Structural engineer unimpressed by suspension bridge collapse scenes in movies

If Hollywood needs to do bridge collapse scenes, at least they could look at films of what they really look like. The Tacoma Narrows bridge is my guilty pleasure; I was introduced to it in my high school physics class, and still think that it should be one of the #1 things they show all structural engineers.


Luckily for me, I was 8 when it came out so those things mattered little.

Also luckily for me, I’m not a structural engineer so I can enjoy watching bridges get destroyed in blockbuster movies. Though I’m also able to suspend my disbelief enough as a software developer to enjoy movies like Hackers and Swordfish, too, so… I don’t know where I was going with this.


One of the things the author points out about why these bridge failures are so annoying is that there’s no reason for them to be wrong. It serves no purpose. Kaiju movies need to have giant monsters and robots that ignore the implications of differences between area squared and volume cubed. Giant bugs need to have magical respiratory systems. Spaceships (more or less) need to fly faster than light and have human-operated weapons.

On the other hand, bridges falling down all crazy-like aren’t integral to the movies’ premises, and they aren’t more dramatic than getting it correct, and they look weird and off-putting to anyone who knows or intuits how they should behave. You’ll notice that ever since 9/11, skyscrapers being destroyed in movies are often accompanied by huge clouds of roiling dust and debris, because now people know that a tall building doesn’t fall over intact like children’s blocks.

“Damnit! There is no homoerotic subtext in the United States Air Force!”

ETA: Oh, they were in the Navy weren’t they?


As someone with an electrical engineering degree I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had my blood pressure spike when someone opens a control panel messes with some wires and a door opens or magic happens. I mean in Armageddon when Lev says it’s all made in Taiwan and bangs the shit out of something—and then it works, well at least it’s done comically ironic.

Or and as far as reasons why, probably not really a priority in the budge for technical accuracy of something that’s seen as minor…


One day I’d like to see a scene when somebody at the height of the tension shoots an offending computer, and is screamed at by the other teammembers that the mainframe is unharmed and they now must waste time by finding another terminal.

Or a bomb where all the wires are gray.


There’s no erotic subtext in the Air Force at all, homo- or otherwise, uncircumcised rockets notwithstanding. The Navy is the sexy service.


Or a bomb that doesn’t have a countdown timer, or has a countdown timer that keeps counting down after the explosive has been disconnected. (Why would the timer stop?!)


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