15 Major Historical Inaccuracies That Undermine Famous Movies –


Since the dawn of cinema, movies have looked to history to provide inspiration for their stories. Historical stories are always fascinating to see but, understandably, no movie can ever fully replicate the truth. As a result, deviations from historical fact are inevitable, but there are still many unnecessary inaccuracies in movies which really undermine the film as a whole.

Whether to cut time, make the subjects more sympathetic or even just to add excitement to the film, ‘historical’ movies do play around with history a lot A large amount of this is probably motivated by sanitizing the films in order to seem more Oscar-friendly, since historical dramas are a big Oscar staple. This is a screen-writing practice that needs to die.

Artistic licence can work, but more often than not people will watch and enjoy a film claiming to be based on reality, only to have the film ruined once they do some fact-checking. With true story movies, the factual part is often the film’s hook and main draw; if this hook is messed with, it seriously hurts the film’s credibility, as is the case with these following movies. They’re largely worth watching, but don’t use them for fact-checking…

15. Darkest Hour’s Tube Scene Is Completely Untrue

Focus Features

For the most part, this solid Oscar-Bait historical drama, which focuses on Winston Churchill (a brilliant, Oscar-winning Gary Oldman) during the early months of World War II, takes a low-key and historically accurate approach to things, but there is one scene towards the end which is completely made-up. Director Joe Wright has admitted this and most viewers probably realized this as soon as the scene happened.

Near the end, Churchill gets onto the Tube, hears the views of the general public and finds that they are against peace with Germany. These conversations inspire his legendary “We will never surrender!” speech. The speech itself is a good final scene, but this tube sequence was a major misstep.

This clearly fictional inclusion takes the viewer right out of the film, while this scene also isn’t particularly well-written and adds very little. Some bits of artistic license have a justified purpose; for example, in Schindler’s List the Auschwitz scene is made up but takes the viewers to the most infamous Holocaust location and shows them some more of the horrors of the Holocaust, so that deviation worked. This, on the other hand, was not a good idea.

It also undermines Winston Churchill himself. He did not piece together his incredible speeches based on random people he met; rather his words came from him alone. This inaccurate representation is disappointing given that Darkest Hour is an often effective representation of Churchill and the rare cultural depiction that bothers to show his darker side.

14. Philomena’s Fantastic Final Scene Is Fictional

The Weinstein Company

Philomena is great and one of the most underrated Best Picture nominees of recent times, but it does, like many similar movies, take some artistic license that hurts its credibility somewhat.

Philomena is about an Irish woman who was sent to a convent as a punishment for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Her child was taken away from her and sent to America. 50 years later, Philomena (Judi Dench) and journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) try to track him down.

Philomena is largely accurate, but at the end, the film deviates heavily from reality. The film does have an incredible ending; the film concludes with a heated confrontation between Sixsmith and one of the nuns, before Philomena chooses to forgive the nun despite what she’s done to her (the nun had kept her and her son apart). This ending is incredible, but it’s made up.

The nun depicted here, Sister Hildegarde, died in 1995 while Sixsmith began his investigation in 2004, so they wouldn’t have met. The film also depicts Hildegarde as a remorseless villain when in real life she actually helped reunite mothers with their children, so it was quite unfair to depict her in such a negative manner. It would’ve been far better to invent a nun or use a composite.

Philomena does feel overly harsh on the nuns (Sixsmith said he got on with them very well in real life), which gives it an unfortunate feel of anti-Christian propaganda.

13. Captain Phillips Is Overly Kind To The Title Character

Sony Pictures

Captain Phillips in an unbearably tense thriller about the hijacking of a US cargo ship by Somalian pirates. It rises on the strength of Paul Greengrass’ brilliant use of handheld camerawork and great performances from the cast, including Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips. It’s a terrific movie but there is one incredibly distracting inaccuracy that ruins the film’s credibility somewhat.

Captain Phillips is depicted as a noble, self-sacrificing captain; he is a very sympathetic character and he’s also played by Tom Hanks, who is scientifically impossible not to love most of the time. The truth is, in real life Captain Phillips was no hero. In fact, many members of the ship’s crew have since sued him for putting them in danger and ignoring all the warnings that they were in pirate-infested waters.

Prior to the hijacking Phillips had a bad reputation as self-righteous and arrogant and many of the crew members on the MV Maersk Alabama have criticized the film for being too kind to Phillips.

Captain Phillips did not voluntarily give himself up to the pirates for his crew nor did he lock the bridge or coordinate the efforts of the crew members to hide. Phillips himself has said that he doesn’t feel like he was a hero in the slightest and disagrees with the way in which the media have portrayed him as such. Since the audience is aligned with Phillips throughout the film, this inaccurate representation may be highly distracting for some viewers.

12. The Theory Of Everything Glosses Over The Breakdown Of Stephen Hawking’s Marriage

Focus Features

The Theory of Everything is arguably one of the worst Best Picture nominees of the 21st century. The film generally doesn’t really work thanks to its slow pace, safe delivery and lack of depth, but the thing which truly hurt it was the narrative focus on Hawking’s marriage, instead of his work or his overcoming of his disability.

This becomes even more jarring when one realizes that the film’s central love story was completely sanitized and it wasn’t nearly so romantic and lovely in real life. While the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are highly impressive, the film does not reflect reality.

The marriage breaking up is, in the film, shown to be mutual and amicable while in real life things were less pleasant. It was, according to the memoir of Jane Hawking, a protracted and upsetting affair which eventually culminated in Stephen Hawking dumping her for his nurse. While the film depicts a very likable Stephen Hawking, in real life he is known to have been more stubborn and difficult.

Stephen and Jane did eventually become friends again, but this was only some time after their difficult break-up. These inaccuracies further ruin an already insufferable film, since the film’s main hook is the love story yet it’s completely misrepresented.

11. Rush’s ‘Rivals’ Were Actually Good Friends

Universal Pictures

Rush is a very fine drama film that was so good it’s still on the IMDb Top 250 to this day. It depicts the intense rivalry between two racing drivers: the cocky Brit James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and calculated, precise Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). For the most part the film is reasonably accurate but there’s one huge historical inaccuracy. The rivals, depicted as bitter enemies in the film, were actually good friends and had previously shared a flat in London.

This, in fairness, does add an interesting layer of drama to the story and the way in which they eventually become friends out of mutual respect is well-done in the film, but this is an undeniably distracting historical inaccuracy. This intense rivalry is the narrative spine of the film, so the fact that it’s entirely fictional (especially when the film is otherwise fairly accurate) makes the film feel considerably less trust-worthy and believable.

The thing is, depicting Hunt and Lauda as rivals wasn’t essential to the film. Depicting them as the respectful friends that they were would’ve worked just as well and could’ve been even better, since the mixture of friendship and rivalry would’ve brought some interesting shade to the film.

It’s still an excellent movie, but this one inaccurate detail is really rather jarring.

10. Straight Outta Compton Sanitizes Certain Members Of N.W.A.

Universal Pictures

Straight Outta Compton was always going to show up on a list like this It is, since it was produced by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E’s widow, so there was always going to be a certain level of bias. Straight Outta Compton is a great movie that’s far better than anyone expected, but while the film’s storytelling was less biased than expected, they still left a fair amount out.

The general details of NWA’s career and subsequent break-up are largely solid, but bits of it are sanitized. The big one is Dr Dre’s long history of beating women up; Dee Barnes was beaten up by Dre and wrote an article in Gawker criticizing the film. He also beat up his former girlfriend, Michel’le, on a regular basis and is also known to have assaulted at least one other woman.

All of this is completely left out, as is some of the uglier parts of the group’s break-up and feuds. The film also claims N.W.A. were planning a reunion before Eazy E’s death, which isn’t entirely false, but there was definitely no clear reunion plan.

All this being said, this adds an interesting dimension to the film. This feels like the members of N.W.A. telling things how they wish they’d been and removing some of the darker elements of their history through the film, so these historical inaccuracies could be seen as them trying to say goodbye to their pasts.

9. The Imitation Game Misrepresents Alan Turing Considerably

The Weinstein Company

The Imitation Game is not a particularly accurate historical drama and received a substantial amount of criticism for this. This is justified to be honest.

The Imitation Game is a film that was initially beloved but faced a backlash and, given how unrepresentative of Alan Turing it actually was, this is hardly surprising. The film is enjoyable, reasonably moving, well-acted and works well as a celebration of Turing’s achievements, but not as an exploration of serious issues.

The film lacks significantly in its depiction of Turing’s downfall and conviction for homosexuality, which feels like an afterthought in the film. The details of his capture are inaccurate, he never named the code-breaking machine ‘Christopher’ and the film plays up his relationship with Joan Clarke instead of his sexuality.

The representation of Turing himself is completely off. Although Benedict Cumberbatch is great, he depicts Turing as a snobbish, difficult man who’s characteristics are akin to that of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism. The real Turing had friends and was a well-liked individual, so to misrepresent him in this way and depict him as rather unlikable feels hugely disrespectful to Turing.

Some have retrospectively diagnosed Turing with Autism, but attaching a known condition to a historical figure feels inappropriate given the lack of confirmation; the film also offers a stereotypical, inaccurate depiction of Autism.

This misrepresentation, as well as the overall lack of focus on Turing’s homosexuality, meant this ultimately let its subject down somewhat.

8. I, Tonya Is More Sympathetic To Tonya Harding Than She Deserves


I, Tonya was initially acclaimed but, like pretty much every Oscar-nominated film this year, it received a backlash. This one was well-deserved, for not only is it an overly ugly and superficial movie, but the film’s hook that Tonya Harding was a victim betrayed by everyone else is completely untrue.

I, Tonya is a film which puts us through many upsetting moments, including brutal domestic violence, in order to make us feel sorry for someone who doesn’t really deserve as much sympathy as all that. Given that film’s core message is so false, this completely ruins the movie.

It is true that Harding sometimes unfairly marked by judges, but the movie exaggerates this considerably. She was sent to two Olympic games and also received plenty of financial support for her training. As for the attack on Nancy Kerrigan (who barely appears), those who investigated the attack have said that, in their professional opinions, Tonya Harding was definitely guilty and Harding’s break-down when she is banned from skating, though brilliantly performed by Margot Robbie, is once again made-up.

Everything in the film is designed to make us feel more sympathetic towards someone who most likely allowed an attack that nearly destroyed someone else’s career. For the film to glamorize Harding as a rebel is hardly appropiate.

Luckily, the real victim of the story, Nancy Kerrigan, has said she doesn’t plan to see it; if she did go to see it she’d probably be incredibly offended.

7. Argo Distorts The Truth To Be Pro-American Propaganda

Warner Bros.

Ben Affleck’s terrific historical drama, which won Best Picture in 2013, gets an A in terms of directing, acting and writing but historically the film is fairly dodgy.

Argo is based on the true story of the rescue of six US diplomats from Tehran, Iran, during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979-81; interestingly, as Argo depicts, the operation was done under the guise of filming a science-fiction film.

The film presents Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and the CIA as being the heroes and saviors of the diplomats; in reality, the Canadian embassy was also heavily involved in the rescue and Tony Mendez was only in Tehran over one weekend. The British and New Zealand embassies, which were seen turning the hostages away in the film, were also involved in the rescue so there is a sense that, in the film, all the glory is unfairly placed on the CIA.

The film culminates in an unbearably tense finale in which the Americans have a very narrow escape from Tehran; that didn’t happen at all. In fact, they were let onto the plane with security barely giving them a glance. This change is fair enough though, since the truth wouldn’t have made for a very exciting ending.

Regardless of whether or not it deserved Best Picture this is an absolutely great movie, but take the ‘facts’ it presents with a pinch of salt.

6. Saving Mr Banks Uses A Lot Of Artistic License

Walt Disney Pictures

Saving Mr Banks is an utterly delightful movie that’s a highly funny and profoundly moving drama about the creative process… and unfortunately lots of it is made up.

Not of all is inaccurate; the film displays how difficult P.L. Travers was as a person and her troubled childhood accurately enough, but a fair amount of artistic license is used. For example, Ralph the driver (Paul Giamatti) is actually a composite of several drivers that Travers used, while Walt Disney himself was away when some of the film’s events took place. As well as this, sorry to ruin your childhoods but Disney was not lovable like Tom Hanks; he was a racist, sexist, antisemitic and highly difficult individual, so the film romanticizes him.

The incredible ending is also not quite truthful. P.L. Travers was seen crying at the Mary Poppins premiere but she claimed it was because she felt Disney had ruined Mary Poppins, not because she was moved by it like in SMB. This does feel dishonest, but in fairness to the film one could see it as an interpretive bit of history. Travers did watch the film at least one more time and said she thought the film was good on its own terns, but not similar to her books, so it is possible she liked the adaptation later on in real life.

It’s still a wonderful movie, but it should be seen as a fictionalized look at historical events rather than a particularly accurate one.

5. Pain & Gain Is Not A Truthful Or Respectful Account Of An Unpleasant Real-Life Case

Paramount Pictures

This hideous dark comedy from Michael Bay, easily the worst film on this list, takes an unpleasant real-life crime story and turns it into a comedy, while making the main characters semi-likable. This was a bold idea, but it was incredibly risky and frankly feels intensely disrespectful to the real-life victims. Bay and the screenwriters weren’t capable of pulling this off and as a result this is one of the most unpleasant films in recent memory.

The historical inaccuracies were inevitable since they based it on a series of newspaper articles instead of actually consulting anyone involved. There was a gang of gym members who carried out kidnappings and murder and they were very incompetent in real life, but there are many, many factual inaccuracies involving the details of the crimes. The truly distracting inaccuracy is its presentation of the characters.

The film depicts three primary members of the gang; the gang was larger in real life, with Dwayne Johnson’s character being a composite of various different gang members. The film’s depiction of the criminals as goofballs and the victims as obnoxious A-holes was pretty tasteless and, understandably, victim Marc Schiller and the families of the two people murdered by the gang were outraged by the movie. In real-life, the criminals were violent sadists, with Anthony Mackie’s character in particular being toned down.

The film is already awful, but knowing how disrespectful it is to the victims of the real case makes it even worse.

4. Amadeus Is Ridiculously Unfair On Antonio Salieri

Warner Bros.

Amadeus, the 1984 Best Picture winner, is an interesting and enjoyable drama film, although the play it’s based on is considerably superior. It’s worth seeing, but in terms of historical accuracy it is complete bulls**t.

It is true that the circumstances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s early death are unknown and often mythologized, but he definitely wasn’t killed by Antonio Salieri, who was also a well-known composer at the time.

The film (and play) depict Antonio Salieri as so intensely jealous of Mozart that he puts in motion a plot to destroy Mozart that eventually leads to Mozart’s death. One can’t help but feel sorry for Salieri, as he really wasn’t the villain he’s depicted as in this film and his reputation has likely suffered given how much he is associated with this fictionalization.

Historical records indicate the two composers, although they had a rivalry, were respectful of each other and Salieri even tutored Mozart’s son in music. It is a fascinating fictional story, but it was odd to take a real historical composer and make him the villain when there is simply no evidence of such events taking place. A more logical approach would’ve been to use a fictional composer or a conglomeration of different historical figures.

3. The Butler Isn’t Really Based On A True Story

The Weinstein Company

The Butler, an awards-baiting film that failed to win anything, claims to be based on fact when it is pretty much entirely made-up. The story of Cecil Gaines, a black butler in the White House, is very, very loosely on a black White House butler named Eugene Allen, but the similarities between the two more or less end there.

The film is a walk-through of historical events throughout the latter half of the 20th century, especially concerning the Civil Rights Movement, from the perspective of a black family, one of whom happens to work in the White House. This was a great premise and The Butler is a solid, beautifully-acted movie but it’s somewhat mysterious that they even bothered to mention a link to a real butler given how little resemblance the film ultimately bears to reality. Even director Lee Daniels has openly admitted that the characters are fictionalized.

For example, the film depicts the butler as having two sons: an older one who becomes part of the Black Panther movement and also falls out with his father for a while and a younger one who dies in Vietnam. This is all un-true; Gaines and his wife had one son who did fight in Vietnam but he didn’t die there nor did he join any movements. He became an investigator with the state department.

This is a good film and definitely worth watching, but don’t go in expecting a true story of any kind.

2. Gladiator Is Completely Made-Up

Universal Pictures

Ridley Scott’s historical epic is a beloved people’s classic to this day and is still a great blockbuster… and it’s entirely made up. Sorry to disappoint the film’s many fans, but this much-loved story has little historical basis.

Russell Crowe’s Maximus, who is fondly remembered as one of the manliest men in movies, is fictional (although he might be very slightly based on aspects of certain historical figures). Marcus Aurelius was not murdered by his son and actually appointed Commodus as his successor; there is also no evidence he wished to turn Rome back into a republic.

The only character the film gets remotely right the most is Commodus. He was just as awful in real life and did have many conspirators plotting against him, but he actually ruled for 12 years rather than the short time seen in the film. There’s also some notable upbeat spins on the real history in regards to him.

Commodus’ sister, Lucilla (who in real life had a husband instead of being a widow) did plot against him but not successfully and was executed by him. Commodus’ eventual death, which happened in a bath rather than an arena, didn’t bring about peace and only started a new war.

Gladiator is still an enormously enjoyable movie, but don’t watch it thinking any of it actually happened at all. It shouldn’t be called a historical drama; rather it should be seen as a drama that happens to be set in a certain historical period.

1. Braveheart… Where To Begin?

Paramount/20th Century Fox

Author John O’Farrell once said that Braveheart couldn’t have been more historically inaccurate if it featured a plasticine dog and was called William Wallace and Gromit; he wasn’t exaggerating.

So, what does it get right? There was a Scottish man named William Wallace who fought the English and… that’s it.

Braveheart is excellent, but it’s historically nonsensical. For example, Scotland was not under English occupation for years like in the film, while the Battle of Stirling centered around a bridge in real life.

The villain, Edward I (who actually died years after Wallace), wasn’t nearly as bad as the film implies and he definitely didn’t throw Edward II’s gay lover out of a window. The film is also unfair on Robert the Bruce and depicts him as a traitor.

Protagonist William Wallace was a member of the lower nobility, not a peasant. He wears a kilt and paints his face blue, which is very anachronistic since the face paint is several hundred years late and the kilt is several hundred years early.

The most distracting historical inaccuracy is Wallace’s affair with Isabella of France. It’s fairly safe to say that didn’t happen, since not only did they never meet, but she was only three at the time. That makes the film feel very creepy. Even Wallace’s death is misrepresented, although that’s a relief since his death was far more brutal in real life.

Basically, here’s a movie so historically inaccurate it’s actually hilarious.



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