Hollywood! From micro-budget to blockbuster films, Hollywood is responsible for critically and financially acclaimed successes, as well as unprecedentedly epic failures. For better or worse, film reviews play a significant role, but the films’ marketing also shares responsibility. No other factor is more responsible, though, than the story. If the story is hard to believe, or if it does not make sense, or if the plot holes are too obvious, the film is usually doomed to fail. So when does a film not fail then? When the story is good, the directing, editing, photography, visuals and sound all work together like a Swiss watch, and manage to overshadow these plot holes. Below are some examples of critical and financial successes with plot holes that the audience—consciously or unconsciously—didn’t take into consideration. At least at first…
Pointing out the elephant in the room
In a dystopian future, crime mobs send people to the past to be killed and disposed of by loopers, a system that will prove problematic when a looper encounters his future self.
Rian Johnson, the talented writer/director behind Brick (2005), Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), Knives Out (2019), and more, brought to us a sci-fi film filled with time travel, time paradox, assassins, telekinetic mutation, an A-list cast, and a hell of a lot of action. The acting is amazing; Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails it as a young Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis couldn’t be more Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Piper Perabo, Noah Segan, Paul Dano, and Jeff Daniels do their part too. The visual effects are gripping, the mise-en-scène showcases the extraordinary photography, the continuity in editing will make you rewind every now and then to reveal the invisible cuts. The story is absolutely fascinating and will keep you at the edge of your seats.
Why is it on this list?
Since there is no mention of geographical or time restrictions on time travel, the loopers could have been sent thousands of years back, before civilisation began. They would not have been able to communicate with anyone or alter history in any way. Alternatively, they could be sent to any place back in time, over an erupting volcano for example, and that would be the end of it.
When it comes to time travel, anything can be seen as problematic or faulty, as the different scientific schools of thought have told us. The numerous representations of time travel preceding Looper can give us infinite ‘yes but’ moments—especially with the paradoxical ending. The aforementioned though is the one that stands out the most.
The Matrix Trilogy (1999 – 2003)
A hacker realises that the world he lives in is an illusion, and sets out to bring down whatever is controlling it.
I think I speak on behalf of most of us when I say that it took us a while to process all the facts, when The Matrix came out. Things got easier with the second part. We thought it was going to be a walk in the park with the third installment, but the Architect’s monologue fried a significant amount of our brain cells. The problem starts with the fact that the studio altered the script in order not to confuse the audience—go figure! Yes, the machines could have picked animals for the power source and not humans, but this is not where the problem lies.
The script originally submitted detailed how the machines were processing the human brain to further advance themselves, something that would create the perfect irony because Neo used the machines to advance himself and started taking control over the matrix. Anyhow, the franchise makes the list because, throughout the three films, it fails to explain how the war started, and why and how mankind became the machines’ slave. It took The Animatrix (2003) to provide the necessary explanations. Here’s my argument: If you need a different medium, post-finale, to fill the gaps, it means there were holes to begin with.
Suicide Squad (2016)
A shadowy government organisation secretly forms a squad of super-villains with the purpose of sending them on…suicide missions.
As this article doesn’t focus on indifferent characters or nonsensical storylines, I will just tackle the obvious. The Suicide Squad in the film was formed just in case Superman became villainous. The major question comes from Dexter Tolliver: “What if Superman had decided to fly down, rip off the roof of the White House and grab the President of the United States right out of the Oval Office? Who would’ve stopped him?”
Answer: None of them! They would have rightfully earned their squad’s name. Superman wouldn’t fight them, he wouldn’t wipe the floor with them; he would have annihilated them before they managed to put up any line of defence (much less offence) faster than I am moving on to the next film.
Independence Day (1996)
Colossal U.F.O.s appear in the skies all over the world. When they attack, mankind’s unity and will to survive is put to test, against advanced alien technology.
The poster child of the modern Hollywood blockbuster! Roland Emmerich’s suspenseful narrative build-up, the state of the art visual effects, and Will Smith, Jeff Goldlum, Bill Pullman, all come together to offer a spectacle that leaves no margin for digging into details.
24 years later, I guess it’s safe to ask: How on earth would any scientist know what kind of virus to develop, and how that compatibility—assuming that there is one—would yield the desired results/crash mankind so desperately needed? It is not the time or place to discuss the Pax Americana tone or Emmerich’s unrealistic view of the world. When one goes to the movies to watch any of his films, they should know that they sign up for cinema of attractions and not vérité. Creating a virus against hyper advanced alien technology though is more far fetched than Randy Quaid portraying the hero.
When mysteriously-shaped crop circles appear on a family farm, two brothers realise that something more sinister has yet to arrive.
M. Night Shyamalan, one of those hot/cold modern Hollywood directors, following the successes of The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), came back with yet another hit. Signs has a trademark Shyamalan build-up, with a suspenseful plot and an equally dramatic subplot. It is unfortunate though that both the suspense and the drama disappear once the aliens crawl down that chimney and the screen fades to black. If you have watched it you probably know what I mean, if not, you probably will when you do. But Signs didn’t make the list because of Shyamalan’s creative choices.
The aliens, the intelligent beings that reached our world with their advanced technology, decided to go to Earth; 71% of this planet’s surface is covered by water. Fact: Water is deadly to them! An equivalent would be for mankind to voluntarily go to a planet full of active volcanoes. Why? Why not terraform a planet with no sign of water? The only explanation I can give is that the aliens were malicious and all they wanted was to harm us. Well, if that was the case, then infiltrating one house at a time is probably a worse strategy than choosing Earth to begin with…
Oh! What about the protagonist’s dying wife getting premonitions? Were these the actual signs?
War of the Worlds (2005)
A family fights for survival when, without any warning, gigantic alien tripods emerge from the Earth and attack with the intent to annihilate it.
Yes, aliens again. But sci-fi as only Spielberg’s lens can capture and narrate. It is a horrific depiction of what could potentially happen should aliens attack the Earth. Steven Spielberg and his lifelong editor Michael Kahn give us a suspenseful narrative. The film’s flaw is similar to the one in Signs, and even though it’s not as obvious, it is equally severe.
The aliens, who arrived on Earth way before civilisation was created, studying us and our planet very thoroughly, failed to spot the deadly-to-them germs. Now, if a planet’s atmosphere is not the first thing they should have meticulously examined while watching us for thousands of years and even before they made any move against us, I don’t know what is. I would like to be a tad lenient on this one though, as it has a mitigating factor. And that is none other than the era in which it was written by H. G. Wells. And it is the same factor that I will use for…
Basic Instinct (1992)
A mysterious murder will make a hard as nails detective turn his attention to an established author, who is mesmerising and manipulative.
Diverse, controversial, ‘love or loathe’ director Paul Verhoeven is responsible for one of the best erotic thrillers made to date. Sharon Stone became the poster child for femme fatale, that men, women, and non-binary people have imprinted in their minds. The editing unfolds the clues exactly when the audience needs to know it. And even though the story is dark, twisted, and nail-biting, unfortunately, it has a fundamental flaw at the very beginning.
During the sex scene, while the icepick attack takes place, ALL of her DNA is left in that room. The crime should have been solved within hours. Basic Instinct was released in 1992, and having been written a few years before that, it only leaves a few years margin between the script and the first instance of DNA profiling in 1986. It only makes sense that writer Joe Eszterhas didn’t know much (or anything) about it and the audience nothing at all. The fundamental flaw does not face the Spanish Inquisition then…
Blade Runner (1982)
In a distant future, where the technology to build human replicants exists, a blade runner is tasked with locating and terminating the ones who pose a threat to their creator.
Ridley Scott directs Harrison Ford vs Rutger Hauer in a dystopic, cyberpunk future. What can possibly go wrong, right? Nothing really. Every version/cut released to this day reveals how diachronic and relevant Blade Runner still is. Should you get to choose though, go for the latest director’s cut. How does it make this list? Stealthily!
The advanced technology possessed in the future cannot tell a replicant from an actual human being unless they go through psychological evaluation. Even though it is not very comprehensible how the company making them wouldn’t use a distinctive feature, it is still acceptable. But the company not possessing the technology and/or ANY other physiological means to spot the difference between the two is highly improbable.
Home Alone (1990)
A large family decides to go on a trip during the Christmas holidays, accidentally leaving behind its youngest member, who must then protect the house from vicious burglars.
I was between writing about Home Alone and Rocky V, both of which came out in 1990—the latter wherein Rocky comes back from Russia straight after the fight and his son is ten years older, at least! Then I figured that lazy writing isn’t a plot hole, it’s just…lazy writing. Therefore, I chose the highly entertaining Home Alone. Did no parent or kid ever wonder at the time why Kevin’s parents never called home, or asked the police to go by the house and red-flag the incident? Other than the obvious answer that we wouldn’t be having a movie, the story is so Christmas-sy and family-oriented that no one would want that anyway.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
An archaeologist is hired by the U.S. government to stop the Nazis from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant and using it as a weapon against the rest of the world.
I left Raiders of the Lost Ark for the end only to dispute the plot hole raised in The Big Bang Theory‘s (2007 – 2019) episode, The Raiders Minimization. Amy ‘ruins’ the film for Sheldon when she mentions that Indy makes no difference to the film whatsoever and everything would have happened anyway, whether he was in it or not.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and even if it was, it would be besides the point anyway. Here are the main counterarguments:
- Unwillingly, Indy led the Germans to the Staff of Ra’s headpiece, which they failed to obtain.
- The Well of the Souls may have never been found if Indy hadn’t discovered it but, unwillingly again, he led them to it. As the audience, we would never know.
- On the island, the Nazis opened the Ark to test it as a weapon, which led to their demise.
If Indy was not there, the Nazis may or may not have:
- Found the headpiece
- Discovered the Well of Souls
- And obtained the Ark which, if it was later in time, would be taken probably straight to Berlin, stuck in a lab and, potentially, put under control.
The Big Bang Theory either showed a lack of understanding towards the film’s narrative or just wanted to provoke fans and get higher ratings. Why? Think of Ben-Hur (1959): a Jewish prince is enslaved, regains his freedom, and returns with vengeance. What change in history did he create or cause to happen? None! Because that’s not what the story is about. It is about the hero’s journey and how an unknown fictional character witnesses events. And we witness the same as if we were there as well, watching historical events occur.
I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘but’ more times in my life. But there is a solid reason behind it. Cinema is escapism. One goes to the movies to escape from their own reality for, on average, a couple of hours. Mark Twain said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Whoever is interested in factual truth, the closest genre cinema can offer is documentary. For everything else, even when ‘based on a true story’, ‘based on actual events’, biopics, docudramas and so on, just spend that time wisely and enjoy the good story. If by any chance the story is not so good, fair enough. Off to the next one. The world of cinema is vast and there are hidden gems wherever you look. Try to figure out the kind of world you want to enter.
Sit back, relax, enjoy your journey.
About the author
Konstantinos got into TV and Film production immediately after school. He has been studying and working in this field ever since. In 2011, he won the Nostimon Imar Award (Best Greek Director Abroad) for his short film Ithacathat he wrote, edited and directed. The following year, he donated his documentary Asperger Syndrome: Myths & Reality to the National Autistic Society in the U.K. Konstantinos lives and works in the U.K. as a freelance Video Editor and Camera Operator for corporate videos, fashion shows, and documentaries. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Film at the University of Nottingham and reviewing films on his own blog.