In the soon-to-be-released film Skyscraper, a war veteran with a prosthetic leg sprints across the arm of a construction crane, launching himself in a seemingly insane jump toward the broken, open window of an adjacent building. The building is ablaze, and his family is trapped in a 240-floor building, above the fire line.
“Most scenes and many entire movies defy the laws of the current universe. In this case, the movie’s director was either lucky or had done his homework.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays the hero in the epic leap, and his movie Skyscraper already has the internet talking. After the release of the movie’s trailer earlier this year, skeptics immediately began to question the jump’s feasibility and had everyone asking: Is this humanly possible?
UCF Physics Professor Costas Efthimiou had the same question — along with strong initial doubts. Efthimiou teaches a popular class, Physics and Film, in which he examines science at work in science fiction, thriller and superhero movies. His classes have included studies of well-known scenes from flicks such as Armageddon, X-Men and Black Panther.
Running the Calculations
When Efthimiou sat down to carry out the calculations from Skyscraper, he was surprised to see the laws of physics do, in fact, allow a window of opportunity.
A jump like the one in Skyscraper requires a very specific combination of horizontal and vertical speeds, says Efthimiou, whose work on the topic is published in Physics Education. “Most scenes and many entire movies defy the laws of the current universe. In this case, the movie’s director was either lucky or had done his homework,” Efthimiou says.
“Given the character’s peak physical conditioning, professional discipline, mental strength, personal motivation and determination, the laws of physics assert that he has a real shot at making this jump.”
Efthimiou estimated the crane in the movie to be roughly 20 meters in length, enough distance for a person to reach a horizontal speed of 9 meters per second, or approximately 20 miles per hour, before leaving the platform. Efthimiou found that if vertical speed reaches between 3.667 meters per second and 5.467 meters per second, which implies that the peak elevation is achieved between 0.686 meters and 1.525 meters above the crane, the jump is humanly possible.
Efthimiou asserts that the horizontal and vertical speeds needed for the jump would be comparable to a professional sprinter and a professional basketball player, respectively.
“There are a number of factors working against our protagonist in this scenario: his age, psychological stress, not having proper running shoes, not having past training for this particular jump, to name a few,” says Efthimiou. “However, given the character’s peak physical conditioning, professional discipline, mental strength, personal motivation and determination, the laws of physics assert that he has a real shot at making this jump.”
Reviewing the Formulas
Efthimiou intends to be among the first to watch Skyscraper following its July 13 release, and he plans to review his formulas once additional footage becomes available. He’ll include the Skyscraper study in his fall classes.
“People feel excited when they can explain what they see,” says Efthimiou. “However, when I teach my students physics I always tell them that science is objective and should not allow their feelings to dominate over reason. They must scientifically verify any claim.”