Five Survival Skills Movies Taught You Wrongly

Five Survival Skills Movies Taught You Wrongly

Movies are great at telling stories, but they’re horrible at teaching basic survival skills. Here are five of the ways they’ve led us astray – from performing CPR to battling wild animals.

Movies and TV shows are meant as entertainment. As such, they tend to take shortcuts. Sometimes the survival methods they “teach” carry over into the real world, and our understanding of things such as treating nosebleeds, getting knocked out, or how to deal with a snake bite get skewed. Here are the correct ways to handle those situations.

Myth: CPR Takes Minutes And Results In Complete Recovery

On countless TV shows and in thousands of movies, CPR is used on a victim minutes after they’ve passed out (or actually died) and they’re resurrected safely and easily within a couple of seconds. The problem is that CPR doesn’t work the way you see on TV.

CPR is meant as a life-prolonging technique, and it’s typically not meant to bring someone back to life. Instead, it’s supposed to keep their blood moving long enough for proper medical help to arrive. Worse, CPR isn’t nearly as effective as it’s depicted on television. On TV, CPR saves about 75 per cent of victims and takes about a minute to perform. In reality, the effectiveness of CPR is between 2 per cent and 30 per cent depending on the reason for giving it. Instead of giving up after a minute, you should continue administering CPR until help arrives.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn CPR. You should, but knowing when to administer it – and how to do it properly – is key, since most movies and TV shows get it wrong. Take a proper first-aid course.

Myth: Getting Knocked Out Is No Big Deal

Receiving a blow to the head is usually portrayed in movies as a minor annoyance with no serious consequences. In reality, it’s a lot harder to knock someone out with a punch then you’d think, but it’s bad news when it does happen.

In general, a concussion isn’t too horrible provided you’re not out for longer than five minutes, after which you’re susceptible to long-term damage. Of course, repeated concussions, like the ones athletes deal with are suspected to lead to serious brain damage.

If you get concussed, the best thing to do is see a doctor within a couple of days of the injury. If you experience vomiting, a prolonged headache, visual disturbances, slurred speech, confusion, blood discharge, or another loss of consciousness you should see a doctor right away.

Myth: Tilt Your Head Back To Stop A Nosebleed

Although it has been recommended not to tilt your head back when you have a nosebleed for years, movies and TV shows still show people doing it all the time. Tilting your head back to stop a nosebleed isn’t just ineffective, it’s also dangerous because it causes complications by allowing blood into the esophagus, which increases the risk of choking and vomiting.

The New York Times explains how to stop a nosebleed the right way:

A report in the British journal BMJ says you can stop the bleeding by using your thumb and index finger to squeeze the soft tissue just below the bridge of your nose for 5 to 10 minutes. A cold compress or ice pack placed across the bridge of the nose can also help.

If all of this fails and the bleeding lasts for more than 20 minutes, or the nosebleed was caused by a blow to the head, seek medical attention.

The last thing you want to deal with when you have blood falling out of your nose is blood down your throat as well.

Myth: Suck Out Snake Venom After Being Bitten

It’s a staple in classic western films: someone sucks snake venom out of a snake bite to save the victim’s life. The idea is that you can catch the venom before it enters the bloodstream and then spit it out to save the victim, but it really doesn’t work that way. As WebMD points out, you should never attempt to suck the venom out of a snake bite.

Instead, keep the person as still as possible, cover the wound with a loose bandage (do not apply a tourniquet), and get the victim to an emergency room as quickly as possible. The general rule is the less you move the victim, the less likely the venom will spread through the body and cause damage.

Myth: Most Wild Animals Will Attack You Unprovoked

Hollywood seems to truly hate the wilderness. As far as movies are concerned, it’s the most dangerous place out there, and every single animal is dangerous, even the cute ones. The truth is that while many animals are dangerous, most want nothing to do with humans, and the last thing you should do is taunt them.

When you run into most animals in the wilderness, it’s best to remain calm, and back away slowly. Seek some kind of shelter if possible (playing dead isn’t a good all-around strategy, but it does work if the animal isn’t aggressive). If they do attack, go for the eyes, and make as much noise as possible.

The best way to avoid animal attacks is to avoid messing with them. Don’t leave food sitting out, don’t wander into their territory, and don’t go looking for them. Generally speaking, they want nothing to do with you, so if you stay away from them, they’ll stay away from you.

Bonus Urban Survival Myth: Anything Any Movie Has Taught You About Computer Security

We couldn’t omit discussing one of Hollywood’s biggest urban survival myths: computer security. Hacking is represented in all kinds of goofy ways in movies. While these scenes are characteristically over the top, they also suggest that hacking is a fast process that just about anyone can manage.

Of course, hacking isn’t easy, nor is it fast. While some fast hacks exist, such as Firesheep, they’re pretty rudimentary and easy to block. More complex hacking, like Stuxnet or Zeus take months (or more) to find the exploits, code the hack, and implement it.

In most cases, hacking also takes a lot of work and wits to do it. Even if you have tools like Reaver at your disposal, it still takes a fair amount of time. just guessing passwords takes a special skillset. In general, finding an exploit and taking advantage of it is incredibly difficult. The fact is, hacking into any secure computer takes a lot of effort, and it’s rather boring to watch on the screen.

The same goes for how viruses are typically represented. Viruses are a pain, but they can’t damage your hardware, browse for porn under your name, or infect alien spacecraft. And don’t even get us started on “zoom and enhance” or Nokia gum hacks.

The lesson here is to not trust what you see on screen when it comes to anything important. If you want to prepare for anything, research the correct way to do it first. Life is not a movie.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • Trojans and viruses can damage hardware, depending on what they do.
    Anyone remember the Gadaffi (Sp?) virus that used to thrash the life out if your floppy drive head?
    In short, I don’t agree with you.

    • Dan, what don’t you agree with exactly because you don’t seem to be trying to counter any argument (I’m presuming you’re focusing on the last ‘hacker’ subject) here. Where does it say that Trojans and viruses can’t harm a computer?

      • This part right here: “Viruses are a pain, but they can’t damage your hardware, browse for porn under your name, or infect alien spacecraft.”

        It’s worse than that, In the past couple of years, we’ve seen all sorts of vulnerabilities in PLC’s. Look up Stuxnet sometime.

    • Basically it means a virus can’t make your computer do something it’s not designed to do. For example a computer is designed to use a floppy, but not to explode.

      • Could always write a virus/trojan/whatever to force over-clock a CPU and or RAM and screw it up by removing the safe-guards in-place.

  • I thought you could apply a tourniquet to a snake bite as long as you follow all the other rules of tourniquet use, such as the limited time it can be used for etc.

    • A tourniquet is unnecessary – the venom is travelling through the lymphatic vessels, not blood vessels. Lymph vessels don’t need as much pressure to collapse to slow the flow of venom, which is why you use an immobilisation bandage (where bandage can be any firm, strong piece of cloth). No need to cut off circulation.

  • The CPR one really bothers me because I feel some people would have their way of thinking dangerously affected by it. You should be prepared to do CPR for a LONG time, much longer than a few minutes, even to the point where you need someone else to take over because your arms are physically exhausted. In movies, they get told ‘he/she’s gone, man, give up!’ after what seems like 10 seconds. That character just died for no good reason.

    I remember a fantastic scene in ‘The Abyss’ where the main character is told this, and even dragged away; she fights them off, comes back, keeps going for what (as moviegoers) seems like too long… and saves the character. That was fantastic and shows how dangerous the perception can be.

    • Agreed, My St Johns Ambulance trainer spent 2hrs doing CPR, he was a very fit man but he was physically exhausted and on the point of colapsing himself before help arrived. You do CPR until you cannot physically do it anymore or help arrives.

    • Totally agree about the LONG time. We came across a car accident in the NT, when I was in the Military, and our group of six rotated performing CPR for nearly 2 hrs until an Ambo finally turned up from Tenant Creek which was about 100 klm away. We were exhausted…its not easy at all.

    • Exactly. The whole point of CPR is to keep oxygen flowing there brain.
      It doesn’t matter if their heart has stopped, you’re now their heart.

  • There are some animals that will see you as a meal and attack unprovoked – sharks, crocodiles and polar bears being the most well known. The vast majority of animals though will usually prefer to leave you alone.

    • “Wrongly” is proper and correct. “Incorrectly” would also work. The common usage would be “wrong”. That is improper but accepted vernacular.
      Yay for “wrongly” and disambiguated adverbs.

  • The heimlich maneuver is something that shouldn’t be done when someone is choking. A back slap is the recommended method according to First Aid (in Australia anyway).

  • Where’s the spelling/grammar Nazi when you need him? “…a lot harder to knock someone out with a punch then you’d think, but it’s bad news when it does happen…”

  • I think every adult should do a senior first aid course (every few years), especially if you have little ones , someone special to take care of, are often in remote places, or are in a position of authority in your workplace. Also keep a first aid kit in your home and in your car. If you have one, make sure it is full by inspecting it every so often.
    The methods for some treatments have changed over the last decade, so it’s important to be up to date as Penny and Soldant have pointed out (a tourniquet often did a lot more damage than it ever did good, and as turns out is unnecessary).

  • Do not pull a blade or bullets out of your own body. Doing will only risk a more severe injuries. If you get stabbed leave the knife or object alone and seek medical attention. Bullets often fragment when a victim is shot improperly removing them can risk blood poisoning and or pushing the bullet fragments deeper into you. And you should definitely not use the tough guy approach and try to clean the wounds with searing hot metal, fire or run of the booze you fund laying around.

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