How a Cheesy Sci-Fi Movie Changed the Game: The Impact of Science in Hollywood

At the time of its release in 1996, the movie “Chain Reaction” received critical panning

Sunrise in Space
Salon Sunrise in Space

Overview of the sci-fi movie in question

In the late 20th century, a science fiction movie was released that was widely regarded as cheesy and lackluster. Despite its initial reception, this movie would go on to have a significant impact on the Hollywood industry and the way science is portrayed in the media.

The significance of the movie in relation to Hollywood's approach to science

Prior to this movie, science in Hollywood was often portrayed inaccurately and was not given much consideration in the production process. This movie challenged this status quo and embarrassed Hollywood into paying closer attention to scientific accuracy.

purpose of the article

The purpose of this article is to examine how this movie influenced the industry to prioritize scientific accuracy and how this change has impacted Hollywood and the public.

The Initial Reception of the Movie

The film in question, in case you have not yet figured it out, is "The Core," an entry in the venerable science fiction genre by director Jon Amiel and starring Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, DJ Qualls, Richard Jenkins, and Bruce Greenwood. The premise of "The Core" is both simple and ridiculous: The Earth's core has stopped rotating, and a team of "terranauts" must journey to the center of the earth with nuclear weapons to explode that pesky core into rotating again. Until the terranauts can succeed, though, all hell breaks loose on the surface, leading to the movie's most memorable scenes. Pacemakers instantly stop working, causing hundreds to drop dead in a single second; electronic devices start breaking down and zapping their owners; birds are unable to navigate and crash into people and buildings; apocalyptic lightning storms destroy iconic landmarks like Rome's Colosseum and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge; and, amidst the devastation, a lone hacker controls the Internet to cover up the truth from an otherwise panicked public.

In theory, this could be entertaining in a campy, so stupid it's fun kind of way; however, while the acting is excellent, the rest of "The Core" is far too clichéd and bloated to be enjoyable. Yet, as Perkowitz observed 20 years ago, the bigger problem with "The Core" is that the information that it presents to audiences as legitimate science is, quite simply, bunk.

description of the movie's initial reception by audiences and critics

When the movie was first released, it received mixed reviews from audiences and was widely criticized for its cheesy plot and scientific inaccuracies. Despite this, the movie quickly gained a cult following and has since become a classic in the sci-fi genre.

Perkowitz told Salon, "The concept is wrong."

Scientists say the Earth's "electromagnetic field" gets disrupted when the core stops spinning. Misnomer. It's a magnetic field. That's this issue's main scientific fallacy. The magnetic field creates poles and everything else.

As Perkowitz told Salon, sci-fi films often distort science. However, "The Core" lies so often that it's hard to keep count. The condition outlined would not suddenly cause the plot's technological issues, among other things.

"My pacemaker is electrical, so I wouldn't die if the Earth's magnetic field stopped working," Perkowitz said.

"Turning off the Earth's weak magnetic field wouldn't affect it and shouldn't stop it." Technological flaws continue. In the film, a young hacker (Qualls) controls the whole Internet to keep the global crisis a secret.

"I have a pacemaker and wouldn't die if the Earth's magnetic field stopped."

"We think young hackers can do nearly anything on the Internet," Perkowitz said. This is absurd, but Lindo's character claims his ship can fly to the core using ultrasonic waves to break up kidney stones. "The sound waves can hit anything solid and break it into bits, but the amount of energy you would need to keep the lasers and ultrasonics going across several thousand miles of solid rock is so huge that I just can't see how any type of portable ship could carry it," Perkowitz said.

The clincher is the terranauts' plan to restart the core by detonating nuclear weapons around it. "The last item about setting off nuclear weapons near the core to urge it to start rotating again is just a stupid thought," Perkowitz said. "How would you target nuclear explosions?"

In conclusion, "The Core" is fantasy, not sci-fi. "The Core" script was sent to Caltech planetary scientist David J. Stevenson "but at a point where most of the movie had already been put together, so this was roughly six months before it was actually released to theaters," he told Salon. Although he was not an official scientific consultant, Stevenson was seen as someone who might like the movie and its science.

"I told other journalists and people the scientific material was bad," Stevenson said. I told Scientific American. Jon Amiel, the director in Hollywood, called me and was upset that I had said these things. That's when I realized he felt it was scientific."

The Science & Entertainment Exchange's materials may have helped Amiel. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) founded it in 2008, and its head, science writer Rick Loverd, said movies are "hugely significant" to people. Loverd cited scientists who were inspired by "Star Trek," Air Force recruits who joined after seeing "Top Gun," and forensic science students who inspired colleges to develop new departments after watching "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." After the 1974 TV show "Happy Days" featured the Fonz getting a library card, youngsters flooded libraries to get their own.

Merchant stated that "The Core" was a major driver for convincing scientists to form the Science & Entertainment Exchange. Scientists worry about "corefactual sloppiness."

"We were obviously conscious of its position in the views of many scientists as having done damage to research in what they considered was the public consumption of science as entertainment," Merchant told Salon. We considered movies like that from that perspective. How do people react to science in movies like "The Core"?

Scientists worried that "The Core" was like attending a scientific class with a non-scientist. Scientists disagree on what constitutes "poor" science in a film. Roland Emmerich's 2004 catastrophe film "The Day After Tomorrow" warns about climate change with questionable science.

Merchant said, "With a movie like 'The Day After Tomorrow' on climate change, many scientists perceived that as not being the method to communicate "accurately" due to the film's plot mistakes. "On the other side, if you have audience members that go into that movie and say, "Oh, climate change, is that a thing?"... the movie itself is not supposed to be the primary method for transmitting proper information around climate change. "It's aimed to get people thinking about the topic so they may learn more from better sources."

Avatar: The Way Of Water
Provided by Salon Avatar: The Way of Water Ronal (Kate Winslet), Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), and the Metkayina clan in "Avatar: The Way of Water." (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Despite artistic license, some popular sci-fi films are scientifically accurate.

"I do think that our curriculum runs on the reasonable assumption that prior figures have inspired STEM professionals of today."

"2001: A Space Odyssey" is fantastic, according to Stevenson. "I don't mind '2001,' because it's imagination. I once spoke to Arthur C. Clarke. A talented person, like Stanley Kubrick, can make "2001" convey the amazement "of its scientific themes. "2001" is famous for its scientific accuracy, yet James Cameron's 2009 film "Avatar" passes Stevenson's scent test for a different reason.

"If you're presenting something so plainly distinct from the context in which we live, it's permissible to show things that seem to be challenging scientifically," Stevenson said. "Avatar" is about "a world where there is a material called "unobtanium." That is almost a joke, meaning people who are viewing it would, I hope, recognize its status as that kind of fantasy, so I don't have a problem with that." "The Core" introduces "unobtanium" as a scientific material, not a MacGuffin.

Perkowitz lauded Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" (2014). Nolan collaborated with Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne to incorporate as much science as feasible into the plot.

Provided by Salon Matthew McConaughey in "Interstellar" (Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.)

"He worked very hard to come up with things that made scientific sense, or at least could make scientific sense, and told a dramatic story," Perkowitz said. "Yes, there has to be some creative license"—Perkowitz noted that most movies about outer space travel include ships that travel faster than the speed of light, which are currently "completely out of the question"—but he argued that audiences can accept one big suspension of disbelief if the rest of the story is told in good faith.

"I think that creates a terrific story that is scientifically satisfactory," Perkowitz told Salon.

Sci-fi writers have struggled to combine "excellent story" with "scientifically satisfactory" since Mary Shelley's 1818 novel "Frankenstein." If "The Core" has any legacy, it is that no sci-fi writer will ever find the perfect blend, but they should constantly try. Perkowitz conceded that some of "The Core's" comical moments are scientifically sound.

"Many birds can navigate millions of kilometers because they have an organic sensor that informs them which way the Earth's magnetic field is pointing. If the magnetic field is turned off, birds may lose their sense of direction and crash into windows. OK." Perkowitz paused, then grew frustrated again. "Again, they're blaming an "electromagnetic field" when it's not! Magnetism!"

Why the movie was considered cheesy or laughable

When the movie came out, it was made fun of for having cheap special effects and a story that didn't make sense.

The movie's impact on Hollywood's approach to science before its release

Before this movie, science in Hollywood was often overlooked and portrayed inaccurately. The movie's reception and cult following, however, demonstrated the public's interest in more accurate portrayals of science in media.

The Movie's Influence on Hollywood

Overview of how the movie influenced Hollywood's approach to science

After the movie's release, Hollywood began to take scientific accuracy more seriously in the production process. This change was mostly caused by the movie and the public's desire to see accurate science in the media.

Evidence of the movie's impact on science in Hollywood, such as changes in production, writing, and storytelling

The movie's impact can be seen in the increased number of science fiction movies and TV shows that employ science consultants and prioritize accuracy in the storytelling process. This has resulted in a more scientifically informed and engaging viewing experience for audiences.

Discussion of why the movie had a lasting impact on the industry

The movie's impact on Hollywood can be attributed to its cult following and the demonstration of public interest in accurate portrayals of science in media. The movie also paved the way for more scientifically-informed science fiction stories that have since become popular in Hollywood.

The Importance of Science in Hollywood

Overview of why science accuracy is important in Hollywood

Science accuracy is important in Hollywood because it makes movies and TV shows more enjoyable to watch and helps shape how people think about and talk about science.

Discussion of how the movie's effect on science accuracy has changed the industry and the public

The movie's impact on science accuracy in Hollywood has resulted in a more scientifically informed and engaging viewing experience for audiences. This has also influenced the public's understanding and appreciation of science.

A description of how getting the science right helps tell a story and improves the overall experience for audiences

By incorporating scientific accuracy into the storytelling process, Hollywood can create more engaging and believable narratives that captivate audiences. This, in turn, contributes to a more informed and meaningful viewing experience.


This article has discussed the impact of a cheesy sci-fi movie on Hollywood's approach to scientific accuracy and how this change has influenced the industry.

Loverd predicted that "hidden figures" would soon be discussed and that women of color would enroll in astronomy classes. "I'm risking a lot. Nothing except history supports my claim. I think our program's idea that prior characters influenced STEM workers is reasonable. When you look at that trend and look forward, it makes sense for the National Academy of Sciences to reach out to those storytellers to bring more characters like that to the screen to inspire youngsters today.

"The Core" is "one of those movies that is sort of widely cited by scientists, particularly if you're talking to scientists of a particular discipline like geophysicists, when they talk about how this is the worst example of what Hollywood does to science," said Ann Merchant, Deputy E. That kind of flick

If you take that one premise and try to create the logical consequence, I think that makes a terrific, scientifically satisfying story.

Summary of the key points covered in the article

No matter how much you might hate a movie, it is doubtful you loathe it as much as scientists despise this one infamous flick.

There is a motion picture so scientifically irresponsible that merely mentioning its title instantly arouses the ire of countless otherwise stolid academic personalities. When it was first released in 2003, it badly bombed at the box office, prompting one physicist to speculate that the public stayed away because it could smell garbage. It "did not make money because people understood the science was so out to lunch," Emory University Professor Sidney Perkowitz proclaimed at the time. Indeed, Perkowitz was so bothered by the movie's misinformation that he crafted a set of guidelines to help Hollywood studios avoid future embarrassments. Hundreds of other scientists agreed with Perkowitz. Today, this movie is best known for helping to start the Science & Entertainment Exchange, an organization that promotes the use of better science in movies, TV, and other media.

Dolph Nelson

Science and Technology enthusiast, obsessed with organic vegetables. He is intelligent and careful, but can also be very lazy and a bit grumpy.

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