene as plausible because we have been brainwashed into thinking that the average person can hold their own body weight with a single hand for extended periods. Double their body weight? They can hold that for the length of a dramatic moment – a period of time that is impossible to measure in real-time since dramatic speeches and slow motion really mess with reality.
The problem is that outside of gymnasts, rock climbers, or people who crush rocks with their bare hands for a living, the Average Joe wouldn’t even be able to hold their own weight for more than a few seconds, especially not if they caught themselves from a fall. Elite grip strength can be measured in a few ways, but the Captains of Crush grippers are one easy way to distinguish strong hands. The #1 requires 64kg (140lbs) of force to close, while the #3 gripper takes 127kg (280lbs) and is regarded as world-class grip strength. Just for shits and giggles, they made a #4 gripper that requires 166kg (365lb) of force to close and has been officially closed by 5 people. Ever.
Watch this world-class rock climber hold just over double his bodyweight with two hands, not one hand, for time as another example:
So let’s just assume that our generic action movie conforms to long-held stereotypes of protagonists. This movie stars an everyday hero who weighs a buff 80kg and his falling love interest is a lithe 55kg, and they totally get naked in the second act for purely artistic reasons. That’s 135kg hanging from the hero’s fingertips, a weight that even a really strong person wouldn’t have the grip strength to support. Two supposedly normal adults, which is certainly very relative in movies, are not going to be hanging onto that ledge for any length of time.
This brings us to the next amazing feat of strength in this scenario: lifting that falling love interest back to safety. For a strong person, the lithe love interest at 55kg isn’t exactly heavy. A buff 80kg hero could probably clean and jerk a dumbbell weighing that much…. assuming they work out, have some chalk on their hands, were able to get some leg drive happening, had decent technique, and that the dumbbell wasn’t particularly unwieldy. But most falling love interests are a tad unwieldy. I’m yet to see any love interests in a movie come equipped with appropriately knurled handles. And when dangling by your fingertips, there isn’t going to be a lot of leg drive happening. Yet without fail, the hero manages to get them both to safety using the power of his mighty biceps – without a single muscle or tendon tear. Well, unless it is one of those tragic character-defining moments, in which case the hero will be in the same situation later and will find the determination to succeed the second time. Sucks to be the first love interest in that scenario.
Interesting to think about just how many amazing feats of strength are passed off as normal in movies.
Update: A few videos that cover how impossible many of these feats are. Kyle Hill goes into some of these with a bit of physics.