Tag Archives: physics

Hi! In movies people getting shot often are sent “flying” from the impact. I assume it is greatly exaggerated, but was wondering if there’s some truth to it.

At an extremely abstract level? Kind of, but not really.

The short answer would just be, “no.”

At a more complicated level, a bullet will bleed off some kinetic force, transferring that into the victim as it passes through them. Which will shove them lightly.

Basic Newtonian physics tells us that for each action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. What this means, in this context, is the bullet will strike with the same amount of raw kinetic energy as the shooter experiences in recoil. Which is to say, not much.

Certainly not enough to create the effect you see in film. Bullets are dangerous because of how they deliver their force, not because of how much force they have.


How much force would a shotgun inflict on a target? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be as much as the kick, but would it at least be enough to knock a person back a step if they don’t brace themselves? Does the distance greatly affect it as well?

No, the force inflicted on the target is going to be exactly the same as the force felt in recoil. This is basic Newtonian physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The bullet goes one way, and the gun goes the other. Propelled apart by rapidly burning powder. That’s recoil.

Now, there’s a huge difference in how that force is distributed on impact, but the danger from a gunshot (or shotgun blast) isn’t the total force it’s how it’s delivered.

Distance does effect it, drag (or more accurately friction) will slow the projectiles down, bleeding some of the force. But this shouldn’t be a huge concern for a shotgun most of the time.