Movies based on true stories always carry another level of intrigue. We go in expecting to learn something. But sometimes all we learn is that Hollywood has butchered history. And it’s happened in some of your favorite films.
Think you know the real stories that inspired these movies? Prepare to be shocked by the liberties that have been taken, even in some of the classics.
Here are some of the very worst offenders.
If there’s a constant in American war films, it’s this: America usually gets the glory. Oftentimes, that’s well justified. Who wants to see the Germans or Japanese portrayed with any sympathy in World War II?
But that doesn’t mean we need to be stealing the Allies’ accomplishments.
That’s exactly what happens in U-571. The film credits the U.S. Navy with capturing the first Enigma machine, which the Germans used to send coded messages. This was a British operation, not an American one. It also occurred months before the U.S. even entered the fight.
Tony Blair called the movie “an affront” to the British sailors who fought. Oof.
Shakespeare in Love
Historians consider Shakespeare’s life to have been rather dull—what’s known about it, anyway. But that didn’t stop Hollywood from turning it into a movie.
In the film, Joseph Fiennes’s “Will Shakespeare” has a passionate affair with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Viola. It gives him inspiration. And it probably never happened.
The inspiration to write his most famous sonnet, Shall I compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? came more likely from an affair he’d had with Christopher Marlowe, not Viola.
Shakespeare also knew the tragic ending to Romeo and Juliet; it was an existing story he’d adapted. He certainly didn’t struggle to figure it out as he went.
Gangs of New York
Like any passion project, it took Martin Scorcese many years to get Gangs of New York off the ground. The result was an Oscar-nominated epic that alerted the world to Daniel Day-Lewis’s transformative superpowers.
But its central story? All fiction.
While William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting is a composite of two historical figures, neither was the target of a revenge plot forged by the son of a man he’d killed years earlier.
The film’s primary gangs—Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Dead Rabbits” and Day-Lewis’s “Natives”—did exist. Did they ever battle over the Five Points turf? Nope. Irish immigrants had control of that. Facts, shmacks!
Argo is funny, tense, and exciting. The 2012 Best Picture winner established Ben Affleck as a directorial force in Hollywood.
As a piece of history, the film about a phony movie crew trying to escape Iran, is rather phony itself.
Those closest to the conflict agree that Canada, not the U.S., contributed to the vast majority of the extraction plan. We don’t see that in the movie.
The edge-of-your-seat suspense? That was all fiction. Said Mark Lijek (one of the six Americans rescued): “While the movie presents myriad dramatic complications and last-minute twists and turns, the plan actually went off without a hitch.”
They Died With Their Boots On
Released way back in 1941, They Died With Their Boots On stars Errol Flynn as George Armstrong Custer. History has not remembered Custer well.
Known for his hubris, the cavalry commander famously met his end at the hands of Crazy Horse’s Lakota tribe. The movie gave us something else.
Entering into the Battle of Little Bighorn, Custer is a seen as sympathetic toward the Native Americans. He even pens a letter pleading their case before reluctantly galloping to his demise.
In the film, Custer knows his death is imminent. It’s seen as self-sacrificial. Historically, he was brash, arrogant, and held no warm feelings toward his Lakota adversaries.
Leave it to Michael Bay to turn a watershed moment of American history into sappy melodrama and garish battle sequences.
While the movie was a hit at the box office, Pearl Harbor was loathed by critics. Not surprisingly, historians didn’t like it, either.
The action in the movie bore little resemblance to the actual event, said historian Lawrence Suid. U.S. pilots did not shoot down as many planes as they do in the film.
Curiously, the Japanese are not depicted as particularly villainous. Why not? Well, Disney was behind the film, and they were relying on the Japanese market. They refused to risk offending moviegoers in Japan.
Going into a Roland Emmerich flick expecting to be educated about the past is a mistake. The director behind Independence Day is a popcorn filmmaker, not an historian.
Never was that clearer than in 2008, when 10,000 B.C. was released.
Set in prehistoric times, the movie gives us dozens of spectacularly spurious CGI animals. The sabertooth cats in the film are much larger than they were in real life, and “terror birds” went extinct about forty million years ago.
Worst of all, the movie depicts woolly mammoths building the Giza pyramids! They were constructed about 4,500 years ago. Mammoths were long gone by then.
This one is rather upsetting. A lovable ‘90s classic, Cool Runnings is the funny and inspiring story of the first Jamaican bobsled team to compete in the Olympics.
Sadly, the movie doesn’t do history much justice. A former member of the team called it largely fictitious.
Yes, they were at the 1988 games, and did come in last place after crashing. But that’s about it. They were not failed sprinters, as the movie depicts. In fact, they were Army recruits who were handpicked by a pair of Americans.
Also, they weren’t outcasts when they arrived. Rather, they were well liked.
Tales of mountain men and the Old West ought always be taken with a grain of salt. Man and myth are conflated, and legend is born.
The saga of Hugh Glass—The Revenant—is a gorgeously shot film. But if you thought it all seemed implausible, you weren’t alone.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character miraculously survives a bear attack and seeks vengeance on those who left him for dead. That part may be true. But Glass never got his revenge. In fact, he showed mercy to the men who abandoned him.
Glass did not have a Pawnee wife or son, either. These were liberties for the sake of emotional impact.
Remember the Titans
Disney hit it big with the beloved Remember the Titans. Denzel Washington’s integrated bunch overcomes prejudice and wins it all for T.C. Williams High’s inaugural 1971 season.
Too bad all that heightened drama was invented for the movie, bearing little resemblance to the actual story.
Not only was the Titan team dominant from the outset—they outscored their opponents 357-45 for the season—but the racial strife was blown way out of proportion.
According to former players and teachers of the Virginia’s school, there were no protesters or racist girlfriends. Blacks and whites had co-existed peacefully at T.C. Williams for six years prior to 1971!
James Cameron’s Titanic dramatized the ill-fated passenger liner’s tragic voyage like never before. It was a $2-billion success, and remains one of the biggest box office hits of all time.
Believe it or not, the doomed romance that crossed the class divide, was a work of fiction. And that’s not all.
While Cameron went to great lengths to match details like furniture and silverware to what was actually on board, he did one thing that enraged people.
In the film, First Officer William Murdoch panics and shoots two passengers he believes are clamoring for a spot on a raft. Ashamed, he then kills himself. There’s no basis for any of this, and Murdoch’s descendants demanded the scene be removed. It wasn’t.
The location of Jimmy Hoffa’s body remains an enduring mystery that may never be solved (he’s unda Giants Stadium!). Jack Nicholson plays the teamster boss in the 1992 film, Hoffa.
Despite Nicholson’s powerful performance, historians were unimpressed overall. Everything in the story is a lie or half truth, they’ve said.
Danny DeVito’s Bobby Ciaro character is fictitious. He plays a central role as a decades long close confidant to Hoffa. There’s no indication that Hoffa ever had such a sidekick.
Hoffa’s murder is also conjecture… probably. In the film, he’s taken to a busy restaurant and shot in the parking lot. That would have been way too risky for the mob.
Robert Redford sure has a penchant for making period films, whether he’s starring in them or directing them.
In Quiz Show, he tells the story of an investigation into a fixed game show. Redford has admitted the movie is a mix of fact and fiction.
Rob Morrow’s character—a Boston lawyer sent to look into the alleged fixing, was likely based on Judge Joseph Stone. The real Stone was no fan of the movie. He called it a farce—baloney from beginning to end!
The game show’s producer, Dan Enright, was dead when the movie came out. But his partner said that virtually all of Enright’s scenes were made up.
Denzel Washington is dynamic as Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane. Playing a boxer wrongly imprisoned for murder, Washington gives a powerhouse performance in a career marked with many.
The movie is loyal to some facts, but its errors are inexplicable.
Carter’s attorney said the movie turned a complex story into a soap opera. It omits the corruption of the judicial system, like prosecutors fabricating testimonies to get a conviction.
A Canadian commune gets the credit for Carter’s exoneration. In reality, an investigator from the New Jersey public defender’s office got two burglars to recant. It had been their testimonies that put him away.
Enemy at the Gates
The sniper versus sniper movie at the Battle of Stalingrad, Enemy at the Gates, split critics when it was released. Starring Jude Law and Ed Harris, the World War II flick is an exercise in tension.
It was based on Soviet propaganda. Not a good start.
The movie depicts the exploits of sniper Vasily Zaytsev. Historians said the movie grossly exaggerates the role he played. It implies that his death would have changed the course of the entire battle.
Even the sniper duel may not have occurred. Zaytsev has claimed it did, but there is no record of the man deployed to kill him: Major Erwin König.
Young Guns II
After the success of Young Guns—a Western lionizing Billy the Kid and his gang of gunmen—a sequel was in order. Emilio Estevez was back in action again.
If the first movie had some inaccuracies, the second one took things to another level.
It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction in the Old West. However, historians agree that Billy the Kid was shot dead by lawman Pat Garrett. This movie grabs onto a wild 1948 claim and runs with it.
It suggests that an old man named “Brushy” Bill Roberts was the real Billy the Kid. He survived by arranging an agreement with Garrett to fake his demise!
The Pursuit of Happyness
No one wants to believe that heartfelt tearjerkers like The Pursuit of Happyness fudged the facts of the actual story.
Will Smith earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a down on his luck salesman out on the streets with his young son. The truth is less sanitized.
The real Chris Gardner did not get an interview with Dean Witter Reynolds by solving a Rubik’s Cube. It simply made for a memorable movie moment, so it’s in there.
Worst of all, Gardner was not arrested for unpaid parking tickets. He was arrested… but for domestic abuse. That, of course, would have made him harder to pull for.
The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker is a grippingly tense character study within the confines of a war film. Director Kathryn Bigelow defeated ex-husband James Cameron at the Oscars that year when the movie won over Avatar.
But this bomb disposal unit story is shoddy history.
Veterans called it a sensationalized picture of the Iraq War. They pointed out that bombs are almost never dismantled by hand; that’s done using robotics.
Most damning, a former British bomb disposal officer said that Jeremy Renner’s character “makes us look like hot-headed, irrational adrenaline junkies with no self-discipline. It’s immensely disrespectful to the many officers who have lost their lives.”
Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winner is an epic tale of a general-turned-slave-turned-gladiator. Its historical crimes render it guilty of execution.
More is known about the second century than you might think. And what is known of Joaquin Phoenix’s Emperor Commodus is off the mark.
No, he didn’t kill his father, but he was still a pretty rotten guy. Commodus was a sexual deviant, with harems consisting of hundreds of young boys and girls.
He also fought many “gladiator” battles. But since no one dared defy him, his opponents all submitted, allowing him victory. He didn’t die in the area, but in a bathtub, where he was quite unceremoniously strangled to death.
The Sound of Music
1965’s The Sound of Music tells the story of a young Austrian woman who becomes governess to a Naval officer’s children. It won Best Picture and features some of the most iconic shots in movie history.
Speaking of history, it left much to be desired.
The real Maria von Trapp was initially brought in to help tutor George von Trapp’s sickly daughter. In the film, she’s there for all seven children. Their names and ages are also off.
That walk over the Alps to escape? Never happened. They caught a train to Italy and stopped in London, eventually making it to the United States.
1492: Conquest of Paradise
Ridley Scott’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise was released on the five-hundred year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage. It was one of two films that year on the subject. This is the one that got more attention.
But not because of its loyalty to the historical record.
The film’s villains—the University of Salamanca’s faculty—oppose Columbus’s voyage. Why? Because they believe the earth is flat. However, all educated Europeans at this time recognized that the earth was round.
Columbus is played by Gerard Depardieu with a heavy French accent. Historically, Columbus would have spoken Castilian Spanish with an Italian-Portuguese accent. More like Gerard Depar-don’t!
Battle of the Bulge
World War II buffs share a mutual distaste for what this film got wrong. Made just twenty years after the event, you’d think they would have better captured the truth.
Featuring Hollywood legends like Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson, Battle of the Bulge loses its fight with history.
There are combat errors, as well as equipment inaccuracies, but the biggest problem is the scene itself. The weather during this battle was quite inclement. There was snow and sleet, which hindered air superiority the Allied forces were used to.
In the film, the battle is fought on flat, level ground. The terrain of the Ardennes forest is anything but.
The Green Berets
The movie flop, The Green Berets starring John Wayne, is notorious for its unlimited historical errors from costume design, set design, and even dialog throughout the movie. In this film, a reporter played by David Janssen, is sent out to cover the Vietnam War along with a group of Green Berets lead by Wayne’s character, Col. Mike Kirby.
From the beginning to the end, the set is inaccurate as the movie takes place in Vietnam there is an obvious lack of palm trees and other tropical plants. Even down to the final scene, the film is remembered for the “sun setting in the east”, however Vietnam has no shoreline to watch the sun set into the sea. These are just a few of the plethora of historical errors The Green Berets failed to produce.
2012’s Red Tails tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen—a squadron of black pilots who flew during the Second World War.
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and executive produced by George Lucas, the movie didn’t exactly soar with anyone, let alone historians.
The film claims that the Tuskegee Airmen did not lose a single bomber to enemy fire. Not quite. In fact, an Air Force report from six years prior to the film’s release notes that at least twenty-five were killed.
In the epilogue, we learn that the Tuskegee Airmen had one of the best fighter records in the Air Force. Unfortunately, they didn’t produce any pilot aces.
Mel Gibson’s dead language chase movie about the fall of the Mayan empire is quite the spectacle. A fun jungle actioner, the film should not be taken as historical fact. Gibson admitted this himself.
Historians were in agreement: Apocalypto is indeed a work of fiction.
Scenes depicting human sacrifice and enslavement of innocents is largely conjecture. Human sacrifice was a practice of the Aztecs. How many that were killed at any one time is unknown. And the Maya relished torturing political opponents, not necessarily their blameless captives.
Lastly (spoilers!), Spaniards arrived in Mexico hundreds of years after the Classic Maya collapse.
Disney’s Newsies was a flop in 1992. A musical about an 1899 newsboys strike? How could that not work? Well, it didn’t.
And it didn’t work for those who know the real story, either. Not even a teenage Christian Bale could rescue this movie.
The film follows the newsboy revolt against Joseph Pulitzer when he raises the distribution price of his newspaper. Bale’s Jack Kelly leads the strikers. Eventually, Pulitzer gives in to their demands.
Kelly never existed. The strike was led by Louis Balletti, a one-eyed young man who plays a small role in the film. And the restless newsboys did not win—they compromised.
Catch Me If You Can
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to get all sentimental on us. Pulling from his arsenal of family drama tropes, Spielberg turned an already too-good-to-be-true tale into a mushier one.
That doesn’t mean Catch Me If You Can isn’t good; it just had to meet the legendary director’s mandate.
By all accounts, Frank Abagnale Jr. didn’t masquerade as a doctor and a lawyer and an airline pilot because of his parents’ failed marriage. He did it to meet girls!
Also worth noting is that Tom Hanks’s Carl Hanratty character is fictitious. So’s Leo’s pattern of calling him (or any other FBI agent) every Christmas Eve.
Brotherhood of the Wolf
An action/adventure about the legendary Beast of Gevaudan, the film is almost all conjecture. Indeed something terrorized France’s 1760s countryside, killing more than one-hundred people.
An animal said to have been the beast was shot dead by a hunter in 1767, and that was the end of that.
What the hunter killed remains a mystery, though it was likely a wolf. In the film, a Canadian Mohawk Indian/Kung Fu master tracks down the beast, discovering it is not a wolf, but a trained African lion… in armor!
A French aristocrat—the real killer—had released the mistreated lion onto its many rural victims in a conspiracy to undermine the king.
Everyone’s favorite feel-good basketball drama, Hoosiers, had all sorts of fouls. Historical air balls, if you will.
Marvin Wood is the real life coach on whom Gene Hackman’s character was based. He was twenty-six, and in his second year, not his first.
Wood had no trouble getting players to fill his roster, which was successful the previous season. Nearly all the school’s boys tried out for the team.
Star player Jimmy Chitwood was based on Bobby Plump. In the film, Chitwood is distraught over the death of the previous coach. He won’t even play at first. All of that was invented, dead coach included.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
Believe it or not, this movie is based on a painting. True, it’s an adaptation of a novel by the same name, but even that is based on, yes, a painting.
Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer created the piece in the mid-seventieth century. Who his subject was remains a mystery.
The film posits that titular figure was a young peasant girl (played by Scarlett Johansson), who catches Vermeer’s eye, much to his wife’s chagrin.
There’s no telling who the girl might have been. The most common theory is that she was Vermeer’s eldest daughter. But that doesn’t make for a salacious novel-turned-movie.
Field of Dreams
We know what you’re thinking: “Field of Dreams?? You mean dead baseball players didn’t actually come back to play in an Iowa cornfield??” Probably not. There’s not really an evidence either way.
But this isn’t about that. It’s about how they mishandled a critical character.
In the movie, Ray Liotta’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson bats righty and throws lefty. They make kind of a big deal over it during a batting practice scene.
The Jackson of history batted lefty and threw righty. This error has annoyed sports fans since 1989. It’s particularly alarming that baseball nut Kevin Costner didn’t step in to prevent the gaffe.
The 30 Most Filthy Rich Actors and Actresses, Ranked
Most of us, at one point or another, have longed for greater fortunes. A bigger house, a nicer car. Or, at the very least, enough to pay the bills. Hollywood is chock full of loaded stars.
Not all of them have made the bulk of their dough performing in front of the camera. And some have opted to spend their earnings on some most peculiar things.
Let’s count down the richest living actors and actresses. We bet you’ll be shocked at how much some of them are worth.
The 30 Worst Performances From Typically Great Actors
There’s nothing like discovering a new favorite actor. A talented thespian who delivers consistently excellent performances. Until… they boink up. And they all boink up.
Here are the worst performances from 30 otherwise incredible actors. You know what? Everyone makes mistakes!
Classic Movies That Were A Nightmare to Make
Classic movies are a blast to watch, but many of them weren’t so fun to make.
Some of the most famous movies of all time were grueling experiences for the cast and crew. Read on to see which of your favorite movies were a total nightmare behind-the-scenes.