Filmmakers are faced with the balancing act of making sure the story is understood by the dumbest person in the audience without insulting the intelligence of the smartest person in the room. It’s the reason Hitchcock had to introduce a psychiatrist at the end of Psycho to explain why Norman Bates was a psycho. It’s the reason every Bond villain explains their entire evil plan to 007. It’s the reason Avengers: Infinity War had to use a title card explaining that the Guardians of the Galaxy were in "SPACE." 

But every now and again, there’s a plot device in a movie that does help move the story along, even though it seems completely impractical if you give them more than five seconds of thought. It doesn’t necessarily make the movies bad, it just makes things baffling if you try to break them down. 

Lex Luthor’s Maps, Superman Returns

In 2006’s Superman Returns, Lex Luthor (played/cursed by Kevin Spacey) has a plan to create a new continent in the Atlantic Ocean using Kryptonian crystals that he stole from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. The crystals are reactive to water, spontaneously and exponentially growing into larger crystalline structures. Luthor and his henchmen run a small-scale experiment using a tiny sliver of one of the crystals in the basement of Luthor’s mansion, and in the process the crystal sends out a huge electromagnetic pulse which causes a massive blackout all over Metropolis. 

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

The blackout even hits Houston. It's … it's a big blackout. 

Intrepid reporter Lois Lane, assigned to cover the blackout, tracks down the source of the EMP to the mansion only to find the place locked. She notices some activity on a yacht docked next to the property, and sneaks aboard to investigate. Once inside the ship, she finds Lex Luthor, but the yacht takes off before she could escape. Oh, and she had her five-year-old son with her through all of this, by the way. So, great parenting there. 

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Since Luthor had Lois Lane and her son as a captive audience, he monologues all about his evil plan. He tells her how the crystals work, and even deploys visual aids in the form of four maps on remote controlled, retractable screens showing how the new land mass will cause the oceans to rise and drown out half the world, and kill billions in the process. 

OK, hold up…

These maps Luthor is using for his presentation were not just scribbles on a cocktail napkin. They were highly detailed, professionally designed, printed maps of a known megalomaniac's evil plan installed in the gallery of his private yacht … all in the off chance that he’d have an opportunity to brag about his plan. Seriously, if Lois Lane and her son hadn’t snuck aboard that boat, who would he have shown these maps to? His henchmen? They were probably the ones who designed, printed, and installed the maps in the first place! It’s not like he could’ve outsourced this project/evidence to some designer on Fiverr and had it printed at FedEx Office.

Also, the maps of this new continent are purely speculative. Lex Luthor has no way of predicting how big the crystals would grow or what shape the new land masses would take. The only hard data Luthor had to base these maps on was a small-scale experiment he performed one time in his basement about two days ago. This is the cartographical equivalent of proposing on the first date. 

Superman Returns

Warner Bros. Pictures

He thinks the sea will submerge the Rockies but spare San Francisco?

Plus, he already divided this fantasy land mass into different … countries, I guess? Yeah, that’s not gonna be his decision to make. The whole crux of his plan is to hold a monopoly on new land while the rest of the world floods, and that anyone who wants a piece of that land is gonna pay through the nose for it. Well, genius, if you destroy half the world, the global economy goes down with it. They could pay you everything they’ve got, but that’s no guarantee that it’s gonna be worth anything. Besides, they won’t have to pay for it. By doing this, you’re pissing off every nation on Earth, and their military forces. And if you don’t think they’ll take your land by force, you might want to crack open a history book sometime.

The Handbook For The Recently Deceased, Beetlejuice

Eight minutes into Beetlejuice, mild-mannered New England couple Adam and Barbara Maitland die in a horrible car accident, because this is a Tim Burton comedy after all. They return to their home, unaware that they are now ghosts until Barbara finds a book titled The Handbook for the Recently Deceased, a roughly 800-page, vaguely written manual for the afterlife, and it reads like stereo instructions.

When yuppie New York couple Charles and Delia Deetz move into the Maitland’s house and start redecorating, Adam and Barbara decide to haunt them to scare them away. The problem is, they suck at being scary. Adam consults the Handbook, and finds a way to access the afterlife’s civil services offices and get an appointment with their caseworker to help them scare off the Deetzes for good. Their next attempt also fails to spook Charles and Delia, but it does allow them to strike up a friendship with the Deetz’s goth daughter Lydia, who reads the Handbook and is the only person who manages to make any sense of it. 

Another haunting attempt, this time set to the dulcet tones of Harry Belefonte, does the exact opposite of scaring the Deetzes away. Charles and Delia start to think there’s money to be made out of this ghost business. Their interior decorator and plot-convenient paranormal expert Otho gets his hands on the Handbook, and performs a séance to prove to Charles’ potential investors that the ghosts are real. The séance turns out to actually be an exorcism, and Lydia makes a deal with the titular “bio-exorcist” Beetlejuice (né Betelgeuse) to save the Maitlands in exchange for her hand in marriage. The rest of the movie is Tim Burton being weird. 

But hang on a second… 

Why would the afterlife’s civil services division give every ghost a handbook that could be accessed by mortals? It just stands to reason that a separate plane of existence would be able to keep its inner workings more of a secret than this. I mean, say what you will about Scientology (or better yet, don't, they're a bit prickly about criticism), but at least they keep the weirder shit on a need-to-know basis.

Another problem: what if the ghost was illiterate? Is there an audiobook? And if so, whose voice would it be? Please tell me it’s not Gilbert Gottfried.

Beetlejuice     

Warner Bros. Pictures

It'll probably be Johnny Depp, accent chosen at random. 

More importantly, why even have the book at all? It’s the afterlife. It’s eternity. They literally have all the time in the universe. Early on in the movie, Adam was teleported to Saturn for ten seconds and Barbara said he was gone for two hours. So, it’s not like ghosts are confined by the boundaries of time and space. Why not just stick every recently deceased person in Limbo for a few hours and show them some orientation videos instead?

The World’s Fair Spaceships, Men In Black

As MIB Agent K explains to new recruit Agent J at the beginning of Men In Black, in 1961, a group of intergalactic refugees landed on Earth with the intention of using Earth as an apolitical zone for creatures without a planet. The Men In Black agreed to help with this mission, and concealed any evidence of the aliens’ landing by disguising their spaceships as the observation decks at the World’s Fair in Queens. 

Fast forward to the third act, and the movie’s bad guy/bug Edgar is looking for an alternate way to escape Earth after MIB had impounded his spaceship. Back at MIB headquarters, Agent K and Zed are searching through the computer trying to figure out if any ships are left on Earth for Edgar to potentially hijack. Agent J looks up at a mural on the wall and sees the World’s Fair spaceships and asks if they still work. 

J and K make it to the fairgrounds, but Edgar has already made it onto the first ship and began to take off. They manage to shoot the craft down, but now they must stop Edgar from making it onto the second ship. I don’t know why they didn’t just preemptively destroy the second craft and leave Edgar with no means of escape, but whatever…

Wait, what?!?

Those ships were operational?!? They went to all the trouble of disguising the ships as observation decks at the World’s Fair, but they didn’t do anything to disable them? Edgar managed to enter the ship and have that thing airborne in a matter of seconds. C’mon, MIB! At least remove the distributor cap or something!

Not to mention how wildly irresponsible it is to disguise a fully functional alien spacecraft as an observation deck for tourists. No matter how meticulous a tourist destination is in making everything idiot-proof, there’s always a bigger idiot. There are countless news stories out there of someone on vacation causing some sort of mayhem by simply ignoring a warning sign, thinking that the rules don’t apply to them, or otherwise Forrest Gump-ing their way into an unforeseen flaw in the security system. On a long enough timeline, some moron will eventually touch just the right sequence of objects in that spaceship and inadvertently fire that baby up. What then, huh?

Men in Black

Sony

Mighta made for a better story than the one we got, actually. 

Look at it in the context of a different movie: Dennis Nedry really didn’t need to sabotage Jurassic Park. Because if the park did manage to open as planned, the whole place would’ve gone to shit on day one anyway... And the last thing anyone would hear before getting swarmed by a pack of Velociraptors would've been “Hey, I wonder what this switch does!”

Lex Luthor’s First Map, Superman

We hate to double-dip on Lex Luthor here, but in 1978’s Superman, not only was his real estate scam at least equally stupid to what he had planned in Superman Returns, but his maps were even less thought out.

In the first movie, Luthor (played this time by Gene Hackman) also monologued his evil plan, this time to Superman himself. His plan was to fire a stolen 500 megaton nuclear missile at the San Andreas fault line, triggering a massive earthquake and sending everything west of the fault line into the ocean. This would, in turn, make all of the worthless desert land east of the fault line Luthor has been buying up skyrocket in value. He tells Superman all about this plan while the missile was already heading towards its target.

Superman

Warner Bros

"There's no TIME stop me! Now, let's TURN BACK to my plan."

To further hedge his bets, Luthor also fired a second missile at the same time, this one heading straight for Hackensack, New Jersey. Believing that Superman couldn’t possibly be fast enough to stop both missiles, it looks like he was trapping the Man of Steel in a high stakes trolley problem that made no damn sense. Let’s see here … Save the entire west coast from destruction, save millions of lives, and foil this supposed genius’ evil plan? Or, save the roughly 36,000 people living in Hackensack, New Jersey, many of whom might consider a nuclear blast an upgrade? Hmm … it’s a thinker.

Anyway Luthor again uses a map to detail his plan, this one having already been installed on the floor of the abandoned Metropolis train station he was using as his secret hideout. Luthor’s henchman, Otis, brings in two plexiglass overlays. The first one shows California still intact, with a line showing where the San Andreas fault is. The second one shows the aftermath, with everything west of the fault from San Francisco to San Diego now underwater, and all of the cities along the new west coast… Lex Luthor’s west coast. Oh, and Otisburg.

At the end of the monologue, Lex even shows where the nuke will detonate by stabbing the plexiglass with his presentation stick. In fact, he stabs the plexiglass so hard that it shatters like real glass.

But wait a damn minute here…

Let’s take a look at that first overlay:

Superman

Warner Bros

That is not the San Andreas fault. This is:

USGS diagram of San Andreas Fault

Warner Bros

How could a real estate developer get something like this that wrong? That’s not even how fault lines work! These tectonic plates are giant slabs of rock that have been violently grinding against each other for millions of years, and you know what that kind of constant pressure doesn’t produce? Multiple sharp corners. Whatever, let’s go to the second one:

Superman

Warner Bros

Not my fault, but whatever

Sigh … Let’s just clear this up once and for all: when The Big One eventually hits California, there will be unfathomable destruction, catastrophic property damage and mass casualties… but it's not gonna fall into the ocean. Because that land is on the edge of a tectonic plate, not a freaking cliff. The land itself will still be there, it’s just the commute from L.A. to San Francisco is gonna be a lot shorter.

But with a 500 megaton nuclear warhead? Maybe. It’s actually impossible to know what kind of damage a bomb that size could do, because 500 megatons is about ten times the size of the largest nuclear bomb that’s ever been tested, and that one was so massive that it ripped a hole in the ozone layer and the blast wave travelled around the globe three times. After that, world leaders and every nuclear physicist in the world all agreed that maybe we ought to dial it back just a skosh.

One thing we do know for certain is a bomb like that would leave Lex Luthor’s land irradiated for years before it would be deemed safe for humans to inhabit. Not to mention the prevailing winds over the west coast would blow all of the nuclear fallout inland, making matters worse. Plus, a bomb that size would most likely send most of that fallout into the upper atmosphere, in which case the whole world would be royally screwed. But good luck on that new housing development, Lex!

Finally, the overlays have somehow magically stitched back to the first one again and Lex shows where the nuke is set to go off. 

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros

Just eyeballing it here, but the location Lex plans on detonating the nuke appears to be somewhere in the vicinity of Fresno. That’s about 100 miles off from the actual fault line, meaning he’s off by a Delaware. Nuking Fresno isn’t gonna trigger The Big One, but it might make everyone in Modesto laugh their asses off.

When Dan Fritschie isn’t overthinking every little piece of pop culture that enters his brain, he can occasionally be seen performing stand-up comedy somewhere. You can find him being mistaken on Google Search for a hockey player whose name is one letter off from his, or you can find him on Twitter.

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