There’s nothing worse than a smart-alec film fan.
We’ve all done it, of course. Picked apart a cheesy blockbuster for its perceived flaws. Poked holes in some sloppy plot logic. Proposed another ending that would have made oh so much more sense.
The fact is, though, we’re often not as smart as we think we are. Often, films are simply more interested in telling a story than in bulletproofing themselves against pedants.
Sometimes, even widely circulated complaints are totally fatuous. People watch Titanic, for instance, and ask why Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t simply hop on the door alongside 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, and leave you searching for any kind of plausible explanation.
Some of the best films ever made have still been liable to contain a few baffling plot holes, from Citizen Kane to Back to the Future. No matter what defences people conjure up, there’s always some 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 features a famous twist, in which it is revealed that the wrongly imprisoned Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) has secretly tunnelled out of Shawshank prison, hiding his escape path with a poster of Rita Hayworth. But how did he manage to reattach the bottom of the poster after leaving through it?
The Karate Kid
In the final act of the 1980s classic The Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) bests his rival Johnny Lawrence (Billy Zabka) with a sensational kick to the head. However, it was established at the start of the fight that blows to the head were not allowed, per tournament rules – meaning LaRusso should have been disqualified. It’s a plot hole that was poked fun at 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, in fact, a children’s toy. If this were the case, though, why would he play dead whenever a human enters the room? It’s a plot hole that has been questioned by fans for years, and no explanation is ever quite satisfactory.
Nineties sci-fi blockbuster Armageddon featured a plot hole so glaring that it was ridiculed by Ben Affleck on the film’s own DVD commentary: with the Earth in dire peril, Nasa decide to train a cadre of drill workers as astronauts, a lengthy, expensive (and, in reality, infeasible) process, rather than just train existing astronauts how to operate the drill. “I asked [director Michael Bay] why it was easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts than it was to train astronauts to become oil drillers,” said Affleck on the commentary. “He told me to shut the f*** up, so that was the end of that talk.”
Back to the Future
Picking holes in Robert Zemeckis’s timeless time-travel romp perhaps goes against the film’s goofy spirit. But it’s hard to get past one lingering quibble: why wouldn’t Marty McFly’s parents notice that their son looked identical to the strange and charismatic teenager who once set them up? Even if you accept that decades have passed since they last saw his face, it’s a stretch to believe that they wouldn’t notice the uncanny similarities.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Towards the end of Peter Jackson’s nearly 10-hour fantasy trilogy, there comes 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 spawned endless debates among Middle Earth fanatics, with counter-arguments digging deep into eagle lore to disprove its merits. But the fact remains that for the everyday viewer this was a head-scratchingly simple solution that everyone on screen ignored.
Even a film as immortally great as Citizen Kane has its foibles – and the iconic opening scene is one such. As Charles Foster Kane perishes alone in his bedroom, he utters the enigmatic word: “Rosebud”. The word becomes a riddle which newspapermen scramble to decode. The only problem? There was no-one around to hear him say it.
The titular beast in this classic Disney cartoon is shown to be on the cusp of his 21st birthday; that is when the spell becomes permanent. And yet, one of the songs suggests that he has been living as a beast for a full decade, meaning he was cursed back when he was still a pre-teen. Not only does this raise a whole lot of questions about the circumstances leading to the curse, it also directly contradicts the portrait we see of the beast back when he was a human, and very much looking like an adult.
In this Marvel caper, it is stated several times that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) retains his full-size mass every time he shrinks down to the size of an ant. It’s what allows him to beat people up while tiny. But this raises a whole load of inconsistencies about the way in which Ant-Man interacts with the world – not least when his human-sized mass is able to be flown around on the back of an ant-sized ant.
The Butterfly Effect
This poorly received thriller starring Ashton Kutcher was pretty solid in its understanding of the butterfly effect at points, showing how small changes to a moment in time can have far-reaching consequences. There were lapses, however, 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 circumstance, only with hand scars. The idea that the experience wouldn’t have a greater effect on a young life is, frankly, absurd, and jars with much of what the rest of the film is trying to say.
M Night Shyamalan’s 2021 sci-fi drama, about a beach that makes people age rapidly, was twisty, fun and original. It’s a small shame, therefore, that the film’s ending hinged on one of the most bizarre plot contrivances in recent years. Shyamalan’s own character, tasked with monitoring the beach’s victims from afar, decides to pack up his equipment and leave when the last two people dipped underwater for just a couple of minutes – apparently deciding that no-one could possibly survive that long. After watching them for many hours, he suddenly couldn’t spare another minute to make sure? It’s a hilarious moment in a film which is otherwise a thought-provoking and profoundly unsettling 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 inadvertent Easter eggs, though one moment in 2015’s The Force Awakens had fans especially up in arms. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the gang return from the starkiller 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 suppose.
The Dark Knight Rises
Though the film had its ardent defenders, there was much about Christopher Nolan’s 2012 trilogy-capper The Dark Knight Rises that just felt a little underbaked. Whether it was the entire police force being lured underground and trapped, or the fact that internationally famous billionaire Bruce Wayne was able to fake his death and live out his life without being recognised, the plot holes ran so deep in this film you could follow them all the way to the batcave.
The Dark Knight Rises – Trailer 3
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 dragged out of the water by a fisherman. However, we later learn that the tribe who discovers him is vegetarian – so just what are they fishing for?
Though it’s inarguably one of the better studio horrors of recent years, A Quiet Place has been mocked for a few of its smaller touches – such as the whiteboard with “How many in Area??” scrawled in huge lettering. One pretty conspicuous plot hole comes midway through the film, when the family go to a nearby waterfall, and are able to shout to one another without the noise being detected over the crashing of the water. Any sensible person would look at that and go… why not move nearer the waterfall? Some people just like the quiet I guess.
This article was originally published in May 2022