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8 Movies Where CPR Performed Miracles (But Would Be Fatal In Real Life)

Movies and medicine have a dicey history, with one insisting on maximum dramatic impact and the other insisting on "facts," "reality," and "human physiology."

For most people CPR only exists in movies and TV. A character experiences a massive trauma (electrocution, drowning, poison, etc…), they’re pulled to safety and someone dramatically starts pounding on their chest, breathing into their mouth, yelling at them to “Live, damn it, LIVE!!!”

There are a few coughs, eyes open, the victim comes to and all is well. Sometimes they even jump to their feet and carry on as if nothing happened.

This couldn’t be further from reality.

Life Support Treatments: Side Effects And Consequences

While cardiopulmonary resuscitation is designed to keep you alive, it's not necessarily designed to keep all the bones in your chest in one piece. The American Heart Association states “the chance of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is near zero for a victim who does not immediately receive high-quality chest compressions… followed by additional therapy within minutes.” However, they also report that conventional CPR can cause fracturing of ribs and/or the breastbone (sternum) in at least one third of cases.

“If the patient survives, the likelihood of needing surgery for a broken rib or sternum is small,” said Dr. Archelle Georgiou, founder of Georgiou Consulting and medical expert for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St Paul. “However, the healing process is painful and takes about six weeks. There is limitation in activity — mainly because it hurts like heck to even breathe! — and the discomfort can require strong pain medication in some individuals."

Dr. Georgiou also explained that even without broken ribs, it's highly unlikely that an individual would be ‘back to normal’ with the salient observation that “someone who suffers from the conditions or situations [listed below] isn’t partying the next day.”

  • Heart attack and cardiac arrhythmia
  • Drowning
  • Suffocation
  • Poisonous gases
  • Head injury
  • Drug overdose
  • Electric shock

For more info on the genuine benefits and drawbacks of Life Support options check out this article: “How To Evaluate Life Support Treatments And What They'll Do To Your Body

But, still, nothing gets our heart racing more than a great big-screen resuscitation. So let’s put aside reality few minutes as we recall our favorite cinematic CPR moments. CLEAR!

The Abyss

The Scene: Long story, but in James Cameron’s underwater epic, Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) intentionally drowns in freezing water to slow her heart rate. Her estranged husband Virgil “Bud” Brigman (Ed Harris) won’t let her die under any circumstances. (Photo Source: 20th Century Fox)

CPR To The Rescue: The crew nearly gives up hope after medication and jolts from the defibrillator prove ineffective. But everyone knows that in movies drama and emotion trump medicine. Most doctors might not recommend slapping and yelling at someone until they come back to life, but they don’t have the lung capacity and piercing blue eyes of a motivated Ed Harris.

Jurassic Park

The Scene: As if the T-Rex and Raptors weren’t enough of a problem, Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Jurassic Park’s owner’s grandchildren must climb an inactive electric fence before the power cycles back on. Timmy (Joseph Mazzello) wasn’t nimble enough and the jolt of electricity propels him off the fence and renders him unconscious. (Photo Source: Universal Studios)

CPR To The Rescue: Dr. Grant gives mouth-to-mouth, chest compressions, some encouragement and before you know it the kid is right as rain.

Casino Royale

The Scene: A poker game turns deadly for James Bond (Daniel Craig) when one of the players poisons his drink, sending him into cardiac arrest. At first he drinks a lot of salt to induce vomiting, but that’s not enough to save him. (Photo Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

CPR To The Rescue: If Bond were driving a Camaro, he probably wouldn’t have survived. Heck, if were driving any car made by General Motors in the past decade he may not have even made it to the casino alive. (Too soon?) Luckily, Bond’s Aston Martin DBS V12 had everything a super spy needs:

  • Real-time link-up with Mi6 to diagnose his condition
  • Needle that counteracts poison
  • Portable defibrillator to get his heart started once it stops
  • Beautiful, brilliant woman (Eva Green) who comes to the rescue when Bond screws up and passes out

Mission Impossible III

The Scene: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) electrocutes himself in an attempt to disable a tiny bomb implanted in his head. This forces his wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) to protect his unconscious body from a horde of armed bad guys before having to revive him. (Photo Source: Paramount Pictures)

CPR To The Rescue: Before electrifying himself, Ethan gives his wife, who happens to be a hospital nurse (lucky break, right?), a crash course in killing. After the bad guys are dead she gives him some chest compressions, mouth-to-mouth and then keeps punching him until he springs to life as if being woken up from a nightmare.

Matrix Reloaded

The Scene: Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) gets shot and is falling from a tall building. Neo (Keanu Reeves) saves her from the deadly fall and whisks her to safety. She’s on the verge of death so he must act fast. And digitally.

CPR To The Rescue: This won’t be in any CPR handbook. Since The Matrix is a computer program and not real life—long story if you’ve never seen it—he reaches into her body, pulls out the bullet, and then pumps her heart with his clenched fist until it beats again. It’s definitely the least gory, unless pixels make you squeamish. (Photo Source: Warner Home Video)


The Scene: Since Jason Statham’s ticker will explode if his heart rate drops, he must remain constantly active at all times. It’s basically the movie Speed, where a bus will explode if it drops below 50 miles-per-hour, only in a man’s chest. (Photo Source: Lionsgate Films)

CPR To The Rescue: Pick one. He uses drugs, electricity, and other manic thrills to keep his adrenaline up… and don't even get us started on the sequel Crank 2: High Voltage. One of the scenes actually involves medical professionals: He holds a hospital doctor at gunpoint forcing him to shock him with defibrillator paddles.

A Very Brady Sequel

The Scene: Greg Brady (Christopher Daniel Barnes) tries his hand at surfing only to have the board toss him into the ocean, rendering him unconscious. (Photo Source: Paramount Pictures)

CPR To The Rescue: Greg’s sister, Marcia (Christine Taylor) is there to administer mouth-to-mouth. While this should be a heroic moment, it continues the running gag that Greg and Marsha are in love with each other. While the siblings aren’t blood related, still, ewww!


The Scene: After an intense night of, um, preparation for Beerfest, Phil "Landfill" Krundle (Kevin Heffernan) passes out in his refrigerator. (Photo Source: Warner Bros. Pictures)

CPR To The Rescue: Luckily his wife comes down to find him, calls 911, and performs CPR. She doesn’t have to do much work to revive him and ends up with an unfortunate, but quite funny (and gross), surprise waiting in Landfill’s throat.

BONUS: The Avengers

"Hulk SMASH puny grip of death!"

For more info on the genuine benefits and drawbacks of Life Support options check out this article: “How To Evaluate Life Support Treatments And What They'll Do To Your Body

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