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The Reality of Running Away from Stuff

By Idris Hsi, Mar 12, 2002

We've all seen movie characters escape from a lot of stuff: some of it almost believable, some of it downright silly. Other times, we see characters unable to run away from things like the walking dead or a giant snake. Hollywood used to be a little better about realism because there were real people who were running away from real dangers - like the good old days where they used real bullets and arrows during filming. The frightened look on James Cagney's face as he's plastered against a wall in one of his gangster movies was not simply born of great acting but was the result of a healthy dose of fear. Now, thanks to cheap computer graphics and better special effects, you no longer have to risk actors or their loyal stunt doubles in situations with real pyrotechnics. Instead, you can show your actors scurrying for their lives as a looming fiery/watery/muddy/temporal wave of death threatens to envelop them. Unfortunately, many recent directors have been greatly abusing these techniques to introduce suspense and excitement to supplement the lack of story or substance in their movies. For example, the recent movie, The Time Machine, showed our heroes free-climbing up a 100 foot cliff and then racing to safety up a mountain to escape a large explosion. In The Mummy Returns, a hero actually outruns the sunlight streaming over the horizon (really just outrunning the rotation of the earth). Just how unbelievable are these feats of speed?

Here's a chart showing maximum speeds for some of the more common Hollywood hazards measured against the fastest speeds that an Olympic level human can deliver (all in meters/second).


Killer Snail 

 0.01 m/s

Walking Dead 

 0.8 m/s



* Fastest Swimming Human 

 2.3 m/s (Olympic record)

Giant Snake (Black Mamba)

 3.0 m/s

Swarm of Angry Killer Bees

 3.6 m/s

Australian Freshwater Crocodile

 4.7 m/s
* Experienced Parachuting Human4  7.6 m/s


 6.7 m/s
Kangaroo1  6.9 m/s (loping)

Lava Flow in Steep Channel

 9.1 m/s


10.0 m/s



* Fastest Human Running Speed

10.2 m/s (Olympic record - 100 m dash)



Tyranosaurus Rex

11.1 m/s (likely best speed)

African Bull Elephant 

11.2 m/s

Great White Shark 

11.2 m/s (swimming)

Killer Whale 

13.4 m/s (swimming)

German Shepherd 

14.2 m/s


15-17 m/s
Thrown Knife (top speed)5 15.7 m/s


15-26 m/s


16.0 m/s (non-vorpal)


16.0 m/s (max)


16.7 m/s (15 second burst)


17.9 m/s (short distances)

A Duck 

17.9 m/s (flying)


19.4 m/s (not-flying)
Kangaroo1 19.4 m/s (frantic and panicking)

Car going 45 mph 

20.0 m/s

* Human on Skis downhill 

30-40 m/s
Cheetah3 32 m/s

90 mph baseball pitch 

40.0 m/s

Stone from Commercial Slingshot 

42.5 m/s

Crossbow Bolt 

45.7 m/s

An Avalanche of Snow 

48.0 m/s (near base)

Peregrine Falcon2 

51.1 m/s (diving)
* Human Falling at Terminal Velocity4 60 m/s

Arrow from 84 lb Compound bow 

84.3 m/s

Boeing 747-400 Take-Off speed 

92.6 m/s

Small Meteorite 

138 m/s

Wall of Rushing Water 

139 m/s
* Human Free-Falling Record4 142 m/s

1929 Biplane 

147 m/s

Bullet(.45 Auto 230 Grain FMJ) 

246 m/s

Speed of Sound 

340 m/s

Bullet(.357 Mag 158 Grain Led) 

381 m/s

12 gauge shotgun pellets 

411 m/s

Rotation of Earth 

482 m/s


715 m/s (max velocity)



Surface-to-Air Missile (Russian SA-2) 

1180 m/s

Shockwave of an Explosion Underwater 

1020 m/s

Shockwave of an Explosion in Air 

2380 m/s

250,000 ton Arizona Crater meteorite 

16000 m/s



Speed of Light 

300,000,000 m/s


Awarded the Illuminated Site of the Week on June 27, 2004


Illuminated Site of 
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Credits for contributions and suggestions:

1 Jason Sinclair - For the "I-can-do-this-for-hours" and "oh-crap-something-wants-to-eat-me" kangaroos (6/30/04)
2 Breton Veach - Corrected the stoop speed of a peregrine falcon (originally listed on this page as 89.4 m/s) by citing a 1998 article from a Swiss scientist - Dr. Matthias Kestenholz - (6/17/04)
3 Greg Collver - Asked that the cheetah be added to the page. (6/21/04)
4 Richard Jones - I found this link through Jason Sinclair's email. Richard seemed a bit grumpy on his blog that I didn't account for falling humans so I added numbers for falling humans. (6/30/04)
5 The Rev. Dr. David R. Adamovich, aka The Great Throwdini told me the following: "A knife thrown by either the handle or blade will tumble through the air as does a pin-wheel between 30 and 35 mph. 35 mph has been clocked by a top ranked competitive thrower who, in his younger days claims to have thrown a baseball at 90 mph. For that experiment he was instructed to throw the knife with "all he had" and only to stick it without reference to hitting a bulls eye. Normal competitive throwing is between 28 and 32 mph. Clearly the physics of each projectile differs significantly. The treatise is referenced within my site, http://www.knifethrower.com. For the record, I am a professional knife thrower, a world champion and the world's fastest knife thrower (as it relates to frequency, not speed. I have been recorded throwing a hand full of knives at 2/second, i.e. 0.5 seconds/knife). The Wheel of Death, for example, is usually performed by professional throwers at about 0.65 seconds/knife." (12/27/04)

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