Four Hollywood "Survival Tips" That Will Get You Killed

survival tips

Many people think they’ll be adept at surviving just about anything because they’ve seen how it’s done in the movies.
I mean, watching an episode of the Walking Dead will definitely give you all the info you need to survive any apocalyptic situation – right?
I hate to burst your bubble but, very little of what is depicted in most movies and TV shows is actually plausible in a survival situation, and doing some of the things you see on the silver screen might not only set you back – it could get you killed. Here are some of our favorite movie and television myths:

  • Pulling out the knife or arrow: Our hero takes a knife or an arrow to the arm, leg, or shoulder. Bravely, he wraps his hand around the knife hilt or arrow, grits his teeth, and pulls hard, yanking the foreign object out! The day is saved!

Actually, pulling out an object such as a knife or arrow could cause you to bleed out in seconds. The foreign object does damage going in of course, but when it’s firmly lodged in your body, it acts as a plug and holds broken blood vessels shut. Therefore, a foreign object embedded in your body needs to stay there, and be wrapped in place with gauze. The right place to remove such an object is in an Emergency Room, where they can control bleeding.

  • Starting a fire with flint: Movie heroes regularly start fires by tapping two stones together and creating brilliant fires that instantly ignite and turn into roaring sources of heat.

The reality of fire starting is that the more you move away from flammables like lighters and matches, the more skill is required to start a fire. As your fire starting skill increases, you will be able to start fires without matches, but it will require careful preparation of tinder and kindling beforehand.

  • Drinking from a creek: Our hero, exhausted from the fight, kneels down and hungrily laps water from a creek, wetting his head and face in the process to cool down.

Never drink water from a creek, stream or lake without treating it first. It could be teeming with pathogens that could make you extremely sick or even kill you. In fact, you don’t even have to drink it to make you sick – getting a small amount in your eye or nose could be enough to introduce contaminants into your body.

  • Blowing someone away: Our hero carefully aims his pistol and fires, catching the nefarious bad guy square in the chest. As the bullet hits the bad guy, he’s picked up off the ground and flies ten feet backwards, landing dead as a doornail.

The only instantly lethal shot is one that severs the brain from the spinal cord, thereby dropping the aggressor. All other hits, including hits to the heart, give the attacker as much as 30 seconds of life before they bleed out. In these cases, attackers can still shoot or stab you before they die. In self-defense, cover the bad guy with your barrel until you are sure he’s down, realizing even a shot to the heart could mean he lives long enough to still do you harm. It’s called the dead man’s ten seconds – ten seconds of life after a mortal wound.
Can you think of any other Hollywood survival tips that will get you killed?  Leave them below.

Want more tips? Check out these great articles on our site:

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Jan 13, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

62 Responses to :
Four Hollywood "Survival Tips" That Will Get You Killed

  1. SC Belle says:

    My pet peeve is the stopping in the middle of escaping from danger to talk about FEELINGS. If time is important, get moving. The couple of minutes talking about how you feel could get you killed. Better to have the FEELINGS discussion when you and your family are safe.

    1. Jim Curtis says:

      Amen to that SC Belle. Have a talk about feelings and better sight picture when it’s safe. (or when it’s “Miller” time if you prefer)

    2. Adam says:

      I have a feeling in situations like that . Its called fear and adrenellin.

  2. Stu says:

    Since this seems to be a wide open invitation to discuss any survival information that may sometime turn out to be useful, I have had about a dozen bear encounters, about 50% in Alaska, and mostly grizzly. Here’s the most effective advice I know of. Arm with a 12 gage shotgun loaded with slugs for bear protection. A large handgun, such as a .44 magnum is only about 50% as powerful as you will need. If a bear attacks (and only if it attacks; no need to rile up a bear that is only curious), do not aim for the brain or the heart. The brain is only two inches wide, and it is protected by an additional two inches of bone. Most likely your bullet will bounce off. The heart is a little bigger, but it is way in there behind about two feet of meat and bones. Also a heart shot will not stop the bear for 30 seconds, or so. So, the bear is attacking. What do you aim for? The shoulder on the downhill side. This is a nice big target. Here’s the desired effect: as a minimum you want to deflect the bear from his trajectory, which is directly at YOU. The retarding force on one side, plus gravity, plus breaking a few bones (if you are lucky) will deflect the bear, with more luck maybe even tumble him off his feet. Now he’s got to get reorganized. This is when you chamber another shot and start to finish him off. Please be mindful that it will take several shots, maybe the whole magazine. “Bears is tough.”
    Cheers! Stu.

    1. Jim Curtis says:

      Holy Toledo! I’m gettin’ an education…

    2. Dennis says:

      That is very interesting and something I hadn’t considered.
      Thanks, Stu!

    3. snowman8wa says:

      Nose art on a CH46 on our 1st WESTPAC…..the “Bear” being the USSR.
      “Some Days you eat the Bear…
      Some days the Bear EATS YOU…”
      Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis

    4. jaydent says:

      I have been fussy a few feet from bear several times once even between a mother and her cubs. I don’t carry a gun and I have never been hurt. Stand your ground. Yell scream and tell that bear who is boys they’ll run.

    5. kyle says:

      This is from my bear guides in British Columbia that I hunted with. They told me that 12 gauge with slugs for bears is a good way to get killed. One guide took a 12 gauge into the woods after a wounded bear and hit him with a couple slugs when he charged and the guide said that the slugs didn’t slow him down. He said if he hadn’t had a backup with a .338, he would have been mauled. (This is from two very long professional bear guides in British Columbia, it is not my own experience speaking, but they were quite serious). Just FYI.

  3. spike says:

    I just love the way the throw away their mags, and guns as if they will never reload them again. What, never heard of a holster or dump pouch? Same with walking over weapons from freshly killed enemies while carrying their almost empty pistol. Hey!, grab his handgrenades too. Oh, I forgot the pistol will shoot for another 10 minutes without reloading. Then it gets thrown on the ground too.
    Entering a building or room with your gun hand stretched straight out and passing the corner is a good way to have your hand smacked down and you gun knocked out of your hand.
    they constantly violate the rules of safe weapon handling.
    hiding behind a 1/2 inch piece of wood stops few rifle calibers and only some handgun rounds.
    If you are the hero and your shot, you never lose much blood, get dizzy, or faint from loss of blood. It always misses a vital organ and you can muster enough fortitude to ignore the pain and fight some more.
    Tourniquet are a method of LAST RESORT to save a life at the expense of loosing a limb. If it is an artery, you have to make it soooo tight to stop blood flow into the limb that the limb is going to die. Once on, it cannot be removed. Veins injuries are just the opposite. A tourniquet will increase blood pressure upstream and cause MORE bleeding.

    1. left Coast Chuck says:

      Back in the old days before ballistic gel the method of proving bullet penetration was firing into 1 inch pine wood blocks. Penetration was measured in the number blocks penetrated. IIRC, a .22 long rifle would penetrate 8+ 1 inch blocks of wood. Plywood is tougher than pine wood, but not that tough. Not having fired through a door frame I would still suspect that unless the .22 bullet hit a nail or a screw in the frame and was deflected, it and any other firearm projectile would easily penetrate a door frame and a hollow core door.

    2. kyle says:

      Recently took a class from a special forces medic, a 2 day gunshot treatment class. He advocated use of tourniquets and said that one soldier had had a tourniquet for 27 hours and not lost the limb. He said the remote conditions of Aghanistan had totally given the special forces medical community a completely different perspective on tourniquets.

    3. Tactical medic says:

      Spike, what you said about turniquets is completely wrong. They are by no means a last resort. In fact, if you have heavy bleeding that can not be controlled by pressure and elevation, slap on a KAT! There is no evidence to say that it causes the loss of limb, in fact, a turniquet can be applied for up to 6 hours without any nerv damage what so ever. It will not cause a “backflow of bloodpressure” if you are going I to shock, your bloodpressure with plummet and your heart rate will raise to compensate for loss of blood.
      On the swat team, we ALL carry TWO KAT turniquets.

  4. Woody says:

    One of my ‘peeves’ is the threat goes down, the individual either turns away, thinking everything is now OK, or the individual lowers the gun and walks over to the threat and looks at it casually. NEVER assume the threat is dead/ended. keep paying attention to your surroundings (including the downed threat). Never lower your guard. Never go anywhere alone if you are in the field or in a threat situation.

  5. Rev. Scott says:

    Wow! Riveting article & comments. They totally shred the simplistic guts-n-glory videogame image of enlisting to defend America’s and the IMF’s global corporate jingoism & energy interests, excuse me, “our national security interests” overseas..
    Thank you to all our soldiers who’ve fought America’s real security threats–as well as thank you to all soldiers who, when stuck in a crappy pointless corporate-driven fight, struggled to stay as honorable & humane as possible while surviving & preserving their teammates & winning under fire..
    I understand so much is demanded as a split-second danger response.
    I also understand–and fault–the long-term megacorporate greed strategies that thrust us into so many twisted situations.
    The only way to remedy those global economic & energy domination strategies might be to note what Einstein once said, “You must arrive at a solution from a higher level of awareness than the thinking that caused the problem.” That’s a bad paraphrase because I aint no Einstein, but it’s true.
    Looking forward to Part Two!

  6. Darrell Lynch says:

    I have never seen nor heard of a no-messy way to eliminate an opponent. Even the proverbial brain shot often has the body squirming, convulsing, kicking, etc. A gun shot wound usually explodes with blood, and even a .45 auto will NOT knock most men off their feet. In short, there is no way to eliminate a determined opponent without a graphic scene. If you are not fully prepared for that, better stay to home. It’s fine to throw up later, but once the deed is done, get the hell out of there. Then, the grabbing the guy around the head, giving a quick twist, will really piss him, and not only WON’T break the neck, but likely WILL get YOU killed. Oh, and you also won’t see the opponent say a nice speech while croaking. Most likely it will be much worse.

  7. Lawrence says:

    I like the one where you stab someone somewhere around the stomach area and they are dead. A knife can be a deadly weapon, but few people know how to use one. Note the prison idiots that stab each other about 30 times and someone still manages to survive. Blade is most effective when you strike a vital spot or cut areas that will help incapacitate and therefore help win the fight.

  8. Ron says:

    Well ever thing you watch on boob tube , you should question ! I attempted once to put a choke hold I learned and you on these MMA,contest and the person I applied this choke hold on more or less agree to allow me to apply it , and you see these guys on these MMA matches , go out game over ! Now this guy was twice my size and he carried me around hanging from his neck and shoulder cough once and turned red in the face and white , until i seen he wasn’t going down any time soon and I let him go ! So beware of what really works for one person may not always work for you or me !

    1. John Manhardt says:

      Any Martial arts move must be practiced and drilled repeatedly and used in sparring before you can use it successfully in a practical situation. Learning submission holds from Youtube or Hollywood is like, well, its like learning survival skills from Hollywood.

      1. joe says:

        there is a problem with sparing, most teach you to pull your punch, unless you train/spar using full force all the time, when in an actual fight, your body has been trained to pull the punch and that is what will happen. Never spar if you must pull you punches, use protective gear and go full force, or forget it.

    2. Mac says:

      You have to understand, sleeper holds are actually extremely easy, but you can’t do one fast like that unless the person you are doing it too, has a large adrenaline rush. A person can be out in seconds if the blood flow to the brain is stopped during an adrenaline rush. Hence why it works so well in an MMA fight

  9. Pete says:

    Good advice all around. Good article. The art of building a fire, is the art of building a fire. The principles don’t change much with a change in ignition. First is tender (stuff that lights fast), Bow and drill to create a coal to light the tender. Flint and steel, mostly requires char-cloth to catch the spark to light the tender, matches and lighter can light the tender directly. Note that to use a bos and drill requires indurence muscles. If using a magnesium bar don’t use your knife blade, use a piece of broken hack-saw blade, the saw part creates fine ganuals of magnesium and the back side of the hack-saw blade throws showers of sparks easily. I put the magnesium block and piece of hack saw blade on a cord around my neck. I used the cardboard from the blister pack, the magnesium came in to make a sheath for the hacksaw blade, weighes almost nothing. Saves the knife blade edge for more important uses.

    1. Rick says:

      Starting a fire using a spark from flint & steel is made easier using a readily available item: #0000 steel wool. The steel wool catches the spark and begins to glow. Add a little breath to it and it will glow hot enough to light your dry wood tinder. Another home-made fire starter is made by soaking cotton balls in petroleum jelly. Store them in a 35mm film canister or other airtight container until needed. Great items that don’t take up much room in your 72 hour bug out kit.

      1. Vicki says:

        re: the 0000 steel wool, If you happen to also have a couple of C or D cell batteries you can stack them and touch a small strip of that steel wool to the top and bottom of the batteries. It will immediately flame up and if you put it on dry tender you can easily start a fire. I have done this and I’m awful at fire starting!! Stay safe all

        1. Tex Arcana says:

          Using a 9volt battery with the 4-aught (4-0, or 0000) steel wool will work as well, and is even more compact.

  10. Pete says:

    Regarding water. If near a clear running stream, back away from the water about 6 feet, dig down bellow the water level. Let hole fill and settle. Use cloth, bandana or triangle bandage or coffee filter to keep the particulates down. Either scoop out the water to a pot for boiling, or use a water purifier or both. Don’t take un-necessary chances.

  11. KingRichard says:

    I walked with a friend in the Swiss Alps…
    I was a student at a hotel school, inches from the bottom of the ski slopes. In the spring, everyone in the school went out walking in the beautiful, idyllic Alps… green grass, spring flowers, ice melting, creeks of water beautifully serenading with its drips and drops everywhere… I bent down to take a sip of this cold and fresh water when my friend stopped me… he made me stand up, and without a word pointed up the mountain… 1/4 mile or so, up the hill.. beautiful Swiss cows were grazing. I was confused. Yeah? I asked…
    “They don’t go home to take a piss”, he said, as I burst out laughing, watching the Taiwanese students drink the water a couple of 100 feet away from me.
    Good lesson…

  12. Justice says:

    Stabbing into base of the neck at a slight upward angle and twisting is an effective way to quickly end a knife fight. It definitely wont be pretty though.

    1. Gabriel says:

      I am no “expert” but I do like history, it was actually common in medieval times to hold the knife down like that in either a fight or to assassinate. Not saying its better but it worked for them they were in quite a few more knife fights. Also they stabbed more than slash as knifes were not as sharp to the common man as they are today. Also they trained to use it that way, just like we train for knife in an up position today. Which is more or less effective? Dunno…

  13. Sargint Rock says:

    You nailed it.

  14. Adam says:

    Pistol shots flooring an attacker over 50 foot away. A pistol is one of the most inaccurate weapons for a combat situation. Just a twitch of a trembling hand can send a bullet off target by 5 foot at 50 feet. While we’re on the subject of pistol myths, the myth (often put around by peopel in response to police shooting in the UK were I’m from) that you can shoot an attacker in the arm or leg thus rendering a non lethal incapacity shot. What rot, you risk hitting a bystander if you try this, and try being precise when someone has lead flying your way. Take my word for it, it is terrifying.
    Completing my rant on pistol myths, the idea someone can take a bullet wound to the leg or arm and carry on one handed firing back. A puncture wound to one of the limbs produces a sympathetic nervous reaction cuasing a temporary shut down of nerves mostr likely cuasing the recipeint of the wound to collapse in shock. For drugged up, mentally ill or extremely hyped up crazies, ignor my last sentence.
    Stay safe y’all
    Adam, former British Soldier now Border Officer

    1. Ed Cabanas says:

      Thank you for that insight, Adam, and thank you for your service, Sir!

      1. Adam says:

        Respect to my friends across the sea Ed. We may ware a different uniform and speak slightly different , but the hopes , fears , moans and friendships of all servicemen and women are teh same.

        1. Tex Arcana says:

          Y’all talk funny… 😉

  15. Rob says:

    I love it when there is a confrontation between the good guy and the bad guy and both are armed and the good guy says drop the gun which is at that moment aimed at him. Great way to get shot! Better to shoot first and apologize to law enforcement later.

  16. Stormhawk says:

    Yeah, and I love all those scenes where you can just take the dead guys clothes and wear them. You do know that when a person dies one of the first things to “go” is the things holding in the crap and piss, right? Gets messy.

  17. jaydent says:

    Sleeping anywhere. Sleeping under the stars in the clothes you spent all day sweating in sounds fun. In reality if you try to sleep in the clothing you had on all day You are going to freeze. Depending on where you are in the world without any form of shelter you will wake up soaking wet. Unless you are in a very dry environment and there the night temp drops top unbearably cold. Be prepared your not Clint Eastwood.

  18. Suz says:

    I have heard however that if lost, and becoming dehydrated, drink the water! Better to require treatment for contagion after you’re rescued than to expire from dehydration.

  19. Leviathan says:

    Cutting [limb] and sucking venom from a snake bite.

  20. ricci guajardo says:

    This one could kill you. How about sucking snake venom from a bite sight, by mouth. Bad idea.

    1. Tex Arcana says:

      You’re supposed to spit the venom out after sucking.
      Truth is, we were taught this in summer camp back in the ’70s, because snakebite was a real possibility at those camps.
      The way it’s supposed to work is: make two 1/4″ “X” cuts over each fang puncture, then suck a mix of venom and blood (because of the cuts), and then spit it out every time! Of course, you shouldn’t have any cuts or sores in your mouth, and you might still get ill, and the bite victim might get REALLY ill, but you both will live.
      Of course, I was a kid at the time, so YMMV. But it’s better than letting the bite victim die, especially if you can’t get to medical attention.

  21. Jim says:

    Seems like you can survive more than 3 hours without shelter…. That one doesn’t make sense

    1. sarah says:

      It’s 3 hours without warmth.

      1. sarah says:

        Also, added is 3 minutes without oxygen.

  22. Anthonyk747 says:

    Number 3 is an exception, because if you’re in a very hot dessert or a climate that’s generally draining you of every ounce of water you have, and the situation is dire enough, then I’d rather be drinking water that could give me a grave sickness and 3 days to live, than not drinking it and live for 3 hrs. But that’s just me.

  23. stephen says:

    #1 is BS watch naked and afraid they have to stay for 18 day with no clothes food or water they get 1 item a piece . some choose wisely some get stupid stuff like goggles . the smart ones get flint . watched an episode where it was 8 days before they got the fire started . anyway they made it but the guy lost like 30 pounds the girl lost about 20 if it wasn’t for her they would not have made it she made a lobster trap and caught them some food.

  24. Tony M says:

    1)While it may LOOK all warm and cozy to build your campfire in the open ground under a tree, the truth is that your fire will most likely case the snow canopy to melt and end up crashing down on top of you and your fire.
    2)The whole thing of getting shot in the shoulder and getting back up to fight will never happen. I’ve BEEN shot and it hurts like hell. You are far more concerned about trying to stop a bleed out than a fight at that point.
    3)IF you can manage it, (VERY big if),a knife strike at the base of the skull (from behind) at an upward angle can sever the brain from the stem if you jerk the blade side to side and twist (if possible). This will not be pretty or heroic and the sounds made will haunt you but it works. (please note that you will need training both in stealth/stalking and hand to hand combat tactics)

  25. left Coast Chuck says:

    There is a book by Paladin Press that recounts the fights between actual duelists when dueling was in vogue. As I recall the book, there were few cutting implement duels where anyone walked away without some severe cuts. That’s why the practice started of halting the duel at the first blood. I can remember reading about one particularly gruesome duel where the “winner” killed his opponent but had most of the fingers on one hand cut off. If you would like to read about real knife and sword fights and the results you can probably still get the book from Paladin Press. I’m not shilling for them and don’t care whether you buy it or not.
    Speaking of twisting the knife. I believe it is in that book where one of the duelists after he stabs his young opponent in the lung recounts to the narrator that as he withdrew the blade he twisted the blade. There was a technical name for the technique which I don’t recall now, but it turned a wound that would not have been fatal into a fatal one with a long lingering death. Fun and games for all.

  26. Jim N. says:

    Here’s a good one – Fight scenes always involve several strikes to the head and nobody gets knocked silly. We all know one decent shot to the melon is a fight (and sometimes a life) ender. Nobody can slug it out for three+ minutes and not suffer serious injuries.

    1. Bruce says:

      Absolutely Jim.
      My personal favorite is tire iron, bat or steel pipe. Big whack, right across the melon and the dude gets back up after a moment or two of groaning.
      I’ve been hit in the head by the meat hook of a +300# defensive lineman…while I was wearing a football helmet and I still saw stars. A swift hit to an unprotected head by one of those metal devices would end the fight almost immediately.

  27. Jon says:

    You can poison yourself by sucking out snake venom

  28. Mark says:

    Never heard the shelter part. The mantra I was taught started ” 3 minutes without air”.

  29. James says:

    Yeah, I have to agree with everyone. #1 makes no sense at all. I’ve been fishing in the middle of Lake Erie for 8 hours and I’m still here to tell my tale.

  30. chase elliott says:

    Uh 3 hours no shelter? Better not take the kids to the park I don’t want to risk our lives!

    1. Justin says:

      The point to 3 hours without shelter is that if a storm comes in and soaks you with cold rain you could get hypothermia quickly. Likewise 3 hours baking in the sun when it’s 115 can make you pretty worthless.

  31. Tart of Darkness says:

    How realistic were the killing scenes in “Breaking Bad”? I ask because many of them were very gruesome and appeared to be pretty realistic. I know some of the things in the show have been debunked but I’m curious about the direct killing.

  32. Gerry Haverland says:

    Your statements are about as true as anything Can be! As a Paramedic for some 20 years, especially the first is a life saver! The one about water too is a life saver. I have seen guys start fire with flint, but it took a long time even for an expert with all his supplies together. Keep up the good training!

    1. Gerry Haverland says:

      I forgot to mention the gunshots! I saw a man hit 23 times with Hollow point 9mm and hardley altered his advance! An older Officer stepped up with a .45, and shot one time, and the criminals legs turned to jello. Could have been part blood loss too, but the sub-sonic huge bullet did the trick!

  33. Shane says:

    Three hours without shelter is correct in the rule of threes… but it is situational. The idea is that if you are exposed to temperatures near freezing for a ppx three hours, hypothermia will set in. This can happen much faster obviously if you are wet or unprepared or it could be much longer if you are dressed properly but the idea in the rule of threes is that you need to quickly prepare yourself with shelter, then water, then food for survival.

  34. Mike Bordo says:

    I follow the Mozambique Drill: “Two to the chest, One to the head, and even the Jolly Green Giant is dead.”
    The SAS has a practice of putting two in an enemy body every time you walk by…

  35. Will says:

    How about when individuals stab a person/zombie/etc in the head as easily as if they were stabbing a couch cushion? And then…they pull the blade back out as if it were nothing. Extremely unrealistic.

  36. Lori Linde says:

    Sucking the venom out of a snake bite. If you’re not absolutely sure of the type of snake it could kill the rescuer. Better to put on a tourniquet above the wound and transport as quickly as possible.

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