Could You Shoot Bendy Bullets, Just Like in "Wanted"?

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You may have thought that the all-seeing, future-predicting loom of life was the craziest thing about Wanted. As it turns out, however, Mark Millar and J.G. Jones's graphic-novel-turned-film has even more implausible scenarios to feed your fantasies. For example, there's the way Wesley (James McAvoy) can "bend" the trajectory of a bullet shot from his gun. Sounds unlikely, but could a bullet in real life actually be shot in a way that would make it curve through the air? Read on to find out (very light spoilers).

MYTH: Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) and a few select others have a special, super-shooting ability that makes it possible for them to curve the trajectories of the bullets they shoot.


FACT: To change the movement of any object, external force must be involved — so says a little thing called Newton's First Law. After the initial impulse that propels a bullet from the barrel of a gun, a bullet's path will essentially follow a straight line. In long-range shooting, gravity will impose a downward acceleration on the bullet, causing the bullet to travel in a slight parabola. Air resistance, wind, and even the Coriolis effect might also affect the trajectory of the bullet (especially at long distances), but this is quite apart from Wanted's claim that bullets are able to dodge obstacles.

Of course, there's always the possibility that a simple bullet could be more than meets the eye. In 1998, two professors from California — Dr. Chih-Ming Ho of UCLA and Dr. Yu-Chong Tai of Caltech — published a landmark paper detailing their research into the possible application of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) to situations involving fluid flows. What they were exploring is the behavior of tiny transducers (sensors or actuators such as accelerometers or microflaps) that are surrounded by a fluid flow; these MEMS transducers could be as small as a thousandth of a millimeter, or one micrometer. With sophisticated enough micro-devices, a bullet might be able to detect, record, and control its own trail. Ho and Tai, however, are now focusing their research on biomedical applications, so McAvoy will have to look elsewhere.


MYTH: If you concentrate hard enough — and if you're as badass as Wesley Gibson — you can shoot the wings off a fly.


FACT: Let's leave aside for a moment the assumption that flies will remain perfectly still in politeness while you shoot them, and that small considerations like human error, weapon defects, and unpredictable air resistance won't affect the accuracy of a gunshot more than one millimeter. According to the Internet Movie Firearms Database, the gun that James McAvoy is most likely shooting in Wanted is either a Beretta 92 with 9x19mm Parabellum cartridges or a Heckler & Koch USP Compact pistol with .357 SIG cartridges. (In the side image, the Beretta cartridge is at the far left, while the .357 SIG is third from left.) For both these cartridges, the bullet diameter is 9 millimeters.

Wikipedia notes that the common adult housefly is 6-9 millimeters long, and any detailed pest control website will tell you that the wingspan of such a housefly ranges from 12-15 millimeters. This means that the wing of a single housefly, at most, is less than 7 millimeters. Good luck blowing the wings off and leaving the fly intact, Wesley, no matter how supernaturally accurate a shot you are.


Interested in more movie physics fallacies? Check out the Internet Movie Firearms Database for details on the exact guns used in your favorite films so that you can perform the proper calculations yourself — or just take a look at Intuitor's Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics to get an idea of common mistakes. Angelina Jolie can teach you a lot of things, but don't let her teach you physics.

Additional sources: Barrow Borough Council Pest Control, Valent BioSciences Environmental Science Division, and Special Topics MEMS: An Interview with Professor Chih-Ming Ho.