Weekend Roundtable: Movie Plot Holes

In last week’s Roundtable, we looked at some of the TV clichés that annoy us the most. This week, let’s pick apart plot holes in popular movies.

Even otherwise good movies sometimes suffer plot holes. What we’re specifically looking for here are places where a movie’s script either contradicts itself or just plain doesn’t make sense. These are a lot more serious than simple continuity errors, such as when the cup of tea a character is holding switches hands from take to take. Little flubs like that are common byproducts of the filmmaking process, where actors have to repeat an action dozens of times and scenes are shot out of sequence. However, a fundamental flaw in a movie’s story is a usually a sign of sloppy writing.

Shannon Nutt

Time travel movies almost always create paradoxes, but the one that bothered me the most is the obvious plot hole in ‘Back to the Future, Part III‘. Those of you familiar with the film will remember that the major problem after Marty arrives in 1885 is that an Indian put an arrow through the gas tank, allowing all the gas to leak out and, later, pretty much destroying the entire tank when Doc Brown tried a few explosive gasoline substitutes. The rest of the film is spent figuring out how to get the disabled DeLorean up to 88-mile-per-hour speeds.

But wait! Our genius Doc Brown has forgotten that there’s already a SECOND DeLorean in 1885. One with a perfectly fine gas tank, and possibly even some extra fuel inside. It’s the one he arrived in 1885 in and buried in the cave for Marty and 1955 Doc to uncover. So why not just switch DeLoreans, knowing that 1955 Doc will be able to fix the gas tank in that one with 1955 technology? Hey, maybe leave a note inside about bringing some extra gasoline while he’s at it? 1885 Marty can then take the intact DeLorean and get back home quickly – with no train tracks, and no train to smash the DeLorean to pieces upon his return to 1985.

Oh well, I guess that would have made for a very SHORT movie.

Aaron Peck

As soon as the poor saps in ‘Jurassic Park‘ enter the T-Rex paddock, we know they’re screwed, but they shouldn’t be. Why? Well, because the place where the T-Rex rips through the fence is where there should be a very large wall. Right after the T-Rex simply steps out of the paddock, it pushes the Ford Explorer over the barrier where it falls a considerable distance before being caught by a tree. Where was that wall a minute ago?

This makes for a great suspense sequence, but the T-Rex shouldn’t have been able to easily step out of its enclosure. Also, with such a steep drop-off, how would any visitors to the park be able to see the T-Rex to begin with?

This might seem like a continuity error at first, but the plot of the movie hinges on this scene. It leads the movie to where it goes. It greatly affects the characters and where the plot goes forward from that point.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

It’s a safe bet that anyone reading this has the three rules in ‘Gremlins‘ seared into their brains. How much have you really thought about them, though? Okay, you can’t feed a Mogwai after midnight. These creatures are presumably from some impossibly distant land, though. Why are they attuned to Eastern Standard Time? When is it safe to feed a Mogwai again?

Water causes gremlins and Mogwai alike to multiply, but beer doesn’t cause them to reproduce, nor does stomping through town during a friggin’ snowstorm! Maybe I’m thinking about this too much.

Brian Hoss

When it comes plot holes, the ‘Star Trek’ franchise isn’t exactly a tight ship, but the latest films take the porous plots to their least solvent.

My specific choice is one of the most noticeable problems with ‘Star Trek into Darkness‘, even for those just barely paying attention to the movie. Multiple scenes build up the magic properties of Khan’s elixir blood. Meanwhile, other scenes go on about the 72 torpedoes, each holding one of Khan’s other genetically-enhanced crewmembers, who presumably have similar blood. So, rather than desperately chase Khan for a blood sample, why don’t McCoy, Spock and Scottie just open up a torpedo?

Now, magic blood may be a dumb gimmick, but by the logic of this movie’s plot, there’s so much magic blood available it might as well come out of a replicator.

Josh Zyber

The first ‘Terminator’ movie establishes that only living organisms can travel through the time portal, which is why the human resistance fighters must travel naked and can’t bring weapons with them. The Terminator cyborgs can only come through if their metal endoskeletons are covered in a shell of organic flesh. So how does the entirely liquid metal T-1000 in ‘Terminator 2‘ get through?

I still love the movie, but the whole plot kind of falls apart if you ask this question.

Tell us in the Comments about big plot holes that have bothered you in popular movies.


  1. NJScorpio

    ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ – The main character kidnaps a child, an in order to get her to cry for a photo (to send to her father), the main character shows her a hand made necklace…but refuses to give it to her. This makes her cry, so he takes a picture.

    He then trades her the doll she was holding for the necklace she wanted.

    Later, the father of the kidnapped daughter finds a mentally challenged man wearing the same hand made necklace. Because he recognizes it from the ransom photo of his daughter, he speaks with him and discovers an important clue.

    But, wait, she didn’t have the necklace when the photo was taken.

  2. Guy

    Yes, I’m about to call out a kid’s film:

    I’m a child of the 90’s so know that my reverence towards the Toy Story movies is deep and continues to this day, but Toy Story 2 has a fantastic premise for Woody that turns the movie into a mess. If Woody is a toy based on an old, old children’s serial, why does he never mention anything about a past? He’d have to be a 30-40 year old toy in the first two movies. That’s a long time before Andy. Where’d all that time go? What’s the movie’s answer? Hope we don’t notice.

    When Woody finds himself on the table at the yard sale, Andy’s mom says he’s not for sale because he’s “an old family toy.” There’s a grand opportunity for him to be a hand-me-down from Andy’s missing father. It would explain Woody’s loyalty. It also introduced a great chance for Woody and Jessie to connect. She has abandonment issues and fears being thrown away. Woody could have told her about a past with Andy’s dad and how he got passed on to this other great kid and. Instead, Woody is wholly unaware of his past as a children’s show toy which suggests he either forgot or never watched Woody’s Roundup with Andy’s dad or whatever kid he belonged to first.

    I’ve seen some suggest toys just don’t remember that long, but the rest of the gang remember their years in collections and storage, so it stands to reason Woody remembers the intervening years. It was nifty to see all the vintage cowboy merch, but Woody being that old and valuable of a toy, yet it not being acknowledged muddies the waters to an extreme degree.

    • Another ‘Toy Story 2’ plothole: Woody is a toy. Toys are sentient and alive in this franchise. So why isn’t the other ‘Woody’s Round-Up’ merchandise alive? The yo-yo, for one? Bothers me to no end.

      • Guy

        Maybe you have to be based on a person, animal or be an anthropomorphized object to be a sentient toy. The ball the kids bounce around at Andy’s birthday party in the first movie is not aware, but the play phone at the daycare in 3 has a face so he’s alive. That feels like the way it is, but I’d have to watch and look out for it to be sure.

        Along those lines, why is Bullseye decidedly a horse, but Rex, Ham and even a couple of vegetables are fully “human” in personality? That’s something I just have to give them as a creative choice now, but, as a kid, that kind of thing bothered me in this, with Pluto in Mickey Mouse cartoons and anywhere else it popped up in children’s entertainment.

        • EM

          I’ve always assumed Bullseye was mentally retarded or otherwise afflicted, or else he simply chose not to speak (like Dopey in Seven White and the Seven Dwarfs).

    • I’m thinking this has more to do with the “rumored” back story to Andy’s mom. Jessie wears the same hat that Andy has in the beginning of the first Toy Story, which would lead you to believe that Andy’s mom was the fan of that show back when she was a little girl. Andy’s hat does NOT match Woody’s. This would also coincide with what she says at the Garage sale as well. There is more to it and its all speculation, but it fits very well, you’ll have to look up the rest 🙂

  3. Tom Volkamer

    King Kong: a group of explorers discover an island where dinosaurs are still alive but they decide to take the monkey????????

    • EM

      Kong may have dispatched the last of the dinosaurs. But what I’ve long been wondering is: How does such a diverse population of enormous animal species, including predators, survive for presumably millions of years on a tiny island? Also, how did the human inhabitants survive long enough to construct the wall keeping the giants out?

  4. Shannon, I’m a big ‘BTTF’ fan (the first one is my favourite movie in the history of ever). I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reading posts, blogs, fansites and other stupid crap. The answer’s this: when you store a car for 70 years, you drain the gas tank. Otherwise, it would rot some parts of your car.

    Mind you: I’m not a fanboy trying to apologise for the plothole. And I don’t know jack about cars (I just learned to drive this year, at the age of 29).

    • I thought in 1955 Doc mentions putting in new gas, presumably after draining the old because of storage problems. But the gas that was in this Delorean was either from 1985 or 1955, before the age of Methanol. Would that not be gas that can probably be stored safely in a sealed environment (the fuel tank?)
      In either case, in 1885, I doubt that Doc would have discarded the gas… think of the possible uses it could bestow.

    • John W

      Actually, the problem is that the lightning strike blew out a control chip in the 1885 Delorean, a problem that the Doc Brown of that era wasn’t able to fix.

      And if the Delorean in 1885 was moved…no way for Marty to escape from 1955 at all, much less get back to 1885 in the first place.

    • EM

      My thought has been that the food rule is conservative. Whatever it is about the (indirect) solar radiation, sleep cycle, and/or other condition that permits the metamorphosis probably doesn’t activate instantly at midnight, or even every night necessarily…but so long as you halt feedings at midnight and don’t resume them until after daybreak, you’ll be sure to avoid the metamorphosis. The following analogy is not perfect, but: It’s a little like promoting condoms to prevent illnesses and pregnancies…not adhering to the rule of using a condom doesn’t guarantee an illness or pregnancy, but nonuse can increase the risk.

  5. My favorite plot hole is from the original Star Wars when in the final battle the rebel forces must fly down into a trench to attack the Death Star’s Achilles’ heel exhaust port. This is all well and good, except why do they repeatedly choose to enter this trench from what I can only suppose is the opposite side of the station? I mean have you ever noticed how long they are flying at full speed through this trench with the commander repeating “Almost there” like some harried father trying to shut up his kids on a long drive? Why couldn’t they just enter the trench with just enough distance to line up a straight approach and quickly (and much more safely) fire on the target? Of course all that distance was crucial for the movie’s suspense but I’m just sayin’.

  6. Timcharger

    All the movies that starts with a 1st person narrator:
    “Here’s my story for what happened to me in the last 2 hours/days/weeks/etc…”

    And the film clearly shows scenes that there is NO WAY that the protagonist can
    possibly know what happened. He or she may know the end result when the
    other characters cross into his/her life. But nothing before or after that.

    These movies require the protagonist to be in EVERY scene.

  7. In Predator, when the alien removes his mask/helmet to fight “Mano a Mano ” with Dutch, we see how his vision changes from infrared, to some strange all red type vision. In Predator 2 when Danny Glover removes the Predator’s mask, when we see the predator’s point of view, it’s still the same as when he had is helmet/mask on. That always bothered me.
    I always thought the t-1000 was able to mimic what it touched, so maybe it tricked the time displacement equipment into thinking it was real skin. I’m not trying to defend it, but that’s how I sell it to myself. There’s actually a lot of issues with the t-1000, like how could he mimic the fat red headed guard just by touching his shoe? How does he see?

  8. cardpetree

    How about in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The outcome of the film would have happened with or without Indiana Jones. If Indiana Jones wasn’t even in the movie, the Nazis would still find the Ark, open it and all die.

  9. Any movie that shows a person fall unconscious into the water slowly sinking. They’re always pulled up and rescued, but I feel in real life they’re likely to drown or immediately wake up in panic mode and possibly drown. Does one hold their breath when knocked out? Latest guilty party is Captain America: Winter Soldier. Still an awesome movie.

  10. eric

    In Captain America: Winter Soldier, how can the gunships see the entire Eastern seaboard from just 3000 feet in the air? Even at 30,000 feet the horizon is only 200 miles away. The distance between DC and Miami is more than 1000 miles, the entire East coast is even more distance. Also, why do the gunships have to be so close together if they are all using the already existing satellite network to target people? And, why would Hydra not already have the algorithm installed in the existing network of satellites or the previous heli-carriers that Shield has put up?

    Also, earlier in the movie when Hydra is trying to get Nick Fury why do they do it in the city streets? Why didn’t they take him when he was at headquarters? Also, if they knew they needed to leverage the Winter Soldier to capture him, why didn’t they just send the Winter Soldier instead of all the other thugs? And why didn’t they just bomb his car to begin with?

    The biggest plot hole in all of these Marvel movies is that only one of the Avengers and some b-level super hero helper is trying to save the world… again. What are the other Avengers doing that is more important? As soon as SHIELD was compromised why didn’t all the other Avengers show up? If Stark built a lot of the SHIELD tech how come he didn’t know the systems where all compromised already?

    If Hydras ultimate goal was to launch the carriers, why did Pierce so easily delay the launch for Nick Fury? If Iron Man has time to do a meet and great at Pierces nieces birthday, how come he can’t help Captain America stop Hydra and save the world?

    When they examine the USB drive why is it to just find the location of where the data was created? How does that work? After they use the location of the file to find the computer version of Arnim Zola, why do they still make an effort to keep the USB drive if they couldn’t get any important data already? Immediately after it is established that the computer version of Arnim Zola is behind all of this, why is Hydra okay with destroying him just to try and get Capitan America?

  11. Shannon Nutt from the FAQ on IMDB
    When in 1885, why didn’t Marty and Doc use the gas/parts from the buried DeLorean?
    Remember, Doc’s a pretty smart guy & would’ve known the best way to store the DeLorean in the cave would be to drain it’s fuel tank before burying it, in order to prevent the fuel from rotting or otherwise damaging the machine over the next 70 years it would be buried. Also, gas is flammable, and could have resulted in the DeLorean exploding. Before Marty left 1955, Doc mentioned how he had just refilled the car with gas – confirming that it had been buried wihout any. They could not have taken parts from the DeLorean either, because it would mean that those parts would be missing when Marty and Doc found it in 1955. The time machine had been made in the 80s, and many of its parts would probably not be available in 1955, resulting in the time machine being unable to bring Marty back to 1885 in the first place. Another theory as to why Doc and Marty did not take the fuel injection manifold from the DeLorean stored in the mine is that the concoction the bartender gave to Doc had already blown the fuel injection manifold and replacing it would be pointless as there was no other fuel alternative they could have used.

  12. Bill

    Maybe not a hole but a stretching of plausibility: In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones hops onto the conning tower of the Nazi submarine which contains the Ark. The map overlay we see shows quite a lengthy voyage. Are we to believe that the sub would not have submerged? Are we also to believe that in some magic manner he was able to hold his breath at those times?

    Note: This movie was originally called “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, period. It was only with the sequels that they added the name to the titles. Makes a mess of any alphabetical list of the four movies.

  13. Kashtarreaper

    With T2, they try to stop judgement day. However, if there’s no judgement day, then John Connor will never send Kyle Reese back, and Kyle can never impregnate Sarah, wiping out Johns birth. The entire timeline is messed up by the sequels.

    • cardpetree

      I never understood how it would be possible for Kyle Reese to be John Conner’s father. I mean, I get how the movie shows it but not how it would actually be able to happen.

        • cardpetree

          I understand that. But that point and time already happened so technically John Connor was never born to be able to send Kyle Reese into the past.

          • Trond Michelsen

            No. Kyle Reese was already sent back in time from the future. It would have been a paradox if John Connor DIDN’T send him back. Same principle as Harry Potter time travel.

          • Josh Zyber

            The point is that time is a loop. Kyle Reese always came back in time to father John Connor. That was his fate. It was always going to happen that way.

            Ironically, had Skynet not sent a T-800 back in time to attempt to kill Sarah, Kyle wouldn’t have followed it and Sarah would never have gotten pregnant. Thus, no John Connor to lead the human resistance. By trying to change history, Skynet actually set in motion the chain of events that led to its current timeline.

    • Actually no it isnt, in T3 they establish that Judgement Day was unavoidable. Thats why the T-800 was sent back again to get them to safety, NOT to stop it, because it cant be stopped. Everything stayed pretty on point I thought even with T3 and Salvation (whether you liked them or not is a different story)

  14. In Superman II Superman takes Lois to The Fortress of Solitude in The North Pole. Well there Superman tells his mom(His dad in The Richard Donner cut) that he is in love with Lois, and is told that if he wants to be with a mortal women he has to get rid of his powers, so he steps into the chamber, and lets the red rays take his powers, after he makes love to Lois. But yet after the scene with the 3 bad guys taking over The White House we cut back to Lois, and Clark who are now in a car heading back to Metropolis. How did Lois, and Clark leave The North Pole? They could not leave the way they came in as Superman’s powers was gone. And where did they get that car they was driving? Was there a garage in The Fortress of Solitude?

  15. Kevin

    Shannon – actually the best reason that Doc didnt go and take the gas tank from the DeLorean in 1885 is because, being a Time-Travel movie already about Paradoxes, he would have known that removing the gas tank from the 1885 car would have meant that Marty would not have been able to come back in the first place therefore creating a paradox!

  16. Ryan M

    How about the enormous time travel plot hole in the Harry Potter series? Hermione uses time travel to take a bunch of classes in her third year, but nobody thought to use the same device to travel back in time and snuff out Voldemort? Really?!?!?

    Also, Lord of the Rings. Hey Frodo, just have a Nazgul fly your stubby ass to Mordor and drop the f%&$ing ring in Orodruin. Jesus Tapdancing Christ!

    Oh well, they’re both fun series, even if they could have been over in like five minutes.

  17. Posted in the forums as well:
    I have another one for the original Star Wars.
    This involves space travel in general. How does the Deathstar get from star system to star system in anyone in the movie’s lifetime without Hyperspace Engines of some sort? And we kind of know it does not have hyperspace capability because when Leia lies about the rebel base being on Dantoine, they have to send scout ships first (presumably because they use hyperspace to get there) before dispatching a message back to the Deathstar that yes it can begin it’s very slow move to that star system. And if this “small moon” had hyperspace engines I think they would be quite visible.

    And for the final sequence where it has to orbit the planet Yabba to get in firing range of the rebel base-since it came from Alderan, it could have vectored its way from point A to point B to be in optimal firing range without having to orbit that pesky planet.

    In our very own solar system, did we not determine that the next closest star to us is something like 20 light years away? And since the Deathstar cannot do light speed or above, that next star system is not likely going to be in any danger any time soon.

    • Josh Zyber

      According to Wookiepedia:

      “The battlestation also included two massive sublight engines in the midsection, as well as a formidable hyperdrive system. Driven by 123 individual generators tied to one navigational matrix, the Class 4 hyperdrive was fast enough to allow the Death Star to travel thousands of light years from Alderaan to Yavin IV in only a few hours.”


      That’s very likely a ret-conned explanation from some tie-in book.

      After our own sun, the nearest star to Earth is a little over 4 light years away.

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