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10 Things Movies Always Get Wrong About Defusing Bombs
Ian Goodwillie
2021-08-07T07:01:15
The Hurt Locker & Police officers work on a bomb
The Hurt Locker & Police officers work on a bomb
Defusing bombs comes up a lot in movies, particularly in action flicks. The hero always ends up in some kind of high-pressure situation with a bomb that's about to explode. Sometimes it's on a timer. Other times it's on a remote detonator. But there's something pushing them to take care of the problem quickly.
Movies get a lot of things wrong about defusing a bomb. That's not surprising, since they have to make the process work on a movie screen. Still, it seems like there are ways that Hollywood could make it seem more legit while still entertaining.

10 Devices Are All Built One Way

Kids playing with a bomb toy
Kids playing with a bomb toy
When watching most movies, bombs seem quite cut and dry. They all appear to be designed in a very small handful of ways, which makes sense from a storytelling perspective. It's much easier for the screenwriter to explain the situation to the audience if the bomb's setup is already familiar.
But the reality is that there is no one way to build a bomb, particularly when the topic of IEDs comes up. There are seemingly infinite ways to create an explosive device. It requires more explaining in a movie, so the nuance is rarely depicted.

9 Immediately Defusing The Bomb Is Always The Right Call

A team led by John Lithgow disarms a bomb
A team led by John Lithgow disarms a bomb
When someone encounters a bomb in a movie, the first move always seems to be to disarm asap. It's a logical leap. There is an explosive device sitting there, ready to blow up. As such, the person who found it tries to prevent that from happening.
In reality, even going near the thing can cause it to go off. Regardless of the means of detonation, the slightest vibration could be responsible for a bomb exploding. Unless there's a legit professional on hand, the smart move is usually to put some distance in the mix.

8 All Bombs Can Be Defused

Keanu and Sandra on a fast bus
Keanu and Sandra on a fast bus
Assuming that the professionals arrive in time, they proceed to disarm the bomb. The scene is usually pretty tense, given the potential explosion on the way. They usually get the job done and prevent it from going off.
But that's not usually the case. While bombs do get defused, it's more likely that they end up being safely detonated. If it's possible and safe to move it, the professionals will. And if not, they will detonate as safely as possible as-is.

7 Mines Just Wait For Someone To Step On Them

The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker
There are a lot of options when it comes to explosives in movies. But mines come up incredibly frequently. They are menaces on the battlefield, often buried in the ground and waiting to be stepped on by their unsuspecting victims.
The problem is that's only in the movies. In real life, mines don't need to be stepped on to explode. They can be incredibly unstable and simply stepping on the ground in their general vicinity will cause them to go off. They don't just wait for people to step incredibly precisely on the right spot.

6 Simply Cut The Right Wire

Police work on a bomb together
Police work on a bomb together
Whether the explosives in question are IEDs, mines, or something completely different, movies have a tendency to depict the disarming process as the same. There's always one wire that needs to be cut to shut the bombs down. If only it were that easy.
The complexity of a bomb varies incredibly greatly. In some cases, cutting one wire will shut the bomb down. But that doesn't take into account backups, remote detonators, and built-in traps. And if they are incredibly basic bombs, there might not be much anyone can do.

5 Wires Are All Red Or Blue

John and Zeus are on a bomb mission
John and Zeus are on a bomb mission
For many years, action movies would always bring the disarming process down to the red or blue wire. There always seemed to be only two wires which would lead to the hero arguing with someone about which color to cut.
Honestly, that could happen. At the same time, someone building a bomb is never going to make it that easy. Most wire is bought in spools so they'll probably end up using the same color of wire for everything inside the bomb. They're building it for their convenience, not that of the person disarming it.

4 All Bombs Use Wires

Peter breaks out the wire cutters
Peter breaks out the wire cutters
Watching someone in a Hollywood movie trying to defuse any kind of bomb usually involves a pair of wire cutters. It seems to be a standardized item in the toolbox of anyone who gets involved in these scenarios, from random people to pros.
While most real-life toolkits probably have a set of wire cutters in them, it's not the only tool they need. In fact, there are a lot of bomb designs that don't even use wires. But that rarely seems to show up in movies.

3 When Timers Are Used, They Count Down

A classic countdown clock
A classic countdown clock
Quite often in major motion pictures, bombs are complete with a timer. That makes sense from the perspective of telling a good story if nothing else. But it also doesn't really reflect reality.
Most bombs do not have timers. And the ones that do usually are not counting down, letting the person dealing with it know when it's going to go off. Simply put, it's never as easy as a big, red LED screen letting the hero know exactly what's about to happen.

2 Timers Stop At The Last Second

MacGruber disarms a bomb
MacGruber disarms a bomb
Movies absolutely love putting timers on bombs. It's an incredibly easy way to create stakes in a scene, building tension as a timer ticks down. And even more conveniently, those timers usually stop just before they go off, usually at the last second.
Galaxy Quest quite effectively made fun of this. Even after they disarmed the bomb, it kept ticking down until it hit the last second and that's when it stopped. Because it always happened that way on the fictional TV series. That's just not the way it works.

1 Anyone Can Defuse Bombs

Riggs and Murtagh work on a bomb
Riggs and Murtagh work on a bomb
Time and time again, the hero in a Hollywood movie ends up having to disarm a bomb. It's their job to deal with an explosive before it goes off and harms any of the other characters in the movie.
The problem is that not everyone is capable of disposing of a bomb. It takes a lot of specialized training and experience, and simply being the first person on site does not qualify someone for the job. Murtagh wished Riggs had learned that lesson multiple times throughout the Lethal Weapon franchise.
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