Artistic License Geology

A Disaster Movie features an earthquake, volcano or some other ground-based phenomenon and does it in a relatively entertaining way. Then the Fridge Logic hits that Geology Does Not Work That Way. It doesn't always spoil the film — sometimes only an expert would know, or sometimes the viewer doesn't catch on until after the movie, but it sure can get on your nerves.

Artistic License Geology is the catch-all term for where a work shows a geological phenomenon, but does so inaccurately.

For earthquakes, for instance, fissures do not chase B actors or swallow entire cities whole without a trace. For volcanoes, outrunning the lava flow in Real Life can be as easy as picking up your pace to a brisk walk, but you can't outrun the pyroclastic flow — the heat, ash, and gasses ejected from the eruption — and you might not even be able to outrun it driving a car, since a pyroclastic flow can hit 700 kph. The primary characteristic of mudslides is that they're inexorable. They may be fast or slow, but they simply don't stop, and they are not easily diverted by such flimsy things as walls, barricades, trees, or buildings. They just pick 'em up and carry on.

In addition to quakes, volcanoes, and mudslides, this trope also covers any abuses of the field of geology including getting rocks, minerals, or whole processes wrong.

This is the supertrope of California Collapse. Compare Artistic License Biology (with which it shares the subtrope Artistic License Paleontology), Artistic License Physics. Contrast Shown Their Work. See also All-Natural Gem Polish.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 

  • In Code Geass, when the F.L.E.I.J.A. bomb is deployed it leaves a 1300 meter-deep crater, but the now exposed terrain is uniform and absent of geological layers. It's possible the weapon burns the exposed earth to a uniform appearance, but that appearance is regular soil brown.

     Comic Books 

  • Many old Marvel Comics stories had characters visiting Subterrania, a land located at "the center of the Earth." The place was later Ret Conned as being a cave system not far from the surface.
  • The Magical Land realm of Skartaris in DC Comics' The Warlord is located in the center of a Hollow World Earth as a tribute to the Pellucidar novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • One dinosaur comic has paleontologists find "the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever", and carbon-date it to make sure it's genuine. Carbon dating is not used on objects older than 30,000 years (by then, any radioactive carbon-14 in the sample has decayed to unusable levels); it might serve to rule out the possibility that it's a modern-era replica but there's probably easier ways of doing that.


  • Volcano has the titular feature pop out of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles- while the area is tectonically active, the faults are not the type that generate volcanoes, being too far below the surface. The LA Basin as a whole has no volcanic features newer than a couple dozen million years.
  • Dante's Peak, a dueling movie with Volcano, made more of an attempt to be accurate but still pick and chose things to be dramatic (the USGS has a detailed response somewhere.) For example, there is fluid lava during what is otherwise a large explosive eruption, (the two are not absolutely exclusive, but they are highly unlikely to occur together at the scale the movie shows.), and there's a pyroclastic cloud chase scene where the vehicle has way too little lead time.
  • The volcano part of Congo had many geologic sins (diamonds in basalt, etc), but often gets faulted for one part that was actually accurate; the speed of the flow. The Congo is the only place in the world where lava actually can move at freeway speeds due to its consistency (think mud bath, only it would melt your face instead of cleansing your pores).
  • Earthquake is guilty of this for the magnitude. The quake in the film hits a 9.9 on the Richter scale, and is judged entirely by the massive damage the quake leaves behind in Los Angeles (something that should actually be left to the Mercalli intensity scale). In real life, not only has a 9.9 earthquake never happened in recorded history (the strongest earthquake ever was 9.4-9.6 in Chile, in May 1960), but it's scientifically impossible for one to strike since rock lacks the capability to build up that much pressure before it gives to the quake. Scientific consensus on the San Andreas Fault (the source for most of L.A.'s quakes) finds that the fault is very limited in trying to cause a mega-thrust quake (quakes at or greater than 8.0 on the Richter scale).
    The magnitude of an earthquake is related to the area of the fault on which it occurs - the larger the fault area, the larger the earthquake. The San Andreas Fault is 800 miles long and only about 10-12 miles deep, so that earthquakes larger than magnitude 8.3 are extremely unlikely.
  • Waterworld explicitly attributes the Earth's submerged status to global warming, but all the ice in the world melting would produce only a 216ft (66m) rise in sea level, which would suck for low-lying coastal areas, but is not nearly enough to create the ocean planet depicted.
  • Crack In The World from 1965 suffered from a fast case of Science Marches On. It was in line with accepted theory at the time the film was made, but the time the film was released geology was undergoing a revolution, and the Plate Tectonics theory was finally gaining acceptance, making much of the geology in the movie nonsensical as the title went from being regarded as possible apocalypse to normal state of the Earth. (Geothermal energy was also a very new idea at the time of the film; now countries like Iceland use it routinely, and don't need atomic bombs to access it!)
  • In Outlander, the protagonists trek through lava-filled tunnels in Norway. The Fennoscandian Shield which makes up Norway's land mass is one of the most tectonically stable areas in the world, and has had no volcanic activity for hundreds of millions of years.
  • 2012 pretty clearly throws any accuracy out in favor of Rule of Cool. It would be easier to list the couple correct pits than the many, many wrong parts.
  • In Gamera vs. Zigra, the main villain causes multiple earthquakes. The strongest earthquake in the film does a lot of damage, but most buildings are still left standing. This earthquake is said to have a magnitude of 18 on the Richter scale — More than 100,000,000 times more powerful than the strongest earthquake ever recorded. Such a quake is impossible (The scale itself goes only to 10, because anything above that is implausible) and would rend the earth apart.
  • The Core was written entirely with Rule of Cool in mind. Some of the events made it clear that the writers had checked geology books while writing, but the plot makes it easily clear they were completely willing to throw it out when it got in the way of making a ship that went through the mantle like a submarine or death ray gaps in the magnetic field.
  • In Peter Jackson's Return of the King, the destruction of the ring is accompanied by Mount Doom erupting... but it has both lava flows and pyroclastic explosions, while in reality volcanoes generally only have one or the other. Of course, the eruption is the death throe of a demonic sorcerer, so most likely A Wizard Did It.


  • Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth (and its many movie remakes and retellings) is a prime example of this. Verne was more concerned with following the Rule of Cool in this book than the current scientific understanding of the interior of the Earth. His narrator in this story, Axel, is a geology student, and is continually lampshading how utterly impossible what they are doing should be, with his explanations being consistent with 19th century geologic theories, and they still stand up pretty well.
  • There is a The Hardy Boys novel wherein the boys experienced a powerful earthquake that lasted about a minute and threw them off their feet. We later find out that the quake measured "between 3 and 4 on the Richter scale." As any Californian could tell you, you might not even notice a tremor of that magnitude, especially if your attention was focused on something else at the time. And if you did notice it, your first reaction would not be "Yikes, earthquake!" but "That must be a pretty big truck."
  • The Flood series has the Earth flooded by water from the mantle, loosely based on research that has shown that the deep crust is downright saturated with water and hydrogen gas, trapped by layers of impermeable rock above it, according to samples from the Kola Superdeep Borehole. That there's enough of it to flood the planet with 50-60 km of water, or indeed have any way of escaping to the surface en masse, is certainly less than likely — the research that Baxter cites at the end refers to a mass of water-bearing rock, in which the actual water is a small percentage of the rock and trapped within the crystal structure of the minerals making it up, as well as in minute pore spaces (although amusingly enough, the research paper author said he'd been getting letters and e-mails from people asking him if it was the water from Noah's Flood). There's no way for it to physically come up to the surface in a huge flood.
  • Very common in Cthulhu Mythos stories. While some elements such as islands rising from the sea floor might be justified under Rule of Cool, Science Marches On, and/or An Eldritch Abomination Did It.
  • In Wither, the first book of The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren De Stefano, North America is the only land mass remaining because the government destroyed the other continents with some super weapon, so a only a few small, uninhabitable islands remain. The destruction of all the other continents has no ill effect on North America or the environment in general.
  • Lampshaded in the Iron Druid Chronicles the druid Atticus Sullivan made a deal with the Native god Coyote to 'move some earth'. He finds out that this involves him magically placing a gold vein in a specific location where Coyote wants a mine to be built. He protests that while he can do this, it would be geologically impossible for gold to be found in that location. It would be so unprecedented that geologists all over the world will question the basic principles of the science. Coyote does not care.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Terror Of Blue John Gap (described here) has the semi-precious stone Blue John occurring in the wrong part of Derbyshire.
  • Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" misuses the term "carbuncle", as it's actually a term for red garnets cut in a particular style. Given that this is Victorian England we're talking about, a gemstone famous enough to have been named, and the jewelry trade, that it has an incorrect name isn't necessarily an error of research.

     Live-Action TV 

  • The made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel movie Magma: Volcanic Disaster. Volcanoes without precursory activity? Check. Fast moving lava? Check. Lava in places not normally found (such as above the actors head's when inside a tunnel)? Check. Among other things.
  • In the miniseries 10.5, a volcano erupts without any hint of activity and a ground fissure chases a train, and the very title is not possible, among many others.
  • In one Steptoe and Son episode, the pair try to hawk a zircon to a half-blind fence as a diamond, figuring that he won't be able to see that it's fake. However, he "tests" it by smashing it with a hammer. This test wouldn't work in reality; a diamond would break at least as easily as a zircon.


  • Daler Mehndi's Tunak Tunak Tun music video shows major depressions in the Indian Ocean when the Earth is viewed from space.
  • In "Visions of Paradise", The Moody Blues refer to "blue onyx". Onyx is a form of chalcedony and while other chalcedonies do come in blue, onyx does not.


  • Colossal Cave:
    • This game has a volcano in a limestone cave system. While here's nothing preventing a volcanic intrusion from occurring in an area with caves, which might cause magma to enter the cave system, it would not create an actual volcano. Another problem is that because of the presence of the hot magma, the limestone should have recrystallized as marble, or melted to become a calcic igneous rock.
    • Unlike most computer games set underground, the trope is averted in the very first version which was a fairly accurate simulation of the real Bedquilt Cave in Kentucky, with a few fantasy elements thrown in. Later versions (including the first complete version, finished by Don Woods) included more fantasy and magic, including the volcano, but the actual cave layout, being described by an experienced caver, is still quite accurate to the real place.
  • The mines of the Harvest Moon games. Even discounting the one set in a semi-active volcano, you have mines where you can find gold, silver and copper, along with emeralds, rubies, and diamonds on the same level. Older games at least tried to pay lip service to reality by having the precious gems and metals in different mines, but that was abandoned in favor of streamlining.
  • Largely averted in Dwarf Fortress except for some minor issues with Convection Schmonvection and some dwarves being tough enough to drown in the lava before being burned in it.
  • Lots of games have "diamond" weapons or armor, assuming that since diamond is hard, it must be very durable. In fact, diamond crystals have perfect cleavage in four directions and are therefore quite brittle: scratching a diamond is hard, but breaking it is not. (An exception is Mass Effect 2, where the Normandy can be upgraded with armor composed of carbon nanotube sheets interwoven with diamond chemical vapor deposition, crushed into dense layers which compensate for diamond's brittleness.)
  • A number of ores that can be mined in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have real-life names, but are actually fantastic metals that bear little resemblance to that which they were named after:
    • Corundum is depicted as a greenish ore that can be melted into opaque dark gold ingots. Real Life corundum is a crystalline form of aluminum oxide best known as "sapphire" and "ruby" when it is gem-quality. If you were to melt it, it'd turn into alumina, which is white.
    • Ebony is depicted as a rough black ore which can be melted into dull, malleable ingots, which can in turn be crafted into either glassy black armor or dull grey-black weapons. In the lore, it's said to be a super-durable glassy substance with mystical and holy properties. Real life ebony is a type of wood.
    • Malachite in real life is a glassy greenish mineral, much closer to its appearance in Skyrim than the other examples listed here, and is actually an ore of copper. However, actual malachite armor wouldn't work at all well — malachite is a rock, and not a very strong one at that, and as such is much more brittle than metal and would shatter under even moderate force.
    • Skyrim's moonstone is in a similar situation to the malachite, it is fairly close in appearance to the real-life counterpart (a gemstone), but is noticeably more useful for making practical armor.
    • Quicksilver is another name for mercury, which is a liquid at room temperature.
  • Golden Sun: The world is simultaneously based on our own (during a different geological era) and yet is flat with water constantly falling over the edges (no word on giant turtles). Landmasses are apparently afloat on the oceans, as evidenced by a tidal wave at the beginning of the game that causes Weyard's version of India to slam into Australia in minutes, resulting in... very little damage, actually.


     Western Animation 

  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) episode "Turtles at the Earth's Core" the Turtles meet dinosaurs from "beneath the Earth's core". Since the core is, by definition, at the center of the spherical Earth and thus at the point where the planet's gravity pulls to, there's no such thing as beneath the core — pass the core and you'll simply start digging up in the mantle on the other side.
  • Ben 10: Iron/steel, or "bicenthium alloy", is stated to be exceptionally rare anywhere except Earth. This despite iron being the sixth most common element in the universe. Apparently they didn't realize why Mars was red, either.