(Idris Hsi) We’ve all seen movie characters escape from a lot of stuff: some of it almost believable, some of it downright silly. Other times, we see characters unable to run away from things like the walking dead or a giant snake. Hollywood used to be a little better about realism because there were real people who were running away from real dangers – like the good old days where they used real bullets and arrows during filming.

The frightened look on James Cagney’s face as he’s plastered against a wall in one of his gangster movies was not simply born of great acting but was the result of a healthy dose of fear. Now, thanks to cheap computer graphics and better special effects, you no longer have to risk actors or their loyal stunt doubles in situations with real pyrotechnics. Instead, you can show your actors scurrying for their lives as a looming fiery/watery/muddy/temporal wave of death threatens to envelop them.

Unfortunately, many recent directors have been greatly abusing these techniques to introduce suspense and excitement to supplement the lack of story or substance in their movies. For example, the recent movie, The Time Machine, showed our heroes free-climbing up a 100 foot cliff and then racing to safety up a mountain to escape a large explosion. In The Mummy Returns, a hero actually outruns the sunlight streaming over the horizon (really just outrunning the rotation of the earth). Just how unbelievable are these feats of speed?

Here’s a chart showing maximum speeds for some of the more common Hollywood hazards measured against the fastest speeds that an Olympic level human can deliver (all in meters/second).

Killer Snail 0.01 m/s
Walking Dead 0.8 m/s
* Fastest Swimming Human 2.3 m/s (Olympic record)
Giant Snake (Black Mamba) 3.0 m/s
Swarm of Angry Killer Bees 3.6 m/s
Australian Freshwater Crocodile 4.7 m/s
Roadrunner 6.7 m/s
Lava Flow in Steep Channel 9.1 m/s
Rottweiler 10.0 m/s
* Fastest Human Running Speed 10.2 m/s (Olympic record – 100 m dash)
Tyranosaurus Rex 11.1 m/s (likely best speed)
African Bull Elephant 11.2 m/s
Great White Shark 11.2 m/s (swimming)
Killer Whale 13.4 m/s (swimming)
German Shepherd 14.2 m/s
Lion/Tiger/Bear 15-17 m/s
Tornado 15-26 m/s
Rabbit 16.0 m/s (non-vorpal)
Landslide/Mudslide 16.0 m/s (max)
Velociraptor 16.7 m/s (15 second burst)
Coyote 17.9 m/s (short distances)
A Duck 17.9 m/s (flying)
Ostrich 19.4 m/s (not-flying)
Car going 45 mph 20.0 m/s
Thrown Knife 24.6 m/s
* Human on Skis downhill 30-40 m/s
90 mph baseball pitch 40.0 m/s
Stone from Commercial Slingshot 42.5 m/s
Crossbow Bolt 45.7 m/s
An Avalanche of Snow 48.0 m/s (near base)
Arrow from 84 lb Compound bow 84.3 m/s
Peregrine Falcon 89.4 m/s (diving)
Boeing 747-400 Take-Off speed 92.6 m/s
Small Meteorite 138 m/s
Wall of Rushing Water 139 m/s
1929 Biplane 147 m/s
Bullet(.45 Auto 230 Grain FMJ) 246 m/s
Speed of Sound 340 m/s
Bullet(.357 Mag 158 Grain Led) 381 m/s
12 gauge shotgun pellets 411 m/s
Rotation of Earth 482 m/s
F-15 715 m/s (max velocity)
Surface-to-Air Missile (Russian SA-2) 1180 m/s
Shockwave of an Explosion Underwater 1020 m/s
Shockwave of an Explosion in Air 2380 m/s
250,000 ton Arizona Crater meteorite 16000 m/s
Speed of Light 300,000,000 m/s