Posthumous monolith of science fiction Philip K. Dick said that he wrote in that genre because
there was “more latitude for the expression of truer ideas.”
The focus on exploring ideas that serves as much of the appeal of science fiction means
that, often, writers can get themselves into trouble.
They can litter their stories with all sorts of logical lapses by focusing more on a metaphor
than logical consistency, either in terms of the characters or the aspects of the technology.
Not that this is unique to science fiction at all, but when a storyteller is making up
whole new technologies and worlds, there’s a lot more latitude to screw up in ways more
literary fiction doesn’t usually have to worry about.
Furthermore, none of these plot holes are in anyway ruinous for their stories.
It’s just, well… it’s sometimes surprising what writers can get away with while the audience
is distracted by the lasers and other wonders of the future.
As always, be ready for spoilers!
Avatar isn’t just the most successful science fiction story but the highest grossing film
of all-time (worldwide–The Force Awakens bumped it from the top spot domestically),
to the surprise of many.
In 2009 it was as much the novelty of the gorgeously rendered environments as the story
that drove it to gross $2.7 billion.
The story, about how disabled soldier Jake Sully’s consciousness is connected to a
bioengineered alien body to serve as ambassador for humanity to the Na’vi on Planet Pandora,
seemed practically like an afterthought.
Nowhere is this more obvious that in writer-director James Cameron’s blatantly slipshod plotting.
During the end of the second act of the movie, the Earth military destroys the main Na’vi
habitat, the Home Tree.
Pilot Trudy, played by Michelle Rodriguez, decides she doesn’t want to take part.
So in dereliction of duty she conspicuously flies away from the bombing.
And yet, she not only isn’t promptly arrested for disobeying a direct order in an environment
where bombing a native population is the order of the day, but she’s able help Jake Sully
and company escape from the brig with relatively little trouble.
Seems as though few characters would be in a worse position to launch a rescue than conspicuous
Right now there’s a lot of uncertainty how interested audiences will be in Cameron’s
upcoming sequels to his megahit.
Hopefully, he’s had enough time to remove holes like these from his follow up scripts.
Blade Runner 2049
Although it failed at the box office during its 2017 theatrical run, the fact it was the
17th bestselling title on home video in 2018 indicated Blade Runner 2049 is gradually developing
its own following.
Serving as one of the most belated sequels in film history, it both attempted to have
firm, direct connections to the 1982 original and go its own way.
These dueling interests unsurprisingly got in each other’s way a bit.
The biggest hole in the plot concerns the villainous business mogul, Wallace, and his
relationship with the bioengineered clones called Replicants.
In 2049, it’s explicitly stated that they’ve been designed to all be infertile as well
as being outlawed in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack that destroyed all digitally
stored records around the world.
Wallace is of the belief that bringing back replicants is the future of humanity’s spread
through the stars, and to that end is both engineering some of his own and on the hunt
for a replicant that supposedly reproduced in defiance of her genetic programming.
But as DenofGeek.com pointed out, Wallace himself says the inability of replicants to
reproduce was one of the things that allowed people to reassure themselves that replicants
He also explicitly says that humanity “lost its taste for slavery.”
So if he holds those beliefs in his head, keeping replicants with the ability to reproduce
around, as well as the humans that bred with them–and their offspring–is the exact
opposite of what he would want: destroying anything that could point to the existence
of a fertile replicant if he hopes to sell people on accepting replicant slaves again.
It’s the sort of inconsistency that’s particularly frustrating in a movie starring
an ostensibly grounded villain.
Star Trek (2009)
JJ Abrams’s reboot of the Star Trek films was a smash hit, although the series it launched
seems to have stalled in 2016.
Shamelessly emotional nearly to the point of being operatic, it was kinetic and action-packed
enough that audiences didn’t have time to question the mechanics of the plot.
However, the villain Nero’s story made so little sense that it required more effort
not to think about it in the theater seats.
The primary setting for the movie is during the time when James T. Kirk ascends to be
captain of the starship Enterprise.
In the future, it turns out that the planet Romulus is going to be destroyed by a supernova.
Also in the future Spock, another crew member of the Enterprise and essentially Kirk’s
right-hand man, tries to stop the supernova and fails.
A Romulan from that same future named Nero acquires both a ship and time-traveling ability
and goes back in time to get revenge.
This includes destroying Vulcan (Spock’s home planet) and Earth.
What never, ever, for any reason gets addressed in this plot is why Nero doesn’t use the
fact he traveled back in time to save Romulus himself if that’s his motivation.
With time travel technology he could make numerous attempts to save his planet and offset
Spock’s eventual failure.
But no, vengeance for something which hasn’t happened and which is no doubt on some level
preventable is only viewed as a reason for him to be a one dimensional villain–which
unfortunately, at the end of the day, he is.
This goes to show that time travel should be avoided unless absolutely necessary if
a movie’s story is going to hold up to repeat viewings.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
If you’ve been on YouTube for the past year, you probably had some video recommended to
you insisting the storytelling of this hit didn’t match real world logic very well.
There were even seemingly erroneous reports that Russian troll farms were used to spread
negative sentiments about it online.
Whatever your feelings about that, there’s a particular point that many have used as
the centerpiece of their arguments.
For the dedicated nitpicker, there’s very little arguing with it.
At the end of the second act, our heroes are escaping their main vessel, unaware that the
villains in pursuit of them have their escape shuttles dead in their sights instead of being
distracted by the decoy vessel.
Admiral Holdo, in a suicidal last ditch effort, turns the decoy vessel around and sets the
ship to travel at hyperdrive (previous movies in the Star Wars series had portrayed how
carefully ships would pre-program a route to avoid colliding with all sorts of space
hazards) and rammed the villains’ flagship with devastating results.
This begs a pretty obvious question: Why in eight Star Wars films was Holdo the first
person to do this?
If it allows such an outsized ship to take out its pursuer, why haven’t pilots in suicidal
straits rammed the ships of the heros and villains time and again?
We’ve been shown numerous pilots willing to give up their lives for the cause (the
movie begins with a scene featuring a pilot doing just that).
It seems as though screenwriter Rian Johnson thought he’d found a hole in the canon that
he could cleverly exploit, but what many will do is insist he found a weakness in the design
of the intellectual property that he should never have called attention to.
Star Wars: A New Hope/Return of the Jedi
Before a tag team of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron one-upped this film time and
again, this 1977 smash hit was the most successful in world history.
It made plot mechanics such as the mystical Force and the twist that its villain Darth
Vader is the father of protagonist Luke Skywalker into household reference points.
In Star Wars: A New Hope, Darth Vader takes Princess Leia captive and interrogates her
at length over the hiding place of the main rebel stronghold.
Later, long after Leia and Luke have learned that they’re siblings, Darth Vader uses
the force to learn that his son Luke has a sister so that he can antagonize Luke by threatening
to capture and convert her.
Which opens up a gigantic inconsistency for the first film regarding why Vader wasn’t
able to use the Force to discover Leia was his daughter; or, if he was too concerned
about the rebel base to care about that, why he didn’t use the Force to learn where the
By Return of the Jedi Luke is quite attuned to the Force but Leia has no such stated defenses
in the first film.
The only explanation for this is depressingly simple: The Force was largely an afterthought
for George Lucas while writing the film, and he had no consistency in what it could do
while concocting it by the seat of his pants.
We’re not going to get on any high horse about what people devote YouTube channels
But anyone who acts as if plot/logic lapses in Disney’s new Star Wars films are some
kind of ruinous new occurrence is in for a nasty shock: Plot holes have been prominent
features of the series from its conception.
A critical punching bag and box office bomb when it was initially released, this adaptation
of John W. Campbell’s 1938 Who Goes There? is now one of the most beloved horror-science
fiction works in cinema history.
Its story of a team of American Antarctic researchers stuck in Outpost #31, who have
to deal with an organism that can infect and turn any member of the team into a deadly
monster, is as scary now as it was unpleasant at the time of its release.
It’s helped immeasurably by how tightly and believably constructed it is for a movie
about dealing with an alien, except for one big cheat.
The problem with this otherwise tight as a drum story is the need to have a device of
some kind that can handily convince the survey team that they’ve conclusively beaten the
So, Carpenter wrote that the Antarctic team has flamethrowers.
As critic Scott Ashlin asked, why would a research team have flamethrowers?
If there’s some piece of equipment that needs to be thawed in the extreme cold, setting
it on fire is about the worst approach, and the fires a flamethrower shoots are much too
difficult to control in a survival situation.
Fortunately, the scene where the flamethrowers are introduced is so harrowing that the audience
probably won’t be stopping to ask many questions.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Avatar showed that James Cameron was able to hit pay dirt despite his films having plot
holes, but back in 1984 he practically required it of his work with his groundbreaking variation
on the trendy slasher film model.
A film wherein an artificial intelligence network sends an android assassin back in
time to prevent the existence of a resistance leader while another soldier from the future
tries to stop him?
That’s such a complicated setup that it all but demands paradoxes and inconsistencies
to be woven into the fabric of the film, but this has a pretty clear hole in the basic
In the first film, the reason the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, has organic skin
on him is basic: the time machine doesn’t send inorganic, robotic matter through without
a layer of organic material to effectively trick the machine.
But in the 1991 sequel, the artificial intelligence network sends through a “liquid metal”
robot called T-1000, which is stronger than the T-800 unit and has the ability to shapeshift.
So how can this robot have the vitally important organic layer if it’s entirely liquid metal?
It’s a good thing no one actually mentions that rule in the second film, or audiences
probably would have been asking that from the premiere on.
“Time Enough at Last”
Stepping away from movies for a moment, let’s talk about one of the most influential pieces
of science fiction ever created: The Twilight Zone.
In particular, one of the two most famous and beloved episodes of the original run,
tied only with To Serve Man with it’s “It’s a cookbook!” reveal.
This 1959 episode follows compulsive reader Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) through his
frustrating life, through the destruction of his known world and the rest of humanity,
to the potential sanctum of a library, and then through a hydrogen bomb, and into the
private hell of his glasses shattering just as he’s collected all the books he wants
with all the time in the world to read them.
It’s one thing to not show the effects of radiation in a TV show shot in 1959, as the
average person barely even understood what radiation was at the time (or you wouldn’t
have models getting radioactive compounds applied to their face for makeup tests).
But surely everyone knew how flammable paper is.
So in a bombing powerful enough to kill everyone for untold miles except a man sheltered in
a bank vault, how did a bunch of books–which were practically out in the open of a destroyed
library–not get burned up?
It’s hard to imagine a less commercial idea for a movie than an environmentalist and his
robot friends floating through space taking care of a biodome forest.
Alright, so this 1971 sci-fi classic also features a sequence where said environmentalist
Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) saves that forest by killing his three crew mates aboard his
spaceship Valley Forge, but there’s well over an hour of running time before that.
While Silent Running is intellectually vigorous and honest in how this story plays out, it’s
no surprise that today its most significant influence is inspiring the recently rebooted
science fiction comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
A major conflict for the last third of the film is that as the forest in the biodome
begins to die, illustrated by a number of plants wilting and losing their leaves.
After a lot of fretting and impotent rage, Lowell has an epiphany: His forest is dying
because it’s not getting enough light, as he had to drift away to break off radio contact
with his superiors and claim the ship is grievously damaged.
His solution is to post a bunch of lights throughout the dome, which begs the question
of how an expert in environmental conservation could possibly fail to notice the importance
of light in sustaining a forest for any period of time.
It’s a bewildering lapse in environmental logic in a story so passionate about the environment.
This 1984 film is notorious for a contentious production and for its director, David Lynch,
With such popular source material and such striking production design, it couldn’t
help but attract a substantial cult following anyway.
Probably didn’t hurt that Frank Herbert had some nice words to say about how it was
a “visual feast.”
Paul Atreides, the hero of the story, is driven from his home with only his mother Julia at
his side into the horrible deserts of Arrakis when the Harkonnen effectively conquer the
There he trains and equips the Fremen, a race of extremely hardscrabble desert people, with
laser guns (“weirding modules”) that are powered by the human voice.
They’re instrumental in the final battle when House Atreides reconquers the planet.
The problem is where the hell Paul got these guns.
He and his mother certainly weren’t carrying them or the raw materials to make them during
their hasty escape!
No one tells Paul how to build one, so even if the Fremen had the resources to make one
he should have no better idea than them.
It might as well be Lynch telling the audience “if you don’t get this, the problem isn’t
on your end.”