Which Fast and Furious Stunts Defy Physics, According To A Physicist

The Fast and Furious movie franchise features some unbelievable stunts. The series includes cars jumping onto boats, jumping out of airplanes, and jumping between skyscrapers. The Fast and Furious stunts have wrecked an insane amount of cars. Some critics have said these films defy the laws of physics. Recently, physics professor turned journalist Diandra Leslie-Pelecky broke down the Fast and Furious franchise’s unforgettable stunts and identified the least believable three.

3: The Fast & Furious tanker roll

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At the opening of 2009’s Fast and Furious, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) lead a team of drivers on an oil truck heist in the Dominican Republic. The heist goes wrong and one of the tanker trailers rolls down a mountain road.

Dom and Letty find themselves trapped between the rolling, bouncing, flaming tanker–and a cliff. While Letty shouts, Dom calmly warms up his tires, slams his gas, and races towards the oncoming trailer. As the tanker bounces in the air, Dom drifts sideways and the flaming mass just clears the roof of his Buick Grand National–then crashes over the cliff. The fiery sequence is one of the most memorable fast and furious stunts.

Leslie-Pelecky pointed out that if the fuel tanker trailer was rolling down a flat road and bouncing regularly–like a basketball–she could understand Dom’s ability to time his launch and drive beneath it. But she noticed that the trailer was bouncing irregularly, its ends bouncing off the cliffs on either side of the road.

Furthermore, because the truck loses kinetic energy with every bounce, the longer Dom waits, the harder it will be to fit under the tanker’s next bounce. Finally, Leslie-Pelecky calculated that the loaded fuel tanker weighed approximately 41,500 pounds and found it unlikely that it would bounce high enough to clear the Buick. Overall she gave the scene’s realism a 3/10.

2: The cliff dive in Fast Five

During Fast Five, the sequel to Fast & Furious, Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) attempt to rob supercars from a moving train. Brian crashes a truck into the side of the train and is barely clinging onto its roll cage. To make matters worse, the train is rapidly approaching a narrow bridge.

Dom hops in a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette, jumps the car off the train, then races along next to the tracks. Just before Brian smashes into the bridge structure, he is able to leap and grab the car’s roll bar.

Unfortunately, the Corvette and its occupants are already pitching over the river that the bridge spans. Dom speeds up so the car falls far from the cliffs. Then Dom and Brian jump off the back of the convertible and let it fall away from them. Finally, they dive into the river.

To calculate the likelihood of Dom and Brian surviving their dive into the river, Leslie-Pelecky first calculated how fast they were falling. She timed their fall time at eleven seconds. She said, “After 11 seconds, Dom would be going 124 miles per hour when he hit the water. He would have fallen about 1,775 feet.” She points out that the world record-holder for surviving the highest dive fell 193 feet. When he hit the water he broke his clavicle and dislocated his pelvis.

Leslie-Pelecky concluded, “There’s absolutely no way they could have survived a jump that long.” She gave this scene’s realism a score of 2/10, one of the lowest scores among Fast and Furious stunts.

1: Catching the plane in Fast & Furious 6

The scene that Leslie-Pelecky found the least believable was the final chase scene of Fast & Furious 6. During this action-packed race, Dom and Brian follow the bad guys onto a runway. Just when they think the baddies are trapped, a huge cargo plane lands. The bad guys drive onto the moving plane, which begins to take off.

Brian, Dom, and his crew use harpoons to sabotage the plane’s control surfaces. They also use the weight of their Dodge Chargers and Mercedes G Wagons to hold it down. Then Dom and Brian drive their vehicle into the plane to chase the bad guys. While they engage in hand-to-hand combat, the plane continues barreling down the runway, attempting to take off.

The airport chase is one of the most argued-about Fast and Furious stunts. Leslie-Pelecky had no issue with the techniques the team used to ground the plane. What she said “stretched my ability to ignore reality,” was the “unfathomably long runway.”

For the sake of a rough calculation, she assumed the flying plane slowed to 120 mph to land and never sped back up to takeoff speed. If so, it was only covering two miles every minute while Brian and Dom were onboard. According to her, Brian and Dom’s fight on the plane “takes 11 or 12 minutes.” Therefore, it appears that the Fast 6 runway is over twenty miles long. 

Leslie Pelecky points out, “The longest airport runway in the world is 3.4 miles.” For this reason, she gave the Fast 6 runway chase scene a believability rating of just 1/10–her worst rating of the franchise.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in 'The Fast And The Furious', 2001. This straightforward drag race is far from the less believable, physics defying Fast and Furious stunts of later films. | Universal/Getty Images
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in ‘The Fast And The Furious’, 2001 | Universal/Getty Images

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