The Physics behind a Superhero Save

The Physics behind a Superhero Save

At one point or another, most of us have probably seen a superhero movie where someone like Superman, Spiderman, or in this case, Thor rescues another person who is falling to their death. Check out this movie clip from Avengers: Age of Ultron for example:

In this clip, we have a woman freefalling to her doom in her car. Luckily, Thor comes to save the day by grabbing the woman’s arm and flinging her upward for Captain America to catch and hoist up to safety. When seeing this part of the movie, many of us might have been relieved that this woman was saved and thought nothing more of it. My physicist husband, however, did not have the same reaction. This is what he was thinking:

If someone is freefalling for about 12 seconds, they would be going roughly 260 miles per hour (neglecting air resistance). With Thor grabbing the woman’s arm and changing her direction as fast as he did, it would put about 33 thousand newtons of force on her arm. That is the same force of a person trying to hold up 7,500 pounds of weight on one arm.

There is no clear consensus on how much force is required to rip off a human arm (I tried researching this, but unfortunately, there just isn’t much data on this subject), but I have the feeling if this clip were real life, Captain America might be catching an arm without a woman attached.

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