I’ve recently stumbled on a new trend in YouTube videos: experts taking popular movies and TV shows and reviewing scenes from them for accuracy. Wired and Vulture have done several of them, and some educational YouTube channels have found that they’re very popular with viewers.
I’ve watched dozens of them over the past few weeks, and many of them are fascinating, not only for people who like to nitpick about fiction as presented on screen, but because they demonstrate how hard it can be to get things right, and how great it is to see when they do.
If this kind of thing interests you as well, I’ve compiled the ones I’ve found below, grouped by topic. Enjoy.
Wired’s Technique Critique: Accents
I think this is the video that kind of started the genre, it has more than 6 million views, and it’s among the best: Erik Singer, a dialect coach, goes through various performances in movies and not only says whether the accents are correct or not, but explains in a detailed but accessible way how the accents are supposed to work. Or in the case of Mickey Rooney’s ridiculous Japanese accent in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a disgusted dismissal that you can’t help laughing at.
Common error: Though the critiques are about individual actors’ performances, Singer doesn’t blame the actors, chalking up errors to a lack of preparation time, and clarifying that it’s the responsibility of the actors, directors and coaches to ensure they’re done properly.
- Episode 2: Constructed languages
- Episode 3: Actors playing real people
- Episode 6: More movie accents
Vulture’s Expert Witness: Hollywood sword fights
Fight coordinator and fencing expert Jared Kirby finds the scenes he critiques surprisingly accurate (with one notable exception). But he doesn’t go into much detail about technique, which is unfortunate.
Common error: It’s very easy to defend yourself against a bunch of enemies when most of them are standing around and waiting for their turn to attack you.
BuzzFeed: How Realistic Are Movie Sword Fights?
Raab Rashi, a sword class instructor, looks at sword fights specifically, and you can tell he enjoys these kinds of scenes in movies. He does a decent job of explaining swordfighting strategy, though the video could better illustrate how they’re doing it wrong.
Common error: Swords used as clubs or bats. They’re sharp things to stab or cut with.
BuzzFeed: MMA Coach Reviews Fight Scenes In Movies
Rene Dreifuss, MMA coach, takes a look at various fight scenes (hand-to-hand combat) and notes that moves that appear very spectacular on film are actually bad fight moves because they do little against your opponent. Dreifuss gets into a bit of detail when critiquing a scene in Casino Royale, but otherwise doesn’t explain much of why some scenes are realistic and others aren’t.
SELF: Fighting Expert Breaks Down Movie & TV Fight Moves
This one is much better. Competitive fighter and Muay Thai champion Raquel Harris reviews movie scenes that feature boxing and martial arts techniques and explains why certain moves work and others don’t, like a trainer in a gym. She explains momentum and training techniques and even the kinds of things you shouldn’t do because they might cause injuries. Though the scenes are more about fighting as a sport than fighting for your life in an action movie.
Common error: Moves that pointlessly reduce momentum. Kicking someone while airborne may look cool, but you lose the force that you can get by pushing off the ground.
Vanity Fair: Bear Grylls Reviews Survival Movies
Grylls looks at the techniques people in movies use to survive life-threatening situations, and rates them on a realistic vs. not realistic scale.
GQ: Alex Honnold Breaks Down Iconic Rock Climbing Scenes
The star of the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo looks at what is right and wrong in Hollywood rock climbing scenes, and does a very good job of explaining why a technique works or why it doesn’t. He also shows a healthy appreciation for scenes that look, as he would put it, “sick.”
Wired’s Technique Critique: Emergency/operating room
This spring, Wired decided to bring back this series and expand into other areas of expert critique. In this episode, Annie Onishi, a general surgery resident at Columbia University, looks specifically at how surgeons behave in an operating room and some aspects of emergency care. Like the other Wired videos, it focuses on being educational but using short out-of-context clips from the works they’re critiquing to add some humour.
Common error: Doctors never actually say “we’re losing him” in an emergency or operating room. Even in emergency situations, things aren’t nearly as panicky as depicted in movies and TV.
See also: Part 2
Dr. Hope’s Sick Notes
Dr. Ed Hope is a junior doctor working in the U.K., which means his experience is slightly different from an American doctor (he uses the term “consultant” to refer to an attending physician, for example). He also has less experience than other experts, having been a web developer until three years ago, so he’ll often confess to not knowing if a particular action or procedure is accurate or if an ailment is possible. But his knowledge of medicine is strong and he communicates it well, with a folksy charm. Hope’s interjections are more about the diagnostic side of medicine, and explaining how diseases work. He also talks a lot about the personal side of being a doctor — how it feels, how they don’t usually have sex in on-call rooms, etc.
Common error: Doctors have specialties, and you won’t see a surgeon doing X-rays or an emergency room doctor running a blood test.
- House: Three Stories
- House: Control (a slightly different format in which he tries to beat House to the diagnosis)
- The Good Doctor: Pilot
- Grey’s Anatomy: Pilot
- ER: Pilot
- Scrubs: Pilot
- Scrubs: My Musical
- Scrubs: My Old Lady
- Scrubs: My Lunch
- The Resident: Pilot
- Cells at Work
- Full playlist
Dr. Mike’s Doctor Reacts series
Dr. Mike (Dr. Mikhail “Mike” Varshavski D.O.) is a family doctor based in New York. He’s really popular, with his reaction to Grey’s Anatomy’s pilot racking up 11 million views in four months. His videos, which cover dozens of different medical and lifestyle topics, are very educational and he gets a bit intense in following these medical dramas, especially when they get things wrong.
Common error: When a code is called, there’s a procedure to follow and everyone is given a responsibility. And during a heart attack, someone is always doing chest compressions.
- The Good Doctor: Pilot
- Scrubs: Pilot
- The Resident: Pilot
- Code Black: Pilot
- House: Pilot
- House: Three Stories
- Chicago Med: Pilot
- ER: Pilot
- Full playlist
Side note: the similarity between Dr. Hope and Dr. Mike’s videos (both are doctors who publish a wide range of videos and decided to do reaction videos to medical dramas because those are very popular) led to Dr. Hope kind of (diplomatically) accusing Dr. Mike of stealing his idea. Dr. Mike took exception to this and noted that his YouTube channel is older and this idea is hardly that original. Both sides could have handled this better, frankly.
Vanity Fair: Dr. Ken Jeong Reviews House, Dr. Oz & Other TV Doctors
Though it’s actually older than most of the videos I list here, this 2016 video of Ken Jeong (a real doctor turned actor) is more like a parody of the rest. He jokingly critiques House and ER but then also comments on Dr. J, Dr. Dre and Dr. Pepper.
This video looks at the movie Shame, about sex addiction, not so much to criticize the acting or writing in the film itself, but as a springboard to ask questions about how mental illness works. Another video, The Science of SPLIT, looks at what is realistic and what is not in that movie.
BuzzFeed: Real Psychologist Reviews Mental Illness In Movies
Dr. Ali Mattu, clinical psychologist at the Columbia University Medical Center, breaks down the behaviour of characters in some famous movies and explains how various mental illnesses manifest in different behaviours. This is actually a good introduction to various mental health conditions in general, beyond the movie criticism stuff. Surprisingly, he finds these particular portrayals mostly accurate.
Common error: Mentally ill people are not generally violent toward others. People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.
Vulture’s Expert Witness: Dinosaur Movies
This is apparently a new series by Vulture, inviting experts to comment on movies. In this video, Columbia University professor Paul Olsen comments on dinosaur movies, and the Jurassic Park series in particular (but also some silly things like the TV series Dinosaurs and the Flintstones movie). Our understanding of dinosaurs has evolved over time, though most of what he reviews is recent enough that any scientists their producers discovered should have known better.
Vulture’s Expert Witness: Shark attacks
Shark researcher George Burgess criticizes Jaws and other shark attack scenes, which are mostly the same general structure: person swimming in the water or even on a boat is surprised when a shark suddenly appears and bites or swallows them. Spoiler: They’re all unrealistic, because sharks rarely attack humans.
BuzzFeed: A Shark Expert Reviews Shark Movies
Jill McAndrew of the Long Island Aquarium (whose first name is misspelled in the video) is having none of this nonsense. Sharks, she points out, are just too lazy to stalk human prey that aren’t immediately accessible when there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.
Wired’s Technique Critique: Crime scene investigations
The latest episode of Wired’s series features Matthew Steiner, a crime scene analyst and investigator, looking at crime scene investigations. It’s generally the same types of errors — contamination of a crime scene, mishandling of evidence (no, pens are not sterile tools), jumping to conclusions — which just underlines how badly this work is depicted and how much of those depictions are based on what creators themselves see in TV and movies.
Common error: Crime scenes never have dozens of cops in street clothes walking around them, for obvious reasons. They’re sterile, with a small number of specialized technicians in head-to-toe protection and multiple layers of gloves.
This lawyer, whose channel is more straight in its educational content, tackles how TV and movies depict legal activities, in particular courtroom scenes in a trial. It’s a bit more dry than other channels of this type, but without being uninteresting.
Common error: Courtroom scenes often depict lawyers stepping into the well between the judge and the lawyers’ tables, or even cozying up to the witness stand. In reality this is unusual and not allowed without explicit permission from the judge.
- TV: Suits, Law & Order, and L.A. Law
- TV: Boston Legal, Rick & Morty, Ally McBeal, The Good Wife
- TV: Better Call Saul
- TV: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- Movies: Liar Liar, My Cousin Vinny, Insider, Devil’s Advocate
- Full playlist
Wired Technique Critique: Lawyer Breaks Down 30 Courtroom Scenes From Film & TV
Wired’s contribution to this recruits former Manhattan district attorney prosecutor Lucy Lang, who is now Executive Director of the Institute For Innovation In Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Clearly overqualified for this job.
Lang focuses on how lawyers question witnesses and do opening and closing statements. She points out when things go accurately, but generally her criticisms are about how the most dramatic moments on screen would never be allowed to get so dramatic.
Common error: Lawyers don’t talk about themselves, don’t raise their voices and certainly don’t yell at the judge.
BuzzFeed: Lawyer Reviews Laws Broken In Classic Love Scenes
So funny story: When you trick someone into having sex with you against their will, that’s rape. This lawyer explains that some classic “love” scenes are actually quite disturbing from a legal point of view. It’s not so much that the movie depicts something inaccurately (though it’s pretty unlikely that a woman will be okay with learning that the person she just had sex with is not who she thought he was), but that the movie doesn’t seem to understand how wrong some of these actions are.
Movies Insider: What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Art Heists
FBI art crime expert Robert K. Wittman talks about how real life art heists happen versus what you see in movies. Generally, art theft is smaller, happening at smaller galleries with less security, involving insiders and spur-of-the-moment decisions, not high-tech action movie capers.
BuzzFeed: A Real Spy Reviews A Spy TV Show
Former KGB spy Jack Barsky reviews The Americans. This is an interesting idea, but Barsky’s review is pretty general and doesn’t get into any specifics about technique.
WIRED: Former CIA Chief of Disguise Breaks Down 30 Spy Scenes From Film & TV
Jonna Mendez, former CIA Chief of Disguise (!) explains what’s realistic and what’s not in various scenes involving espionage, and explains some ways the CIA operates in ways that you’re surprised she’s allowed to disclose. (She also has another video for WIRED explaining more about disguises)
Common error: Spies don’t stash boxes of fake passports and money around the world.
Vanity Fair: Penn Jillette Reviews Magic Tricks
Who better than Penn to criticize magic on film? Here, Jillette maybe takes his job a bit too literally, pointing out that anything can be faked on film (he’s more impressed with sleight of hand tricks that are performed without camera edits or CGI). But he also gives some perspective on different kinds of tricks, including those used by Houdini, and points out some tricks of the trade (never trust a magician’s equipment or what a magician says).
Vulture’s Expert Witness: Hollywood Hacking Scenes
Security experts Chris Fisco and Jim Krantz discuss some iconic hacking scenes and point out that the more spectacular effects are the most unrealistic and the weakest link in any security system is usually a user with access to it.
WIRED: Hacker Breaks Down 26 Hacking Scenes From Movies & TV
Security researcher Samy Kamkar goes through a series of “hacking” scenes depicted on screen, from the realistic portrayal in Mr. Robot to the this-is-a-parody-right hacking scene from NCIS. He’s pretty generous with unrealistic portrayals, describing what movies like Hackers and Transformers get right. He even goes back to old-tech stuff like The Net and War Games.
Common error: Real hacking doesn’t appear on screen as pop-up windows and virtual 3D imagery.
WIRED Brand Lab: Hacker Breaks Down ‘Ocean’s 8’ Hacking Scenes Here, security researcher Samy Kamkar explains some of the basic concepts of digital security using scenes from this movie. He doesn’t critique the movie directly and find faults in its plot or acting, but rather describes what types of vulnerabilities are being exploited in the various scenes.
UPDATE: Video has been pulled for some reason.
Engineering in the movies
Robotics professor Michael Milford analyzes how realistic various engineering and technology feats are in action movies.
Domain of Science: Movie Night with a Physicist
Dominic Walliman is a science writer and physicist, and critiques a series of movies in this one-off video. Movie physics are often comically bad (and physics and science in general make for bad drama), so Walliman has a lot of material to work with.
Insider: Explosives Expert Rates Unrealistic Movie Explosions
Columbia University explosives engineer Rodger Cornell rates 10 movies based on how realistic their giant explosions are. Most of them are comically bad.
Common error: Explosions set off by explosives like dynamite create shock waves, but not giant fireballs. And while those shock waves can seriously injure humans, they don’t fling them into the air.
Vulture’s Expert Witness: Hollywood food scenes
Chef Dale Talde has some fun with this critique of how people act in restaurants, though it’s hard to tell what parts of it are serious. He makes a good point at the end though about how in the movies, most of the people in a kitchen are white. That’s not how it looks like in real life.
Vulture’s Expert Witness: Hollywood camp scenes
Long-time camp counsellors Ali Hare and Tom Bloch talk about scenes at summer camps. And though they seem like fun people, it’s not nearly as interesting to criticize fictional camps as it is fictional medicine or science.
Other similar series:
- History Buffs reviews historical movies with a focus on accuracy, though not in the expert-reacts style.