New superhero movie “LUCY” based on stupid urban myth of stupidity

A trailer for the upcoming superhero movie Lucy starring Scarlet Johannson and directed, written, and co-produced by Luc Besson, looked pretty damn awesome until I reached 1:13

That’s when Morgan Freeman, portraying a professor and scientific researcher who should have known better, said, “It is estimated most human beings only use ten percent of their brain’s capacity.”

The 10% myth has been around for decades, cited in both fiction and non-fiction as an explanation for supernatural occurrences. A misunderstanding (or deliberate misrepresentation) of neurological research in the late 19th century or early 20th century, it usually goes something like this: “We only use ten percent of our brains, so what’s really going on in the other ninety percent? Who knows?”

Well, neuroscientists know, for one. In college, I took a neurology class as part of an advanced biology element of my psych degree. Though I studied it twenty years ago, I can still draw you a map of the mind and tell you which bundle of neurons helps you read, speak, fall asleep, move your right hand, feel a kiss, process what you see, and make decisions. There’s no part of the brain that isn’t used.

Credit: Nucleus Medical Art, Inc./Getty Images

Credit: Nucleus Medical Art, Inc./Getty Images

In the trailer, Lucy progresses from 10% to 28% and ZOMG what would happen if she reached 100%???!??1!! Suddenly she would have telekinesis and be able to perceive living cells and the transfer of data over wireless networks.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Cambridge University researchers suggest that we’ve reached the full capacity of our limited human minds already. If Lucy is going to see living cells and data streams, she’d need more than just her max “capacity.” She would need new eyes, more neurons, larger amounts of energy and oxygen, and the psychological ability to process all of the new input without going insane.

Read a really long but cool article about humans with amplified intelligence.

OK, Lucy is fiction, I know. But I wish Luc Besson had employed a pivotal plot point with a little more plausibility. He might as well have Morgan Freeman say that medicine is based on the balance of our four humors, and that blue stuff in Lucy’s belly is a new “fifth humor.” (Or would that be fifth element?)

If Lucy is carrying some kind of DNA-altering biotechnology that gives her super powers, which is what it appeared to be, then great. Why add the “ten percent” crap? It’s so patently false, perpetuates an urban myth, lends credence to dubious New Age gurus, and makes a supposed scholar in the film sound like an idiot. I’m going to have a hard time suspending my disbelief enough to enjoy this movie.

Ever have that problem? Ever know too much about a scientific subject that it ruins a book, movie or TV show for you? What’s your science pet peeve in science fiction?

* * *

2012-jenJ.L. Hilton is the author of the Stellarnet Series published by Carina Press, including Stellarnet Rebel (January 2012) and Stellarnet Prince (November 2012), and is a regular contributor to the Contact-Infinite Futures blog and She also creates cool wearable things that are featured in the books Steampunk Style Jewelry and 1000 Steampunk Creations. Visit her at or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads and deviantART.




  1. Yes, actually, I had a moment just like what you’ve described. The Presidio (movie with Mark Harmon, Sean Connery, and Meg Ryan) annoyed the crap out of me, only it was over a matter of science instead of science fiction: Diamonds refract light at the same wavelength that water does. If you drop a diamond into clear water, it visually disappears. So, during the first few minutes of a movie, when a murdered MP is found near an empty water cooler jug and an overwatered potted palm, I instantly knew why she’d been killed–the crooks were after the diamonds in the jug.

    I had to wait 40 minutes for the movie to catch up. Damn, that was second hardest 40 minutes of my life to not scream anything. The first hardest? Childbirth. Luckily for me, the finish line for the movie and delivery pretty much arrived after 90 minutes. 😉

  2. It annoyed me also, but I managed to forgive it since they said “capacity”.

    The myth talks about using 10% of our brain, as if 90% of our brain are either never used, or aren’t used simultaneously, of which both are untrue.

    But only using 10% of the brains potential? Or only using 10% of our brains “storage” capacity? No one has really found an upper limit for these, so I guess it’s OK.

    Also, the Cambridge scientists you referenced talked about our brain power reaching its potential as an organ, but not about us actually using it. Again, untapped potential.

    Although that being said, they we’re probably referencing the myth, and I probably won’t watch it until its on TV a year or two later anyway 😛

  3. I watched that trailer the night before reading your post and noticed the same thing. I was like, oopsie. It definitely would have been possible to explain her superhuman powers without going there.

    Regardless of accuracy, though, the “10%” aspect makes for an effective marketing hook. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Besson’s whole idea for this film was based on it. Maybe he even knows it’s inaccurate but wanted to use it as a framework anyway. Only the box office numbers will indicate if he made the right decision.

    >makes a supposed scholar in the film sound like an idiot.

    Probably only to a limited portion of SF fans. Those who don’t know it’s inaccurate won’t question it, especially if the film makes it *seem* plausible.

    Seeing how fantastical the plot is, the inaccuracy didn’t bother me that much. If something like it does bother me, then maybe I’m not the audience for that particular story.

    And the things that ruin a book, TV, or film show for me usually have nothing to do with the science–whether it’s accurate or inaccurate. The truly problematic stuff (for me) tends to crop up before the science content even becomes an issue. 🙂

    It’s good to keep having these conversations about science in mainstream shows/movies because over time, collectively, they can have a positive impact in the way science is portrayed onscreen. Look how far we’ve come already! If we can combine scientific accuracy with effective marketing hooks on a regular basis, that’d be pretty swell.

  4. Just found an article about LUCY and the 10% myth by Matt Brady, who teaches Physical Science and Honors Chemistry, with a Master’s in Marine Biology and a PhD in Physiology/Pharmacology. If anyone’s interested, it’s a really good read that explains a lot about the brain.

  5. I always took the 10% thing to mean “at any given time.” Like, you’re only using a portion of your available resources because they’re all that’s required. But, if you could utilize a larger portion of your resources for a short burs of time, then you might unexpected results in creativity or attentive reasoning and focus. (Kind of like in movies when there’s 3% of engines left, which is tiny, but if they redirect it all to one engine for a hail Mary moment, then it’s enormous because that one engine isn’t actually supposed to pull that much energy.)

  6. Jeremy · · Reply

    Glad someone caught it (in fact I see several articles calling out this bullsh*t!). It just goes to show, Hollywood thinks we are stupid. The one that makes me cringe is in Star Trek 2009 when they make LEONARD NIMOY say “129 years from now, a star will explode and threaten to destroy the galaxy.” This is such a stupid line, spoken by a sci-fi ICON! Stars explode all the time, and in no way could ONE destroy an entire galaxy. Shame on everyone involved for not knowing better or thinking so lowly of the public.

  7. Dan Bredy · · Reply

    Hollywood tries to employ only as much science as they think they can get away with. Either that or they employ the worst science consultants in the world , if they employ them at all, or just completely disregard the intelligence of the average movie goer. I tend to think its the latter. I once heard an interview with someone who had been consulted by a director about a particular scene — even after the consultant had suggested that scientifically the shot made no sense the director went ahead with the shot because ‘ it looked cool’. Sorry can’t recall exact details, but I wouldn’t doubt that this happens all the time in Hollywood.

  8. Basma Azzamok · · Reply

    The 10% brain capacity is not entirely true, but it does have some truth to it. Humans do in fact only use 10% of their braid VOLUNTARILY!!!!! This part of the brain consists of what your think, memorize, fell, etc. The other 90% controls sending messages to your body’s limbs and organs, along with making sure that reflex actions, such as breathing, are being carried out. Since the brain in a way controls cells, if you have voluntary power over the part of the brain that carries out this process, then you hypothetically have control over the cells in your body. You can’t control your appearance, because that is genetic and is encoded in your DNA, but you can, for example, speed up the healing process of your body by reproducing health cells to replace damaged ones or control cells that are defective and may cause you harm, such as tumors.

    1. Having control over the cells in your body would mean having control over your DNA.
      What you think, feel, etc. is not voluntary. These things happen whether you choose for them to or not.

    2. Stephy · · Reply

      for the most part, everything is correct

  9. Kelly · · Reply

    I was annoyed by the plot of this movie the second I saw the preview.
    Thank you for sharing my feelings.

  10. JaDe · · Reply

    I was upset when I saw them talking about 10% as well in a preview of the movie since a lot if Americans are gullible I mean my own mother believed that and she’s Registered Nurse and my aunt as well until me the 17 year old had to tell them other wise if adults believe the nonsense you know children will! It was just so unnecessary to add that stupid myth

  11. thank you. and to be honest there has been no movie up to this point that has struck me as so abashedly stupid as just the fucking previews of this one make it look. other movies, scifi or otherwise, that present fantastical ideas at least present them as fantastical – and even oft-times have workarounds to explain why these fantastical things are possible such as setting them in alternate realities, universes, etc. no such happenings here though – just pure stupidity for the masses to eat up.

  12. Don’t see it if you don’t agree. They make movies about Lego people too, and last time I check it was not actually true that Lego men run around alive either. It’s a movie. Don’t bash it to make your self sound smarter. Congrara on studying the brain, no one cares. Just watch the movie or don’t. If you want to watch movie that is factual and scientifically correct, watch a documentary. Not a sci-fi action adventure more. I don’t think the producers of “Lucy” ever stater their movie was full of truth and real facts

    1. 2L84F8 · · Reply

      “Don’t see it if you don’t agree”

      First of all, how are you suppose to either agree or disagree to something you haven’t seen?

      Second, are we not allowed to express our opinions if they don’t agree with something?
      How is hollywood going to know that we feel humiliated by their ignorance if noone or nothing tells them this.

      Think about this before you speak in a similar matter again 😉

      I found the movie ridiculous and it was too bad because it could have been a great movie. The end was also very anticlimactic, I mean… a usb stick? Yeah ok. Thanks.

  13. Steph · · Reply

    Funny….even when using “the other 90% of her brain” ScarJo still can’t act.
    For me the movie loses all credibility when Freeman repeats the 10% myth… I just can’t take it seriously. If this theory were true then brain damage wouldn’t effect anyone. Hollywood seems to have reached a whole new level of stupidity.

  14. Casey · · Reply

    I won’t be seeing this movie for exactly that reason. i because I friggin’ hate that 10% myth and it irks me that Hollywood keeps using it

  15. I am with you all the way. That’s just too stupid and it ruins it. Even Morgan Freeman probably won’t be able to redeem this one.

  16. Marc · · Reply

    Just goes to show you that the best science fiction is based on good science fact. That’s what made the original “Star Trek” series so endearing to its fans (think flip phones). I’ll probably see this movie for its cg-enhanced “kick ’em up” scenes and car chases. Guilty pleasure.

  17. yeah the trailers for this movie really piss me off

  18. I’m still going to watch this movie. Anytime they reference the 10% theory I’m just going to plug in a more believable scenario. “she is now using 28% of her brain…” (she has now grown another brain in place of her left breast with 28% mass of her skulls brain.”

    It well get less believable towards the 100% as her breasts will likely not increase in size during the duration of the movie. At that point brains will be growing in place of her ass.

  19. 10% means to think, do creative work. The rest is taken by deciphering what we see, hear and so on. But from what I see daily I dont think most people even use 1% of their brains to think.

  20. Robert · · Reply

    i cant stand how every movie released either portrays science as a cause of disaster like spreading a disease or creating a mad robot or even worse when they completely base the movie on misconception and don’t follow basic rules of science. so Lucy, i will not be paying to ever watch your stupid inaccurate movie.

  21. And I am sure that you also take 1+1=2 for granted! 😉

  22. redneck · · Reply

    I actually enjoyed the movie “limitless” even understanding the truth about the 10% concept. I go to movies for entertainment and can forgo actualities for the sake of a good time IF the writers can explain things in a way that makes it possible and build rules with cause/effect around an alternate reality (Limitless / first Matrix/…). I just seen Lucy today with very low expectations and still feel like i wasted my money. There was no sign of practicality or any hint of “Hey, I see how this could be possible”. Somehow any given human simply become greater than a god. I wonder what happens when human number 2, 3 , 4, and so on have the same abilities from an available drug at the same time (they never stopped the guy/company that created it in the first place). *SHRUGS*

  23. George · · Reply

    See a 1968 film called CHARLY starring Cliff Robertson. This was based on a short story by Dabiel Keyes ISBN 0-15-131510-8 frrom 1966.
    It’s a story of a retard working as a janitor who is given an operation to increase his intelligence. He eventually surpasses his tutor but this is sadly, only temporary. Very sad film and book.
    Deserves to be re-released as the author was far ahead of his time regarding prejudices towards disabled people.

    1. The story was “Flowers For Algernon.” Written in 1958, published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. A longer novel was later published in 1966. For more info:

      I read it MANY years ago, but I don’t recall if it mentioned the “10% of the brain” concept. It was based on IQ. Charlie goes from an IQ of 68 to 185, which is high but not beyond the natural range for a human. Not into Lucy territory. 🙂

      Yes, a very good story well worth reading or re-reading, or seeing the movie. Thanks for the comment!

  24. Well, my father is an electrical engineer, but before he was that, he was a fan of sci-fi movies and tv shows. He still is, as am I, and we have watched many films together. Anytime something remarkable happens in a movie because of some crazy-awesome stuff that happened with the electrical current, or usually some bad guy gets electrocuted in a surprising way, etc., dad’s always right there to call BS. It pisses other people off to no end, and they constantly say, “Ugh! Just watch the movie!” But I absolutely love it and tell him to never stop, partially because I enjoy how much smarter my father is than the filmmakers, and partially because I know that one day I will be watching a movie somewhere, and he will not be around to explain exactly how ridiculous it all is, and how it would never happen in real life, and I will miss him.

    1. Love your perspective on your dad. Thanks so much for commenting!

    2. taimdala · · Reply

      I love your dad!! Good on him for calling out the BS. Next time I’m at the movies, I want him sitting beside me. I could learn a lot just listening to what he says. The information would just add another layer to the movie for me and give my brain something else to chew on. (It’s always ravenously curious …) But I can see how others wouldn’t like having their brain on all the time like that.

      I have a similar love/hate relationship with box art at the game store. Given my family’s hobbies, I’m in there quite a lot and the way the box art is composed and the way the subject is lit …. Auuugghhhh, my eyes! They bleed! Impossible light sources everywhere, physics laws broken right and left. Mind, the textures and the rendering are coming along nicely, but … please. Lighting is everything. Of course, this sort of thing happens because it’s what the client wants. The client wants it because the client’s standards for realistic art is lower than mine, apparently. So, we get the box art that makes my eyes bleed.

      But I digress …

      It’s rather like Hollywood thinking we’ve all flunked out of 6th grade science class and wouldn’t notice the science gaffes because not enough people scream about it when it happens. Or boycott a movie that’s obviously gotten it all wrong.

      When something like this movie comes along, I have to decide if I want to encourage that kind of moviemaking by giving it my money to see it … or taking away the incentive to make such films by witholdling my money. I confess, I gave the monster my money for this movie. I wanted to see how badly (or how well) they’d gotten the science,

      Having seen it, I’d say that they could have had a great movie without the brain-altering chemicals and mad brain powers angle. Just say that Lucy got in touch with her inner Black Widow/Assassin and leave it at that. I’d willingly pay to see an espionage/assassin movie without arguing the science or the math.

  25. very stupid movie

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