Things From Movies That Cannot Exist Number 1: The Grapple Gun

The grapple gun is a staple of the action movie genre: simply point the hook skywards, fire and have the gun lift you onto the roof of your local Abandoned Warehouse™ or Deserted Chemical Plant™. The Batman is particularly fond of the Grapple Gun, making it a staple of his famous Utility Belt.

So let’s look at the physics:

Assuming The Batman is a well-built adult male and that he’s wearing a substantial amount of body armour and equipment, a mass of 150kg is probably reasonable. Raising a 150kg weight to the top of a ten storey (30m) building requires about 45,000 joules of energy (45 kJ). If The Batman takes thirty seconds to do the journey then that is equivalent to a power of 1500 W. A motor capable of lifting The Batman’s 150 kg weight is probably about 75% efficient, meaning the motor has to develop about 2000 W.

If we assume that the grapple gun’s motor is no more than 5 kg in mass (for ease of wielding) that gives a power-to-weight ratio* of 400 W/kg. This is within the capabilities of modern electric motors, but only just. Finding a battery that can provide 45 kJ is not difficult; lithium ion batteries can provide about 600 kJ per kilogram. However, they can’t supply that electricity quickly enough, managing only about 300 W/kg which means that the Grapple Gun’s 5 kg motor is going to come with a substantial 5kg battery to match. Then there’s the weight of the gun itself and the super-strong cable to consider …

Whilst devices for firing grappling hooks do exist (I’m told the Battelle Tactical Air Initiated Launch system is good) and powerful electric motors are fairly common, merging the two to create a useful handheld device is beyond the capabilities of physics at the moment. A real grapple gun would be far too bulky, heavy and unwieldy to be of any practical use.

* Of course this should really be power-to-mass ratio, but I’m going to stick with the more commonly used term.

50 thoughts on “Things From Movies That Cannot Exist Number 1: The Grapple Gun

  1. lol silly author. Yes, the power thing is a problem but we’re talking about a fictional universe with advanced technology. Their batteries are better, and you can also consider that it may have a combination between both batteries and some sort of spring-loaded mechanism that takes some of the load off the battery. I definitely think it could exist.

    However, I wish people would stop saying that bulky piece of **** that the Army designed is equal to Batman’s grapple gun. It’s not remotely as cool. Also, in some depictions that grapple guns just launch the line so he can swing, with no reeling mechanism. That could DEFINITELY work. He doesn’t swing enough in the films. Instead, he always goes up and down. More swinging because it’s cool to see.

    Arrow proved that the swinging effects can be done, realistically and beautifully.

    Anyway, author, stop just assuming things. For all your fancy equations, you never once stopped to think about comic book technology being ahead of ours, a mechanical aid to the motor and other such things.

  2. Yeah, silly author….*laugh*

    Actually, Mr Reid, your reaction was much like mine. Now I can agree with the poster about “it’s a fictional universe” but even in it, the laws of physics aren’t going to change. So we should just enjoy it as a fun story but at the same time, realize it won’t work in reality.

  3. It all about Ada Wong’s hook shot; from Resident Evil. The games to be more specific. That beats Batman’s grapple gun any day.

  4. Lithium ion batteries may have the power but not a fast enough output… a problem completely fixed by graphene as for wire they make 300 lbs fishing string that is relatively light and thin… although it that didn’t work spider silk might have the strength enough to hold that kind of load even under the extra tension of a rapidly ascending person with current technology I think it is plausible but may not be developed due to the massive amount of testing and money that would go into the finished product

  5. Sorry I can’t spell :b but I fail to see what you deem nonsensical about my comment

    I did reasearch on current technology and I feel that it at least deserves to be considered a plausible piece of technology

  6. I meant graphine batteries! they can store electrons and can efficiently and quickly deliver them back. theoretical applications include a phone battery that can be full charged in a manner of seconds and not need another charge for days. I do admit that is a good point about fishing wire but perhaps some form of steel titanium alloy wire could work?

    (I haven’t done any reasearch into it but I am confident that some form of material may work even if it does turn out to be spider silk *funny how that would make batman like spiderman :)*)

  7. Ths s btmn… s mlt bllnr h hs lmst nlmtd ccss t th nwst tch nd Wyn ntrprss wld hv rsrch dprtmnt tht wld b dng n dpth stdy nt pssbl ss *y wll ntc n th rtcl tht K nd thr tmtv cmpns hv bn dng sch rsrch*

  8. Sure it exists! Batfans they already have one by byu students and one that u can travel 6fps vertical

  9. While the graphene can’t be used for the battery, maybe the graphene’s strength and flexibility can have it be used as the cable he fires.

  10. Sorry, it’s just not discussed what material the cable was to hold a 210 pound person wearing 100 or so pounds of armor

    (In Universe)
    Or maybe he utilizes Mr. Freeze’s technology to freeze a regular cable as it exits to increase strength, and uses Firefly’s flamethrowers in a mild form when it retracts, so it can again roll up. This could only be for the video game Batman where the cables are normally straight

  11. Ummm…grapnel guns can totally work. And they do. Seriously, look it up.

  12. Noone has made one yet, but I’m suggesting that it could be a suitable material for the cable, and it’s only irrelevant because noone’s brought it up even though the cable material is very important considering it’s necessary size and strength for it to be compact. but sustain carrying hundreds of pounds up a building in a matter of seconds

  13. Graphene is a sheet material, if you wanted a rope then you would want it coiled into a cylinder. Also known as a carbon nanotube.

    You can increase the power discharge (at cost of energy density) by increasing the anode/cathode surface area, such as by using open-cell honeycomb structures. Would provide the force to lift you, but probably not more than a couple of times between charges.

    Still, I guess you could include spare batteries on your utility belt? xD

  14. Not if it’s gas compressed when fired but an electronic power motor which would work

  15. Beyond the capabilities of physics at the moment is a funny phrase, as if the laws of physics are going to change, unless you meant current technology in which case your argument is irrelevant as many movies are set in world’s with different levels of technology where it could be possible, especially for Batman who has billions of dollars and all kinds of advanced technology…

  16. dear mr ried,
    I have read your post and highly disagree and feel I have to point out your arrogance. I have also read the replies you have made which suggest you have nothing to back up your debate with these people or that you are a troll who gets off on making other people upset. but what really stumbles me is that you believe an object like a grapple gun could never exist when you can find videos of people using them on youtube. before you reply to this remark I must tell you that these look and function differently than those portrayed in the motion pictures however in the future when technology advances even a little further the same engineering tactics or at least similar ones could be applied. my point being to say something like this cant exist has been said before and has repeatedly been out proven probably most notably by the wright brothers. as a physicist it is your responsibility to keep your mind open to these possibilities before coming to a big conclusion like this. this comment was not meant to antagonize you in any way and my intention is not to offend you. this is simply an exchange between a physics major to a credited professor.

  17. “I must tell you that these look and function differently than those portrayed in the motion pictures”

    Thank you for making my point for me.

  18. And you’ve successfully just made his point for him too. It’s incredibly arrogant, naive, and probably wrong of you to say that something like this cannot exist when there is already very similar functioning technology out there today.

  19. Man I hope you put more care into research and teaching than you do blogging. Not only are these device possible they currently exist and are for sale. The biggest problem with small portable grappling guns is having sufficient purchase to hold on with both hands. Due to this they are admittedly larger than pistols but guess what your original assertion was that a grapple gun was impossible, not a grapple pistol. Additional if you happen to have someone strong enough to use it with one hand they can become much smaller. As in large pistol size if you offload the power supply to your body, and this is all with current technology. Also capacitors can be used to drastically reduce the weight of the power supply if the device will not need long term power storage.

  20. S bsd n thr cmmnts m t blv Mr Rd s prfssr? Cs h sms lk 3rd grdr wth hw h’s dbtng hs pnt nd tkng qts t f cntxt frm thr ppl’s cmmnts nd syng t’s “prvng hs pnt”.

  21. The real problem is that firing such a gun while you’re free falling, the way Batman does, will likely dislocate your shoulder when the cable snaps taut and and you to rebound.

  22. A single power pack, that is designed to operate the winch, night vision, communications and one or two other items that would not be simultaneously operated, could be distributed around the hero’s kit, and, when he fires his grappnel and hits the Elevator Up button, all of the available power is available, even if the hero must use an emergency backup battery, constructed of thin metal plates and strong acid, which gets used ONCE before it must be jettisoned due to excessive heat. I have a couple of Harbor Freight drills I think I’ll year open and see if I can hear them up. If I can pull 200# straight up 50′, I will consider it a success
    Not setting a time parameter YET, but I will.

  23. Oof. This article has aged so, so poorly lol, especially when you consider not only their existence, but the existence of grappling gun communities dedicated to one-upping each other, going for faster ascension rates and heavier load capacities.

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