Hefty Inaccuracies in Die Hard: With a Vengeance

Note: This content has been revised based on updated information about the cargo capacity of the trucks used in the film.

“Damn, this is heavy.” – Samuel L. Jackson as Zeus Carver

die_hardHe said it well. Gold is a dense element. Its immense value per gram makes it the perfect stuff to jam into a vault. In a few rooms, you can store the revenue of a nation. Try doing that with pictures of Ben Franklin; you’ll find you need a warehouse.

Much to the joy of Hollywood, there really are vaults gleaming with bricks of the stuff. But, could you really rob one the way that it’s done in Die Hard 3?

No.

The value of the gold in the film is $140 billion. This is how much Simon claims to be stealing, though a few bars got left behind at the vault excavation. We can assume that Simon’s men were able to load almost all of the gold into their 14 dump trucks, because Simon says the dump truck John McClane hijacks contains $13 billion worth of gold.

Actually, dividing $140 billion over 14 trucks, an estimate of $10 billion per truck would be sensible. So either Simon knows that one has a little extra (it was the last one after all) or he’s just inflating the number to try and get McClane to take the bribe.

By weight, even $10 billion in gold couldn’t fit in one truck.

The dump truck McClane steals is either a Mack R685ST or an Autocar S64U (They use both in the action scenes). This sort of dump truck can generally carry between 20 and 30 tons of material. For our estimate, we’ll use 25 tons. The movie was released in 1995, and during that year, gold was valued at around $385 USD per troy ounce, or approximately $5,600 per pound.

That means that by weight, the truck in the film could hold about $280 million in 1995 gold. And $10 billion would require almost 36 dump trucks (like the one in the film) to transport.

The total $140 billion in 1995 gold would load about 500 trucks as used in the film… a far cry from the 14 shown in the movie.

scales.jpg

By volume?

Of course, maybe the director (John McTiernan, who also helmed the technically inept Hunt for Red October) was thinking of volume. You know, if somehow you were able to fill a dump truck to the brim with gold bars, and weight was not the limiting issue.

I can’t be certain of all the dump trucks used in the film, but for this example, let’s assume the truck can hold 12 cubic yards of material (That’s a fairly standard amount, when loading dirt and other loose material). Let’s also assume that all the gold bricks were perfectly stacked, with no empty space.

This gets you close. I calculate that if this entire space was filled with gold, it would weigh about 390,000 pounds. In 1995 dollars, that’s about $2.2 billion per truck, all the way to the top.

You could, but boy would it be heavy!

Calculated by volume, 64 trucks would get you to the $140 billion mark.

Of course, using volume measurements is downright crazy. You just can’t put 200 tons of gold into a truck designed to carry 20 or 30 tons.

Suspension (of disbelief)

It’s the movies, so it seems like we should hold out tongues and feign acceptance. $140 billion in 14 dump trucks? Sure why not. That’s what we told ourselves before we started doing the math. With a disparity this great, it’s interesting to see the numbers.

Possibly remedy

The film makers could have doubled the number of trucks, and gotten away with saying they contained $8 billion. Of course, that wouldn’t be enough money to wreck the national economy. Then again, with the way we throw money at the middle east, perhaps $140 billion wouldn’t cripple us either.

The alternative—filming 500 loaded dump trucks escape from Manhattan on a weekday afternoon—would raise even more eyebrows among the city’s millions of commuters.

Next time, I hope he turgs the sucker. Today, John McTiernan has recognized the mistakes concerning the weight of gold. Of course, being 35 times off the mark, is bad even by Bruckheimer standards.

For more on Hollywood’s magical power over weight and volume, read Cockeyed.com’s “How Much is Inside a Million Dollars.”

11 thoughts on “Hefty Inaccuracies in Die Hard: With a Vengeance

  • December 3, 2007 at 10:59 pm
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    holy crap, john. spend a few minutes to do some calculations before you spend months to film an inaccurate movie.

    Reply
  • January 2, 2008 at 10:29 pm
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    I just had the chance to watch DH3 again this past weekend and every scene with a dumbtruck was pretty much ruined for me .. oh, except for the ones with “Jerry” the truck driver. “You wanna know the most interesting thing about tunnel 3?” “Sure Jerry” “THE VALVES!”

    Reply
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  • November 6, 2010 at 4:22 am
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    Actually, I did all the math and get $3,812,413,920 from 14 dump trucks. A typical large, 3-axle dump truck can legally carry 20,000+ lbs of payload.

    For simplicity’s sake, I calculated 1 cubic meter of gold per truck, weighing 19,300kg or 42,549lb. (Gold weighs 19.3g/cm^3.) The truck could still move with twice the normal cargo weight, but would be very slow (and illegally heavy – [also not able to get up the ramp out of that hole in the ground]).

    A normal 18 wheeler is usually limited at 80,000lb total, and it is a believable stretch that a beefy 3-axle truck could get down the road at ~60,000lb. (Maybe they did a few modifications after they stole the trucks.) Trucks are overloaded all the time, and can easily move with more weight.

    So, really, there is no way that they could get more than about $4B with 14 trucks with the 1995 price of gold, and even that’s a stretch. But, that is a lot more accurate than what is “calculated” above.

    [Side note, if you use a more accurate cargo load of 27,500lb for a 3-axle dump truck, you get ~$2.3B from 14 trucks]

    Reply
    • January 23, 2016 at 9:45 pm
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      Turns out I had this wrong! The article has been revised for the trucks to hold between 20 and 30 tons, following research with some dump truck drivers.

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    • July 16, 2016 at 4:10 pm
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      Not sure what kind of trucks in which country you’re referring to, but here in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, class 8 (by GVW classification) tri-axle dump trucks can and do carry 50,000+ lbs all the time. (22-23 metric tons or 25+ short tons.)
      14 cubic yards of asphalt weighs over 55,000 lbs which I’ve seen dump trucks at my work do on an almost daily basis. Nevertheless, if you stuck to that weight you still wouldn’t even manage a couple of cubic yards of solid gold, which isn’t remotely close to what the movie portrays.

      Reply
  • January 3, 2011 at 7:48 am
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    Math so easy a preschooler could do it. Not really, but good detective work here! Makes me want to see the movie again!

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  • February 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm
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    this is totally wrong. although the math is correct and the amounts of gold are probably right that truck would haul a lot more than 6000 lbs. the above with the 27,500 is pretty close for a tri-axle. those truck were tandem axle which would be a less. not totally sure how much less but with tri-axle trucks some where between 360 – 400 trucks to carry that amount depending on how overloaded you ran them. so probably 450-500 tandem trucks

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    • January 23, 2016 at 9:46 pm
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      Turns out I had this wrong! The article has been revised for the trucks to hold between 20 and 30 tons, following research with some dump truck drivers.

      Reply
  • February 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm
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    More importantly how would he sell $140 billion dollars worth of gold and every American agency knows that he stole it. Especially considering they stole other countries money as well.

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  • February 12, 2016 at 12:21 am
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    coming back to this because of a reddit post

    the skid steers being used to load are New Holland L250. specs say lift capacity is 600lbs. But I’d bet you can get 1000 out of them if you don’t care about the machine lasting. 27.3lbs for a standard gold bar means they might be able to lift 40ish at a time. The movie shows them lifting 5x that number

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