Although his movie dragged its feet somewhat getting into cinemas following a three-month delay, Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the fastest characters in all of pop culture. The spiny blue speedster, formerly confined to video games, animated shows and pencil cases, is now standing toe-to-toe with the bona fide blockbuster big league.
However, although Sonic now has movie star credentials, he’s entered a whole new world of superpowers, meta-humans and professional speedsters, who operate on another level entirely. Back in the Green Hill Zone, where Sonic would race mostly against himself, or occasionally an overweight moustachioed megalomaniac, he was the fastest thing on two legs. But when compared to the masked men and women of the wider world of pop culture, the hedgehog suddenly has serious competition.
So… who’s the fastest speedster of them all? Sonic the Hedgehog director Jeff Fowler and Sonic himself, actor Ben Schwartz, have their own thoughts (which they share throughout this article).
“It matters because in the test he was clocked at 300 [miles per hour], in the movie he’s clocked at 3-something,” says Schwartz. “But there’s a scene when he runs to the Pacific Ocean and back in, like, two seconds. So … sometimes it will be this much, and sometimes the things that he does, like that ocean run, are insanely fast.”
It seems the only way to settle this question definitively is with a race. Now, across the various mediums of entertainment, speedsters are pitted against one another in races all the time. The most infamous competition tends to be between Superman and The Flash, although they almost always end in a tie because DC can’t afford to bruise the ego of either speedster.
Ego actually goes a long way to determining who our starting contestants will be; there are countless super-powered speedsters throughout comics, movies and beyond, but we’re only interested in the contest between the ones who shout the loudest about it. Sadly, this does not include Tim Allen’s character from the movie Zoom: Academy For Superheroes, who, it’s claimed, is “faster than Superman, Quicksilver and The Flash combined”. This is clearly anecdotal evidence at best. Nice try, Tim.
THE STARTING LINE-UP
Factoring in top speeds, pop culture pull and attitude, our starting line-up looks like this:
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- Lightning McQueen from Cars
- The Flash
- Silver Surfer
- Dash from The Incredibles
- Wonder Woman
Next, we need to determine the conditions of the race. This is where things get tricky. Even before we fire the starting pistol on this thing, it’s clear there is already a gulf between the slowest and fastest contestants. This means that a conventional eight-man race over distance from A to B would make no sense, because a) we’d be comparing apples versus oranges, and b) the aforementioned egos wouldn’t allow it. Also, there is no slow-motion camera on Earth that’d be able to film it, so we have to take a more non-traditional approach.
The race, then, will be one around the world, the full equatorial circumference of planet Earth, around 40,000 kilometres, which is around 24,901 miles give or take a few mini-marathons here or there. The event will not be a direct head-to-head contest, but an individually timed sprint: the speedster who clocks the fastest time round the world wins the title of Fastest Speedster in all of entertainment. The conditions are set, the contestants are ready. Let the hypothetical race begin!
“He’s faster than all those other chumps. Flash? Forget about it. Quicksilver? No way. It’s all Sonic baby.” — Sonic the Hedgehog director, Jeff Fowler
8th Place — Lightning McQueen
Race time: DID NOT FINISH
“I am speed,” he says. “Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer,” he says. The Cars roadhog made a merchandising empire off the back of such bravado, but the simple fact is, although he scores top points for confidence, Pixar’s motormouth McQueen finishes dead last in ability.
He starts well, roaring off the starting line in a cloud of tyre smoke, delighting the onlookers. Although he quickly hits his top speed of 200mph, it quickly becomes apparent that Lightning McQueen has some unique barriers that will prevent him from winning this race. For starters, no other contestants need to contend with traffic — the first time McQueen gets stuck in a jam, his limitations are self-evident.
The delays mount up. Regular pit stops. Breaks for oil, sleep and crazy PG-rated antics with his automobile friends. And then, when the horizon stretches out ahead of him as he approaches the coast, it hits him: Lightning McQueen is no motorboat, and he’s unable to cross the Atlantic on four wheels. “I am speed,” he mutters to himself, as he revs up and down the gangway of the leisurely Disney cruise liner that’s taking him across the ocean.
If it were a straight road race around the world, and he had unlimited stamina and fuel, McQueen could have technically completed the journey in just over five days. But, after almost two weeks of travel on road and sea, as he leans over the edge of the ship to puke motor oil into Southampton harbour, McQueen decides to call it a day and quit. He doesn’t even so much as leave his cabin before turning around and sailing back to Radiator Springs, although he is faintly aware of the booing emanating from the gathered Brits who came to see him touch down on their tarmac. “I am speed,” he sobs, softly, broken.
7th Place — Dash from The Incredibles
Race time: 48 hours
Another speedster who is not lacking in confidence, young Dashiell Robert Parr also has the gift of youth: the Incredible boy is untested at the highest levels, and has so far limited his super-speed to schoolyard pranks with occasional bouts of supervillain vanquishing. How fast can this kid really go when he pushes himself?
We’ve calculated that Dash’s top recorded speed is somewhere between 190 and 230 miles per hour, as proved when a school security camera captured him moving 10 metres in one frame of video i.e. less than one-tenth of a second. And that’s without a warm-up: instant acceleration and deceleration is nothing to be sniffed at. It’s also worth factoring in that Dash is encouraged to hold back on his super-speed in an attempt to blend in with the normals. Unleashed, Dash could be a real contender, and tears off the starting line.
“Sonic is faster than Dash. Because I LOVE Dash, but the way that I’m thinking about it is Sonic can get to the ocean and back in that one scene, and that changes everything.” — Sonic actor, Ben Schwartz
Indeed, it’s quickly discovered that Dash’s top speed is well beyond expectations, given his ability to run across water, a feat which science suggests would require a human to travel at speeds of around 650mph. This comes in handy: there’s no waiting in queues at the harbour for the Parr youngster, he just hops and skips over the water into the sunset, legs-a-blur.
Even when adding in 10 hours for rest stops and snooze breaks, Dash continues his run-rate of 650mph and registers a truly incredible round-the-world time of 48 hours. Outstanding, I’m sure you’ll agree, and it’s just as well, given that he had to be back at school first thing on Monday morning.
6th Place — Wonder Woman
Race time: 7 hours and 10 minutes
You’d expect Wonder Woman to be angling for a podium finish, given that she’s one of the world’s most famous superheroes and quite possibly the fastest female on Earth. She’s a model specimen — quite literally, she was modelled out of clay by the Greek Gods themselves — and boasts super-speed along with heightened senses, increased strength and some really cool accessories. However, even though she can call upon the speed of Hermes, Wonder Woman finishes some way off the pace set by the true speedsters.
It’s important to consider that Diana Prince’s abilities vary wildly in the comics: sometimes she can keep pace with The Flash and Superman, sometimes she’s content with mere Olympic-level speed. The most consistent facet of Wonder Woman is that she can outrun a bullet, so we’ll go with that as a metric. The average speed of a bullet is around 1,700mph, so if we’re conservative and say she’s twice as fast, that puts Diana at a not too shabby speed of 3,400mph.
Although Wonder Woman has not yet proved that speed over long distances, it’s fair to assume that her Amazonian training — not to mention having Zeus as a father/personal trainer — means she could hit that top speed and keep that pace without breaking too much of a sweat. Diana traverses the width of the equator in a touch over 7 hours and is home in time for tea, but not before having to convince the race’s independent adjudicator that she didn’t just hitch a ride in her Invisible Jet.
5th place — Sonic the Hedgehog
Race time: 6 hours 29 minutes
Cometh the hour, cometh the ‘hog. This race was all set up in Sonic’s honour, it’s his face on the programme and his reputation at stake. Fail to perform and it’s back to the MegaDrive with you; go mano a mano with the big boys and you’ve got a lifetime of speedster convention work to fall back on. Gotta go fast, that’s the motto.
On a good day, one not ruined by portly evildoers or echidnas, Sonic has been known to run even faster than Mach 5 on his home turf — that converts to a terrifying high speed of 3,840 miles per hour. That’s faster than anyone needs to run. If anything, it’d be an inconvenience — who knows how many indigenous species to the Green Hill Zone Sonic has splattered on his morning run?
“He’s pretty fast. He’s certainly faster than the speed of sound, because I think that’s the ‘Sonic Boom’ of it all. That would probably be the best way to give it some context in earth’s ‘miles per hour’ which I think is like 767mph; something around there.” — Jeff Fowler
The round the world race is run in a little under six and a half hours, with Sonic playing to the crowd by breaking the sound barrier several times over. When he crosses the finish line 389 minutes after he started, the race officials haven’t even had time to finish watching the last season of Game of Thrones. On your feet, men, there’s drama to be had! Relatively speaking, anyway. With Sonic finishing just 41 minutes ahead of Wonder Woman, we finally have speedsters of similar skill! Why, it’s practically a photo finish!
Fifth place isn’t quite a good enough finish to have Sonic’s planned movie trilogy greenlit, but it’s also not a total embarrassment. The hedgehog lives to race another day. Besides, his mind wasn’t really on the race at all — Sonic was more focused on the box office tracking for his opening weekend.
“It’s a superpower, so any opportunity you can have to portray that in a fun way, like the frozen moment stuff which we have a lot of fun with in the movie. To show what it’s like to be that fast and to do it from Sonic’s perspective. Literally to see the world slow down and watch Sonic moving through it in this really cool way.” — Jeff Fowler
4th Place — Quicksilver
Race time: 2 hours and 43 seconds
We’re getting into superhuman territory now. Suddenly, the leisurely two weeks it took to track Lightning McQueen’s progress seems like a distant memory — these guys are practically skipping around the world in their lunch break. Quicksilver isn’t even taking the race seriously, he’s turned up in jeans. Jeans!
With a smile on his face, the kind that suggests he’s going to enjoy some super-speed based shenanigans in the time it takes the rest of us to blink, Pietro Maximoff reacts to the starting pistol and instantly disappears out of sight. When the dust has settled, it becomes apparent that before he even started the race, Quicksilver had time to run to a local newsagents, purchase a marker pen and draw a moustache and glasses on the race official, who does not sanction such buffoonery. That’s an official warning.
Quicksilver is a mutant, which ordinarily would put him at an unfair advantage (as long as you ignore the decades of persecution), but anything goes in this race: it separates man from mutant, speedster from schoolkid. The boy’s entry form lists his average speed as Mach 5, similar to Sonic the Hedgehog, but he’s undersold himself on purpose.
Studying footage of the time he outpaced a kitchen full of security guards who had already opened fire, mathematicians clocked Quicksilver at a top speed of 4,091 metres per second. That’s a frightening 9,151 miles per hour. That’s almost twice as fast as the fastest jet ever made. The race is over and it’s the first sub-three hour planetary round trip, and he probably spent most of that time mucking around. Just think what you could do if you applied yourself!
3rd Place — Superman
Race time: 0.1 seconds (approximately)
A hushed awe descends on the race crowd. That’s him: Actual Superman! He’s taken time out of his day of fighting crime and righting wrongs to run in a stupid race! As it turns out, he’s not taken all that much time at all.
Now, Superman more than most has had his abilities vary throughout different mediums and character iterations. On more than one occasion, Kal-El’s flight speed has been described as superliminal, which means he’s technically faster than the speed of light. Superman Prime can allegedly fly several thousand times faster, so long as he’s charged his batteries in Earth’s yellow sun for an appropriate amount of time. Heck, in one comic, Superman flew so fast, he accidentally flew into infinity, whatever that means. What we’re saying is that he’s inconsistent, and not entirely encumbered by reality.
“If you compare him with Superman, there’s literally a film where Superman made the world go backwards because he was so fast. I don’t know – I’m going to have to go for Sonic for all of them because I play him.” — Ben Schwartz
But, as with Wonder Woman, we need to find a relatable speed, something that everyone can vouch for. And, if people remember Superman for anything, it’s not his weird not-moustache he didn’t rock in Justice League, it’s the time he flew around the planet’s axis so fast he turned back time in 1978. Scientists calculated that Supes would have had to fly at the speed of 660 million miles per hour to perform such a feat. He’s a big game player.
The sound of the starting pistol hasn’t even reached the ears of the fans at the starting line, and Superman has already completed the race. Did he… did he even move? Blink and you missed him. Slow-slow-slow-slow-slow-motion cameras prove that, yes, Superman really did just travel around the globe in approximately 0.1 seconds. How very Superman of him.
2nd Place — Silver Surfer
Race time: 0.0 seconds
Hold the victory parade, we have a new intergalactic challenger! Silver Surfer is built for speed. He has a rad surfboard. He is wind resistant. He doesn’t have a hair on his body. And he never cracks a smile. This guy gives new meaning to the word ‘speedster’.
Silver Surfer is insanely fast. Almost unquantifiably fast. At this point, the entire race mechanic is rendered meaningless, and it has become pointless trying to record a race time that is incomprehensible using regular mathematics — the race officials look like they’re seriously considering jacking it all in.
All you need to know is that Norrin Radd is capable of travelling 31.536 million times faster than the speed of light, and that he once travelled across the entirety of the universe in an instant when trying to wrestle the Infinity Gauntlet from the fist of Thanos. That should give you an idea of why putting him on a starting line with Lightning McQueen would be kind of unfair.
For Silver Surfer, there is no place in existence he cannot reach in any recorded measurement of time. He can basically teleport. The question is not how long it takes Silver Surfer to get somewhere, but more when he wants to get there. Yet, somehow, it’s still a silver medal for the Silver Surfer…
1st Place — The Flash
Race time: N/A
Ludicrous speed. That’s how fast The Flash can travel. He’s so fast, he can run faster than time itself. He once outran death, as one does. So, yes, there is little point in comparing him to, say, Sonic the Hedgehog. This dude is a meta-human in a league of his own. It’s not even close. There’s no point in prolonging the outcome any further. The Flash wins. The Flash always wins. He could run around the Earth ten times, do his weekly shop, file his tax return, enjoy a meta-snooze and still beat his opponents using only one leg.
“Oh boy, I wish I knew more about the Flash’s mythology and what his capabilities were. But I would think just on general mass alone, The Flash is probably heavier, right? There’s a little more surface area for wind resistance. Sonic is smaller, curls up into a little ball, flies.Well, not literally flies, but you know! I’m going to go with Sonic.” — James Marsden who plays Tom Wachowski in Sonic the Hedgehog
It was always going to be The Flash’s race. It was a set-up from the start. The Flash routinely picks up speeds of around Mach 10 — the only reason he doesn’t go faster is because that’d start to affect the environment around him. That’s right: he’s doing us a favour by going at a canter. Flash completed his race before most of his other competitors’ brains had even sent any signals to their arms and legs. He’s walked it.
How fast is Flash, really? Well, his fastest recorded time in the comics saw him evacuate half a million Koreans to a spot 35 miles away in the 0.00001 microseconds it took for a nuclear bomb to explode. Estimated roughly, there and back, carrying an average of 1.5 people each time, Flash ran a distance of 70 miles, 354,667 times. That’s over 24 million miles. In 0.00001 microseconds. That’s 10^(-11) seconds. I don’t even know what that means. Apparently it’s 2,482,669,000,000,000,000 miles per second, which is 2.5 quintillion miles per second, which is a lot of miles per second. It’s 13 trillion times the speed of light, if you’re counting.
So, yeah: The Flash wins by a nose. Sorry to all of those who attended today’s race, tickets will be refunded.
Sonic The Hedgehog hits screens on February 14.